The Other 26: Niagara Rushes Forth

Posted by IRenko on February 2nd, 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.

When you hear the word “Niagara” you’re not likely to think of basketball. But in the shadow of one of the world’s natural wonders, something is percolating on the hardwood. After a thrilling 93-90 overtime win over Iona that included a rally from a late 15-point deficit and a buzzer-beating three-pointer to win the game, Niagara sits atop the MAAC standings at 10-1. A win over Loyola today would cap a tremendous week for the Purple Eagles, giving them a perfect 3-0 record against the next three teams in the standings — Iona, Loyola, and Canisius — over the past seven days.

Juan'ya Green Capped Niagara's Thrilling Win Over Iona With a Last-Second Three-Pointer  in Overtime (James P. McCoy / Buffalo News)

Juan’ya Green Capped Niagara’s Thrilling Win Over Iona With a Last-Second Three-Pointer in Overtime (James P. McCoy / Buffalo News)

Last year, Niagara finished 14-19, the first time in head coach Joe Mihalich’s 10-year tenure that he suffered consecutive losing seasons. Mihalich had taken the Purple Eagles to the NCAA Tournament in 2005 and 2007 and to the NIT in 2004 and 2009, but the team had fallen behind the pack in the MAAC in the three years since. The seeds of a resurgence were planted during last year’s losing campaign, as a host of young players started to find their footing in Division 1 college hoops. Having lost no one to graduation, Niagara was predicted to finish fifth in the MAAC in the preseason coaches’ poll. That seemed a fair, perhaps optimistic, assessment, but the clear light of hindsight makes a mockery of it.

What accounts for the turnaround? Mostly the maturation of Niagara’s all-sophomore backcourt: Juan’ya Green, Antoine Mason, and Ameen Tanksley. Last year, the trio showed that they had talent. This year, they’re showing that they can channel it into efficient offense.  Green is actually averaging fewer points (16.5) than he did as a freshman (17.6), but that’s in part because he’s managed to corral his considerable talents and become a more effective facilitator. Coming out of high school, Green was known for his prodigious scoring ability, but questions lingered about his ability to create for his teammates. He’s answering those questions this year, increasing his assists (5.2 per game) and decreasing his turnovers (2.8 per game). With Green deferring more to his teammates, Mason, the son of former NBA player Anthony Mason, has stepped into the role of lead scorer. He’s upped his per-game average from 15.1 to a team-leading 18.7, but more importantly, he’s become a much more efficient scorer.  He’s increased his field goal percentage from 38.2 to 44.6. He now shoots almost 80 percent from the free throw line, after shooting less than 65 percent last year, a significant development because of his knack for getting to the charity stripe. Tanksley, for his part, has also boosted his field goal percentage, from 38.6 to 45.7 and upped his scoring average into double-digits.

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Morning Five: 01.31.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 31st, 2013

morning5

  1. Basketball took a back seat at Ohio yesterday after an armed robbery (reportedly over $5) at 9:30 AM at an apartment complex near the campus led the school to suspend classes and cancel last night’s game against Eastern Michigan. Interestingly, the school remained open for another 2.5 hours with the suspect loose before the administration chose to close the campus. In the aftermath of the announcement there appears to have been quite a bit of confusion regarding the school’s intent, but fortunately it appears that nobody was harmed and no further incidents took place although the suspect was still at-large as of this writing. The school has announced that the game will be made up on February 20, which works well for both teams as they both have their preceding game on February 16 and next game on February 27.
  2. Much of the early part of this week in the blogosphere was spent discussing Marshall Henderson‘s various, shall we say, peculiarities, both on and off the court. After a rough shooting outing against Kentucky on Tuesday night, much of that talk has died down, but on Wednesday USA Today‘s Nicole Auerbach published an insightful piece about the life and history of the controversial Henderson that included a revelation that the junior college transfer once violated his probation in Texas for failing a drug test because he had cocaine (along with marijuana and alcohol) in his system. Both Henderson’s father and his head coach, Andy Kennedy, believe that the guard has moved past his personal demons at this point in his life, but with his on-court demeanor sure to set Twitter ablaze again soon, we’ll have to wait and see if the pressure and infamy carries over to the Oxford after-parties.
  3. The Wednesday news didn’t improve for Ole Miss fans, as the Rebels also learned that sophomore forward Aaron Jones will miss the rest of the season after injuring his ACL in Tuesday night’s game against Kentucky. The bouncy Jones was only averaging 4/4 in about 17 minutes per game this season, but his loss will be a shock to an Ole Miss lineup short on quality size. As if that weren’t enough, senior guard Nick Williams will be out an indefinite amount of time with a foot injury suffered in the same game. The timing on all of this misfortune is not the greatest, either — the Rebels on Saturday will visit a team, Florida, that is winning SEC contests so far by an average of 28.7 PPG. Good luck with that.
  4. The Big East will draw the curtains on what can only be described as a college basketball goliath in less than two months, but unlike some of the other bitterness that has infused divorcing programs in other leagues, Syracuse and St. John’s specifically are looking for an amicable split. It makes sense. Syracuse has been NYC’s flagship college basketball program for a long time now despite its location several hundred miles upstate, and without question the Orange wants to keep its presence in the New York market strong after joining the ACC. St. John’s certainly wants to keep a marquee opponent on its home schedule as Steve Lavin tries to rebuild that proud program as well. The contract begins next year at MSG with a return trip to the Carrier Dome in 2014-15, but for now the series is only scheduled for those two games. We’d expect that it will be extended indefinitely at a certain point.
  5. In this week’s edition of Luke Winn‘s Power Rankings he spends a lot of time focusing on teams in transition (literally, not figuratively). With the nerdtastic tool of Synergy Sports Technology at his disposal, Winn can find statistically enlightening nuances to explain the game in ways that both tease and titillate. In this week’s edition, he examines some of the best players in the country at shooting jumpers off the dribble (hint: two of them play each other Saturday night in a semi-important game), discusses the best transition guys in the game, and a mention of Kelly Olynyk’s “awesome hair.” Memo to Winn, though: It’s not Olynyk’s hair itself that creates the awesomeness — it’s the ropey-looking headband (color coordinated!) that he adds to the ensemble that truly elevates his look from simply Tim Lincecum cool to Andre Agassi spectacular (in his hirsute prime).
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ATB: Pac-12 Contenders Fall, Indiana and Michigan Eye Huge Showdown and La Salle’s Magic Ends…

Posted by Chris Johnson on January 31st, 2013

ATB

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

Tonight’s Lede. Saturday. Bloomington. Be There. If you needed a reminder for why Saturday’s Indiana-Michigan game might be the biggest conference game we see all season, the two participants did nothing to deflate the hype Wednesday night. Michigan stomped Northwestern at the Crisler Center. Indiana torched state rival Purdue at Mackey. Both wins were streamlined dismantlings of supreme quality. No surprises. Expecting anything less than convincing wins, even in this year’s tough Big Ten, would have been underselling these two teams’ current value. IU and Michigan are on a crash course for Big Ten title rights, and Saturday’s game is the first installment of a two-part rivalry (they meet in Ann Arbor on the last day of the regular season) that should produce some of best and most hotly-contested hoops any intraconference match-up has produced in years. Wednesday night provided a glimpse of what’s on tap for Saturday. Superbowl? Pshaw – There’s nothing bigger this weekend than Michigan’s visit to B-Town.

Your Watercooler Moment. Michael Snaer Does It Again. 

Tempo-free hardliners will cringe at any mention of late-game savvy, or a certain player being “clutch” or any other intangible assessment of basketball merit. I love using statistics. They make watching, evaluating and writing about the game I love much, much easier. Used alone, statistics are nice quick touch-points on the general contours of a team’s stylistic, defensive and scoring tendencies, but the real reason they’re so useful goes beyond crude number-crunching. Metrics allow me to take what my eyes tell me, and confirm/deny any conclusions I reach based on those observations. You see something on the court, glean a visual trend, pop open the handy kenpom.com efficiency ratings, and determine whether your game-watching wisdom matches up with what the numbers say.

The point of that mini-preamble was not to bore you nor give you a window into how I watch and think about college basketball games (though I’m pretty sure I achieved both). My purpose relates to one player, Florida State’s Michael Snaer. You probably heard a bunch about Snaer last season, and for good reason: He lit up the ACC while playing some of the nation’s best perimeter defense and carrying Florida State to an ACC Tournament championship. Snaer eschewed the NBA to return for one last season, but his individual performance – he has experienced minor dips in effective field goal percentage and offensive rating – has slipped (if only slightly), while his team’s performance has fallen well short of preseason expectations. Snaer isn’t having a great year – or at least not the breakout All-America campaign many predicted. What he is doing, is making game-winning shots. Wednesday night’s game-sealing three against Maryland was Snaer’s fourth game-winner over the past two seasons (h/t CBT), and his second in the past week.

Sure, there is no quantifiable trait that defines “ability to make game-winning shots.” But if we’re going to sit here and act like Snaer’s remarkable late-game prowess is a product of chance, that “the numbers” don’t register his ability to make big shots, that because his four daggers are isolated and situationally different that they have no real place in educated basketball analysis – I’m going to respectfully disagree.

Also Worth Chatting About. Two Big Pac-12 Defeats.

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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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ATB: Crosstown Rivalry Plays Out With Minimal Fuss, The Pitino Family Tilt, and Texas\’ Misfortune…

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 20th, 2012

ATB

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

Tonight’s Lede. Normalcy Reigns In One Of College Hoops’ Best Rivalries. The organic hate developed as a historical byproduct of uninterrupted competition is what makes rivalry games hum. Those sentiments spilled out of bounds in last season’s rendition of the Crosstown Shootout, when Xavier and Cincinnati’s annual meeting erupted into a full-out brawl that led to multiple suspensions, a relocation of the series from campus gyms to a neutral site arena and a name change to diffuse violent tensions (Crosstown Classic). The repackaged form of the Crosstown whatever ensued Wednesday night, only without most of the protagonists from last year’s melee, and with each program in a completely different place than it was a year ago. This time around, Cincinnati – owners of the nation’s 6th-rated defense on a per-possession scale, a relentless backcourt trio and an undefeated record – had the upper hand; Xavier is still incorporating a host of young pieces and learning on the fly after losing five starters. The end result was pretty much what you might expect: Xavier mustered enough emotion and pride to hang around for most of the night, but was eventually outlasted by Mick Cronin’s team. The outcome was less important than the event itself. There were no punches thrown, no pre-game radio waves trashtalk, no nonsense in the postgame news conference. It was organically competitive basketball, with all the natural emotions of a rivalry contained to enhance, but not dominate, the actual game being played. The Crosstown Shootout is no more; the refurbished edition isn’t all that much different (the variations are cosmetic, much less inherently structural). And that’s good news.

Your Watercooler Moment. Father-Son Coaching Matchup Highlights Louisville-FIU.

The elder Pitino was all smiles after dispatching son Richard\'s FIU team (Photo credit: Getty Images)

The understudy didn’t have the manpower or the experience to spring the upset on his old man – not when Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals are playing some of the best basketball in the country, not when Peyton Siva connects on a career-high five three-pointers and sophomore Wayne Blackshear notches 18 points (also a career-high). This was an unfair fight from the start, both tactically and personnel-wise; the younger Pitino never really stood a chance. Louisville was expected to cruise to a win, and that’s exactly what happened. For Richard Pitino, this game wasn’t about making a statement by beating one of the nation’s best teams. It was about the younger Pitino getting his first real shot in the national spotlight, and despite the lopsided scoreline, there was nothing embarrassing about his first jab at the man that showed him the coaching ropes. Not all young coaches are instantaneously successful. The Brad Stevens’ and Shaka Smarts of the world are not how most coaches break into the profession. Richard Pitino has the bloodlines to be successful, and that’s as auspicious a natural advantage as any young coach could ask for. Who knows how long or how fruitful the younger Pitino’s career will be. As it stands, his development is an interesting storyline to keep tabs on. The longer he coaches and the more he learns, I suspect Richard Pitino to develop many of the same mannerisms and principles – the feet stomping, the sideline death stares, the trademark defense-first philosophy – as the future Hall of Famer who raised him.

Tonight\’s Quick Hits…

  • Signs Of Progress For Texas. The main story of Texas’ season thus far is the continued absence of point guard Myck Kabongo, which reached a climactic end Wednesday night with the Yahoo! Sports report that revealed sophomore point guard has been suspended for the season after lying to NCAA investigators. Another angle is the Longhorns’ youth, which is evident in large quantities all over the floor, albeit extremely talented. The undertold narrative of the Longhorns’ slow start is their remarkably stout defense, which ranks fourth in the country on a per-possession scale and first overall in effective field goal percentage. The Longhorns lived up to their statistical bona fides on the defensive end by stifling the one-dimensional UNC Tar Heels into 21-of-67 shooting, including 3-of-19 from beyond the arc. Throw in 15 points from sophomore forward Jonathan Holmes and 18 from freshman Cameron Ridley, and what you get is a dominating 18-point dismantling of Roy Williams’ team. Read the rest of this entry »
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ATB: Hoosier State Bragging Rights, Arizona Defends Home Court, and Anthony Grant’s No-Fun Welcome Home Party…

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 17th, 2012

ATB

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

This Weekend’s Lede. College Hoops Arrives In A Big Way. It is only fitting that the driest week on the college basketball calendar preceded a weekend of riveting hardwood action. It began, naturally, with Butler being Butler, and by that I mean knocking off a team that, from a talent standpoint, the Bulldogs had no business challenging. After years of watching Brad Stevens build his team on hard work, discipline and hard-nosed defense, the Bulldogs’ giant-killing tendencies are no revelation. Even by Butler’s standards, taking out the No. 1 team in the country with a Hoosier-dominated crowd taking in the scene, is remarkable. The drama escalated later that night with Florida’s come-from-ahead loss at Arizona, an excellent road win squandered away thanks to poor late-game management and a flurry of untimely mistakes. And let it be known, Mark Lyons (the inefficient, turnover-prone, shot-chucking, pass-averse Lyons) converted a high-difficulty running layup with 7.1 seconds remaining to complete the Wildcats’ home court defense. Those two games far outstrip any other contests that took place over the weekend, but there were plenty of fixtures of note, most of which we’ll delve into in the space below.

Your Watercooler Moment. Don’t Try To Explain Butler. Just Appreciate It.

Indiana entered the Crossroads Classic with a No. 1 ranking. Now they can't claim that title within state borders (photo credit: AP Photo).

Indiana entered the Crossroads Classic with a No. 1 ranking. Now they can’t claim that title within state borders (photo credit: AP Photo).

If the Catholic 7 are still going back and forth on potential additions to complete the new league, Butler is as sure a thing as any team – from Gonzaga to Xavier to Saint Louis – it may consider. Over the past four seasons, the Bulldogs have showed uncanny poise and pluck on the grandest stage – the NCAA Tournament. Saturday’s coup proved the Bulldogs’ Tourney magic is not merely a postseason phenomenon; they’re just as capable of rattling and tripping up high-major heavyweights in the regular season too. With state bragging rights on the line, and a Bankers Life Field House rife with Hoosiers’ anticipation, the Bulldogs spoiled Indiana’s chance to cement its state supremacy and national No. 1 ranking. What’s more impressive than the result itself – which, as I’ve reiterated, is yet another testament to what Stevens has built this program into over the past five years – is the way Butler got there. Just over a week ago, sitting in the press conference after Butler’s win at Northwestern, a reporter asked Stevens about why he may have missed on Wildcats’ walk-on and Fort Wayne, Indiana native (and leading scorer) Reggie Hearn. He responded by noting that, similarly, no one had recruited Alex Barlow, and Stevens gushed on about the sophomore’s will and dedication and hard work. Naïve and conditioned to jaded coachspeak as I am, I interpreted Stephens’ praise as a savvy way to deflect a potential recruiting miss (Hearn) and channel it into something positive – Barlow’s development. Doubting Stevens was a bad choice, because Barlow, as you now well know, went from nondescript walk-on to hoops folk legend thanks to a game-winning floater in overtime to KO the Hoosiers once and for all. It was a fantastic culmination for a player whose background is, well, exactly the type of storybook tale you might expect.

Also Worth Chatting About. Nothing New On Florida; Big Win For Arizona.

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Framing Arizona’s victory in the context of Florida’s mistakes is a disservice to what the Wildcats accomplished in the final minutes Saturday night. There’s no doubt the Gators could and probably should have left Tucson with another impressive victory, but this game says less about Florida than it does Arizona. The Gators turned it over 14 times, many of them coming in crucial stretches in the second half, and that’s something Billy Donovan’s team needs to remedy going forward. It’s also completely understandable. This was the first time all season Florida really needed to bear down, run its sets, and execute – almost all of its other wins came by way of blowout, the final result decided well before the final whistle. On Saturday, the Gators tightened up (few teams go an entire season without experiencing this), and Arizona took advantage. This is nothing we haven’t seen before. The Wildcats’ talent was never in question, nor was their frontcourt depth or scoring aptitude. What remained something of a mystery was their mettle and resolve, their ability to tough out dicey situations. Arizona needed all the moxie and fight it could muster against Florida, who controlled the game for large stretches but could never quite create enough distance to put the Wildcats away for good. Arizona hung around, bade its time, and with the game on the line, got the bucket it needed from arguably its most commonly-raised flaw all season: point guard Mark Lyons. It’s a statement for Arizona, but it does nothing to qualify the Gators stand-alone status atop the SEC.

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Set Your DVR: Week of 12.04.12

Posted by bmulvihill on December 4th, 2012

Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

It’s Jimmy V. Week and the college football regular season has come to end. That means college hoops takes center stage at universities across the country and we couldn’t be happier. Let’s get to the breakdowns.

#16 Georgetown vs. Texas – 7:00 PM EST, Tuesday on ESPN (***)

Expect Otto Porter to Bounce Back Against Texas (AP/R. Sutton)

  • The big question in the Georgetown-Texas game is where are the points going to come from on both sides. The Hoyas are coming off the ugliest game college basketball has seen in quite some time. While they beat Tennessee on Friday night by a score of 37-36, coach John Thompson III cannot be happy with how his team is performing on the offensive end. On the other side, the Longhorns are struggling to score as well. They are shooting an eFG% of 48.7% on the season against teams like UT-Arlington, Sam Houston State, and Chaminade (a game in which they lost). Expect this game to be a defensive slugfest. No one wants to see a disaster similar to Georgetown-Tennessee, but this game has that kind of feel. The Hoyas have the length advantage once again in this match-up and should be able to take advantage on the boards, and it’s unlikely that Georgetown forward Otto Porter will be held in check again. So keep a close eye on how he responds to his eight-point performance on 4-11 shooting against the Vols. While the Texas defense has been strong, their competition does not give us much to go on. The Longhorns will continue to struggle without point guard Myck Kabongo in the lineup regardless.

#21 North Carolina State vs. Connecticut  9:00 PM EST, Tuesday on ESPN (***)

  • Since UConn’s surprise win against Michigan State in the opener, the Huskies have come back to earth and played very mediocre basketball. A close win against Quinnipiac and a loss to New Mexico showed that Kevin Ollie’s team still has a lot of work to do. NC State is on the verge of a very disappointing non-conference season already with losses to Oklahoma State and Michigan, and a too-close-for-comfort game against UNC-Asheville. The good news for the Wolfpack is that their offense performed much better against Michigan, shooting almost 60% eFG in the loss. Look to see if they can put together a complete game for the first time this season against a quality opponent. The guard match-ups between UConn’s Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright and NC State’s Rodney Purvis and Lorenzo Brown should be fun to watch. However, the difference in this one should be the Wolfpack’s frontcourt of C.J. Leslie and T.J. Warren. NC State just has more scoring options across the lineup than the Huskies.

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The Other 26: Week One

Posted by IRenko on December 1st, 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.

Greetings, readers, and welcome back for another year of The Other 26, RTC’s weekly foray into the mid-major world, now securely ensconced on a microsite that shares its name. College hoops seemed to start earlier this year than it ever has, producing a November that was packed with much more action than the few preseason tournaments to which old geezers like me are accustomed. That means that there is quite a bit of ground to cover, and precious little time to waste. Let’s get right to it after the jump, with our first installment of the TO26 Top 10, a look back at which teams caught our eye with strong (and not so strong) starts, and a look forward to this week’s most compelling TO26 match-ups.

Looking Back:  Strong Starts

  • The Rest of the Mountain West – Coming into the season, UNLV and San Diego State received well-deserved hype and top 20 rankings.  But it’s clear that they’re going to have quite a bit of competition in conference play. New Mexico has barely shown the effects of losing their frontcourt tandem Drew Gordon and A.J. Hardeman. They have notched several solid wins en route to a 7-0 record, defeating UConn, George Mason, Davidson, and Mercer — all teams with realistic NCAA Tournament hopes. Fresh off their first NCAA Tournament appearance in nine years, and with a cast of strong returnees and transfers, Colorado State entered the season with reasonably high expectations. But their ability to adjust to new coach Larry Eustachy remained an open question. Well, question answered. The Rams are undefeated at 5-0, posting wins over strong mid-major teams Montana and Denver and pounding the Washington Huskies by 18 points on the road. But, wait! The MW’s depth does not end there. Leon Rice’s Boise State squad, which plays just one senior, is off to a 5-1 start and is coming off of a 13-point win over Creighton on the road. Meanwhile, Wyoming and Air Force are a combined 13-1 on the season.  Throw in competitive newcomers Nevada and Fresno State, and UNLV and San Diego State may not have an easy conference game all year.

Elias Harris Leads a Potent Gonzaga Frontcourt (US Presswire)

  • Gonzaga – Gonzaga came into the season with a Top 25 ranking, so they’ve not exactly snuck up on anyone. But they’ve nonetheless impressed, collecting wins over West Virginia, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Davidson by an average of more than 20 points. Throw in three more lopsided victories, and the Zags are sitting pretty at 7-0 and little sweat to show for it. Kelly Olynyk has emerged from his redshirt year as a genuine frontcourt force. Along with Elias Harris and Sam Dower, he gives the Bulldogs three skilled, athletic bigs. Throw in freshman post anchor Przemek Karnowski, and the Zags have four big men averaging nine or more points. While this frontcourt foursome has managed to outshine the heralded backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell on the offensive end, what’s been most impressive about Gonzaga’s start is its defense. Mark Few’s teams have steadily improved at that end of the floor over the past few years, and it could be the key that finally unlocks their door to the Final Four. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Top 25: Week 2

Posted by KDoyle on November 26th, 2012

Let’s cut right to the chase: Duke is #1 and Indiana #2. This may upset some, considering Indiana began the season as our #1 team, is a perfect 6-0 with a good win against Georgetown, has perhaps the best offensive attack in college basketball, and has shown little — if any — weakness. But, there is little denying Duke’s resume at this point (more on that after the jump). Two Big East squads—Georgetown and Cincinnati—made power moves up in the rankings after impressive weeks, while two other teams have plummeted right out of the Top 25—UCLA and Memphis. There wasn’t just movement at the top of the rankings, as five new teams have entered the Top 25 after strong showings during “Feast Week.”

This week’s QnD after the jump…

Quick ‘n Dirty Analysis.

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Five Mid-Majors You’re Likely to Hear From Next March

Posted by Chris Johnson on November 6th, 2012

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

There exists in college basketball a certain romanticism that distinguishes it from every other sport. It shines through in March, when the sport’s preeminent end-of-season tournament provides a glimmer of hope for Division one teams, no matter how small, unknown or minimally-funded, to break through on a national stage. For the mid-majors, this is prime time. Unlike their high-major counterparts, the little guys’ path to the field of 68 is restricted. Most smaller leagues only receive one Tournament bid, which is normally decided through conference tournaments. It’s what makes championship weekend – when one-bid leagues fight tooth and nail for that coveted Tournament bid – such a compelling series of high-stakes contests. It’s also why predicting each smaller league’s participant(s) is inherently difficult. In a do-or-die knockout setting, anything can happen. So when I look back on my five mid-major Tournament breakout picks (the subject of the following list) five months from now, I’ll probably be kicking myself over a lack of informed judgment and insight. The hope is that at least one of my designated team breaks the field and makes some noise once there. If not, well, that’s why the NCAA Tournament is such a spectacle – because you just never know.

A word of caution: you’ll notice the list fails to include teams from the A-10, Missouri Valley, C-USA, West Coast Conference or Mountain West. I chose to exclude those leagues not because I don’t think any of their teams are capable of making NCAA Tournament runs; it’s quite the opposite actually. All three will likely send multiple teams to the Big Dance, so I’ve decided to leave them out for the sake of novelty. With that out of the way, we March on (pun totally intended).

North Texas 

A future lottery pick, Mitchell leads a strong North Texas squad (Photo credit: US Presswire).

If this is the first time you’re hearing the name Tony Mitchell, it will not be the last. Mitchell (6’ 8’’, 235 pounds) almost certainly would have been a first round pick in last summer’s NBA Draft. Instead, he’s back for his sophomore season after missing out on an NCAA bid last season when North Texas fell to Sun Belt upstart Western Kentucky in the conference tournament final. It’s a shame, too – no offense to Western Kentucky, but there is not a single person who wouldn’t have enjoyed watching Mitchell in a potential #1-#16 matchup with Anthony Davis and Kentucky. We aren’t always that lucky. Anyway, with Mitchell back in the fold, the Mean Green are more than capable of broaching the field this season, and the talented forward isn’t the only reason why. Point guard Chris Jones and swingman Jordan Williams, both double-digit scorers who were declared ineligible in January due to academic issues, are cleared to take the court again this fall. Oklahoma State transfer Roger Franklin returns for another season. Off-guard Alzee Williams, who averaged 15.8 points per game over his final 10 games, will stabilize the backcourt. The deep guard rotation will prevent teams from keying in on Mitchell, who should only improve in his second collegiate season. We will get an early taste of North Texas’s Tournament bona fides on November 9, when the Mean Green take on Creighton in Omaha. Mitchell vs Doug McDermott to kick off the 2012-13 college basketball calendar? Yes, please.

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Three Coaches in New Positions Ready To Take Off Running

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 30th, 2012

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

Coaching changes are powerful developments. They can ignite struggling programs, send promising ones on a downward spiral, and have drastic implications (both good and bad) for the administrators who made them. Sometimes, a regime change preserves a middling trajectory established by the previous coach, in which case another switch is likely forthcoming. Otherwise, why hire a new coach in the first place? In any case, this offseason brought few radical coaching changes. That’s mostly because there weren’t many significant changes to be made – Illinois, Kansas State, LSU and South Carolina headlined the list. The average college basketball fan will find little intrigue in that selection. It doesn’t exactly project “excitement” or “allure.” Even so, the hires made are no doubt transformative endeavors for the programs that occasioned them. They wanted a change of direction, found a coach who shared that vision, matched vacancy with proscribed fit – and voila! Some of these new faces in new places will have a better chance of succeeding right away, and thus validating their new position. Missouri’s Frank Haith, one of the most widely criticized hires in years, personified the seamless transition. He made it work from the moment he arrived in Columbia. The next question is who has the best chance to do that this season. Trying to decipher which coaches can succeed right away requires keen insight, situational knowledge and a bit of guesswork. Because most changes are made to improve the previous coach’s way of running things, most new guys don’t inherit the best situations. Instead, they are hired to improve from the flaws of the previous regime. Anyway, in the interest of sparing you from a more drawn-out coaching hire lecture, here are three coaches poised to thrive in their new stomping grounds.

Ohio: Jim Christian
Previous job: TCU
Replacing: John Groce
 

The Bobcats are set to continue their recent success under Christian, who has plenty of experience in the MAC (photo credit: US Presswire).

Over the past half decade and change, we’ve come to know Ohio as the sporadic NCAA Tournament outfit you absolutely dread seeing your favorite team matched up with in a first-round setting. In 2010, they took down three-seed Georgetown. Last season, the Bobcats raised their Giant Killer profile to a whole new level, beating four-seed Michigan and 12-seed South Florida before dropping an overtime decision in the Sweet Sixteen to one-seed North Carolina. That’s the kind of run that puts your program on the map,  and puts your coach squarely on the wish list of hiring programs across the country. It granted John Groce a move up the conference coaching ladder, into the rugged Big Ten, where he’ll attempt to use his up-tempo offense and Chicago recruiting ties to pump some life into a downward-trending Illinois. Losing Groce hurts, but his replacement is no less capable of continuing the Bobcats’ recent Tournament success. On its face, the hiring of Jim Christian is nothing to get excited about. A ho-hum four-year tenure at TCU preceded his newest position, where he compiled a 38-58 record and failed to generate the type of fundamental culture shift required to lift the Horned Frogs out of their current state. As credentials go, his tenure in Fort Worth hardly inspires confidence. But if you look beyond his recent history in the Mountain West, and delve into the breadth of his college hoops coaching career, the move to bring in Christian makes absolute sense.

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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Mid-American Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 16th, 2012

Ethan Back is the MAC correspondent for RTC.

Top Storylines

  • Will Ohio Be Able to Reach the Sweet Sixteen Again? After an extremely successful season that ended in an overtime loss in the Sweet Sixteen against ACC power North Carolina, Ohio will look to make another deep NCAA Tournament run. The Bobcats have a lot of hype to live up to, as they return all of their significant contributors from a season ago, including standouts D.J. Cooper and Walter Offutt. Not all of the personnel returns from a season ago, however, with former head coach John Groce now at Illinois, but new head coach Jim Christian will look to keep momentum going.

Ohio’s D.J. Cooper Hopes To Follow One Head-Turning Season With Another. (AP Photo/T. Dejak)

  • Toledo’s Postseason Ban: Toledo has a very solid core intact from the 2011-12 season, so it’s a real shame that the Rockets won’t be able to qualify for postseason play due to its academic problems. Luckily for the Rockets, two of its best players (Rian Pearson and Julius Brown) are underclassmen, so they’ll still get a chance to win the MAC Tournament in future years, assuming they stay in school beyond the 2012-13 season.
  • East vs. West: Last season, the East had five teams finish with a winning record, whereas the West had a measly one. This clear imbalance within the MAC doesn’t have serious ramifications, as the conference tournament seeds are not based on division, but for the sake of self-respect, the West will hope to have a better season than it did last year.
  • No More Zeiglers: Winning games hasn’t been an easy task for Central Michigan these past two seasons, as its 12-20 conference record during that span indicates. It won’t be any easier this year after the firing of head coach Ernie Zeigler led to the transfer of his son and the Chippewas’ leading scorer Trey Zeigler to Pittsburgh. New head coach Keno Davis brings great experience to the program, but his first season on the job will likely be a rough one.

Reader’s Take I

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