After legal haggling between the school, state, and the new AAC, Rutgers has agreed to pay $11.5 million as an exit fee to leave the AAC and join the Big Ten. The sum might seem fairly small compared to the numbers thrown around for other schools attempting to leave a conference, but it is worth noting that Rutgers had already announced its intention to join the Big Ten even before the AAC played its first game. We hope that other schools and conferences can reach relatively quick compromises as well, but realize that might be hoping for a little too much. At the very least these legal battles should not interfere with the school’s ability to compete.
Speaking of conference realignment there is still one team that remains independent: New Jersey Institute of Technology. Unlike Notre Dame in football, which benefits from its ridiculous NBC contract and even more ridiculous BCS (or whatever they are calling it today) exemption, NJIT wants to join a conference. The school, which was once the laughing stock of Division I for its long losing streak has gained some measure of respectability in recent years so we would not be surprised to see a mid- to lower-tier conference in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic region add the school fairly soon.
Normally Ken Pomeroy focuses his work on topics that might seem a little esoteric to the casual fan, but his latest post on how important home-court advantage is should be accessible to most fans even if the degree might strike them as a bit far. Pomeroy frames the post around Syracuse and Wichita State (the last two undefeated teams). Most observers would probably say that Syracuse is the better team and has played a tougher schedule. Pomeroy is not going to try to argue with that point, but thinks it is important to point out just how important home/road games are in determining how difficult games are. Of course, one can argue with Pomeroy’s win probabilities (we are not even going to try to get into the mathematics involved in coming up with those numbers), but it is an important point to consider as Selection Sunday draws near.
Duke‘s more well-known men’s basketball team might not have been able to make the arduous trek to play North Carolina yesterday leading to the game being postponed until next week. The student managers for the two schools were able to meet for their game and the administrators at the two schools probably wish that they had not. Over the years there have been several (relatively) memorable moments in the game, but this year’s moment–a fight between the managers of the two schools–is one that the administration at both schools would prefer we all forget. The fight (all we have is a grainy video clip) might draw headlines, but should not be that much of a surprise for anybody who played intramural sports, which are often more violent than actual NCAA games.
We might be ambivalent about the neutral sites for many of the early-season match-ups, but we love seeing teams play who might otherwise not agree to play at an opposing arena. Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis has been the driving force behind many of these events and his latest idea–creating a barnstorming tour in 2018–is one of the more unique ones that he has come up with. The four schools–Florida, Michigan State, North Carolina, and Texas–would play in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles then get a home game against an opponent that has not been determined yet. While the idea sounds a little crazy the schools have apparently signed off and we do not see any of the huge issues that we saw with his plan to have multiple games going on at the same time so we do not see why this event would not happen.
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), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. And man, will those be tested this winter.
Parker Has Been Outstanding So Far This Season
The Blue Devils went 3-0 in the past week – star freshman Jabari Parker had 21 points in each of the games, with 10 rebounds in two of them and nine in the other – vanquishing Florida Atlantic, UNC-Asheville and East Carolina to move to 4-1 on the season and to qualify for the New York portion of the NIT Season Tip-Off, where Arizona may await. But what Duke did off the court might be even more impressive, reeling in three five-star recruits: package deal Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones last Friday, followed by Justise Winslow on Thursday. Okafor, the nation’s top player according to Rivals, and Jones, the nation’s second-rated point guard, had agreed to play together in college despite growing up in different states; the pair has the potential to one-and-done their way to a national championship, especially with some strong supporting pieces around them. As a lanky wing defender capable of driving hard to the basket, Winslow and his talents fit right in with what Okafor and Winslow will bring to campus. Now, to get Parker to pull a Marcus Smart and come back to school…
(Related winners: Parker. Related losers: The rest of the ACC.)
LOSER: The rest of the ACC
Speak of the devil. (No, not the Devils. We already did that.) The conference gacked away a series of winnable games over the last week, which can’t help the status of a league hyped to be the best this season (if not all-time). North Carolina, missing Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston, was felled by a last-minute three-pointer from Belmont’s J.J. Mann, at home on Sunday. Notre Dame led for only a few minutes in an 83-70 home loss Sunday to Indiana State, shooting 37 percent in the process. Maryland lost 90-83 at home to a beleaguered Oregon State squad, surrendering 60 points combined for the Beavers’ Roberto Nelson and Devon Collier, and 60 percent shooting, too. Georgia Tech turned the ball over 19 times and allowed two 20-point scorers for Dayton, which won 82-72 in Atlanta on Wednesday. North Carolina State lost only the sixth game the ACC has ever lost to the MEAC at home Wednesday, falling 82-72 to LeVelle Moton’s North Carolina Central squad. Boston College fell Thursday to UConn 72-70 at Madison Square Garden, which is at least defensible, save for the fact that the Eagles got to New York despite losing at home to Toledo last week. (Hooray, predetermined tournament finals!) This one might come back to bite ACC squads in the butt come Selection Sunday, but until then… let’s just call this a forgettable week for the conference and move on.
After Florida State’s victory over Duke last night, there are but four undefeated teams left in D-I college basketball: San Diego State, Kansas, Syracuse, and the heir apparent to the #1 ranking on Monday, Ohio State. You’ve probably heard about that today just as much as you’ve heard the analysis about how hard it is for a team to go undefeated any more (no kidding). Soon, we’ll make our predictions on when the remaining four undefeateds will lose. Because they will.
Kyle Randall and UNCG Have Made It Just Past the Midpoint of Their Schedule Without a Win
But what about the other side — the unvictorious? It’s been three seasons since a school has gone through the entirety of their schedule without a single win, an ignominy achieved by the 2007-08 New Jersey Tech (NJIT) Highlanders, God love ‘em, and their 0-29 run as an independent. Last year, two teams came close, when Marist and Bryant both went 1-29. Marist rung in 2010 by beating Manhattan, 72-66, on January 2nd. Bryant, however, had everyone holding their breath late into the season until, with only four games left, they finally snagged that first victory on February 18th — a 53-51 squeaker at Wagner.
This season, there are still two teams without a victory. UNC-Greensboro is 0-15 with 14 regular season games left on their schedule. And even though they may have one of the best nicknames in the game — the Gentlemen — Centenary is 0-17 with 13 games remaining.
The future is a tad brighter for UNCG than it is for Centenary, it would seem. The oracle that is KenPomprojects the Spartans to finish at 4-25 and has them winning their first game on January 20th against Georgia Southern, a game that also represents their best chance at a victory (75%). Unfortunately for the Gentlemen, it’s pretty dire. KenPom’s projection relegates them to the dustbin of history, a perfectly unvictorious 0-30, with their best chance for a win coming on February 24th against Western Illinois — a mere 15% chance, at that. We should note that Centenary, the smallest D-I school in the country, is playing with lame duck status. They’ll move back down to Division III next season.
Good luck, fellas, and we’ll be watching. We hope you both get at least one before season’s end!
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Top 25 Games
#3 Kansas 78, Cal 63: “Kansas won the Pac10 grabbed their first true road victory of the season with a win over the Cal Bears. The late tipoff Wednesday night seemed to fit the Jayhawk play at times as a Kansas team that clearly looked like the more talented team, once again couldn’t manage to stay out of their own way during portions of the game.” (Rock Chalk Talk: Recap and Statistical Analysis)
#4 Syracuse 93, Drexel 65: “That was the scary Drexel team we’ve been hearing about? The one that beat Louisville in the YUM? The one that’s apparently having their best season ever? Either they’re not quite as good as advertised or the Orange just about put together their best performance of the season in a 93-65 demolition job.” (Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician)
#8 Villanova 76, Monmouth 36: “What can anyone say about a 76-36 win? I guess the coach summed it up nicely with ‘I like where we are right now.’” (Villanova by the Numbers)
#25 Texas 67, #12 Michigan State 55: “Tonight, with a 67-55 victory over the Spartans, Texas once again pulled off the impressive feat of beating North Carolina and Michigan State in the span of a few days. Even more impressively, they won both games on the road. In fact, tonight’s victory ended Michigan State’s much-publicized streak of 52 consecutive home victories against non-conference opponents. Essentially, Texas was the first non-con team to win a game in East Lansing in the last 7 years. This was exactly the type of game–against a good team and hostile crowd–that young teams can be expected to lose. But we didnt. Tonight was a virtuoso win, even if wasn’t exactly a virtuoso performance. Texas did enough to win, but, unlike last year, I doubt this will be their best performance of the season. To put it more simply, the win tonight feels bigger and more important than our actual performance, which was really-good-but-not-great.” (Burnt Orange Nation)
#15 Kentucky 89, Winthrop 52: “My first impression of this game was, “Wow. What a game by Doron Lamb,” and upon reflection, that impression still stands. Setting the freshman scoring record by shooting 92% on 11-12 field goal attempts is simply staggering. That record has stood for nearly 20 years, and the guy who set it has a jersey hanging in the rafters. That’s the magnitude of the accomplishment by the young Brooklynite. It also seems somehow fitting that he bested another New Yorker, even though he was out of the Bronx.” (A Sea of Blue)
Other Games of Interest
Maryland 89, NJIT 50: “After a game that one-sided, there’s only so much you can say, as well as only so much that can be learned. Maryland defeated NJIT 89-50 in the Comcast Center, with the 39-point margin of victory the Terrapins’ second-largest all season. On the way, they dominated every statistical category: they forced 22 turnovers, shot 60% from three, limited the Highlanders to 32% shooting from the field, and generally controlled play entirely from tip-to-tip. NJIT is awful, granted, and the stats should be enough to tell you that. But hey, you take any type of blowout when you can get it.” (Testudo Times)
Louisville 114, Western Kentucky 82: “Louisville went on the road for the first time and gave perhaps their best performance of the season, burying 16 three-pointers on their way to a 114-82 rout of in-state host Western Kentucky.” (Card Chronicle)
Northern Iowa 67, Indiana 61: “Defense, experience and execution. UNI, a Sweet 16 team last season, brought all three to the table tonight, and it was all just a little too much for the Hoosiers to handle.” (Inside the Hall: Part 1 and Part 2)
Gonzaga 64, Xavier 54: “Against Baylor, Gonzaga showed they could win a game facing tremendous adversity. Tonight against Xavier, the Zags faced similar adversity but they did so at the friendly confines of the McCarthey Athletic Center.” (The Slipper Still Fits)
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Top 25 Games
#2 Ohio State 96, UNC-Asheville 49: “Shaking off a shooting slump that saw him fail to reach double figures in four straight games and shoot just 32% over the last six, David Lighty broke out of his offensive funk with a 29 point performance to key Ohio State’s 96-49 blowout victory over UNC-Asheville tonight in the Schott.” (Eleven Warriors)
USC 65, #17 Tennessee 64: “”It started exactly the way you expected it would against Kevin O’Neill, and ended exactly the way it did just four days ago for Bruce Pearl. Down one with three seconds and change left on a side out-of-bounds, the Vols had to settle for a long three that didn’t fall. As a result, Tennessee lost their third straight game – their second by one point – and the beatdown of #3 Pittsburgh just ten days ago now feels more like myth than fact.” (Rocky Top Talk)
Other Games of Interest
UNC 85, William & Mary 60: “It turns out William & Mary has even less luck in the Dean Dome then they do in Carmichael. Down three starters from last year’s NIT team, the Tribe were stymied by their own poor shooting, missing all twelve three point attempts in the first half. Meanwhile, UNC took care of the ball, had some good shooting of their own, and won handily despite keeping John Henson on the bench for all but four minutes after he re-injured his thumb. (X-rays should not be required, and he was sat more as a precaution than anything else.)” (Carolina March)
Cincinnati 64, Miami 48: “Last night, the Bearcats went on the road and did something that they hadn’t done in 17 years, play, and defeat, Miami.” (Bearcats Blog)
Not exactly a murder’s row of programs that will challenge the ACC in the conference power rankings any time soon. However, most people expect that under current NCAA guidelines the GWC could have an play-in automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by 2020. This would obviously impact the NCAA tournament by either removing one at-large team (unlikely) or expanding the NCAA tournament (more games = more money = very likely). The question for the GWC and its teams is what they are supposed to strive for until 2020. Theoretically they could qualify for an NCAA at-large bid (or maybe more realistically an NIT bid) if they hired some renegade coach who loaded them up with players who needed a little “SAT help.” However, barring that not altogether improbable scenario (seriously, have you seen the headlines out of college basketball this week?) the champions would be relegated to watch the 2nd half of March from their couches like the rest of us.
Fortunately for the GWC and its members, the people at the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT) have stepped into that void by offering the conference’s tournament champion an automatic bid in the CIT’s 16-team field. For those of you who missed the CIT last year, here is a rundown of the teams that participated, which was won by Old Dominion. While you shouldn’t expect to see ESPN and CBS keeping cameras in the offices of the James Madison Dukes this March to see if they are crushed when they don’t make the CIT, it does mark the first time that a D1 conference has had an agreement to get one of its teams an automatic bid into a tournament other than the NCAA Tournament and it also offers the new league something (albeit something very small) to entice recruits to join it in its formative years.
Ray Floriani of College Chalktalk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC Conferences.When he’s not officiating, he’s canvassing the northeastern basketball circuit for good games and stories.
NEWARK, NJ – The evening actually began in Jersey City. The other part of my basketball life as an official saw a JV Girls assignment at Lincoln High School. Pictured is the pre-game captains meeting which is great because the kids on that level soak in your every word. For the record Saint Dominic Academy edged Lincoln in a close one.
Off to the Prudential Center, a quick nine mile journey for Maryland Eastern Shore vs. NJIT. The Highlanders dropped a 4 point decision at UMES in early December so hopes were high for a second win in two weeks. It was not to be on this night. UMES took a few eight point leads but NJIT would battle back. The Highlanders even took the lead with eleven minutes to go but UMES answered with a three point field goal followed by a conventional three point play to regain an edge not to be lost. NJIT battled gamely and had it to a two possession contest before UMES hit four free throws the final 30 seconds for the 73-67 win.
Interesting article by Luke Winn about Wake Forest’s James Johnson‘s fighting background. All I know is that if there is a “Malice at the Palace” moment with Wake this year, I’m taking the Demon Deacons in that one.
Michael Rothstein of The Journal Gazette surveyed 50 media members for their picks for the National Player of the Year at this point in the season. Like Michael, I haven’t seen much stuff done on this yet. Look for a running column similar to this out of Rush the Court in the near future.
A fairly long piece talking about the effect of moving the 3-point line back a foot. Summary: It has decreased the number of 3-point shots only marginally (18.42 per game from 19.07 last year) and decreased 3-point percentage slightly (34.32% from 35.23% last year).
Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt offers his thoughts on the prep-to-pro issue. While I agree with him on some stuff I am not sure how you could legally differentiate a Lebron James from a Kwame Brown or worse yet a kid who entered the draft, but was not selected.
Seth Davis plays “Jigsaw Man” looking at a dozen top 25 teams, identifying their weakness, and picking out a player who does not play on that team that could eliminate the weakness. Interestingly theoretical exercise, but I’m not that sure what to do with it. Example: NJIT. Weakness = Talent/Inability to win (more than 1 game in a row). Missing piece: UNC’s or UConn’s players.
Speaking of SI writers, where is Grant Wahl’s annual “Magic 8″? I hope rtmsf’s “deconstruction” of last year’s Magic 8 (and subsequent e-mail conversation about the Magic 8, life, and haircare products) did not convince Wahl to give up on writing about college basketball.
After my trip to Chapel Hill last weekend where rtmsf handled all of the duties for Boom Goes the Dynamite while I mingled with ESPN personalities and college basketball stars, I will be in charge of today’s edition while rtmsf does relationship stuff with his significant other. Pretty weak if you ask me. . .
11:00 AM: Although we are a men’s college basketball site, we feel that it’s appropriate to mention the passing of Kay Yow, the former NC State coach, to breast cancer (or more precisely complications related to breast cancer). We can’t really do justice to her impact on the women’s game so it’s probably better just to refer you to a chronology of her life.
11:10 AM: The Notre Dame GameDay crowd looks a lot larger than what I saw last weekend at UNC. I am not sure if it is just a bunch of camera tricks by the GameDay crew, but they definitely have more signs. It may be that UConn is much, much better than Miami was last week or that the UNC crowd may be a bit jaded, but the Chapel Hill crowd was not as into the GameDay experience as I expected them to be.
11:45 AM: Digger Phelps has been doing a good job of working the crowd, which he also did last week at Chapel Hill (even off camera), taking the homer pick of Luke Harangody as his choice of tough player after the other analysts picked Blake Griffin, Tyler Hansbrough, and Stephen Curry to boos. As expected the crowd went wild with Digger’s pick. A little later in the show, the crowd gave the stereotypical college crowd response to a Duke segment by chanting “overrated”. Not surprisingly, the analysts all defend Duke. Appropriately enough, Bobby Knight calls out the Notre Dame students by questioning their education. It looks like he is getting more comfortable with his role on ESPN.
11:50 AM: Another awful half-court shot. Where does ESPN find these guys? He deserved to be embarrassed like that on national TV for popping his collar. Someone should tell him that hasn’t been cool since. . .actually it has never been cool. Congrats on the airball.
Noon: Wow. All of the GameDay guys except Knight picked LSU to beat #13 Xavier. I guess it’s in Baton Rouge, but Xavier is definitely the better team. Least surprising pick of the day: Digger picks Notre Dame. Knight abstains from picking a team.
12:15 PM: Duke is off to a good start against Maryland after Jon Scheyer opens the game with two 3s. What’s going on with Brian Zoubek? He actually looks like a legitimate center today. I have seen him play several times this year and he certainly has improved from last year, but he has never played like this. If he can do this even for spurts this year, Duke might have a legitimate chance to win the title this year instead of their usual great regular season and flop in March.
12:20 PM: Villanova is tied at 10 with USF 6 minutes into the game. Dante Cunningham has 8 of Villanova’s 10 points. I don’t have much else to say about this game since I don’t have ESPN360 available since I am out of town. If anybody has this game on TV, let me know if anything interesting happens.
1:00 PM: Duke goes into halftime with a 25-point lead despite having one of the ugliest possessions I have ever seen to end the half. Do you remember when the Duke-Maryland games used to be the best games of the season? I still remember trying to figure out where I could go to watch the game on TV my freshman year of college. (My school didn’t believe in providing cable to dorm rooms.) Meanwhile in Tampa, Villanova is struggling against USF (tied at 32 at halftime).
RTC corresponent Ryan ZumMallen contributed to tonight’s ATB.
#1 Falls – Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate.Virginia Tech 78, Wake Forest 71. It seemingly never fails – whenever Wake starts to get the nation’s attention, the Deacs cave like Roger McNamee in front of a Congressional hearing. We watched most of this game, and two things were apparent from the get-go: 1) the Deacs were not sharp on either end of the court (evident by Va Tech running out to a quick 30-14 lead); and 2) it is clear to us that Wake relies too much on pure athleticism and skill rather than actual execution and know-how. This was especially true in the last few minutes of the game when Wake continuously took forced shots and made inexplicable fouls instead of managing the clock effectively, even though the game was still in the balance. From the 1:42 mark, Wake threw up five desperate-looking three-pointers (making none), even though the lead was never greater than six points until there was 0:14 remaining. Additionally, the Deacs fouled Virginia Tech eight times during the same period, and even though the Hokies were missing their FTs (7-14 down the stretch), the smarter move would have been to simply play defense (remember, Wake was #2 in defensive efficiency coming into this game) and continue running the offense to get layups and dunks. Didn’t happen. We’re not buying the Wake was mentally fatigued argument; the Deacs need to learn some discipline to maximize their potential this year. As for Virginia Tech, at one point in the second half they were shooting 70% for the half and 56% for the game, which shows just how effectively they were picking apart that Wake defense. Malcolm Delaney, AD Vassallo and Jeff Allen combined for 53/21, as the Hokie won their fifth of six against Wake in the last few years. We’re not ready to anoint the Hokies as an NCAA team just yet, but at 3-1 in the ACC and only one loss in their last nine games (@ Duke), they’re a team to keep an eye on.
Next Best Upset of the Night.Northwestern 70, Michigan St. 63. A Tom Izzo team faithfully followed tradition and lost to a team they should have beaten, allowing Northwestern forward Kevin Coble to hang 31 on the Michigan State defense in a 70-63 Wildcat victory. MSU’s 28-game home winning streak was snapped, and the Spartans drop to 5-1 in Big Ten play while the mighty Wildcats improve to 2-4. Wildcats Coble, Craig Moore and Michael Thompson combined to score just one point less than Michigan State. Izzo had this to say about losing at home despite outrebounding his opponent 39-19: “That’s what happens when you don’t make shots.” Ha! Or when you commit 18 turnovers and only force seven yourselves.
More Tremendousness on a Wednesday Night.
Connecticut 89, Villanova 83. UConn point guard AJ Price nearly doubled his scoring average in the first half tonight, as the #3 Huskies held off a scrappy Villanova team to win, 89-83. Price had 20 by halftime and abused ‘Nova for a career-high 29, outdueling the Wildcats’ leading scorer Scottie Reynolds – held scoreless for the game’s first fifteen minutes, and finishing with 14. How good is the Big East right now? A 14-4 Villanova team currently sits in tenth place with a 2-3 conference record. If Haseem Thabeet can properly execute a dropstep at some point this season, the Huskies are right up there with Pitt as conference favorites.
UNC 94, Clemson 70. Avoiding upsets likes those that befell the likes of powerhouses Wake Forest, Michigan State and (of course) Bryant last night, the #6 Tar Heels continued their complete dominance over #9 Clemson with a 94-70 victory. Wayne Ellington poured in 25 on 9-15 shooting to lead the way. The victory improved North Carolina’s home record against Clemson to… wait for it… 54-0. For those of you who think you’ve figured out how to stop Tyler Hansbrough, I hope your idea had nothing to do with elbowing him in the teeth because THAT DOESN’T WORK. The human-like-robot-warrior just shoved in a mouthpiece and kept on trucking his way to 20 and 10.
Almost As Good As Cleveland St.Marshall 53, SMU 50. Just watch.
Better than Cleveland St. and Marshall.South Carolina 70, Florida 69. This would have never happened under Dave Odom.
Iowa 73, Wisconsin 69 (OT). UW’s Jordan Taylor drilled a 30-foot three at the buzzer to send this game to overtime, but Iowa held on behind David Palmer’s 21/7. Interesting stat – all five Hawkeyes hit at least one three in this one.
Kentucky 73, Auburn 64. Jodie Meeks watch: 31 pts (5-8 threes), 0 assists, 5 turnovers. UK should be ranked next week.
Missouri 97, Oklahoma St. 95. This was a big win for Missouri on the road tonight. They nearly blew a 15-pt lead with four minutes remaining, as OSU missed seven chances to tie or take the lead in the last two minutes. Mizzou has a favorable Big 12 schedule and already sit at 3-1 – this looks like an NCAA team to us.
Oklahoma 72, Nebraska 61. This game was much closer than the score indicates. Blake Griffin had 27/18 as he faced constant double- and triple-teams. Only when Nebraska had a very late scoring drought did the Sooners take over and put them away.
Baylor 83, Kansas St. 65. Wow, how quickly did KSU go from must-watch tv to irrelevance? Baylor’s LaceDarius Dunn came off the bench for 33 pts on 9-12 from three-point land. Baylor at Oklahoma should be a great one this weekend.
UNLV 76, BYU 70. Wow, it was understandable when BYU lost to Wake at home, but we didn’t see them losing a 13-pt halftime lead at home to conference foe UNLV three weeks later. UNLV’s Wink Adams led the way with 22 pts for the Rebels.
Arizona St. 53, Arizona 47. Remember when the Wildcats would run and gun? Things have changed in the desert. What’s interesting about this one is that Jamelle Horne was indeed spotted on the floor in the final minute of a close game. Yes, Russ Pennell must enjoy playing with fire.
Northeastern 58, George Mason 57. Northeastern got a necessary home win to tie up GMU at the top of the CAA standings (along with VCU) when Manny Adako’s layup gave them the lead for good with 25 seconds remaining.
Louisville 78, Rutgers 59. No RAC troubles for the Cards tonight, as T-Will dunked everything in sight on his way to 23/11/4 stls. The Cards shot 60% as a team and are looking more and more like the team everyone thought they’d be when the season started.
Xavier 84, St. Bonaventure 64. XU dominated St. Bonnie from start to finish in a balanced effort (11 players scored for Xavier).
Davidson 83, Furman 43. Steph Curry watch: 30/5/5 stls on 12-18 (6-10 threes). Is anyone surprised?
Miami (FL) 75, Florida St. 69. This was a must-win for Miami to keep itself in the race for 4th place in the ACC this year.
LSU 81, Mississippi St. 57. LSU is absolutely manhandling teams at home. Too bad they have six road games remaining in the SEC.
Northern Iowa 66, Bradley 61. UNI continues to impress in another home win against a competitor for the MVC crown, Bradley.
You thought we were going to mention Wake – Virginia Tech here, didn’t you (#1 Wake is currently down nine to the Hokies in the late second half)? Nope, we’ll get to that later, but how about NJIT tonight, ending its streak of FIFTY-ONE LOSSES IN A ROW. If there were ever an RTC that was deserving, this would be it (see below clip). Kudos to the lads from New Jersey Tech – may they all be the toast of their corner of the world tonight.
The regular season is flying by. Believe it or not, we’re only nine weeks away from having an official NCAA Tournament Bracket to review and obsess over. We also happen to be nine weeks removed from opening night, so yesterday marked the official midpoint - 63 days on each side - of the regular season. Which means, of course, for all you folks who have been busy with the holidays, busy with the bowl games, busy with the NFL Playoffs… let’s get you caught up.
From now until the first tip in Dayton March 17th on the Road to the F4 in Detroit (ugh), roughly 150 or so teams are realistically jostling for position to be selected as one of the Chosen 65. As we nestle into the familiarity of conference play (only the Ivies have yet to begin) and America once again wakes up to our game, weaknesses will be exposed, experienced teams will try to avoid complacency and young teams will start to figure it all out. Come Selection Sunday, many of these prospective bracketeers will have fallen by the wayside, but there will be 50 or so at-large teams holding NCAA-caliber resumes, even though only 34 will be taken. Before we jump in with both feet into the fun that the next two months will bring, let’s take a look back at the first two months to see what we’ve learned.
Carolina is Not Unbeatable, but Are the Heels Still the Favorite? A mere month ago we wrote that North Carolina was playing like a team with plans to lose no more than a couple of games (if that many) all season. Then the last eight days happened. First, UNC lost at home to an underwhelming BC team, followed by a road loss at Wake Forest last night to start 0-2 in the ACC. So what’s going on – how can this juggernaut of a team with nearly everyone returning look so… mortal? It’s easy, really. So far, UNC’s defense hasn’t been up to snuff. It’s more efficient as a whole than last year’s version, but their statistical profile is elevated on the defensive end by forcing turnovers which in turn fuels their lethal fast break. In a halfcourt set, as Wake and BC repeatedly and effectively showed, UNC can be penetrated and exposed. The key to playing with the Heels is limiting those TOs that Ty Lawson turns into the quick strikes that overwhelm teams. Is it a fatal flaw? It could be (how’s that for a hedge?). Teams that can’t consistently make stops don’t win championships, but we really don’t see why UNC’s defense shouldn’t be able to make the commitment to improve over the next two months. The 2005 title team only became legit once Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants and Sean May got serious about stopping people in addition to outscoring them. Can the 2009 Heels – specifically, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Deon Thompson – do the same? Stay tuned.
These Guys Have to Commit to Better Halfcourt Defense
The Big East Should Have Its Own Region. Seriously, let’s just rename the E. Rutherford Region this year and invite every Big East team. Or at least the top 12. Of course, if we did that, it would prohibit the possibility of the conference placing four teams in the Final Four this year – a plausible scenario. Tell us that you couldn’t envision a situation where four of the following teams – Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Syracuse – would reach Detroit in April. Throw in Villanova, Marquette and West Virginia and you might just have nine of the Sweet Sixteen. The top half of this conference is really that good. So who is the best of the best? It depends on when you ask the question. Two weeks ago it was UConn. A week ago Georgetown. Now it’s Pittsburgh. Next week… probably Syracuse. The point is nobody knows. UConn has the most raw talent, but they’ve exhibited problems putting it together consistently. Georgetown, haven’t you heard, has rebounding issues. Pittsburgh isn’t reliable from behind the arc. Syracuse has a tendency to lose to teams like Cleveland St. on miracle shots. Louisville spends much of its time looking for its ass with both hands. Notre Dame has a maddening tendency to play defense with its hands. Marquette and Villanova are too guard heavy. West Virginia has Bob Huggins. And on and on. All we can say for certain is that the quality of play in the seemingly-nightly matchups between Top 25 teams is top-shelf, and it makes up for all those other nights where we’re stuck watching Auburn-Ole Miss.
The Big Ten Doesn’t Suck This Year.Now don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying that our friendly midwestern conference is on par with the Big East, or even the ACC, but it’s a lot stronger in the middle of the pack than it has been in recent years. Not much was expected out of Minnesota (15-1), Illinois (14-2) or Michigan (13-3) this year, but each of them are playing excellent ball and have marquee wins over the likes of Louisville, Missouri, Duke and UCLA in their pockets. Combine their success with the standard good seasons expected from Michigan St. (13-2), Purdue (12-4), Ohio St. (11-3) and Wisconsin (12-4), and you have a competitive six-bid conference. Even traditional cellar dweller Penn St. (13-4) has shown signs of life this year. Heck, they even made the ACC/Big Ten Challenge competitive (losing 6-5) this year!
Our Midwestern Friends Have Been Practicing
They’re Putting It Together. Now that Tom Izzo once again has a full complement of players with Goran Suton back in the fold, Michigan St. has looked much better since their abysmal performance in the ACC/B10 Challenge against UNC. They’ve run off nine in a row with wins at Texas, at Minnesota and Ohio St. – everyone wrote this team off after that UNC game, but they’ll be heard from in March. UCLA is also quietly going about its business, also reeling off nine in a row (including a 3-0 start in road games in the Pac-10) since their loss to Texas in mid-December. Ben Howland is getting production from eleven players, and if anyone really thought the Bruins were going to have a ‘rebuilding’ season, they need to have their head checked. This team will win close to 30 games again. It’s amazing how a series of close games that go your way can make or break a team’s confidence. After Louisville had dropped tight ones to Minnesota and UNLV in late December, everyone was ready to write off the Cards. Now that they’ve won three of their lost four on the last possession, they sit at 3-0 in the Big East (with two road wins) and appear to be in relatively good shape compared to some of the other Big East contenders (UConn, ND, and Georgetown in particular). We’ll see just how good they can be when #1 Pittsburgh visits on Saturday.
Pleasant Surprises. Obviously, Wake Forest is a pretty big surprise – we expected them to be pretty good, but nobody saw a top five team coming from Dino Gaudio this year. What about Syracuse? – at 16-1 and the lone loss to Cleveland St. from 75 feet, Jim Boeheim’s crew has as much talent as just about anybody in the country. Clemson is pulling its annual ridiculous start, but there are signs that this Tiger team is legit – they have a balanced attack, they’re strong at both ends of the court, and they have good road wins at Illinois, South Carolina and Miami (FL) so far. Butler is a HUGE surprise, although we shouldn’t ever be surprised with that program. The Bulldogs sit at 14-1 and two of their top three players are freshmen, yet they once again appear to be the class of the Horizon and a top mid-major. Tubby Smith has Minnesota playing great ball, and the Gophers are on a fast track to the NCAA Tournament at least a year ahead of schedule. Coaching matters – Mike Montgomery also has California playing hard for the first time in a decade. The Bears look like a top three team in the Pac-10 at this point.
Syracuse Has the Look of a Team Built for March
Disappointments. Since the Q1 update, Gonzaga has done nothing but crap itself, losing games to Arizona, UConn, Portland St., and Utah. They did get a key OT win at Tennessee last week, and their defense is still stronger than in recent years, but for some reason or another, the Zags are having trouble putting it all together. USC is destined to become this year’s NC State (a preseason ranked team that won’t make the NCAA Tourney). The SEC – Tennessee, Florida and Kentucky – have all been various shades of disappointing. Between the cream of the SEC East, there’s what, three quality wins? On the other side of that conference, only Arkansas has even been mildly interesting, with big home wins over Oklahoma and Texas. At the mid-major level, Southern Illinois (6-8 ) and Wright St. (9-8 ) have a long way to go before they’ll turn their seasons around.
RTC Midseason All-Americans. We’ll take some heat for not putting defending NPOY Tyler Hansbrough on our first team, but his numbers, particularly his rebounding average, are off from last season. Granted, he’s still probably recovering from a stress reaction injury, so he’ll have time to recover his (rightful?) place on the 1st team, but for now, we like Griffin (obvious choice) and Harangody in our frontcourt. Curry and Harden are also easy choices in the backcourt, but we’re making a leap of faith choosing Teague – his last two games against BYU and UNC were very impressive performances (he averaged 32/5/4 assts on 59%) and we’re riding on the Wake bandwagon right now.
Jeff Teague, G – Wake Forest(21/4/4 assts on 54%/54% 3fg shooting)
Stephen Curry, G – Davidson (29/4/7 assts/3 stls on 45%/37% 3fg shooting)
James Harden, G – Arizona St. (23/6/5 assts on 56%/42% 3fg shooting)
Blake Griffin, F – Oklahoma (23/14/3 assts on 65% shooting)
Luke Harangody, F – Notre Dame (25/13 on 51% shooting)
Knocking on the Door (2d Team).
Tyler Hansbrough, F – North Carolina (22/8 on 54% shooting)
Patrick Patterson, F – Kentucky (19/9/3 assts on 71% shooting)
Dejuan Blair, F – Pittsburgh (15/13 on 61% shooting)
Manny Harris, G – Michigan (19/8/5 assts on 44%/31% 3fg shooting)
Ty Lawson, G – North Carolina (15/3/6 assts on 53%/42% 3fg shooting)
All-Freshman Team. Al-Farouq Aminu (Wake Forest), Jrue Holiday (UCLA) and Gordon Hayward (Butler) were tough to leave off this list.
Greg Monroe, C – Georgetown (14/6/3 assts on 57% shooting)
Sylven Landesberg, G – Virginia (19/6/3 assts on 49%/30% 3fg shooting)
Tyreke Evans, G – Memphis (16/6/4 assts/3 stls on 45% shooting)
Seth Curry, G – Liberty (20/4 on 45%/40% 3fg shooting)
Paul George, F – Fresno St. (16/7 on 54%/46% 3fg shooting)
Big Games (Q3). Here are the top 10 games of the next month.
Syracuse @ Georgetown – 01.14.09
Pittsburgh @ Louisville – 01.17.09
Georgetown @ Duke – 01.17.09
Wake Forest @ Clemson – 01.17.09
Texas @ Baylor – 01.27.09
Duke @ Wake Forest – 01.28.09
California @ UCLA – 01.29.09
Connecticut @ Louisville – 02.02.09
Duke @ Clemson – 02.04.09
Michigan St. @ Minnesota – 02.04.09
Notre Dame @ UCLA – 02.07.09
Extremes. This won’t last much longer, as we fully expect all three of the unbeatens to have a loss by this time next week, if not sooner. That’s what conference play does to you. NC Central will get a win against a D2 squad soon, but poor little NJIT has no relief in sight. They’re sitting on 49 in a row and, according to KenPom’s projections, 60+ in a row is within reach. Memo to NJIT coach Jim Engles – take a page from the NC Central playbook and schedule some JVHigh School D2 teams.
Unbeaten (next possible loss)
Pittsburgh (Big East):15-0 (@ Louisville 1/17)
Wake Forest (ACC): 14-0 (@ BC 1/14)
Clemson (ACC):16-0 (v. Wake Forest 1/17)
Winless (next possible win)
NJIT (Ind): 0-16 (Bryant 1/21)
North Carolina Central (Ind): 0-18 (D2 Central St 1/16)