After a Quiet Week On College Hardwood, Weekend Action Set to Heat Things Up

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 14th, 2013

The end of the winter exam period could not come soon enough for college basketball fans. Yes, we know that it’s important for the kids to take care of their academics, but even the most fervent of followers would have to admit they could only take so many more nights of Bryant being featured in the headline contest of the evening. Nothing against the Bulldogs and their tidy 6-5 start, but this weekend’s spate of entertaining match-ups should help us all regain a little sanity Last night’s Hawkeye State battle served as a worthy appetizer for Saturday’s feast of action, but before you grab the remote and plop down in the front row seat in your living room, check out these four storylines to monitor on Saturday.

Arizona Takes Its #1 Ranking to Ann Arbor Today

Arizona Takes Its #1 Ranking to Ann Arbor Today

Chances For Validation, Redemption In Ann Arbor

It may be hard to believe now, but public perception of Arizona and Michigan was pretty comparable at the start of the year. Needless to say, that is no longer the case. The Wildcats, now also known as the #1 team in the land, get a shot at validating that ranking when they visit Ann Arbor today (12:00 EST, CBS), while the floundering Wolverines will seek to redirect the trajectory of their season. Wins over the #1 team in the country have a way of curing a lot of ills, but it will take a yet-to-be-seen vigor for Michigan to earn that antidote, even on their home floor. Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan will clash with Aaron Gordon and the rest of that vaunted Arizona front line down low, but keep an eye on the battle of the Ni(c)ks. We saw against Duke how crippling a subpar night from Nik Stauskas can be for the Wolverines; if Nick Johnson’s rep as one of the best stoppers out West carries weight in Ann Arbor, Michigan may again find themselves searching for other scoring outlets. For Michigan, Saturday is an opportunity to prove that the Wolverines still might be who we thought they were; for the Cats, it’s another chance to show us that they are exactly who we think they are.

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O26 Buzz: This Week’s Top Storylines

Posted by Nicholas Patrick on December 13th, 2013

Every Friday throughout the rest of the season, the Other 26 Microsite will dig into some of the top storylines featuring those leagues from the previous week. 

1. O26 Teams Make Statements Against Power Conference Teams

George Washington's Joe McDonald and Maurice Creek turned heads with a buzzer-beating win at Maryland (washingtontimes.com)

George Washington’s Joe McDonald and Maurice Creek turned heads with a buzzer-beating win at Maryland (washingtontimes.com)

  • Saturday: New Mexico cruises at home, handing Cincinnati its first loss, 63-54; Green Bay’s Greg Mays and Keifer Sykes each contribute 20+ points to defeat Virginia, 75-72
  • Sunday: Maurice Creek’s buzzer-beater lifts George Washington to a big win at Maryland, 77-75

  • Tuesday: After trailing nearly the entire game, Gonzaga surged ahead late to win at West Virginia, 80-76
  • Wednesday: North Dakota State’s Marshall Bjorklund scored 26 points to lead the Bison over Notre Dame, 73-69

Near misses: Arizona 63, UNLV 58; Xavier 85, Bowling Green 73 (OT); Washington State 67, Idaho 66; Kansas State 64, South Dakota 62; Xavier 63, Evansville 60.

2. Chances For More Statements to Come

With only a few weeks remaining before conference play gets into full swing, opportunities are winding down for Other 26 teams to trip up power conference opponents. Some of this week’s most intriguing match-ups:

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RTC Championship Previews: Summit League

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2013

Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.

Tournament Bracket

Untitled

Whos Hot, Whos Not

Looking at the last month of play, you would have to say that Fort Wayne and Oakland are coming in as the hottest teams. I wouldn’t expect too much from Fort Wayne, but Oakland may be a team to keep an eye on. As for who is cold? North Dakota State stumbled into the tournament, and in a way, South Dakota State doesn’t have it all together like they would hope, dropping back-to-back games to Murray State and Cal State Bakersfield. If you are a believer in momentum, then you may be leaning toward Western Illinois or Oakland for this championship. But if you think home court and, well, overall skill has something to do with it, then the Dakota teams will be the favorites in this tournament.

Possible NCAA Tournament Seeding

So if you’re like me, you will be watching this weekend wondering who you can scratch into the bottom half of your bracket as a possible Cinderella team. According to kenpom.com, SDSU has the best rank at 109, while Western Illinois is a distant 131st. If SDSU wins, they will probably pull a 14-seed, but I could even see a 13 depending on how the rest of the conference championships play out. If WIU wins, then expect a 15-seed. If anyone else decides to make a crazy run at this, then you can expect to see them in one of those first round games.

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CIO… the Summit League

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 28th, 2013

CIO header

Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.

Top Storylines

  • Realignment Strikes Again: The Summit League isn’t the first conference one typically thinks of when they hear about conference realignment, but the conference isn’t immune either. UMKC will join the WAC next year, ending a 20-year relationship with the Summit League (formerly the Mid-Continent Conference) that could put the entire conference in jeopardy. According to The Kansas City Star, UMKC will not be the last team to pull the trigger on realignment. Oakland has been gunning for the Horizon League for years, and now not only do they have a spot available for them, but they could take IUPUI along as well. In fact, there is a good chance that pretty much everyone in the conference could be on the move sooner rather than later.
  • To The Nth Power: Nate Wolters is just about the only other piece of news getting national attention this year in the Summit League. He’s been incredible, averaging 22.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game, leaving plenty of room to become the first player in NCAA history to average 20/5/5 in a season since the NCAA started tracking assists in 1983. Wolters is also third in the nation in scoring, and holds the NCAA season-high scoring mark with 53 points against IPFW. If you haven’t seen him yet, you absolutely have to catch him before his run ends.
In over 20 years as a Division-I team, UMKC has yet to hang a conference championship banner. The 'Roos hope that will change as they join the WAC.

In over 20 years as a Division-I team, UMKC has yet to hang a conference championship banner. The ‘Roos hope that will change as they join the WAC.

Power Rankings

  1. South Dakota State (21-9, 12-3): They are poised to repeat as champions of the Summit League, and Nate Wolters is trying to make history. Wolters is once again carrying the Jacks in chapter two of their cinderella story. His season reminds me a lot of Ben Woodside’s senior season at North Dakota State. That team had a real chance at immortality, but couldn’t climb over Kansas. The Jacks feel like that kind of team. They are not invincible, and have showed some weaknesses in the last two weeks, but we know that it would take a major upset to prevent this team from reaching their second straight NCAA Tournament and their first regular season title. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the Summit League

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 24th, 2013

CIO header

Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.

Top Storylines

  • All Eyes On Wolters: Nate Wolters is still on pace for the improbable back-to-back 20-5-5 season. Wolters (as of 1/23) is averaging 20.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game this seaon. It’s only happened five times in NCAA history, and he already owns one of those five seasons. If he keeps the pace, Wolters will be the only player in Division I history to average those numbers twice. Although there are questions about his ability to play at the next level, Wolters is having a historic college career, and it’s mostly gone unnoticed in the mainstream. Wolters is also one of 20 finalists for the Naismith Trophy, and he became the first player in SDSU history to reach the 2,000 point mark in a win over Western Illinois on January 17.
There Aren't Many Chances Left To Catch Nate Wolters In Action.. (AP Photo)

There Aren’t Many Chances Left To Catch Nate Wolters In Action. (AP)

  • The Summit League Rising: The Summit League has reached #16 in conference RPI as of January 22. With North Dakota State, Western Illinois and South Dakota State all reaching the mid-major Top 25 rankings, the Summit League seems to have been able to preserve the mid-major clout they had worked so hard to build in recent years despite realignment. We’re still looking for that Cinderella team to break through and get a win in March. This conference has had a strong candidate every season, and now it looks like the Summit has three strong contenders emerging from the ranks.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. North Dakota State (16-4, 7-1): Taylor Braun is having a fantastic season, averaging 15.2 points and five rebounds per contest while shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc, but it is the Bison defense that has improved drastically to propel them to the top of the Summit League. NDSU is  holding opponents to 56.2 points per game and under 38 percent shooting on the season. Their last loss was against Minnesota on December 11 before falling on Saturday to a very good Western Illinois team on the road. This team is doing its best to ruin the repeat party for South Dakota State. Read the rest of this entry »
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Logistics Doesn’t Always Tell You Who Is #1

Posted by nvr1983 on January 21st, 2013

As college basketball fans we like to poke fun at college football for its use of computers to determine its champion (or at least its championship match-up), but we have to be fair and note that we use computers fairly often particularly when looking at Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, which are probably the most trusted computer ranking system in all of sports. At other times computers can be less reliable as the public was made aware after the BCS Championship Game when The Colley Matrix still ranked Notre Dame #1 even after it got destroyed by Alabama. It appears that we have our own flawed computer system in college basketball and frankly it might even be more embarrassing than Colley telling us that Notre Dame was still the best football team in the country. Earlier today we received an e-mail announcement from STATS LLC promoting its new ranking system. The e-mail began like this:

UPS (NYSE:UPS), a global logistics leader, today announced it has joined with STATS LLC, the world’s largest sports technology, data and content company, in expanding its proprietary UPS Team Performance Index (TPI) efficiency measurement platform to men’s and women’s college basketball.

Sometimes The UPS Truck Gets Lost

Sometimes The UPS Truck Gets Lost

It then went into detail about how the UPS TPI was calculated using a database that “will comprehensively measure offensive and defensive efficiency” and “will include six key statistical components with a proven correlation to a team’s overall success.” Here are those six key statistical components:

  • Offensive Measure – Effective Field Goal Percentage
  • Defensive Measure – Effective Field Goal Percentage Against
  • Rebounding – Rebounding percentage amongst all rebounds in a game (If there are 100 rebounds in a game, and your team grabs 60, your rebounding percentage is 60 %.)
  • Ball Handling – Assists/game, steals/game, opponent assists/game, opponent steals/game
  • Overall Miscues Measure – “Non-steal” turnovers/game, fouls/game, opponent non-steal turnovers/game, opponent fouls per game
  • Success Measure – Winning Percentage

On the surface it seems a little too rudimentary and appears to stress some unnecessary statistics, but being mathematically inclined and analytic individuals we were intrigued by this new rating system. That is until we saw the results. On the women’s side they had what appeared to be a reasonable top four: Connecticut, Baylor, Duke, and Notre Dame. [Ed. Note: In the interest of full disclosure, the extent of our women's basketball knowledge is being "tricked" by women's scores on ESPN's scroll every night.] The men’s rankings, on the other hand, are a little more questionable.

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The Other 26: You Will Be Entertained

Posted by IRenko on January 19th, 2013

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

After a one-week hiatus, we are back and just in time for a veritable orgy of great college hoops matchups today.  Yes, there is Louisville v. Syracuse, Florida v. Missouri, Oregon v. UCLA, and Ohio State v. Michigan State.  But things get no less interesting as you move down to the mid-major level, where several compelling matchups featuring conference contenders will unfold.  Before we get to the Top 10, let’s take a look at what’s on tap today:

  • Gonzaga at Butler — The nation’s two Cinderella darlings will square off at the storied Hinkle Fieldhouse in a made-for-TV (yes, ESPN College Gameday will be in the house) contest.  It will be the final game of Gonzaga’s non-conference schedule and, arguably, its toughest.  The loss of Rotnei Clarke to a frightening neck injury will take some of the luster off of this matchup, as Butler will be playing without their leading scorer.  The task will be no easier on the other end of the Court, as the Bulldogs will have to contend with a potent Gonzaga frontcourt, led by 7-footer Kelly Olynyk, who has emerged into a bona fide All-American candidate.  But as we all know, being the underdog suits Brad Stevens just fine.
  • Creighton at Wichita StateDoug McDermott has wowed the nation over the past week with a pair of 30-point games, and between his dominance and Creighton’s three-point shooting, the Bluejays’ offense has become quite difficult to stop.  But if there’s a team in the MVC who can do it, it’s Wichita State.  The Shockers have the best defense in the league, which will have the added boost of a raucous home crowd for this premier matchup.  The Shockers’ strong, quick guards will challenge Creighton at the other end, and Cleanthony Early might prove a tough matchup for McDermott.  Carl Hall is also back in the lineup for the Shockers, so both teams will be at full strength.
Siyani Chambers Is Having An Outstanding Freshman Year (Anthony Nesmith/CSM/Cal Sport Media/AP Images)

Siyani Chambers Is Having An Outstanding Freshman Year (Anthony Nesmith/CSM/Cal Sport Media/AP Images)

  • Harvard at Memphis — With Conference USA muddling through a down year, this could be be Memphis’ toughest opponent of the 2013 calendar year.  The Crimson have turned in a quality season despite the unexpected one-year withdrawals of senior leaders Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey due to an academic cheating scandal.  Much of the credit for that goes to freshman point guard Siyani Chambers, who is fifth in the country in minutes per game.  Tommy Amaker has put a great deal of faith in the young man, but he has rewarded him with a 31% assist rate, 50% three-point shooting average, and 88% FT shooting average.  Chambers will lock horns with Joe Jackson, who has steadied himself this season to become a reliable scorer and team leader.  The senior point guard has hit double-digits in points in 12 straight games, the longest mark of his college career.
  • Western Illinois at North Dakota State — North Dakota State has been one of the great underreported stories of the season, rolling up a 16-3 record and supplanting South Dakota State as the Summit League’s favorite.  But Western Illinois has also creeped to the top of the league standings, just a game behind NDSU at 6-1.  The Leathernecks are led by an inside-out combo of big man Terrell Parks (13.9 ppg, 9.4 rbg) and do-everything senior guard Ceola Clark.  Clark is an excellent defender, and he’ll need to be at his best to help stop a North Dakota State that is a well-oiled, methodical, efficient machine.  Marshall Bjorkland, the Bison’s 6-8 junior, is arguably the most efficient scorer in the country.  He leads the nation in effective FG percentage (72.4%) and is fourth in true shooting percentage (71.2%).
  • Utah State at Denver — Louisiana Tech remains at the top of the WAC standings after holding off Idaho on Thursday night, but these two squads are just one loss behind them.  So tonight’s game has a lot riding on it.  Expect a low-scoring contest between two of the lowest tempo teams in the country.  Royce O’Neale and Chris Udofia lead Denver’s Princeton offense, which wears down opponents with movement and relies heavily on the three-point shot.  Utah State will look to Preston Medlin, who leads the team with 16.3 points per game, and center Jarred Shaw who gets lots of touches in Stew Morrill’s offense. 
  • College of Charleston at Davidson — Charleston will have a chance to move into a tie atop the Southern Conference South standings with a win at Davidson.  They’ll be led by their backcourt combo of Andrew Lawrence and Anthony Stitt, while their hosts will rely more heavily on their frontcourt tandem of De’Mon Brooks and Jake Cohen.  Davidson can fall in love with the three-point shot to their detriment.  They’re better when they get the ball to the versatile Brooks and Cohen.  Getting the ball in the basket won’t be easy against Charleston, which has a pretty good defense anchored in the middle by Adjehi Baru.
  • Belmont v. Tennessee State – You would think that this game between the OVC’s two undefeated teams would lose its luster with the absence of Tennessee State’s star big man, Robert Covington, except for one thing — they’ve won every one of their six OVC games without him.  Covington went down with a torn meniscus in a December 18 trip to Middle Tennessee State that the Tigers went on to lose by 38 points.  At that point, they were 5-7 on the season but they’ve reeled off seven straight since and now sit atop the OVC East standings.   But they may need more than the Ewing Effect when they travel across town to face off with Belmont.  The switch from the A-Sun to the OVC hasn’t dimmed the Bruins’ ability to dominate their conference competition.

So there it is, a day-long feast for the glutton who craves mid-major hoops.  We move on, now, to the updated Top 10 rankings, our weekly (starting this week) Honor Roll, and a few more games to keep an eye on as the week unfolds.

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The Other 26: Cowboy-ing Up

Posted by IRenko on January 5th, 2013

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

College basketball has just four undefeated teams left. You can likely recite the identity of the first three:  Duke, Michigan, and Arizona, who occupy the top three spots in the AP rankings. But you may be surprised to learn that the fourth team is the Wyoming Cowboys. Larry Shyatt’s squad sits at 13-0 after a successful non-conference season that featured solid wins over Colorado, Illinois State, and Denver.

Leonard Washington Has Led Wyoming to a Surprising Undefeated Start (Troy Babbitt / US PRESSWIRE)

Leonard Washington Has Led Wyoming to a Surprising Undefeated Start (Troy Babbitt / US PRESSWIRE)

Last year, the Cowboys finished sixth in the MW. Then in the offseason, they graduated three of their five starters. So how have they managed to reel off 13 straight victories to start the year? Wyoming is very strong defensively, but they were just as good, if not better, last year. The biggest difference is a major improvement on offense, as their adjusted efficiency has gone from 0.99 points to 1.08 points per possession. That may not sound like a big difference, but when you realize that a single game is composed of dozens of possessions, it adds up to a substantially better offensive performance. This increased efficiency has been driven by the Cowboys’ ability to get to the free throw line and to convert on two-point opportunities. Senior forward Leonard Washington deserves the credit for leading the team in both respects. The 6’7″ tweener is shooting 63.7 percent on two-point field goals and draws 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes — one of the higher rates in the country.

The second significant factor in the Cowboys’ improvement is the offseason development of senior Derrious Gilmore and sophomore Larry Nance, Jr. (yes, the former NBA player’s son). Gilmore has rewarded Larry Shyatt’s decision to hand him the starting point guard spot by improving his per game averages from 3.1 points and 1.1 assists per contest to 11.8 points and 3.2 assists per game. He averages more than 32 minutes per game, second most to Washington. Nance, meanwhile, has gone from averaging 4.1 points and 4.0 rebounds per contest to 11.2 and 6.8, respectively.  He shoots over 60 percent on two-point attempts and 84.2 percent from the free throw line. Add in the contributions of returning starter and senior guard Luke Martinez (14.5 points, 42.2% 3FG) , and the Cowboys have a feature a surprising amount firepower.

Despite their undefeated mark, it remains an open question as to how good the Cowboys really are. Last year, they got off to 14-2 start during non-conference play but crumpled to a 6-8 record in the Mountain West. This year’s record is even more impressive to be sure and, as noted above, features some solid if unspectacular wins. But the strength of schedule is about to kick into a higher gear, as they enter conference play against a very deep and talented Mountain West. If they can maintain their offensive improvement through the rest of the year and continue to get contributions from a range of players, they may be Dancing for the first time since 2002 and just the second time in 25 years.

Let’s move on to this week’s Top 10, the performances that caught our eye this past week, and the games to watch in the week ahead.

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ATB: Referees Deny Colorado At The Buzzer, USC Upends Stanford and The CAA’s Wretched State…

Posted by Chris Johnson on January 4th, 2013

ATB

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

Tonight’s Lede. Pac-12 Takes Center Stage. Last season, the Pac-12 made history by becoming the first Big Six conference not to send its regular season champion to the NCAA Tournament via an at-large bid. The downward spiral that lead to this unfortunate circumstance began in non-conference play, where the league squandered nearly all of its big match-ups, which deflated the Pac-12’s RPI and set up a vicious cycle whereby teams had no shot of upward movement on the NCAA bubble shuffling line. This year, the league is marginally better. The high-end quality, starting with UCLA and Arizona, is light year’s ahead of where it was last season, but the league as a whole isn’t all that much improved. Three momentous Pac-12 matchups – Cal at UCLA, Colorado at Arizona and Stanford at USC – highlighted tonight’s slate, each of which allowed for valuable observation and analysis. Without giving away the rest of tonight’s ATB, I’ll reveal this much: the Pac-12 isn’t horrible!; which is to say, the regular season champ, whoever that may be, should be on solid footing come Selection Sunday.

Your Watercooler Moment. Apparent Buzzer-Beater Waved Off To Deny Colorado Huge Road Win At Arizona.

In truth, I’d love to discuss the way Colorado went out and fought Arizona for 40 minutes (and OT), the way Tad Boyle’s team got five players in double figures and played remarkably resilient hoop against the No. 3 team in the country in a tough road environment, the way the Buffaloes proved the Pac-12 race is far from the foregone conclusion many envisioned after the Wildcats’ veritably peerless non-conference work. But I just can’t. The biggest talking point is unavoidable – Sabatino Chen’s buzzer beater that wasn’t. Debate will rage on for days about whether or not Chen’s banked-in three was released before the buzzer, and whether the officials had enough evidence to overturn the initial ruling (a made bucket, a Colorado win). For a closer look, assuming you’re not satisfied with the real-time footage provided above, check out this GIF segmenting Chen’s release into discrete steps. The controversy will intensify if this ultimately leads to Colorado’s NCAA Tournament denial. But seeing as Colorado took the undefeated Wildcats to the absolute brink – and did so without a productive scoring night from star forward Andre Roberson (nine points on 3-of-7 from the floor) – this team looks very capable of making noise in the Pac 12 title chase and earning an at-large bid without sweating Selection Sunday. Besides, an event as controversial and contentious as this often has a galvanizing effect on a team. This could springboard Colorado into a substantial winning streak; the opposite effect – a demoralizing defeat that leads to a downward losing spiral – is a possibility, but I’m not betting on Colorado feeling sorry for itself. Tad Boyle will have his bunch playing inspired basketball when they take the floor at Arizona State in three days. Fairly or unfairly officiated, it’s a total drag to see such a tight game come down to an official’s whistle. When two of the Pac 12’s best teams meet up, I think we can all agree the teams, not the referees, should be the ones settling the final score.

Tonight’s Quick Hits…

  • Wolverines Dispel B1G Road Game Theory. The common perception about this year’s Big Ten is that every road game, save a few locales, will be a chore. That’s been the look of things so far, with Illinois losing to Purdue Wednesday night, and Indiana just barely hanging on at Iowa on New Year’s Eve. Michigan had no such trouble on its trip to Northwestern. The Wolverines trounced Bill Carmody’s team on the strength of 44 combined points from backcourt duo Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Burke got anything he wanted, whenever and wherever he wanted it. The Wildcats, already without defensive specialist JerShonn Cobb (suspension) and perimeter weapon Drew Crawford (injury), were without leading scorer Reggie Hearn, which turned an already undermanned lineup into coterie of inexperienced freshmen and marginal role players. Whether or not Northwestern was at full strength, Michigan wasn’t losing this game. In fact, I’m not sure there’s a team in the country that can beat the Wolverines when they shoot 59 percent from beyond the arc and just under 60 percent overall. Read the rest of this entry »
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ATB: Bluegrass Battle Produces Drama, UNC Steps Up Against UNLV, and One Excellent Day For Kevin Ollie….

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 31st, 2012

ATB

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

The Weekend’s Lede. Commonwealth Rivalry Lives Up. It doesn’t get any bigger than Louisville-Kentucky. There are little rivalries that make for great shows of organic competitiveness and bitterness, but they have nothing on what took place Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center. Each year, no matter the disparities in talent or experience, these teams come to play in this rivalry game. The emotional baggage makes the Commonwealth clash an event in itself. When you get two Top 25 sides trading jabs, two coaches with well-established personal gripes – one of whom has navigated the delicate balance of a blue-to-red partisan conversion – there’s added drama to throw on top of the natural hatred. One side (Louisville) entered with more talent, experience and depth, but as is the case in most rivalry games, the final outcome was decided based on who could execute better in crunch time (and who could convert from the free throw line). Whatever your allegiance, or if your viewing interest was of the impartial variety, it’s hard to begrudge the sheer quality and entertainment factor of Saturday’s contest. Louisville-Kentucky was the massive event overshadowing the rest of the weekend, but there were a few other interesting games on tap. Time to wrap up the final weekend of non-conference play.

Your Watercooler Moment. Harrow Doesn’t Break Under Pressure.

Considering he was facing the most relentless ball-pressuring backcourt in the country, Harrow managed the big stage with unexpected poise (photo credit: Getty Images).

Considering he was facing the most relentless ball-pressuring backcourt in the country, Harrow managed the big stage with unexpected poise (photo credit: Getty Images).

The biggest question mark looming over Kentucky’s slow start was the comfort and progression of point guard Ryan Harrow. No one ever said he was going to be Derrick Rose, or even Marquis Teague – the Calipari point guard dynasty is a tough standard to maintain – Harrow simply needs to operate at a level that allows the Wildcats to maximize the talents of Kyle Wiltjer, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin on the perimeter, and enable Nerlens Noel to capitalize on easy lobs and putbacks. Even that seemed like a pipe dream for Harrow following a mysterious four-game absence in November. He’s made huge strides over the past three weeks, and had his best game (23 points on 10-of-17 shooting) just over a week ago in an 82-54 win over Marshall. That was a small step. In Louisville, Harrow was walking into one of the best defensive backcourts statistically-speaking in NCAA history (its 80.0 adjusted defensive efficiency entering Saturday’s game ranks among the best marks in Ken Pomeroy’s database, dating back to 2003), and few believed he was ready to handle the type of pressure Russ Smith and Peyton Siva were going to throw at him. Harrow jumped into the biggest spotlight of his career and performed like a point guard of Calipari’s recent vintage. Not only did Harrow score 17 points and help spearhead a furious second-half rally, but he committed zero turnovers, found ways to ward off the active hands and smothering pressure of Siva and Smith, and commanded Kentucky’s offense with aplomb. The scoreboard reflects a Kentucky loss, a short-term disappointment. In the long term, if Harrow’s performance is a barometer for his development and maturation in Calipari’s system, Saturday was a huge win. With a capable point guard puppeteering the offense, the future is bright for Kentucky.

Also Worth Chatting About. Don’t Count Out UNC Yet.

The Tar Heels Looked locked-in defensively against the talented Rebels (photo credit: Getty Images).

The Tar Heels Looked locked-in defensively against the talented Rebels (photo credit: Getty Images).

If any team needed a statement win heading into conference play, it was North Carolina. Besides a puzzling loss at Texas (and even that, given the Longhorns’ defensive chops, is not a fatal misstep) The Tar Heels hadn’t exactly dropped the ball in non-conference play – they lost to two very good teams from the state of Indiana, one an offensive juggernaut (IU) and one a vaunted perfectionist (Butler) in the art of sizing up and beating down more talented opponents – but they hadn’t exactly looked like the ACC front-runner many expected them to be. The visiting UNLV Rebels offered a prime opportunity to hold court against a top-20-level outfit, and build some serious momentum for ACC play in the process. UNC’s stifling defense and balanced scoring overwhelmed the Rebels, who suffered a brutal five-minute field goal-less streak in the second half and received an uncharacteristically inefficient showing from freshman wunderkind Anthony Bennett (15 points on 6-of-16 shooting). Neither team was at full strength – Mike Moser played just 12 minutes in his return from an elbow injury, and Reggie Bullock was scratched with a concussion – but UNC seized its last big chance to make a splash before ACC play. And with a brutal six-game stretch featuring games against Virginia, Miami, Florida State, Maryland and NC State up next, the Tar Heels needed a momentum boost in the biggest way. The proud fans in Chapel Hill can breathe, for now, and feel better about this season not mimicking a 2009-10 campaign that saw the Tar Heels follow up the Hansborough-Lawson-Green-Ellington supergroup with an NIT appearance.

Your Quick Hits….

  • Santa Clara Tests Duke. It is a fundamental truism of the 2012-13 college hoops season that Gonzaga will win the West Coast Conference. In fact, I’m willing to go ahead and bet the Zags will have created enough distance from other challengers by February 1 to have rendered the word “race” completely and utterly moot. The rest of the league is far less certain. St. Mary’s is the logical favorite to claim the No. 2 spot. Loyola Marymount is always a tough out. And you can never discount BYU and the daunting road trip that is Provo, Utah. Time to insert a new name in the conversation: Santa Clara. The Broncos went into Cameron Indoor Saturday night and put a scare into the No. 1 Blue Devils, their upset bid powered by 29 points from senior guard Kevin Foster. That’s the kind of confidence-building performance that pays dividends in conference play, when you can rest assured Santa Clara will ride into any road environment exuding confidence and poise.
  • Ollie Gets First Win With New Job Title. Hours before Cincinnati’s Saturday night tipoff with visiting Washington, ESPN’s Andy Katz reported UConn had signed Kevin Ollie to a five-year contract extension, thus eliminating the interim tag and granting the long-term security most believed Ollie had earned after leading the Huskies to a 9-2 start and creating a smooth transitory bridge from Jim Calhoun’s fiery coaching style to a new era of UConn basketball. Losing your first game after receiving a big financial commitment from AD Warde Manuel would have been a bad look. The Huskies’ talented backcourt trio of Shabazz Napier, Omar Calhoun and Ryan Boatwright ensured their new coach had a win to back up his new job title, with each posting double-figure scoring totals in an eight-point victory over Washington. UConn may not have postseason motivations on its side, but what it does have, thanks to Saturday’s extension, is a huge incentive to help lay the foundation for Ollie’s tenure and a return to national relevance. Read the rest of this entry »
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The Other 26: The Mountain West Enters the Spotlight

Posted by IRenko on December 29th, 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.

The action was light during this past holiday week, but the Mountain West’s finest took advantage of the lull to thrust themselves into the spotlight with two exciting contests, a pair of one-point games against top 10 teams decided by last-second blocks. In the final of the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, San Diego State fell just short against third-ranked Arizona, losing 68-67 when Xavier Thames’ potential winning shot was blocked by Arizona’s Nick Johnson as time expired. Two days later, New Mexico visited eighth-ranked Cincinnati and emerged with a hard-fought 55-54 victory that was sealed by a last-second block from sophomore Alex Kirk. What was most impressive about these hard-fought contests is how both teams showed that even if you take away some of their key weapons, they are deep and versatile enough to compete.

(Getty Images)

Alex Kirk Led a Tough New Mexico Performance Against Cincinnati (Getty Images)

The Lobos distinguished themselves not just with a victory, but the way they earned it. They are accustomed to racking up points at the free throw line, but reached the charity stripe at only a 20 percent rate, far below their season average and good enough for just six points. But they gritted out the win by patiently moving the ball against Cincy’s high-pressure halfcourt defense to find open shooters and cutters. Junior point guard Kendall Williams turned in a performance befitting of a team leader, stepping up to hit several big three-pointers and finishing the game with a team-high 16 points. But it was Kirk who set the tone with his lunch bucket performance, fearlessly hurling himself into battle against Cincinnati’s imposing frontline and surviving with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting, seven rebounds, and three blocks, including a game-clinching rejection of a Sean Kilpatrick three-point shot.

The Aztecs, too, can be proud of the fight they showed in Honolulu despite coming up short. Leading scorer Jamaal Franklin was held to just nine points, his lowest output of the season.  But Franklin found other ways to contribute, pulling down eight rebounds and dishing out six assists. And San Diego State found other players to carry the scoring load. Chase Tapley, who had already poured in 46 points in the first two games of the tournament, dropped 19 against Arizona to push his season scoring average to 15.8 PPG. And the Aztecs showed how strong their defense is, holding the Wildcats to 37.3 percent shooting.

This Saturday, UNLV will have a chance to intensify this week’s spotlight on the Mountain West when they travel to North Carolina. In a year when the conference seems as deep as any in the country, the only lingering doubt heading into this past week was whether they had the heavyweights to compete with the nation’s best teams. But as the final week of non-conference play comes to a close, the conference’s top teams are leaving little doubt that they can.

Top Ten Rankings

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CIO…the Summit League

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 22nd, 2012

CIO header

Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.

Top Storylines

  • Oh, Pioneers—The University of Denver accepted an invitation to join The Summit League next season, rounding out the conference to 10 members. It’s a good move geographically for Denver, but besides a money saver on road trips, it doesn’t make much sense from a college basketball standpoint. Denver’s bad move could end up dissolving the WAC, as CBS’ Jeff Goodman pointed out in his short write-up about the move. Realignment will surely never end.
  • Nate Wolters’ march towards history—No player in college basketball history has ever averaged 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists in two separate seasons. Only five players have ever done it once—Norris Cole (Cleveland State 2010-11), Evan Turner (Ohio State 2009-10), Ricky Minard (Morehead State 2003-04), Speedy Claxton (Hofstra 1999-2000), and Nate Wolters (2011-12). Right now, Wolters is on the edge—averaging 19.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 6.0 assists. It is an impressive stat that speaks volumes to this guy’s talent level and consistency. Something we will be keeping tabs on the rest of the season.
  • Mid-Major Rankings—For the second consecutive week, two Summit League teams are ranked in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 poll. South Dakota State is threatening to break into the top-10 if they keep the pace, rising to #13 this week. North Dakota State remains at #25. It’s a welcome sight for Summit League fans, who have suffered through an abysmal season so far, with six teams posting a record well below .500.
Four-year runs like the one Nate Wolters is putting together happen very rarely. (South Dakota State Photo)

Four-year runs like the one Nate Wolters is putting together don’t come our way very often. (South Dakota State athletics)

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. South Dakota State (5-3, 1-0) — To be fair, South Dakota State hasn’t done much this season to be put on Cinderella watch. They showed some major weaknesses in their 27-point flop against Belmont, ending a three-game win streak against Montana, Cal State Bakersfield and NAIA opponent Dakota State. Their best win was a 78-77 nail biter against Marshall, a middle of the pack Conference USA team. On the bright side, the Jacks have one of the best point guards in the country, and as long as he is on the floor, they are going to dominate this conference. They aren’t as talented as they were last season, but neither is the rest of the league. Their next test comes against #16 New Mexico, but a more impactful matchup will take place on December 29th against their closest rivals in the Summit League—the North Dakota State Bison. We will know by then how ready the Jacks are to defend their title. Read the rest of this entry »
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