College Basketball By The Tweets: A Big Weekend and #FreePJ In Cameron

Posted by David Harten on December 17th, 2013

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With Saturday marking the first weekend where college football didn’t dominate the sports schedule, college basketball took full advantage, with some pivotal non-conference games on the docket, a few featuring Top 25 teams and some others that made an argument to be ranked.

If you’re starting with Top 25 teams, you have to begin with No. 18 Kentucky at No. 11 North Carolina on Saturday, where the Tar Heels kept their head-scratching narrative going with an 82-77 victory in the Dean Dome. Marcus Paige dropped 23 points, including a 10-of-10 performance from the free throw line. After losing to Belmont at home and UAB in Birmingham, UNC has now notched victories over several of the top teams in the nation, beating the AP’s top three preseason teams in America. As you’ll see, you can attribute their elevated play to hot shooting against elite defensive teams, but it’s pretty impressive that Roy Williams’ bunch is doing all this without P.J. Hairston in the lineup (more on him at the bottom).

Another game that really caught the public eye on Saturday was No. 1 Arizona heading to the Crisler Center to take on Michigan. The Wildcats came back late and held on to win to preserve their spot at the top of the polls. While Brandon Ashley led the Cats with a team-high 18 points, Aaron Gordon put up his own nice performance of 14 points, five rebounds and two assists, but saved his best for what he did defensively in the second half against a red-hot Glenn Robinson III.  Read the rest of this entry »

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O26 Weekly Awards: Princeton, Augustine Rubit, Joe Scott & NDSU…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 17th, 2013

It was final exams for many schools across the country this past week, meaning a relatively light college hoops schedule leading up to Saturday. But once the weekend kicked into gear, there proved to be plenty of intriguing match-ups, weird semi-neutral court games played in NBA arenas, standout performances and altogether surprising results to pass out weekly awards to deserving O26 performers. Heck, even the thinly-populated weekday slate offered up a noteworthy upset and a fine example of early-season coaching.

O26 Team of the Week

T.J. Bray and Princeton will be Ivy League contenders this season. (Mel Evans/Associated Press)

T.J. Bray and Princeton will be Ivy League contenders this season. (Mel Evans/Associated Press)

Princeton. It is official: the Ivy League has two legitimate contenders in 2013-14. For all the recognition Harvard has received nationally — which is certainly well deserved, considering the team’s loaded roster and excellent start to the season — there has been another Ivy squad lurking under the radar, playing great basketball and looking like a bona fide threat to challenge the Crimson this year. That team is Princeton, and last week was its ‘hello, world’ moment. It started Wednesday night in Piscataway when the Tigers took on Route 1 rival Rutgers, a team starving for a victory in the wake of three straight losses. After trading leads for much of the contest, Princeton took firm control of things at around the 10-minute mark by doing what it has done so often this season — calmly finding seams in the opposition, penetrating and kicking out for open threes on the perimeter. In all, the Tigers hit 16 of their 34 attempts from behind the arc, and T.J. Bray — the senior point guard who was suspended for the previous game — scored 15 of his 23 points in the final nine minutes to put the game away for Mitch Henderson’s seasoned group. The 78-73 victory was a nice one, moving Princeton to 7-1 and furthering its case as the best team in New Jersey. Yet, it was Saturday’s win at Penn State that turned the heads of many college basketball fans.

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George Mason Readies Itself For Upgrade in Competition This Season

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 18th, 2013

Alex Moscoso is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the George Mason vs. Northern Iowa game on Saturday.

On Saturday afternoon, Northern Iowa came to Fairfax, Virginia, to play George Mason for the second consecutive year. Both teams are etched into the minds of college basketball fans because of some recent unforgettable moments in March. The Panthers have remained relatively intact since their stellar moment in 2010. Same coach, same league, and moderate success in the Missouri Valley. The Patriots, however, have experienced a sort of program face-lift since their Final Four run. They lost long-time head coach, Jim Larranaga, to the ACC’s Miami (FL) in 2011, and hired Paul Hewitt, the former George Tech coach whose career there produced mixed results, as his replacement.  They also upgraded their conference affiliation by moving from the Colonial to the Atlantic 10, starting this season. While Hewitt was in Atlanta, he relied on talented underclassmen, like Thaddeus Young and Iman Shumpert, to drive his program.  But this season at George Mason, he’ll need to rely on his slate of returning upperclassmen to transition into the A-10 and make a run at the school’s first NCAA Tournament under his watch.

George Mason's Sherrod Wright Lives For Big Moments.

George Mason’s Sherrod Wright Lives For Big Moments.

Hewitt has led the Patriots to 20 wins in each of his first two seasons, and they return nearly everyone of significance including redshirt senior Sherrod Wright, who averaged 16.6 PPG last year. Despite that success, Hewitt has not yet managed to earn enough quality or timely wins to make the NCAA Tournament. Now that George Mason will be in a higher-profile league, the tougher competition will give his team more opportunities for signature wins on its resume. So far this season, the Patriots have eked out a win against American and beaten Lamar handily. The visit by the Panthers represented their first test against competition comparable to what they’ll be facing in the A-10 most nights out.

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The Other 26: Saturday’s Top Five Bracketbuster Games and More…

Posted by IRenko on February 22nd, 2013

other26

This weekend marks the end of the decade-long Bracketbuster era — or experiment, depending on your perspective. Sadly, if appropriately, it looks like the event will go out with more of a whimper than a bang. Not a single game features a top 25 team, resulting in little hype for this year’s slate. But for true mid-major basketball fans, no top 25 ranking, or lack thereof, is going to dissuade them from devouring the late season, inter-conference action among the country’s best, under-the-radar-until-March teams. Here’s a preview of the five Bracketbuster games we’re most looking forward to, followed by an updated Top 10, our weekly honor roll, and the most compelling non-Bracketbuster games of the coming week.

Can Matthew Dellavedova And His Prominent Mouthpiece Lead the Gaels to a Much-Needed Win Over Creighton? (Las Vegas Sun / Sam Morris)

Can Matthew Dellavedova And His Prominent Mouthpiece Lead the Gaels to a Much-Needed Win Over Creighton? (Las Vegas Sun / Sam Morris)

  1. Creighton at St. Mary’s (6 pm, ESPN) — Both teams enter what is perhaps the premier Bracketbuster matchup with a great deal to prove. Creighton’s hot 17-1 start has given way to a rough 5-5 stretch, as the depth of the MVC has taken its toll. In four of those five losses, Creighton’s once unstoppable offense slowed to a pace of less than a point per possession. An at-large Tournament bid remains a safe bet, even with a loss to St. Mary’s, but the Bluejays are no doubt looking to this game to reignite their offense and their season. St. Mary’s, on the other hand, is in desperate need of a quality win for its Tournament resume. Having been swept by Gonzaga, Saturday’s matchup is a virtual must-win for the Gaels. Both teams have highly efficient offenses that rely heavily on the three-point shot. Whichever defense can step up its game may emerge with the win.
  2. Ohio at Belmont (10 pm, ESPN) – This should be a really entertaining game between two teams who love to run and gun. But for the colors of their jerseys, it may be hard to tell the two apart, as the Bobcats and Bruins have remarkably similar statistical profiles. Both are high-possession squads that shoot more than 40 percent of their field goals from three-point range and rank in the top 20 nationally in forcing turnovers. Both have high effective field goal percentages, but rebound poorly and allow their opponents to shoot far more free throws than they do. Toss in a great point guard matchup between seniors D.J. Cooper and Kerron Johnson, and you have the ingredients for a great nightcap to the day’s action. 
  3. South Dakota State at Murray State (8 pm, ESPN2) – Neither team is as good as it was last season, but both returned their star player. And it’s their matchup at the point guard spot, with Nate Wolters squaring off against Isaiah Canaan, that makes this a must-see game. The two players are the heartbeats of their respective team’s offenses. Each uses roughly 30 percent of all possessions, ranking them in the top 50 in the country. Wolters has been on a particularly nasty tear of late, averaging more than 33 points over his last five games, though two of his 30-plus efforts in that stretch were in defeat. Canaan, meanwhile, is coming off his own 35-point outburst in a win over Morehead State.
  4. Detroit at Wichita State (4 pm, ESPN2) — Wichita State has bounced back from a recent three-game swoon with a four-game win streak that includes two close victories over Illinois State and Indiana State this past week. They’ll be the favorites against Detroit, but his game has definite upset potential. Detroit is on the upswing, winning six of their last seven, and developing a potent offensive attack with a multitude of options, from Ray McCallum’s attacking ability to Jason Calliste’s three-point shot to Nick Minnerath’s versatile inside-out game to Doug Anderson’s physical interior play. The Titans will try to push the tempo, while the Shockers will try to slow things down and pound the ball inside to their big men Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall, who may find success against Detroit’s mediocre interior defense.
  5. Denver at Northern Iowa (8 pm, ESPN3) — After a rough 4-6 start to MVC play, Northern Iowa has righted the ship and fought its way back to where we thought it would always be — at the top of the league standings, just a step behind Wichita State and Creighton. They face a Denver team that has flown a bit under the radar, recovering from a slow start to the season to win 13 of their last 14 games. A trip to Cedar Falls will be a test of just how far the Pioneers have come. Expect a low-possession, halfcourt-oriented game, with a steady barrage of three-point shots. The Panthers have a balanced attack, with five players averaging between 9 and 13 points. Denver will turn primarily to Chris Udofia, the versatile forward who is the hub of their Princeton offense.

And now on to our updated Top 10 rankings, weekly honor roll, and the (other) games we’re keeping an eye on …

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ATB: UK Rises Up in Oxford, Ohio State Fights Off Wisconsin, and Another Road Miss from NC State…

Posted by Chris Johnson on January 30th, 2013

ATB

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

Tonight’s Lede. Bubble Unpredictability. The NCAA Tournament bubble is a nebulous thing to gauge. Predictions are laid out with RPI figures and relevant strength of schedule numbers over these early months, and all of that gets compiled into individual “resumes” – the digestible team units used by the NCAA selection committee to construct its preferred field of 68. The best way to improve your “resume” goes without saying. Win good games against good teams, and you’re helping your chances of inclusion. Sometimes, all it takes is one or two big wins to launch a team into the bubble conversation, or to provide that definitive RPI boost to send it over the cut line. In the end, all final decisions are reached in a secretive board room, and for as accurate as bracket models have become in recent years – and as ostensibly similar as the esteemed media mock selection event has become — we’re all fooling ourselves if we think we know exactly how the committee evaluates teams. One team won a monstrously important game tonight – the kind of thing that really shakes up that selection process. Care to find out who it was?

Your Watercooler Moment. You Needed That One, UK. 

If Tuesday night is a sign of things to come, Kentucky could be a scary good team come March (Photo credit: AP Photo).

If Tuesday night is a sign of things to come, Kentucky could be a scary good team come March (Photo credit: AP Photo).

There are Kentucky fans, illogical or not, who will come down hard on 2012 national championship-winning coach John Calipari if he’s unable to lead Kentucky to the NCAA Tournament this season. Wildcats fans are some of the most relentless partisans in college sports. They expect the best, roster turnover and relative recruiting down year be damned. Whether or not UK ultimately gets there, I can’t say for sure. There’s a lot of season left to be played, and UK has plenty of work to do before locking up a bid. Here’s what I know: Kentucky is in much better shape, Tourney-wise, after Tuesday night’s win at Ole Miss. In almost any other year, that sounds more like some deranged Rebels fan’s perverse joke. This season, it’s not even a small stretch. Andy Kennedy’s team has evolved into a real SEC title contender, thanks mostly to the huge impact (physical and emotional) of Marshall Henderson, the SEC’s leading scorer, and a set of quality complementary frontcourt players. But for a few spots – a road loss at Middle Tennessee, a near-loss at Auburn – the Rebels have looked appreciably better than John Calipari’s team all season. With all that considered, there remained some suspicion about whether Ole Miss, long a doormat for the likes of UK and Florida in the SEC, could seize the opportunity against the worst team of Calipari’s UK tenure to cement its mantle as the league’s surefire No. 2 (Florida is absolutely napalming anyone it comes into contact with; the Gators are No. 1, and it’s not close). Henderson gives the Rebels an offensive spark unlike anything Kennedy has ever worked with in Oxford, and Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner are as solid as any non-Patric Young SEC bigs. This is Ole Miss basketball’s year to shine, and Tuesday night was its night to drill the young Wildcats. It had all the momentum and clear advantages it needed, but the Rebels couldn’t quite size up Calipari’s team. But let’s not let this be about some newly-discovered flaws in the Ole Miss formula. Kentucky deserves the credit for this win, because this Kentucky team was nothing like the incoherent mess we’ve seen for large stretches this season.

The “switch” everyone’s been waiting Kentucky to “flip” may or may not have, you know, flipped Tuesday night, but when you look at Kentucky’s 87-74 win, there are few times this season when the Wildcats have looked as good, or even half as good, as it did in Oxford. Not only did UK outwork and thoroughly outplay a vastly improved SEC contender, they went into a blaring environment, stuffed with a legion of vitriolic Rebels fans ready to coronate their home team’s triumph over a historic program, and exited with a resounding W. They did it with Kyle Wiltjer scoring and defending like he never has before, with Archie Goodwin snapping his conference play swoon, and a whole bunch of really encouraging developments that, if sustained, will erase any doubts UK fans ever had about the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament chances.

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CIO… the Missouri Valley Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 23rd, 2013

CIO header

Patrick Marshall is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.  You can also find his musings online at White & Blue Review or on Twitter @wildjays.

Looking Back

  • A Two-Team Race, Or Is It? Heading into last weekend, it looked to be a two team race between Creighton and Wichita State in the MVC. But don’t count Indiana State out of the mix. The Sycamores’ RPI is high right now and they have won three of their last four games. Also keep an eye out for Evansville, Bradley, and Northern Iowa to be a thorn in the contenders’ sides, hoping to score some upsets to keep things interesting. So far, the Bluejays and the Shockers have been able to mostly avoid those four teams, but Wichita State will play three of its next four games against Bradley, Indiana State and UNI. If you know anything about the Valley, anything can happen when two teams lace them up so this race is far from over yet.
Will Carl Hall's Return Keep Wichita State Atop The MVC?

Will Carl Hall’s Return Put Wichita State Over The Top? (Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle)

  • McDermott Continues To Light It Up: Doug McDermott continues to impress the nation with some extraordinary numbers. Since the start of 1996-97 season, no player has averaged more than 20 points per game while shooting better than 50 percent from the three-point line for an entire season. The Creighton junior is currently averaging 24.1 points per game and shooting 52.5% from beyond the arc. In addition, he is averaging 28 points per game and shooting 59.5 percent from deep in five road games this season. His offensive efficiency has continued in the last three games by shooting 62% from the field, 72% from three and averaging a ridiculous 31.6 points per game. He has already scored 29 points or more in seven games this season. He is without question a legitimate National Player of the Year candidate.
  • Hall Returns With Fire: Wichita State’s Carl Hall had been out the last several weeks with a thumb injury. Of the injuries that the Shockers have suffered this season, losing Hall hurt the most. After missing the first six games of conference play, he returned this past week and he was ready to play. The senior only scored two points but grabbed 10 rebounds in a victory over Illinois State, but against Creighton, Hall added the scoring back to his game by going for 17 points and 13 rebounds (including six offensive) to lead the Shockers to a narrow victory. The only thing he needs to shake the rust from is his free throw shooting. Hall went 3-of-8 in the two games, including a 1-of-6 disaster against Creighton after starting the season 20-of-23. He may be the difference-maker that Wichita needs if the Shockers are to win an MVC championship.

Power Rankings (Overall, Conference, Last Week)

  1. Wichita State (17-2) (6-1) (2)–The Shockers sit in first right now based on their win over Creighton this past weekend. Do I think they are the better team? I guess I do for now. I will be watching to see how both Creighton and Wichita fare in their next games and how they react to last weekend’s result. Wichita State got a boost from the return of Hall to help offset his 8-of-20 shooting from the three-point line against the Bluejays. Their rebounding has been outstanding, out-boarding their opponent in each conference game this season. They are grabbing almost nine more boards each game than their opponent. Wichita State is now #14 in the RPI and is 6-1 against the top 100 and 3-0 versus the top 50.  Read the rest of this entry »
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ATB: Indiana Shocked at Home, Rebels Win a Thriller at Vandy, and Notre Dame Falls Again…

Posted by Chris Johnson on January 16th, 2013

ATB

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

Tonight’s Lede. I Can’t Predict This Stuff. It is never wise to judge college basketball teams on one game; you need a comprehensive data set to make an accurate assessment. Teams win and lose games out of character. It’s the common denominator that underpins college hoops competition: unpredictability. There are a variety of reasons for this – energy levels wax and wane, road trips bring unfamiliar sight lines and the environmental pressures. Some are unexplainable. Often times, shots just don’t fall, defense fails and game plans are picked apart. If you were to watch the first half of Indiana’s game against Minnesota Saturday, you would have fairly called the Hoosiers the best team in the country. And if you happened to flip on Wisconsin’s 47-41 slog at Nebraska, or pretty much any other game the Badgers have played this season save a recent blowout win over Illinois, you would have come to the reasonable conclusion, based on a reliable body of work, that the Badgers aren’t destined for the same good fortune they have enjoyed so long so consistently under Bo Ryan.

Arguably the best team in the Big Ten couldn't deal with their stylistic opposite, Wisconsin (Photo credit: Getty Images).

Arguably the best team in the Big Ten couldn’t deal with their stylistic opposite, Wisconsin (Photo credit: Getty Images).

You would have been even more shocked to learn that the low-scoring, defense-minded, grinding Badgers not only kept pace and challenged No. 2 Indiana, but straight flummoxed the Hoosiers into a five-point loss at a supercharged Assembly Hall. That’s the thing with conference play: you just don’t know. At this point in the season, it’s a trite rhetoric, but it bears repeating. Before laying down any proclamations about league races or contenders, remember to account for the whims of 18-to-22 year old college students, the natural ups and downs, energy highs and lows and everything else that goes into making conference competition – particularly in a year without any single dominant team – an enduringly spectacular winter thrill ride.

Your Watercooler Moment. Starting To Look like “That Kind of Year” For Ole Miss. The SEC would very much like to send four teams to the NCAA Tournament this season. Florida and Missouri are virtual locks. Kentucky is teetering on the margin. Ole Miss, after 11 years of missed tourneys, might be the league’s saving grace. If it continue on this path, Andy Kennedy’s team will saunter its way into the Big Dance, no late-February/early-March bubble anxiety included. When you get players making shots like this, the type that avoids those brutal in-league losses that pile up in the spiteful regions of the selection committee’s collective mind, you start to get the sense that maybe, just maybe, the Tournament gods are here to offer some assistance. Vanderbilt isn’t any good (except on nights where they are knocking down a ridiculous 17 three-pointers including 11 in the first half), but escaping pitfalls is just as crucial as toppling giants. But for a late-season collapse, the Rebels are on their way to the NCAA Tournament. It’s games like this that help secure that road.

(A Note: Marshall Henderson has drawn his share of criticism (fair) for having a loose trigger. I won’t try and impeach that claim. But hey, if Henderson can make that 35-footer with any type of regularity, cease the shot selection critiques and let him fire away.)

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CIO…the Missouri Valley Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 8th, 2013

CIO header

Patrick Marshall is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference. You can also find his musings online at White & Blue Review or on Twitter @wildjays.

Looking Back

  • MVC Race Already Heating Up–What a wild first week in Missouri Valley Conference play. Creighton, as expected is sitting at 3-0. Gregg Marshall doesn’t get enough credit for reloading Wichita State and the Shockers are at 3-0 as well. After that, things get really interesting. Indiana State, Evansville, Bradley and Missouri State are all sitting at 2-1. None of those four teams were mentioned in the top echelon at the start of the season, but each of them have wins over others that weren’t expected. The biggest surprises are Northern Iowa sitting at 1-2 and Illinois State sitting at 0-3. The Panthers were expected to be a sleeper in the league this year, but after a tough non-conference slate where they did not win as much as they had hoped, they started off MVC play at 0-2 before defeating Illinois State on Saturday. The Redbirds were expected to be league contenders along with Creighton, but they have had a lot of things go wrong for them this season. While it is still early, some of these situations may build upon themselves making for another crazy season. What it may hurt in the long run, though, are the number of NCAA bids come March.
Illinois State Has Pulled a Disappearing Act This Season

Illinois State Has Pulled a Disappearing Act This Season

  • McDermott Still Reaping Rewards–Doug McDermott has been playing very well since Thanksgiving. As a result, he has continued to be recognized for his talent. He received the Lute Olson Midseason Player of the Year award, and ESPN recognized him as its Player of the Month in December. He’s third in the country in scoring at 23.1 points per game, is averaging 7.3 boards per contest, and is shooting 49 percent from beyond the arc. Those are numbers that are hard to ignore. Through his first three conference games, McDermott has also averaged 23 points a game while fighting off sickness over the past two games. He is on the verge of carrying Creighton on his shoulders, but luckily he has not had to since the Bluejays have been pretty balanced and different players have stepped up when needed. He should remain in the National Player of the Year conversation throughout, but it may become tougher to put up the same outstanding numbers in conference play that he did in the non-conference season.
  • Drugs Become Problem–A few weeks ago, Illinois State’s Geoffrey Allen was indefinitely suspended from the team and was soon after arrested for trying to sell marijuana. The newest incident involving drugs now surrounds Bradley’s Will Egolf. The sixth-year center was arrested as the year rolled over to 2013, accused of possession of a controlled substance. It turns out that he was purchasing Vicodin to help him manage the pain resulting from knee injuries he has suffered over the past few years. Those knee injuries ultimately allowed him to gain a sixth year of eligibility. He did not make the trip to Wichita this past weekend and it now appears that he will be suspended for a minimum of three games, but this transgression could ultimately end his career. These two incidents should raise a red flag to other MVC schools to remain vigilant and aware of what their players are doing and what may be affecting their play. I hope this doesn’t become a trend because it sort of gives the league a black eye.

Reader’s Take 

 

Power Rankings (conference record and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

  1. Creighton (14-1) (3-0) (1)–If you don’t know by now, Creighton is not just a one-man show with Doug McDermott. McDermott sat on the bench during a key stretch in the second half against Indiana State and the Bluejays were able to come back from a deficit and take a lead with the play of Gregory Echenique and Ethan Wragge. Avery Dingman has stepped up with the loss of Josh Jones and everyone is doing their part to contribute to the Bluejays success. Probably the biggest development has been the play of Austin Chatman who took over the point guard duties this season. In the first three conference games, Chatman has 21 assists to only 6 turnovers. A 3.5/1 assist-turnover ratio is pretty good. Read the rest of this entry »
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ATB: Illini Fall At Purdue, Officiating Dominates Big East Clash and Creighton Survives Big Road Test…

Posted by Chris Johnson on January 3rd, 2013

ATB

*Editor’s Note: This version of the ATB covers games played Tuesday and Wednesday night.

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

Tonight’s Lede. New Year Means New Opportunity.The first day of every new year is dominated by upper-tier college football bowl games. It is a timeless tradition that leaves little room for meaningful basketball. A few games tipped off in the January 1 twilight, and one was about as controversial as they come, but it wasn’t until Wednesday night that a full slate cropped up to lead us out of the Holidays with a hearty portion of hoops consumption. With the calendar flipped, there’s vast opportunity for teams to set new upward or downward trends. Some will wilt under the pressure of conference play. Others will amp up their efforts and springboard into prominent national standing. Nonconference play was just the beginning. Here’s where the Darwinian forces of college basketball weed out the weak links and where the strongest, fittest, most-balanced outfits emerge for the long haul. The NCAA Tournament remains a distant endpoint, but from here on out, the opportunities for improvement grow leaner as the calendar nears March. In the new year, margin for error is minimal. That’s what makes conference play so critical.

Your Watercooler Moment. Officiating Blunder Mars Big East Thriller.

A refereeing blunder dominated the post-game discussion from a hard-fought Big East contest (Photo credit: AP Photo).

A refereeing blunder dominated the post-game discussion from a hard-fought Big East contest (Photo credit: AP Photo).

The complex sequence of events that denied UConn a basket at the beginning of overtime in the Huskies’ 82-76 loss at Marquette is complex and long-winded. I’m still trying to figure out exactly where the officials went wrong. From what I can glean, it boils down to this: UConn was robbed two points for the referees’ failure to reorient each team to the proper scoring goal following erroneous tipoff positioning; players lined up facing the wrong direction at the tip, and officials botched a potential goaltending call, in which UConn should have been awarded two-points. The Huskies had plenty of opportunity to make up for whatever the officials may or may not have unfairly revoked, but when you lose a valuable possession at the beginning of overtime, it’s a devastating blow not only for momentum purposes. It effectively negates one of a finite number of possessions in a crucial timeframe where every trip down the floor can swing the final outcome. The game was not lost because officials have some unspoken personal vendetta with UConn’s basketball program, or because it fell victim to the Golden Eagles’ home court influence. Referees make mistakes. This one happened so late in the game, and in such mystifying fashion, that it inevitably draws the brunt of the blame for UConn’s defeat. I’m not minimizing the effect of the referees’ blunder – to reiterate: mistakes hurt, especially in overtime. I’m merely emphasizing the downside of a third-party blip looming over what was a truly entertaining Big East battle between two solid teams.

Your Quick Hits…

  • Another Boeheim Milestone. Historical benchmarks have defined Syracuse’s season as much as anything else, and Jim Boeheim made another step in the all-time wins pantheon Wednesday night by securing his 903rd W to pass Bob Knight and move into 2nd place behind Mike Krzyzewski. Buckets of praise, and an almost near-equal amount of pushback, erupted following Boeheim’s passing into the vaunted 900 realm a few weeks back, so it’s best we not revisit the coach’s career achievements. Boeheim’s career is a curious test case on the valuation of wins vs. postseason accomplishment. Perseverance and longevity in the coaching profession is Boeheim’s defining trait – 903 wins, no matter the rate of accumulation, requires an eternity of year-long dedication and grinding commitment. The controversy stems from Boeheim’s thin postseason credentials relative to career length. With just one national championship and three Final Fours to his name over 37 years of sideline time, where does Boeheim rank in the pecking order of coaching legends? I don’t know, and neither do you – not until he finally decides to call it quits.
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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 Missouri Valley Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 27th, 2012

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Patrick Marshall is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference. You can also find his musings online at White & Blue Review or on Twitter @wildjays.

Looking Back

  • Indiana State Raises Profile: There have been a lot of question marks surrounding Indiana State and how good the Sycamores might be this season. It is possible those questions have been answered after a couple of important overtime wins over power conference teams in the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii. First, they knocked off Mississippi and then after losing to San Diego State, knocked off Miami (FL) in the third-place game. Jake Odum came up big in both of those wins. After battling foot injuries all of last season that kept him from performing at the same level as his freshman year, the junior hit several free throws down the stretch in overtime against Ole Miss and then hit the game-winner against the Hurricanes. The Sycamores might have gained enough momentum out in Hawaii to throw them into the MVC conversation heading into conference play.
  • Josh Jones Hangs It Up: A few weeks ago, Creighton’s Josh Jones blacked out before a game against Nebraska. It was later determined he had an atrial flutter and needed an invasive procedure to correct it. There were questions at the time as to whether he could come back from the ailment. Unfortunately, as a result of that successful procedure, it was found that he will have to another medical procedure which will force him to finish his basketball career earlier than expected. Jones has been a fighter throughout his basketball career. It was going to be a tough road ahead for Jones anyway, but he’ll be remembered most for his smile and positive attitude. The only good thing out of this is that Creighton will be able to focus on replacing Jones on the court with the remaining players on the roster. Although Jones will be hard to replace, he will still be with the team cheering them on.
  • The Weak Link In The Conference: I would need to dig back into the record books a little bit, but it has to be a long time since a Missouri Valley Conference school headed into conference play looking for its first win against a Division I team. Missouri State enters MVC play with a 2-10 overall record, but the two wins are against two non-D-I teams: Malone and Philander Smith. The Bears even played on the road at SWAC member Alabama State and lost that game by 12 points. Paul Lusk had the luxury of inheriting a talented team over a season ago, but what has happened since? Injuries have plagued the team, with Jarmar Gulley out before the season began, but also other veteran players like Keith Pickens dealing with injuries. The other problem is that they were already down one scholarship this season because of APR scores. While many may look at Bradley’s downward spiral as a comparison the previous two seasons, this one might be even worse. Eventually, Missouri State has to win a game and I’m sure the other nine teams in the league will not want to be the school that falls to them, as it would be a massive hit to their potential at-large chances.
The Bluejays Will Look To Rally Around Guard Josh Jones, Who Left The Team For Medical Reasons.

The Bluejays Will Look To Rally Around Guard Josh Jones, Who Left The Team For Medical Reasons.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings (last week’s rankings in parentheses)

  1. Creighton (11-1) (1)–The Bluejays took care of business in their non-conference slate with their only blemish coming against Boise State. At this point, that doesn’t look like a bad loss, but yet the questions still hang out there on what might be their best win. Wins over California and Arizona State might look pretty good right now, but it could be the win against Wisconsin that might end up being the key victory for the Bluejays come march. Last season, Gregory Echenique exploded in conference play. After showing signs of dominance down low in the non-conference season, Echenique could be the key to leading Creighton to an MVC regular season championship that has eluded them for the past several years. Read the rest of this entry »
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The Other 26: The New A-10 Asserts Itself

Posted by IRenko on December 21st, 2012

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

When the A-10 added Butler and VCU to its ranks this past offseason, we knew that the two teams would strengthen the now 16-team conference. The two schools, each of which has had recent improbable Final Four runs, were expected to join the ranks of Xavier, Temple, St. Louis, and Dayton, and, along with a resurgent St. Joseph’s, UMass, and LaSalle, make the A-10 the deepest and, arguably, most exciting non-BCS conference in the country. But after the past week, it’s become clear that not only are these two programs going to add depth to the A-10, they may very well conquer it in their first year.

Rotnei Clarke’s Sharpshooting Helped Butler to a Big Upset of Top-Ranked Indiana (Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports)

Rotnei Clarke’s Sharpshooting Helped Butler to a Big Upset of Top-Ranked Indiana (Brian Spurlock/USA Today)

By now you know that Butler took down top-ranked Indiana 88-86 in a thrilling overtime win last Saturday. What was most surprising about the win, though, was how Butler did it. It wasn’t their vaunted defense, which gave up 1.13 points per possession to Indiana’s full-throttled attack — the second most this year for the Bulldogs and well above their averages during the Brad Stevens era. Rather, it was Butler’s efficient offense, which registered 1.16 points per possession. Part of that was their three-point shooting (11-24, 48.1%) with Rotnei Clarke leading the way (5-11). We have come to expect that from Butler, which often relies on the three-point shot as a great equalizer. But the more surprising, and perhaps more significant, elements of Butler’s offense were its willingness to attack the basket and its prodigious output on the offensive glass.  Sophomore wing Roosevelt Jones led the attack, often exploiting a favorable matchup against Jordan Hulls, en route to 16 points on 6-10 shooting (no threes). And the Bulldogs rebounded nearly half of their own misses — 48.7%. To some extent, the Bulldogs took advantage of sloppy block-outs by Indiana, but this reflects a season-long strength and a marked shift from the early years of Brad Stevens’ tenure. In Stevens’ first four seasons, Butler never averaged an offensive rebounding percentage of more than 32.8 percent. But last year, the Bulldogs hauled in 35 percent of their misses, and this year, it’s up to 39.4 percent.

As impressive as Butler’s win was, VCU quietly made waves of its own this past week as they pummeled Alabama and Western Kentucky by a combined 51 points. In both games, VCU went for the kill early, jumping out to big leads on the strength of their Havoc defense. The Rams did not allow Alabama to score a field goal until 10:44 had elapsed, en route to a 33-18 halftime lead that they would convert into a 73-54 final score. Alabama finished the game with 18 turnovers — a season high, as it often is for teams facing VCU’s defensive pressure. Four days later, VCU suffered no letdown from its BCS beatdown, whipping on Western Kentucky, one of the Sun Belt’s top teams and last year’s Tournament participant. After jumping out to 15-3 lead, the Rams would head into halftime up 42-16, cruising the rest of the way to a 76-44 win.  VCU forced a whopping 32 turnovers, including one on each of Western Kentucky’s first three possessions.

The old Bulldogs may be learning new tricks while the Rams thrive on the tried-and-true, but regardless of how they’re doing it, both teams have vaulted themselves to the top of A-10 heap.  Don’t take my word for it, ask the computers. Any of them — Butler and VCU are the A-10’s two highest ranking teams in the RPI, Sagarin ratings, and Pomeroy ratings.  The A-10’s mainstays have not distinguished themselves. Temple was routed badly by Duke in its first real competitive game of the year and just lost to Canisius at home by 10 points; Xavier is trying to replace five starters; St. Louis is trying to get their feet under them after losing their coach and then their star point guard to injury; and St. Joe’s, UMass, and Dayton have struggled to find consistency. As a result, there is a good chance that the A-10 will crown a champion it has never crowned before.

On to this week’s Top 10 and more …

Top Ten Rankings

RTC -- TO26 (12.21.12)

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