Checking In On… the Big Sky Conference

Posted by rtmsf on January 21st, 2012

Jonathan Reed of Big Sky Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky conference. You can find him on Twitter at @bigskybball.

Reader’s Take

 

The Past Couple Weeks

  • Weber State gets some players back: Kyle Bullinger was a first-team all conference player last year, and Frank Otis was a starter after transferring from SMU. However, both players got hurt a few weeks ago, and missed significant time. For the most part, the Wildcats were still fine, mostly thanks to the play of “Fly Guy” Damian Lillard. However, these two returned to action last week, and that makes WSU even more dangerous.
  • Round One of Weber State/Montana goes to Wildcats: These are the two best teams in the Big Sky this year, which means there is a good chance they will meet three times. In the first matchup, Weber State took control of the game and control of the conference, beating Montana by 16. It was really a fantastic win, and clearly puts Weber State a head above everyone else in the conference right now.
  • The best comeback of the year: With 11:21 to play on 1/14, Idaho State trailed Sacramento State, 54-32. With two minutes to play, they were down by 10. With 12 seconds to play, they were down by three. But then, after a Kenny McGowen four-point play, they miraculously won the game on the road. For a team that has been struggling for a few years, this is a win for them to savor. For Sacramento State, I’m not sure they can recover from that and still have a realistic shot at the Big Sky tournament.

Who's The Best Team In The Big Sky? Damian Lillard (ball) and Weber State Answered That Question After Its Impressive Win Over Montana

Power Rankings

  1. Weber State (15-3, 7-0) – There are two good signs for the Wildcats and bad signs for the rest of the conference. One, WSU has been impossible to beat at home this year, as they possess an 11-0 home mark. Two, the winner of the Big Sky regular season hosts the conference tournament. As of now, it would be foolish to predict that that team will be anyone other than the Wildcats. They are the best team in the Big Sky right now without question. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big Sky Conference

Posted by rtmsf on December 24th, 2011

Jonathan Reed of Big Sky Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky conference. You can find him on Twitter at @bigskybball.

Reader’s Take

 

The Past Couple Weeks

  • Northern Arizona Head Coach Mike Adras Resigns – This was a bit of a shocker when it happened, as Adras seemed to be well regarded by the fans and has a long, solid track record for the Lumberjacks. But all of a sudden, in his 13th year as head coach, he was out. The school’s press release said he left to “pursue other opportunities,” while many rumblings said it was more of a forced resignation. As is often the case, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but it is not something we will likely know.
  • Idaho State Head Coach Joe O’Brien Resigns – This one you could see coming, though it was still a bit of a shock to have a second Big Sky coach resign in the middle of the year. O’Brien was in the final year of his contract, and it seemed clear that he needed to win or he might have been looking for other employment at the end of the year. With the Bengals sitting at 2-8, he decided to resign now, and give someone else (assistant coach Deane Martin) a chance to be the head man. From all accounts O’Brien was a very nice guy, he just was not able to get the job done in Pocatello. Here’s hoping he lands on his feet.
  • Weber State Misses Opportunities – Early in the season, especially after the Wildcats beat Utah State, there was talk that they might have a small chance at an at-large bid if they were not able to win the Big Sky. Unfortunately, that is no longer on the table, as losses to St. Mary’s, BYU, and Cal (the latter two being blowouts) have blown any chance of that. The last bracketology by Joe Lunardi projected Weber State as a No. 16 seed, as they were not able to secure the key non-conference victories they would have liked (in their defense, they are battling injury problems). So once again, the Big Sky will certainly be a one-bid league.

What Team Is The Top Challenger for Weber State? It Could Very Well Be Will Cherry and Montana. (AP)

Power Rankings

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 12.19.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 19th, 2011

  1. Busy weekend around the conference, so let’s get right to it. The big story on Sunday was Washington’s blowout loss against Nate Wolters and South Dakota State, the first non-conference home loss for the Huskies in 32 games. Wolters went for 34 points, seven assists, five rebounds, and no turnovers in a full 40 minutes of work, while Tony Wroten led the Huskies in scoring for the third straight game with 23 points. Sophomore Terrence Ross was limited some by foul trouble, but after knocking down the first points of the game, he wound up with just six points on three-of-four shooting, the first game of the year where he failed to score in double figures. Coming off a hard-fought win on Friday night over a tough UC Santa Barbara team in Lorenzo Romar’s 200th win at Washington, U-Dub was looking to string together back-to-back wins for the first time in over a month.  However, aside from Wolters’ excellence, the rest of the Jackrabbits were on fire too, as the team shot 10-of-16 from three and posted a 64.7 eFG% on the night. While the Husky offense is starting to find life with Wroten leading the show (although the relative absence of Ross is disturbing), this team can’t be a consistent winner until they shore up things on the defensive end.
  2. Saturday found Pac-12 schools losing in new and inventive ways. For instance, USC, which has been rock solid all year, allowed Georgia, one of the worst shooting teams in a BCS conference, to shoot a season-best 61.6 eFG% as they came back from an eight-point second half deficit to put the Trojans away. Bulldog freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope drilled a late three to ice the game and went for a career-high 21 points. The Trojans owned the glass on both ends of the floor, grabbing 90% of all Georgia misses and even 46.6% of their own, but their inability to get any defensive stops, especially over the last ten minutes of the game, wasted freshman Alexis Moore’s career-high 18 points.
  3. Northern Arizona has traveled to face Arizona State in Tempe for the second time in six years – and came away with their second win in a row in the Sun Devils’ building. Junior point guard Stallon Saldivar not only hit the game-winning three-pointer with under a second left to lift the Lumberjacks, but poured in a career-high 24 points, including six threes, while handing out nine assists and playing every minute of the game. His ASU counterpart, Keala King, did his best to keep the Sun Devils around, scoring 16 and handing out seven assists, but continued to struggle with turnovers, coughing it up five more times on Saturday. However, for the time being, it looks like King is the only real option at the point, as junior Chris Colvin returned from a one-game suspension to play exactly two minutes against NAU.
  4. Skipping over Gonzaga’s “manhandling” of Arizona, and Oregon’s disappointing second half against Virginia, let’s jump to some good news. First, Utah earned its first win over a Division I opponent on Friday night, knocking off Idaho State 71-59 in a game the Utes dedicated to junior guard Glen Dean, who is in a hospital recovering from brain surgery. Even better news that the Utes win is the news that Dean appears to be on the road to recovery and the team hopes to have the transfer, who is sitting out this season due to NCAA rules, back in the fold after the New Year. The other highlight of the weekend around the Pac-12 was the stellar defense job that California and its senior guard Jorge Gutierrez did on the nation’s leading scorer, Damian Lillard, in the Golden Bears’ win over Weber State. Lillard did wind up with 14 points, but he had to take 17 shots to get those, making just four of his field goal attempts in the 20-point Cal win.
  5. Stanford got back on the court after a 12-day hiatus to deal with finals, and handled San Diego with relative ease in a game in which ten of the 13 Cardinal players who got on the court played at least ten minutes. However, despite holding the Toreros to a sub-50 eFG%, head coach Johnny Dawkins was displeased with the team’s defensive effort, citing a lack of communication that allowed USD to score 34 second-half points. A renewed emphasis on the defensive end does not bode well for Bethune-Cookman, the Cardinal’s next opponent on Monday night.
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Morning Five: 12.12.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 12th, 2011

  1. As you may have heard, there was a small fracas at the end of the Xavier-Cincinnati game on Saturday. The two schools suspended four players each for their actions with the suspensions ranging from six games (for Yancy Gates and Cheikh Mbodj) to one game along with unspecified community service obligations. While there are a handful of fans and media members who are saying that the schools did a good job handling the punishments, it seems like a vast majority have been quite critical of the relatively light suspensions especially after what they believed they were hearing from Mick Cronin in his post-game press conference (a topic we wrote about yesterday). Although it has been discussed ad nauseum within the college basketball world, don’t be surprised if this is one of the major stories on sports radio and all the talking head TV shows even if does get buried under Tebow-mania.
  2. It took him long enough, but Ben Howland finally decided to kick Reeves Nelson off the UCLA basketball team on Friday. It does not appear that there was another specific incident that led Howland to finally get rid of Nelson, but instead it appears that it was more the result of a series of discussions that Nelson had with Howland and how Howland felt Nelson was responding to his punishment. We are not sure if this decision will finally spark a lifeless Bruin team as they struggled on Saturday to beat a mediocre Penn team at home. We aren’t sure where Nelson will end up next or if he will ever live up to his potential (our guess: no), but it might be instructive to see how he responded to his dismissal.
  3. On Saturday, Georgetown announced that highly touted freshman center Tyler Adams would be out indefinitely while undergoing tests to work up a potential cardiac abnormality. While we don’t know what Adams is being worked up for, the most likely reasons are for hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy or an arrhythmia. We probably don’t need to tell you that cardiac conditions can be serious, but if you missed our prior post on the increased incidence of sudden cardiac death in Division I men’s basketball players it is worth a read. It goes without saying that basketball should be a distant secondary concern for Adams at the time and we hope that whatever triggered this work-up was an isolated event and not a significant medical problem not so much for his basketball career as for the rest of his life.
  4. While Kansas picked up a big victory at home on Saturday against a Jared Sullinger-less Ohio State team, they also suffered a blow when it was announced that Tyshawn Taylor had torn his meniscus in his right knee earlier in the week and would be undergoing surgery. According to reports, the surgery, which is a fairly simple procedure, went well and Taylor is expected to be out for three weeks. Until he returns a relatively young Jayhawk team will have to learn to adjust to life without their talented, but mercurial leader, who himself has had trouble with turnovers this season. This majority of the point guard duties will probably be handed over to Elijah Johnson or one of the younger players on the team like Naadir Tharpe. Fortunately for the Jayhawks, they don’t really have another tough opponent until January 16 (five weeks from now) when they play Baylor.
  5. We are always surprised when a coach resigns in the middle of the season and even moreso when it is an established coach so when Northern Arizona‘s Mike Adras abruptly announced that he was stepping down on Friday we were shocked. Adras, who compiled a 193-170 record in 13 seasons at the school, led the team to its second NCAA Tournament appearance ever in 2000, but had not been back to the NCAA Tournament since then and his team started this season 2-7. Adras had very little to say in the school’s official release other than the usual generic stuff about being proud of what he accomplished and leaving to pursue other undisclosed opportunities. Interestingly, Adras never actually told his players about his decision to leave and as of this writing apparently has not talked to the team about it, which makes it seem like he may have actually had a little push from the administration to help him with his decision to resign. For the time being, 70 year-old Dave Brown will act as the interim head coach while the school begins its search for a permanent replacement.
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Checking In On… the Big Sky Conference

Posted by rtmsf on December 8th, 2011

Jonathan Reed of Big Sky Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky conference. You can find him on Twitter at @bigskybball.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was:

  • Weber State off with injury problemsKyle Bullinger dislocated his elbow last weekend, and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. Frank Otis got injured in the loss to BYU, and it is not sure how long he will be out. That is two front court starters down, and I’m not sure Weber State has the horses up front to really absorb injuries that easily. The Wildcats will struggle scoring down low, and need Byron Fulton to give them some quality minutes. In the backcourt, the Weber State coaching staff decided to pull the redshirt on Gelaun Wheelwright to give them more depth. There is obviously a lot of season left, but December is not going as planned.
  • Damian Lillard as a national player – After scoring 36 points in a road loss to St. Mary’s, Lillard (26.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG) became the nation’s leading scorer and national pundits began to take notice. In the next game, the Oakland native really broke out, scoring 41 points and hitting the game-winner against San Jose State, before facing a BYU defense on Wednesday that locked him up somewhat (15 points). Lillard became the Big Sky Player of the Week and received an article on ESPN, almost immediately becoming one of the more well-known players among the mid-majors. Lillard is lightning quick with a solid (though not spectacular) outside shot. Lillard’s play this season is proving more and more why some people say he is a legitimate NBA prospect.

Damian Lillard Has Broken Out In a Big Way This Year

  • Will the real contenders please stand up? – It has been a bit of a wacky, up-and-down start for the Big Sky, with teams missing out on big chances to assert themselves. Thus far, it seems like the clear top-5 are as below in the power rankings, but the order is very fluid right now. On some nights, it seems like any of them can win the league, and on other nights, it looks like they will struggle to make the conference tournament. There is work to do up top.

Power Rankings

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Pac-12 SYT: 12.06 & 12.07

Posted by Connor Pelton on December 6th, 2011


See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Week five begins with a pair of great games on the east coast. Tonight we get Washington against #11 Marquette in New York City, and on Wednesday Arizona will travel to #12 Florida. Here’s a quick look at both games.

Washington vs #11 Marquette – Tuesday, 6:00 PM PST on ESPN (***)

Derrick Wilson is just one of many superb defenders on the Marquette roster. (credit: Zhao Lim)

  • All of a sudden Washington finds itself in a new situation. After dropping two of their last three games, the Huskies come into the Jimmy V Classic with zero expectations. They have the talent to pull an upset, but poor offensive performances against mediocre defenses lately has me on the fence. The Huskies have looked confused, and at some points just plain bad, against average defensive teams like Nevada, so what is going to happen tonight when they face one of the best defensive teams in the nation? Marquette likes to play over on pick-and-rolls and push the opposing big men away from the basket, so expect this to be a very physical contest. Look for Darnell Gant and Aziz N’Diaye to be huge in this game. If they can enforce their will and get good looks in the paint, Washington has a good chance of winning this one.
  • This game will go one of two ways. Either Marquette is just going to come out and dominate the Huskies, or Washington hits their outside shots, gets some good looks in the paint, and is in position to win it at the end. I see the latter happening, but Marquette is just too good to lose this one. Give me the Eagles by five. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big Sky Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 22nd, 2011

Jonathan Reed of Big Sky Basketball  is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky conference. You can find him on Twitter at @bigskybball.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Weber State Starts Hot– Weber State was projected as the team to beat before the season, and they have done nothing to change that perception. The biggest win was a home victory over in-state rival Utah State, which is a start to get them on the map nationally (more on that later). Star player Damian Lillard has quelled any concerns that his injury last year might longer, as he has looked as explosive as ever. The Wildcats are getting great guard play, but they need some more contributions from the frontcourt.

Weber State and Lillard Might Have an Outside Shot at a Bid.

  • The League of Moral Victories – The Big Sky has played a lot of good teams well this year, but has come up short of any signature victories. Consider the following losses – Eastern Washington lost at Gonzaga and Oregon (and led in the second half in both games), Montana State lost by six at Arizona State (though they did beat Utah), Idaho State lost by four at Oklahoma, and Sacramento State lost by 11 at Washington State (but led much of the second half). Unfortunately, national respect is earned by real victories; moral victories need not apply.
  • Northern Colorado Struggles On The Road: Perhaps no team in the Big Sky has had a tougher schedule to begin the year, and it has showed. The Bears started the year with a tight home loss to New Mexico State, got blown out on at Wyoming, and lost to Northern Iowa. (At the time of this being written, the game against Iowa State had not been played). They are clearly talented, but they are very young. Some Bears fans thought the momentum from last season would carry over to a top three finish, but that seems unlikely.

Power Rankings (records as of Tuesday, November 22)

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RTC Conference Primers: #27 – Big Sky Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 7th, 2011

Jonathan Reed of Big Sky Basketball  is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky conference. You can find him on Twitter at @bigskybball.

Readers’ Take

Top Storylines

  • The Return of Damian Lillard – Three years ago, Lillard was the Big Sky Freshman of the Year. Two years ago, he was the Big Sky Player of the Year. Last year, he was the Preseason Player of the Year and his team, Weber State, was the pick to win the Conference. Then, he broke his foot in the ninth game of the year, and the Wildcats finished third. Due to some smart scheduling tactics, Lillard was granted a medical redshirt and will be a junior this season. He says he is one hundred percent healthy, and if that is true, Weber State is the easy favorite to win the Big Sky.

Weber State's Damian Lillard Is The Toast of the Big Sky. (AP Photo/Michael Dinneen)

  • Beginning of the Jim Hayford Era For Eastern Washington – Out is Kirk Earlywine, who put together four bad seasons in Cheney, finishing with a 42-78 record. In is Jim Hayford, who had been extremely successful at Division III Whitworth University, where he had a 217-57 record. Earlywine did not leave the cupboard bare (even with would-be top returner Glen Dean transferring to Utah), and a top three finish is possible for the Eagles. Hayford has also showed early recruiting prowess, getting Collin Chiverton to keep his commitment to EWU.
  • How Does Northern Colorado Build on Momentum? – 2007 was Northern Colorado’s first season in the Big Sky, and they finished a sparkling 4-24 (with a 2-14 conference record). Last season, BJ Hill continued the impressive turnaround begun by previous head coach Tad Boyle (now with Colorado), leading the Bears to their first ever NCAA Tournament berth, where they lost to San Diego State. However, nobody in the conference was hit harder than UNC by graduation, most notably losing Player of the Year Devon Beitzel. Hill brought in a solid recruiting class, and he will need guys to step up early.  The Bears could be picked as low as seventh in the conference this year, but anything in the top five would keep the program’s momentum going strong.
  • Wide Open Race in the MiddleWeber State and Montana are the prohibitive favorites to win the Conference, but the race really opens up after those two. If you ask five different people who will finish third in the Big Sky, you will get five different answers. That will add up to a lot of competitive ballgames, as the balance in the conference is strong. Anyone is capable of beating anyone else on a given night.

Predicted Order of Finish

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Where Does Jim Calhoun Rank Historically?

Posted by nvr1983 on April 7th, 2011

We realize that Jim Calhoun hasn’t decided to retire yet and there is still a pretty good chance that he will come back for at least one more season given his frequently stated desire to always look for a fight. Still we think that it is reasonable to suggest that even if he doesn’t retire during this off-season he will be retiring in the near future given his age (he will turn 69 in May) and well-documented medical history. So we ask the question that has been on the minds of many journalists during the past few days: where does he rank historically?

Calhoun already has quite a legacy

By almost any measure (ignoring the opinions of some rival fans) Calhoun would be considered a top 10 coach all-time putting him into a category that includes such luminaries as John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp, Bob Knight, Phog Allen, and others. That much is obvious, but once you get into that group the measures used to differentiate those coaches gets more subtle. Certainly a coach would need to have longevity and a consistent record of putting winning teams on the floor, which could be measured by the career wins. A good bar to set there would probably be 600 wins. If you want to argue for a higher standard be careful because the legendary John Wooden “only” had 664 career wins, a number that many current number-crunching analysts would deem paltry compared to others in this group. Winning championships is certainly important, but as this season clearly demonstrated it doesn’t necessarily reflect having the best team, which Northern Arizona coach Mike Adrus indicated with his vote in the final coaches’ poll. Still at some point that is what the sport boils down to. When we look back at this season we will remember UConn’s tournament run more than Pittsburgh‘s excellent regular season. Setting the bar at 2 NCAA titles narrows the group down to 13, but includes individuals like Billy Donovan, who picked up his championships in back-to-back years, and would have a hard time making a list of top 10 active coaches much less top 10 all-time. It also leaves much to be desired when you consider that highly successful coaches like Jim Boeheim and John Thompson only have one championship each despite having a much bigger historical impact on college basketball than Donovan (at least to this point). The next factor would probably be a coach’s impact on the program and the game, which is a more nebulous concept and consequently impossible  to quantify. Still all other things being equal you would probably have to give the nod to someone who turned a program from an also-ran into a national power over someone who took over at a traditional power and continued to win even if that coach did bring the program up a notch or two. Others have undertaken the endeavor of trying  to rank coaches in order with The Sporting News being the most notable among them, but that isn’t our objective (at least not for today). Instead we will focus on Calhoun, his legacy, and his place in the history of the game.

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Past Imperfect: The Tournament We Forgot

Posted by JWeill on March 18th, 2011

Past Imperfect is a series focusing on the history of the game. Each week, RTC contributor JL Weill (@AgonicaBossEmail) highlights some piece of historical arcana that may (or may not) be relevant to today’s college basketball landscape. This week: the lost, great 1998 NCAA tournament.

The 1998 NCAA tournament is the most exciting, bracket busting, nerve-wracking, well-played tournament in the modern era. And yet, no one seems to remember it. It’s sandwiched right there between “Simon says, ‘Championship,’” and Khalid El-Amin atop the scorer’s table. Can you see it? Look closely, it’s there. It’s the one with the two weird teams in the Final Four, the North Carolina squad coached by the old guy (no, not Dean Smith, the other old guy) and the first-year black coach at Kentucky. Oh, I know what will help…it’s the one where the coach’s kid hits that shot. Oh, now you remember.

It’s a shame, too, that no one remembers the 1998 tourney in toto. From beginning to end, the tournament was riveting, nip-and-tuck, gut-twisting basketball. And it didn’t take long at all to shake things up. On the first day, before many people were probably even aware that games were afoot, an out-of-the-way locale provided fans with some of the tournament’s most in-your-face moments, courtesy of a few names fans would become very familiar with over the next decade but who at the time were little known outside of the basketball community. But strange things can happen in Boise.

Ben Howland, then coach of the 15th-seeded Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, had his team on the cusp of history, all even at 62 apiece with Bob Huggins’ two-seed Cincinnati with just seconds remaining. Northern Arizona was the nation’s best three-point shooting team that year, so it was doubly cruel when Cincinnati’s D’Juan Baker buried an open three to win the game with just 3.6 seconds left to save the Bearcats’ skin. But Cincinnati’s flirtation with late-game disaster would come back to bite them the next round when, this time against West Virginia, Baker again hit a deep three-pointer to give his team the lead and then strutted down the court, only to watch helplessly as Mountaineers guard Jarrod West – yes, Jarrie West — threw up a prayer that was answered with eight tenths of a second left. West’s tipped three-pointer hit the backboard and went through the net, turning Baker’s sideline strut into a slumped-over disbelief. Live by the buzzer beater, die by the buzzer beater.

Meanwhile, in Sacramento, Tennessee fans got their first glimpse of a coach they’d become all too familiar with in a few years, when Kevin Stallings-coached Illinois State ruined the Volunteers’ sunny trip West on a running layup with 1.8 seconds left in overtime. While the Redbirds would get blasted in the second round, that was small consolation for Tennessee fans. Because just a season later, Stallings would take the job at intra-state rival Vanderbilt.

Valparaiso guard Bryce Drew hit a classic buzzer beater in Round 1.

But the action wasn’t all left to the Left Coast. Back in D.C., President Bill Clinton wasn’t the only one issuing denials. Washington denied Xavier a spot in the second round on a Deon Luton game-winner, while three-seed South Carolina saw B.J. McKie’s last-gasp attempt fall short, keeping the Gamecocks on the outside looking in at upset king Richmond moving on. Oh, and for good measure, Indiana needed extra time to top Oklahoma as well. Had enough? Too bad. Because if Thursday seemed like enough excitement for any single round, things were just getting started.

All across the country, the tense moments and close games continued on Friday. In Lexington, a gruff Syracuse senior from Lithuania named Marius Janulis buried not one but two three-pointers to help the Orange squeak by Iona. Then Chicago turned into Boise, with Detroit Mercy upsetting St. John’s by two and Western Michigan sending Clemson packing by three. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, UCLA outlasted Miami (Fl.) on four straight free throws in the final seconds. And then, it happened.

It would be a shot for all time. It would be replayed so often it has become an indelible part of the very tournament itself. Like Christian Laettner’s turnaround jumper, like Jim Valvano running around looking for someone to hug, the miracle shot by Valparaiso guard, and son of his coach, Bryce Drew was the artistic flourish on a first round of gripping drama. Drew’s deep three, coming on a designed play whereby a half-court pass is touch passed to a streaking Drew, was the most memorable moment on a whole tournament’s worth of memorable moments.

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Behind the Numbers: The Other Guys of the Year

Posted by KCarpenter on February 16th, 2011

Kellen Carpenter is an RTC contributor.

The Player of the Year race in college basketball is an interesting and bizarre thing. The most talented player is rarely selected, and the winner is seldom a National Champion. I don’t want to go so far as to say the race is a popularity contest, but it’s something akin to one. Instead of picking the best player, the voters like to pick the most emblematic player, or failing that, the most interesting. Oh, and that player has to almost inevitably be a bit of a ball hog. Evan Turner was not the best basketball player in the country last year, as fans of the Philadelphia 76ers know all too well, but he was a skilled-enough, multi-talented player on a pedigreed team that won a lot of games. With that logic in mind, it’s pretty safe to pencil in Jimmer Freddete, Jared Sullinger, Derrick Williams, Kemba Walker or Nolan Smith as the front-runners of that race. This was true in December, as well. I don’t want to say that the national Player of the Year race is dead, just that it’s perpetually unsurprising, even if the final result does have that extra spice of arbitrariness thrown in for good measure.

Walker Headlines a Strong NPOY Group of Candidates

So instead of breaking down the Player of the Year race and debating just how good, on the scale of really good to incredibly good all those familiar faces are, I thought we could take some time to show some love to some mostly unfamiliar faces who are having extraordinary and superlative seasons of their own. Maybe they don’t play a great all-around game, maybe their teams don’t win, and maybe some of them aren’t good so much as weird, but let’s celebrate them all anyway. We need a name for this party, though, so let’s call it the Other Guys of the Year Awards, dig into the depths of Ken Pomeroy’s stats tables, and hand out some imaginary statuettes.

The first awards go to a pair of players who play for the same team in the Big South. The Iron Man Award goes to Khalid Mutakabbir of Presbyterian who has played 96.1% of all available minutes, a greater percentage than any other player in Division I. Mutakabbir has used those minutes well, shooting a high percentage from the field, and a very impressive 51.7% from beyond the three-point line. The Ultimate Ball-Hog Award goes to Mutakabbir’s teammate, Al’Lonzo Coleman, who somehow comes off the bench, yet uses 36.3% of all possessions, more than The Jimmer himself. While Coleman is undoubtedly president of the Ball-Hog Club, let’s give some special recognition to the other players who, despite living outside the national limelight, have managed to dominate the ball more than Mr. Fredette: Special thanks to Keion Bell of Pepperdine, Anatoly Bose of Nicholls State, Brandon Bowdry of Eastern Michigan, Adrian Oliver of San Jose State, and Will Pratt from Northwestern State. You have all out-Jimmered the Jimmer, except for, you know, the winning games thing.

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Past Imperfect: The Reign of Doughnut Man

Posted by JWeill on February 3rd, 2011

Past Imperfect is a new series focusing on the history of the game. Every Thursday, RTC contributor JL Weill (@AgonicaBoss) highlights some piece of historical arcana that may (or may not) be relevant to today’s college basketball landscape. This week: the sine-wave career arc of Doughnut Man.

It’s still one of the NCAA tournament’s most indelible moments: disheveled Princeton coach Pete Carril grinning in disbelief moments after his backdoor-cutting Tigers stunned defending national champion UCLA in the first round of the 1996 NCAA tournament. Replayed over and over through the years, the moment resonates because it captures the essence of what college basketball’s great March tradition is all about: little guy beats big guy, Cinderella at the dance, etc. But lost in all those good vibes for the white-haired coaching legend is that the other side in that game, the losing coach seen congratulating Carril on his career-defining victory, in its own way represents college basketball, too. In many ways, perhaps more so.

Pete Carril and Sydney Johnson celebrate the win over UCLA.

No one fathomed at the time that the upset loss would be Jim Harrick’s last as head coach of the UCLA Bruins. A year removed from the school’s first national title in two decades, flush with a contract extension, with a bevy of blue chip recruits on the verge of replenishing his team’s talent level for years to come, Harrick looked to have it all working. Then, in the course of a few months, it was all over. Harrick was out. Assistant Steve Lavin, with no head coaching experience at all, was in as interim coach.

How did it all go south so quickly? The answer is a tale of two coaches, of lies and deception, of risks taken and undying myths writ large. It’s an ugly story, without much grace and lacking humility. It is, in short, the story of college basketball at the highest levels.

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It is amusing now to go back and look at statements of outrage former coach Jim Harrick made about his abrupt dismissal by UCLA in 1996. At the time, Harrick was the man who’d brought UCLA back from the ether. The West Virginian had been all smiles hoisting the national championship trophy along with Ed O’Bannon, Tyus Edney and the victorious Bruins. And rightfully so. Harrick had taken a job a slew of previous coaches had tried to tame and done the only thing he’d been hired to do: win a national title again. Favorite sons Walt Hazzard, Gary Cunningham and Larry Farmer didn’t do it. Future coaching legends Gene Bartow and Larry Brown couldn’t do it, either. But the onetime UCLA assistant – the guy who never even played college basketball – did it. And he did it his own way, with style.

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