RTC Summer Updates: West Coast Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 5th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our first update is from the West Coast Conference and comes courtesy of Will Green, an editor and writer with The Slipper Still Fits.

Readers’ Take One

Summer Storylines

  • Brigham Young University Joins The Conference: When this story was first reported back in September, it was largely forgotten. BYU’s move was a football one with basketball repercussions, not the other way around. If anyone was talking about the Cougars, the dialogue was centered around how much money it would receive from it slew of nationally televised football contests this coming fall, and how many years the vaunted program would remain as an independent before choosing to join another league, securing even more lucrative contracts. The move, however, might make a greater impact on the collegiate basketball landscape than the football one, competitively speaking. For one thing, resident king Gonzaga’s streak of conference championships – which is older than most of your children – or at least its general reputation as the WCC’s top dog, is seriously endangered.  With Jimmer Fredette seizing all available national attention like a Venus flytrap, lost on many fans last year was the fact BYU was not merely a fortuitous program enjoying an unusually good year. The Cougars have been a top 40 RPI team since 2006, with a pair of top 20 finishes. That’s not a second Gonzaga — that’s better than Gonzaga. They also bring by far the largest student body and largest fan base that the league has ever seen. Indeed, the league can leverage BYU’s prominence to grow its influence and scope (more on that later). Despite being a “football move,” BYU’s departure from the Mountain West Conference is not, as so many of the recent realignment moves have been, a casualty of circumstance. The aforementioned “repercussions” became a mutually beneficial improvement for both the Cougars and the league. Credit alert diplomacy and geographical convenience to why commissioner Jamie Zaninovichwas able to lure a team into his league that’s also, statistically speaking, better than any team in his current league.

    Brandon Davies, if Reinstated by BYU, is an X-Factor for the Cougars in 2011-12 (Getty/E. Miller)

  • The League Gets A New TV contract: Over the course of the 2000s, the WCC did a remarkable thing: It became the most widely televised college basketball league of all the leagues in the West, while being only the fourth highest-rated league by RPI of the six in the region. Resident behemoth Pac-12 trusted its games to the insipid hands of Fox Sports’ cluster of regional networks. The Mountain West conference was largely marooned out on “The Mtn,” a network that truncated both its name and its audience by being available in a far more limited number of homes than the heavy-hitting Pac-12. The Western Athletic Conference enjoyed the occasional ESPNU game. The WCC, on the other hand, had its most intriguing matchups beamed into peoples’ living rooms in prime time on Thursday and Saturday nights (and for a time, on Big Monday) via ESPN or ESPN2. Both sides had such a good time putting the whole mess together that when their previous contract expired on June 1, it took exactly one week to renegotiate an eight-year extension. The new deal increases the amount of ESPN games featuring WCC teams by an average of at least five per year, possibly much more, and is spread across Thursday, Saturday and select Monday nights. While some critics contend the new ESPN contract isn’t much of an improvement over the previous one, their voices were provoked loudest during the rather dwarfing aftershock of the Pac-12’s mammoth deal with the same network. While this upcoming season could mark the first time in a long while that the WCC won’t be the most-watched west coast league, the league strengthened its relationship with ESPN and is poised to showcase what should be its most successful year ever in front of its widest audience to date.  In an era of scrambling realignment and a fragile economic landscape, this is a still a huge win.
  • The University of San Diego Suffers A Bribery Scandal: In April, this story looked crippling. San Diego had just finished one of the worst seasons by any WCC team ever when news broke that Toreros’ all-time leading scorer and current Memphis Grizzlies protégé, Brandon Johnson, was allegedly used to solicit current USD player Ken Rancifer on behalf of a delinquent named Steven Goria and several others to fix a game against the University of Portland on February 24. Also revealed was the news that Johnson himself had allegedly fixed a game during his senior season one year earlier. The good news for USD is that the story is quickly losing momentum, due in large part to the recent news that the 2011 team has largely been cleared of wrongdoing (Rancifer turned down the bribe from those attempting to fix the game) Repercussions from the 2010 game will ensue once the FBI is done investigating the entire case, and could involve recruiting sanctions or a postseason ban. Frankly, the Toreros are so deep in the throes of rebuilding that they might not enjoy any such postseason for the NCAA to ban in the first place. All told, this could have been much, much worse for USD. The true damage of the scandal is neither physical nor fiscal, but is still potentially very heavy. While it’s growing steadily, the WCC is not yet a national brand and one dominant negative story can define the WCC and USD for a large group of fans who aren’t very familiar with a non-power six league that’s on TV after they go bed. Show-stealing years from perennial contenders like Gonzaga and BYU, as well as postseason disruptiveness by the likes of St. Mary’s and Santa Clara, would be a good first step toward taking casual fans’ focus off of the scandal. Of course, if USD itself can somehow bounce back from a 6-24 record and win a few games they’re not supposed to, they just might turn themselves into national feel-good story.

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The Other 26: Week 10

Posted by KDoyle on January 21st, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.

Introduction

The week is here, long at last. Going into the season, BYU and San Diego State were projected to be strong, but this strong? Just to give you an idea of where these two juggernauts stood before the season, the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll had San Diego State receiving 73 votes and BYU 55 votes in the top 25 poll. In Zach Hayes’ Bracketology—a bracket that, in my mind, is very accurate for his latest edition—he had SDSU as a six seed and BYU a seven. Clearly, each team has exceeded many of the critics and so called experts expectations. Who would have thought that the teams would combine to have a 38-1 record at this stage of the season? Not even Steve Fisher or Dave Rose would have thought that.

In the grand scheme of things, the tilt in Provo, Utah, next week will not have an impact on whether or not either team will make the NCAA Tournament—it is a foregone conclusion that both are in—but this may be San Diego State’s biggest roadblock between them having an undefeated regular season or not. Can the magic carpet ride that San Diego State has been flying on continue, or will Jimmer Fredette and Co. take the air right out from under them? It will all go down on Wednesday evening in Provo.

The Other 26 Rankings

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on December 25th, 2010

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

A Look Back

  • It was an “almost” week for Santa Clara and San Francisco, Gonzaga got its mojo back, Saint Mary’s picked up its first true road win of the year and Portland kept on cruising. Loyola-Marymount, Pepperdine and San Diego continued their losing ways.
  • As Santa Clara battled Washington State evenly on Dec. 19 before succumbing 85-79 in overtime, and San Francisco took undefeated San Diego State to the wire two nights later in a 61-56 loss, visions of a stronger, more successful West Coast Conference flickered before fans’ eyes. It was that old conference war horse, Gonzaga, however, that gave the conference two big wins last week – 68-64 over then ninth-ranked Baylor in Dallas on Dec. 18 and 64-54 over Xavier in Spokane on the 22nd.
  • Saint Mary’s continued its cautious way through the pre-conference season, topping Long Beach State 82-74 at the Wooden Classic in Anaheim on Dec. 18, and New Mexico State 73-53 in Las Cruces on the 23rd. The New Mexico State game was only the Gaels’ second true road game of the season.
  • Portland, meanwhile, stayed on course to a successful pre-conference slate by topping old nemesis Portland State 78-67 on the road – across town – and kicking off a three-game home stand on Dec.  22nd with an 88-79 win over Boise State.
  • Loyola Marymount continued to confound observers who picked them to challenge for the WCC title, losing to Florida State at home 74-63 on the 18th and to South Dakota in Vermillion, SD, 82-70 four days later.
  • It was the same ol’ same ol’ for conference bottom-dwellers Pepperdine and San Diego, with the Waves splitting home games against UC Irvine (W 76-69) and Cal Poly SLO (L 70-64), and San Diego falling to Baylor (83-50) and Mississippi State (69-52) in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu.

Player of the Week

As Portland has continued its steady re-adjustment under Eric Reveno, shoring up the point guard position vacated by the graduated T.J. Campbell has been a prime goal. True freshman Tim Douglas, all 5’10 of him, gave Reveno plenty to smile about last week with a strong performance against Portland State that netted him Player of the Week honors. Douglas, a gutsy penetrator who is not afraid to crash the lane, came off the bench to score27 points on 10-for-13 shooting from the field and 6-for-8 from the free throw line. It was his third straight game in double figures, moving his ppg average to 7.2 in less than 16 minutes per outing.

Team-by-Team

  1. Saint Mary’s (10-2) notched a pair of wins away from Moraga and elevated its third candidate to the position of Omar Samhan’s successor. During a hard-fought win over Long Beach State, Randy Bennett inserted 6’8 sophomore Mitchell Young in the post following earlier try-outs by transfer Kenton Walker and redshirt sophomore Tim Williams. Voila! Young exploited Long Beach’s over-emphasis on controlling forward Rob Jones by working himself open for a succession of bunnies and jump hooks, racking up a career-high 28 points in the Gaels’ 82-74 win. Showing the LBSU game wasn’t a fluke, Young went for 20 against New Mexico State.
  2. Portland (10-3) has provided a model of pre-season scheduling, losing to a few toughies – Kentucky, Washington State and Washington – but beating respectable teams like UC Santa Barbara, St. Louis and Montana to keep up morale. The Pilots’ win over Boise State put them in position to glide into the conference schedule with another two winnable home games against rebuilding Nevada and up-and-down Utah.  That would put them at 12-3 and make a 20-win season and post-season tournament consideration within reach. Not bad for a team that was supposed to be rebuilding if not recovering from major graduation losses.
  3. Gonzaga (7-5) shook off an unfamiliar losing record (4-5) with a three-game winning streak that established 7’0 center Robert Sacre as their go-to guy. Sacre and front-court mate Elias Harris were the big stories in the Zags’ wins over Baylor and Xavier, a development made even more important by the loss of senior guard Steven Gray to back spasms against Baylor. Gray sat on the bench as the Zags engaged in hand-to-hand combat with low-scoring but defensively nasty Xavier, leaving Sacre and Harris to account for 35 of their team’s 64 points. No other Zag – and Mark Few used a bunch of ‘em – scored more than six points in the Xavier win. No word on when Gray will return, but it cannot be soon enough for the Zags’ fortunes.
  4. Santa Clara (7-6) made Washington State re-think the wisdom of stopping off at the Leavey Center en route to the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, pushing the Cougars to the limit before dropping an overtime heartbreaker. Last year’s outstanding point guard Robert Smith left the team before the Washington State game, putting pressure on the Broncos to solidify a shaky offense, and Smith’s replacement, Evan Roguemore, did his part. Roquemore contributed 16 points to accompany Kevin Foster’s 29 against Washington State and ease the sting of losing Smith, by some counts the 14th player to leave or be dismissed from the Santa Clara program since Kerry Keating became head coach four years ago. Foster and Roquemore continued their excellence in the Broncs’ 99-79 road win over Cal State Northridge on Dec. 22, scoring 38 points between them, but Keating is suffering from a guard shortage with injuries to Julian Clarke and Michael Santos in addition to Smith’s departure. He reached far down the bench to insert walk-on Nate Mensah for a few minutes against Northridge.
  5. Loyola Marymount (6-7) might have erased the memory of a less-than-stellar pre-conference season by easing into a three-game home winning streak over weak sisters Cal Poly and Sacramento State and so-so South Dakota. Reality returned, however, in a visit by the ACC’s Florida State Seminoles, whom the Lions battled evenly before faltering in the stretch. The Lions, who were counting on front-court strength from redshirt freshman post Edgar Garibay and solid strong forward Ashley Hamilton, have seen Garibay struggle to recover from last year’s ACL tear and lost Hamilton to a hand injury. Garibay saw only 10 minutes action against rugged Florida State big man Chris Singleton, leaving freshman Godwin Okonji to bear most of the rebounding and defensive duties. As if losing a close one to Florida State weren’t bad enough, LMU next travelled east to complete a home-and-home engagement with the South Dakota Coyotes. Reversing a 72-67 loss to the Lions 11 days earlier, South Dakota piled on 50 points in the second half to win 82-70.
  6. San Francisco (4-8) had a season-making win seemingly in sight as it battled undefeated San Diego State deep into the second half on Dec. 21. A few breaks went the Aztecs’ way down the stretch, however, and the Dons fell 61-56 in the opening game of the Las Vegas Hoops Classic. The Dons’ bad luck continued against IUPUI in the second game of the Classic on Thursday, as they fell to the Jaguars 69-68 when San Francisco guard Michael Williams missed the front end of a one-and-one with his team up 68-66. The Jaguars Sean Esposito drained a three with five seconds left to give IUPUI the win.
  7. Pepperdine (5-9) found a way to lose to a weakened Cal Poly SLO – falling behind 12-0 was a good way to start – after posting a 76-69 win over UC Irvine. Leaving Malibu for the final two games of the pre-conference season, the Waves flow into the Deep South for games against Alabama and Miami.
  8. San Diego (2-10) did not find a visit to Honolulu for the Diamond Head Classic relaxing, as it ran into the meat-grinder that is Baylor’s zone defense and Mississippi State with embattled forward Renardo Sidney back in action. The results were not pretty.
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24 Great Things About Watching ESPN’s 24 Hour Hoops Marathon

Posted by jstevrtc on August 18th, 2010

One of the first things I did on this website upon debuting two years ago was live blog ESPN’s first 24-hour college hoops marathon from start to finish.  You know how it is. You’re the new guy, you want to impress your co-bloggers, and all that.  I volunteered for the job, thinking I’d earn the respect of my RTC-mates and perhaps bring a few new visitors to the site. I assumed the novelty of it (it wasn’t that novel) would, in the same way that circus-goers stroll by the exhibition of freaks, bring a few people by to check in on the weirdo who was staying up and live blogging the whole thing.  I thought it turned out great, especially for a guy’s first time.  I had been awake for 16 hours before it started, too, so there were a few palpitations and many hallucinations by the time it was over, but I was proud. And as I was doing it, I was convinced that the combination of my astute basketball observations with my razor-sharp pop culture references would make this site a household name and propel us into the very heart of the American consciousness. Which, as we all now know, is precisely what happened.

Last year I did it again, despite the wagging fingers of my internist and a couple of specialists. We had some technical difficulties when the internet connection at the RTC Southern Compound tendered its resignation, but with some help of friends who subbed for me while I changed location, we got it done and I was able to finish strong.

Oh sweet, delicious caffeine -- the Marathon blogger's best friend.

We’re still in secret discussions as to what we’re going to do this year to celebrate the national holiday that is the 24-hour hoops marathon. I might insult my cardiovascular and central nervous systems for a third year in a row, or we might have something better in store this year. But because I’ve done it twice and not yet needed a trip to the ER, I — erroneously, in all likelihood — consider myself the authority on the subject.  To celebrate the release of this season’s Marathon schedule and the fact that it’s — *sigh* — only three short months away, here are my 24 favorite things about watching ESPN’s 24 Hour Hoops Marathon from beginning to end.

24. The fact that it’s actually about 26 hours of basketball, not 24. The last game starts at 11:30 PM ET, if it’s on time. Not only is it an “extra” game, but it’s a good time to summarize what you’ve seen during the day and pat yourself on the back.  Bonus hoops?  I’m not complaining, not even after 24 hours.

23. Seeing whether or not ESPNU’s Lowell Galindo will continue to go with the full Windsor knot in his tie.  Others in the sports media have worn it. Only one man has perfected it.  He’s made some appearances without it during the off-season, and stock markets all over the world plummeted each time.

22. The constant string of games is an instant reminder of those sweet days of Championship Week and the NCAA Tournament.

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2010 NBA Draft Winners and Losers

Posted by zhayes9 on June 25th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.

Now that the Draft is complete, time to look back at Thursday night’s winners and losers, from coaches to NBA teams to players to conferences and everything in between:

Paul George saw his stock skyrocket all the way to #10 and the Pacers, Al Bello/Getty Images

Winners:

Big 12 – One of the premier college basketball conferences has gained quite a surge of momentum in the last few weeks. Big 12 commish Dan Beebe convinced Texas it was in their best interests to keep the league in tact even after the defections of Colorado and Nebraska, two of the more downtrodden BCS-conference hoops programs in the country. After chopping off those two anchors, a ten-team, 18-game round robin format has been agreed to starting in 2012. The Big 12 momentum only continued at the draft on Thursday where an astonishing seven of the top 24 selections reside from the conference (and Kentucky isn’t even a member). Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh, Kansas’ Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry, Texas’ Avery Bradley and Damion James, Oklahoma State’s James Anderson and Iowa State’s Craig Brackins, not to mention Cyclone transfer Wes Johnson, were all nabbed in the first 24 picks. The Big 12 barely trailed the ACC in terms of overall conference strength last season and the results of the first round only confirmed those numbers.

John Calipari - As Fox Sports Jeff Goodman astutely pointed out, expect plenty of John Calipari mug shots in near future drafts unless he bolts for a dream NBA job. Five of his Kentucky Wildcats from one recruiting class were taken in the first round on Thursday, from John Wall at #1 overall to Daniel Orton at #29. Next year could see two more Kentucky players announced early in the draft in center Enes Kanter and point guard Brandon Knight with forward Terrence Jones another potential first rounder. In 2011-12 when Marquis Teague, Michael Gilchrist and another top ten recruit TBD join Big Blue Nation, it’ll be the same Calipari hugging his revolving door of players on a June night in NYC. Don’t think this is just Calipari doing this for his departing players or that recruits are not noticing. He’s fully aware of what his face constantly showing up on ESPN’ s cameras means: furthering his reputation of sending talented players to the riches of the NBA. And quickly.

Paul George - It’s been a quick ascension for George, a workout wonder who saw his draft stock shoot up in the last few weeks until he landed to Indiana at #10. It’s doubtful even George saw this coming after being lightly recruited out of Palmdale, Calif, and settling on Fresno State for his college choice. George saw both his FG% and 3pt% plummet from his freshman to sophomore seasons and he only upped his PPG by 2.5 and RPG by 1.0 along with very low assist totals. He also played for a 15-18 WAC team against far more inferior competition than, say, Kansas’ Xavier Henry, who went one pick later to Memphis. Henry averaged 13.5 PPG, shot 46% from two and 42% from three on a team filled with players who needed touches.

Greivis Vasquez’ reaction - I don’t think anyone who watched Greivis Vasquez play four years at Maryland was surprised when they saw the emotional Venezuelan surrounded by family and friends in the crowd at Radio City Music Hall waiting for his name to be chosen. Vasquez has been projected as an early-to-mid second round pick- a scorer, leader and improved floor general that simply lacks the lateral quickness to defend NBA guards. Yet rumblings surfaced that Memphis loved Vasquez at #28. Sure enough, when he was pegged at that exact spot, the only outward, raw emotion we saw Thursday night emerged as Vasquez pumped his fist, hugged his family and practically sprinted to shake David Stern’s hand on the draft stage. Congratulations to Greivis.

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Morning Five: 06.25.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 25th, 2010

  1. Did you catch that NBA Draft last night?  We’ll have much more up about the 2010 version in a post later today, but for now we’ll just say that even though we know that college stars cannot always translate to the professional level, it still bothers us to see tremendous collegians like Scottie Reynolds, Omar Samhan, Jon Scheyer and many others left on the outside looking in.  Best of luck in wherever your careers take you, fellas; we really enjoyed watching you play.
  2. Why wait to start projecting for the 2011 NBA Draft, though?  DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givony lists his top thirty prospects for next year’s draft and it has a particularly Duke and Carolina flavor in it.  And Georgia?  Yes, Georgia.
  3. Kansas is putting an end to a rough school year by hiring a new auditor to oversee its athletic department in light of the ticket-scalping scandal they endured earlier this year.  Probably a good idea.
  4. This is intriguing.  The NCAA is proposing to make a rule that high school players cannot be offered scholarships until the summer between their junior and senior years.  It’s not a bad thought.  Coaches could still get wink/nod/secret handshake agreements with players well before that time, but at least from a public standpoint, it would take away some of the insanity with the recruitment of players who are barely old enough to drive (or younger if you’re Billy Gillispie).
  5. ESPY nominees relating to college hoops:  1) Best game – Duke vs. Butler (odds: 35%); 2) Best Breakthrough Athlete – John Wall, Kentucky (odds: 40%); 3) Best Championship Performance – Anthony Johnson, Montana (odds: 5%); 4) Best Upset: Northern Iowa over Kansas (odds: 75%); 5) Best Coach/Manager: Coach K (odds: 15%); 6) Best Male College Athlete: Evan Turner (odds: 25%) & John Wall (odds: 40%).  Get over there and vote.
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ATB: Tennessee Vanquishes Sweet Sixteen Demons and Evan Turner

Posted by rtmsf on March 27th, 2010

Blah Night of Games.  So given the way this Tournament has gone through the first three rounds, we should be heading into two classics on Saturday evening in the West following by the East Regional finals.  On consecutive Thursdays we had an incredible set of games followed by a rather pedestrian Friday set.  Last Saturday was another blockbuster, while Sunday was relatively tame.  Don’t let us down, K-State, Butler, Kentucky and West Virginia.

Midwest Region

NPOY Evan Turner Couldn't Get His Three to Tie Off (AP/J. Roberson)

Tennessee 76, Ohio State 73.  On Selection Sunday, every pundit talked about how great the teams were at the top of the Midwest Region, but they may have forgotten the Volunteers who were grossly underseeded. Now they are showing the Selection Committee and the rest of the nation just how good they are. In a rematch of a 2007 Sweet 16 game that ended with Greg Oden blocking a shot by Ramar Smith that could have won the game for UT, the Volunteers got their revenge in a similar fashion. This time it was Tennessee’s J.P Prince who saved the day, blocking a desperation off-balance three by NPOY Evan Turner that could have tied the game at the buzzer. While this game wasn’t quite as spectacular as the Kansas State-Butler game last night, it certainly lived up to the expectations we would have of a Sweet 16 game as neither team was able to open up more than a seven-point lead and for most of the last 35 minutes of the game it was a one-possession difference. Thanks to a strong performance by Wayne Chism who had 22 points (18 in the second half) and 11 rebounds the Volunteers were able to overcome another phenomenal performance by Turner who finished with 31 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Unfortunately for Turner, Thad Matta was unable to coax similar performances out of any of Turner’s teammates who were 3-16 from the field during the second half when Turner scored 21 of his 31 points. Perhaps it was the ridiculous minutes that Matta made his rotation play recently, but the Buckeyes just didn’t see to have the necessary spark. Without the necessary support, Turner was forced to try win the game in the final minutes when David Lighty hit consecutive baskets to give OSU a 70-68 lead. After Chism responded with four straight to give the Vols a 72-70 lead, Turner hit a three that put OSU up one and had everybody believing that maybe, just maybe, he could be enough to carry his team to Indianapolis. Those hopes were dashed when Brian Williams converted a tip-in with 32 seconds to go and Turner was unable to make a driving layup with the ensuing loose ball ending up in Tennessee’s hands. After Tennessee converted a pair of free throws, the stage was set for Turner to etch his name into Tournament lore, but after missing a good look with a little over five seconds left he chased down the ball only to have an off-balance shot blocked by Prince. Despite the disappointing finish, this year will go down as Turner’s year in the minds of everyone who watched him this season. Although Turner says he isn’t sure what he will do with regards to the NBA Draft, we suspect that he will be headed toward NBA millions very soon. Next up for the Volunteers (playing in their first Elite Eight in school history) will be Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans. With the Vols on the verge of a Final Four trip less than three months after their season fell apart on New Year’s Day during the Tyler Smith fiasco, we have to ask the question that we asked almost a month ago: How is Bruce Pearl not mentioned as a legitimate National Coach of the Year candidate? Nobody has overcome more adversity than the Vol coach and yet he didn’t even finish in the top two in his own conference voting (behind Kevin Stallings and John Calipari).

MSU Just Squeezes the Life Out of Teams in March (AP)

Izzo Does It Again. #5 Michigan State 59, #9 Northern Iowa 52.  It’s starting to feel like Tom Izzo could take a group of circus animals, screw around with them for a few months and then have them all come together just in time to make a run to the Final Four.  With tonight’s win over Cinderella and Kansas-slayer Northern Iowa, Izzo’s team will return to the Elite Eight for the seventh time in his fifteen years at the schools (he’s 5-1 in this round).  It’s especially amazing considering just how banged up his Spartans are and how inconsistent they’ve been throughout this season.  But MSU did what they do, which is play inspired defense, make just enough plays on offense to put together a mini-run and squeeze the life out of the game in the final minutes to seal the victory.  Northern Iowa is just another victim on a long, long list of teams that have fallen as a result of this strategy.  As usual, the Spartans shut down the key players for UNI, with last weekend’s hero shooting a rough 2-9 from the field and contributing only nine points, Adam Koch struggling to get the ball in the right places and adding only 13 in 18 foul-plagued minutes, and Jordan Eglseder coming up with only nine himself.  The Panthers shot only 39% from the field, which is on par with what they were able to hit against Kansas last weekend, but they were unable to force as many turnovers against MSU and they were absolutely ice cold during the last quarter of the game (zero FGs in the last ten minutes of action).  Northern Iowa was undoubtedly one of the best stories of this year’s Tournament, and they have nothing to be ashamed of in losing a defensive grinder with the team that wrote the template.  Any of a number of other surviving teams in the Elite Eight could have been challenged by the Panther defense and style of play, but it was quite simply a bad matchup for them.  Even a battered and beat up Michigan State team isn’t going to allow another team to out-Izzo them, which is what would have had to happen for UNI to win this game tonight.

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Sweet Sixteen Game Analysis: Friday Night

Posted by rtmsf on March 26th, 2010

Over the next two days, RTC will break down the regional semifinal games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are Thursday night’s games from the East and West Regionals.

7:07 pm – #2 Ohio State vs. #6 Tennessee  (Midwest Region)

We know the Buckeyes have had three full days of rest since their second round game against Georgia Tech.  But Thad Matta has shortened (and by “shortened,” we mean “set on fire and forgotten about”) his bench so much late in the season and in this tournament that you have to even wonder if that’s enough time for the Buckeyes to recover.  Jon Diebler has played every minute of the Buckeyes’ first two tournament games.  William Buford has missed two minutes of action TOTAL out of the possible 210 minutes of game time in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.  David Lighty and Evan Turner have only sat for five minutes in that same time span.  The only starter who sits for any amount of time is big man Dallas Lauderdale, and he still plays at least 30 minutes a game.  Yet, the Buckeyes keep rolling.  The only thing Jon Diebler seems tired of is finding himself open behind the three point line.  He’s 11-22 in OSU’s two tournament games, and a lot of these things aren’t monitor-checkers.  They were deep.  And of course Turner has shown us his usual excellence.  There aren’t any surprises with the Buckeyes.  Tennessee, though, is a different story.  You never know whose night it’s going to be.  Scotty Hopson, Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince…any one or two of these guys can get hot, but then you have to worry about players like Brian Williams or Melvin Goins or Bobby Maze stepping up with a 15 point or 12 rebound night.  OSU’s four-forwards-and-Turner (who’s officially listed as a forward!) will be able to keep the Volunteer guards from getting too out of hand, but can they guard and rebound against the slightly taller Tennessee bigs?  As a team, rebounding is one of the few Buckeye weaknesses, and Tennessee has shown the capability to dominate the glass this year when they put their minds to it.  Both teams are among the nation’s best when it comes to guarding the three, but it’s OSU that gets a little more of their offense from the long ball.  On paper, the matchups are not favorable for OSU.  And the Tennessee kids are the kind who will relish the fact that they’re “supposed” to lose this game.  We doubt it’ll be a blowout, and remarkably both of these teams are fantastic in games decided by ten points or less.  In those games, OSU is 10-5 this season, and Tennessee is 13-2.  It’s gonna be a fun one.

The Skinny:  If both teams guard the three well, it will hurt OSU more than Tennessee.  Factor in the possibility that all those minutes could be catching up to the Buckeyes, and you have the makings of an upset.  It’s not easy taking the Volunteers in this game, because of how they can sometimes take nights off between the ears.  But Tennessee has had two chances to underestimate their opponent in this tournament, and didn’t either time.  They won’t here; they know what OSU can do.  Wouldn’t be surprised to see the Volunteers emerge.

7:27 pm – #3 Baylor vs. #10 St. Mary’s  (South Region)

The Gaels come into this game as one of the tournament’s Cinderellas, but this time Cinderella is actually the Tournament’s giant with Omar Samhan who has been the most dominant big man in the field so far after dominating Richmond and Villanova to the point where analysts were ripping Jay Wright for not doubling down on Samhan fo abusing Villanova’s interior players. In Wright’s defense, doubling down on Samhan would leave the St Mary’s guards open on the perimeter where they rank fourth in the country from beyond the arc. Scott Drew probably won’t be saddled with that dilemma since he has a center in 6’10 Ekpe Udoh who is every bit as good as Samhan. Even if Samhan does get the edge on Udoh here he will have to deal with 6’10 Anthony Jones, 7′ Josh Lomers and 6’7 Quincy Acy. With such a strong interior defense, the Bears block more shots than any other team in the NCAA Tournament at more than seven blocks per game so don’t expect Samhan to dominate the Bears like he did the Spiders and Wildcats. In addition to the challenge for Samhan on the offensive end, he will also be under pressure on defense going against a likely first rounder in Udoh. After hearing that you might be forgiven for thinking that this game will be decided solely on what happens on the inside, but you would be wrong. The matchup of guards featuring LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter against Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova could be the key to the game with the Bears having the edge in athleticism and the Gaels having the edge in shooting. Saint Mary’s will need their perimeter players (especially McConnell who is a ridiculous 75-145, or 51.7% from 3 this season) to hit treys against Baylor’s zone to open up space for Samhan to operate. If McConnell and Delledova can keep Dunn and Carter in front of them most of the time, the WCC might get its first team in the Elite Eight since 1999 when Gonzaga made it their before losing to eventual champion UConn (yes, that is the last time the Bulldogs made it that far).

The Skinny: Everyone will be talking about Baylor coming into this game with the homecourt advantage since the game is being played in Houston (a little over 180 miles away from Baylor’s campus in Waco), but Baylor doesn’t have a strong following like other schools in the state do. In fact, we might get a “Duke at Greensboro” situation where UNC fans (or in this case Texas and Texas A&M) root against the local team. Still the combination of Udoh, Dunn, and Carter should be enough to get it done as Samhan’s beastly NCAA Tournament run comes to an end.
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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.25.10

Posted by THager on March 26th, 2010

Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Midwest Region (Tom Hager)

  • One of Michigan State’s big advantages may be in their bench production, which has been averaging nearly 25 points per game lately and runs 11 players deep.
  • According to Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson, the decision to sign the contract extension was a no-brainer.  He signed a 10-year deal that will pay well over $400,000 per season.
  • The Washington Post notes that one of the major differences in the absence of Kalin Lucas is the contrasting and free flowing style that Korie Lucious plays at.  Lucious’ 13-point total in MSU’s game against Maryland was his highest total of the season.
  • Everybody knows Ohio State’s Jon Diebler has an incredible range, but not many people know that he used to shoot for dollar bills to hone his skills.
  • Michigan State is known for being mentally tough, but Northern Iowa is not used to the national exposure they have received from their trip to the Sweet Sixteen.  Although Ali Farokhmanesh has said that the confidence he receives has always been there, he admits that the media exposure has been overwhelming.

West Region (Andrew Murawa)

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Previewing the Cinderellas: St. Mary’s

Posted by rtmsf on March 24th, 2010

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

Getting There

Most tournament previews concentrate on team performance in the Big Dance leading up to the showdown at hand. With Saint Mary’s you have to back up a little bit, as getting there was almost as big to them as how they have played in the first two rounds. The Gaels made it as difficult on themselves as possible by going into the West Coast Conference championship game in Las Vegas on March 8 needing a win over Gonzaga to ensure an NCAA bid. Failing on that same stage the year before, Saint Mary’s watched in stunned silence as the selection committee deemed it unworthy of an at-large bid. No way were the Gaels going to trust their fate again to a bunch of strangers.

By not only defeating Gonzaga but hammering the Zags 81-62 in a game where even the walk-ons got off the bench, Saint Mary’s kicked a giant monkey off its back. Its play last weekend in Providence can be seen as a continuation of the resurgence witnessed March 8 in Las Vegas: confidence borne of defeating its most stubborn conference nemesis led the Gaels to play with authority against both Richmond and Villanova, both of which were favored. The Gaels have been on a roll since Las Vegas, and the Sweet Sixteen in Houston is just the third stop on a journey they feel will not end before Indianapolis.

Samhan is Great, but SMC is More Than Him (AP)

Overview

It’s not just the seeding disparity between Saint Mary’s and Baylor – a #10 versus a #3 – it’s also the alleged conference mismatch that will draw most attention. Baylor is from the vaunted Big 12, home of fearsome teams like Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and a host of Texas schools. Saint Mary’s is from the unheralded West Coast Conference and its group of small, Catholic schools such as USF, Santa Clara, Portland, San Diego and Loyola Marymount. Gonzaga’s dominance of the conference over the past 10 years has earned the conference the sneering nickname of “Gonzaga and the Seven Dwarves.”

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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.23.10

Posted by THager on March 24th, 2010

Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Midwest Region (Tom Hager)

  • Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson has insisted that his players are handling the added attention well, but it is hard to keep your composure when you walk into a lecture hall and receive a standing ovation, as Ali Farokhmanesh experienced on Monday.
  • Many people know that Farokhamnesh transferred to UNI, but most people do not know that UNI, like most other schools, knew about him in high school and passed up on him.
  • According to Dan Blank, the key for Michigan State will be to push the ball (something Kansas failed to do when they let Jordan Eglseder score 14 points in 18 minutes).  However, given the injuries they have recently sustained, Blank says hastening the pace may not be so easy.
  • Ohio State has been criticized for a lack of bench production, but Blank points out that the short bench may benefit the Buckeyes.
  • The Buckeyes are underdogs in this game, but Inside Tennessee’s Patrick Gibson reported that the Vols had a solid practice session on Monday.  That should come as no surprise, as this week Doug Gottlieb listed Bruce Pearl as one of his top coaches in the country.

West Region (Andrew Murawa)

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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.22.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2010

Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

West Region Notes (Andrew Murawa)

  • Lower-seeded teams like Cornell, Washington, Northern Iowa and St. Mary’s advancing to the Sweet 16 surprised college basketball fans all over, but Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim was not among them, saying that “there’s not a big gap” between teams in the tournament. Of course, he said that after winning by an average of 22.5 points in the first two games, but college basketball coaches never stretch the truth, right?
  • When junior forward Wesley Johnson visited Boeheim at the Syracuse campus to inquire about transferring, the hall-of-fame coach initially turned him down. Luckily for the Orange, he changed his mind.
  • With the big dog in the state back at home watching, the Kansas State Wildcats will be carrying the Sunflower State banner. The Wildcats beat up on their Sweet 16 opponent, Xavier, pretty good in early December in the Little Apple, but Fran Fraschilla says the Musketeers are a different team these days.
  • Pitt and head coach Jamie Dixon are in the unfamiliar position of having to watch the Regional Semifinal round, but the Panthers will be strong contenders heading into the 2010-11 season, when they are expected to return all of their key contributors except graduating senior guard Jermaine Dixon.
  • Gonzaga fans on the other hand will likely have to sweat out some key personnel decisions in the offseason, including the possibility that head coach Mark Few could leave and return to his alma mater, Oregon, to take over the program from recently fired Ernie Kent. With a sparkling new arena in Eugene and all the money that Nike can throw at him, this is undoubtedly the biggest run that another school has made at the popular and successful coach who has reportedly declined numerous other offers from big-name schools in the past. But, while point guard Matt Bouldin having played his last game in a Zag uniform and freshman forward Elias Harris a promising NBA prospect, some big changes could be coming to the recent prototype for mid-major success (no matter how much they despise the term).

Midwest Region Notes (Tom Hager)

  • If there was any question that Northern Iowa might suffer from a hangover after the upset over Kansas, the team did not even wait for Saturday night to end before already getting focused for the next round of games.
  • In addition to his ability to hit clutch shots, Ali Farokhmanesh has also been improving on the defensive end.  Although Kwadzo Ahelegbe usually covers the best guard each game, Farokhmanesh held Sherron Collins to 0-6 shooting from beyond the arc.
  • Joe Rexrode reminded fans today that although Michigan State will miss Kalin Lucas in their next game against UNI, it won’t be the first time the Spartans played shorthanded this year.  In addition to the injury Lucas suffered against Wisconsin, he was also suspended earlier in the season for disappointing Tom Izzo as the team’s leader.  Chris Allen was also suspended earlier this season, and Durrell Summers was benched for a walk-on.
  • As good as Evan Turner has been lately, the Bleacher Report’s Drew Gatewood points out that he turned the ball over nine times against Georgia Tech and had eight turnovers against UC-Santa Barbara.  With the Vols ranking #7 in defensive efficiency, Turner’s assignment may become even more difficult.
  • Although Mark Wiedmer of the Chattanooga Times Free Press may be getting ahead of himself, he says Tennessee is very close to the first Final Four in UT history.  According to Wiedmer, UNI has overachieved and Michigan State is banged up, so the OSU matchup could be the deciding game in who will advance to the national semifinals.

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