Tracking The Four: Scouting Reports

Posted by EJacoby on January 27th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor & correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

You know each of our four team’s records, you can see where they’re ranked relative to other teams, and their advanced statistical breakdowns are easily accessible on sites like StatSheet and KenPom. But what about how they actually look in person? If you haven’t watched these teams play multiple times this season, we have the quick-hitting analysis of their strengths and weaknesses. This week’s TT4 Wildcard gives a scouting report for each team, which is a useful way to compare and contrast teams and also look at how they perform in future games relative to their expected tendencies. Feel free to chime in if you think we missed on something!

A Dynamic Offensive Attack has Led to Indiana's Success (AP Photo)

Indiana Hoosiers

Strengths:

  • They space the floor very well offensively, capable of attacking from a variety of angles… Capable of running offense inside-out through Cody Zeller, or outside-in by swinging the ball around the perimeter amongst a number of dangerous scorers.
  • Great perimeter shooting… They take good shots, which leads to a high three-point percentage… Jordan Hulls and Matt Roth have unlimited range on their shots… Christian Watford excels in the mid-range.
  • Cohesive unit that has started the same five players in every game… Starters and reserves both know their roles.

Weaknesses:

  • Poor perimeter defense, often leaving opposing guards without much ball pressure… Allow opponents to run offense comfortably.
  • Lack depth in the frontcourt, putting themselves in a bad position if Zeller is fatigued or in foul trouble.
  • No true point guard on the roster has led to struggles penetrating offensively… Poor assist percentage for such a high-scoring offense.

Overview: A dynamic offensive team that thrives during up-tempo games, enabling them to consistently space the floor and hit open shots… Struggle defensively in the half court with physical teams, and can get in trouble when Zeller or Watford get in foul trouble… Very streaky performance has led to extended runs and deficits during games… Improving defensive team but continue to have trouble getting stops in conference play.

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That’s Debatable: How Will Murray State’s Season Finish?

Posted by WCarey on January 26th, 2012

That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude. Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people. We’ll try to do one of these each week during the rest of the season. Feel free to leave your takes below in the comments section.

This Week’s Topic: With Syracuse’s loss last Saturday, Murray State is the last unbeaten team. How do you see the rest of the Racers’ season playing out?

 

Kenny Ocker, Correspondent

I honestly think Murray State is going to go undefeated until the NCAA Tournament. Morehead State doesn’t have a return trip to face the Racers, the matchup against Austin Peay is a home game, and so is the BracketBusters game. If that happens, Murray State will probably get the courtesy of a #4 seed from the committee, and that may mean that the Racers actually get a pretty clear path to the Sweet Sixteen. I don’t see them going any farther than that, simply based on the intense level of scrutiny and attention that will be given to a team that hasn’t seen another NCAA Tournament-bound team since early December. But it’s going to be one hell of a fun story to follow for the next couple of months, regardless of when there is finally a blemish on Murray State’s record.

Brian Otskey, Big East Correspondent

Murray State is a real tough team for me to get a read on because of its schedule. Sure it’s 20-0 but with only one or two quality wins, I don’t think anyone can say with certainty just how good this team is. I believe Murray State is a borderline top 25 team. Going forward, it should be able to win out in the regular season and will likely take the OVC Tournament title as well now that Ivan Aska has been cleared to play. Playing with a target on your back every night is never easy but this team is good enough to run the table against the incredibly poor completion its conference offers. The Racers’ final three games are on the road and that’s where they’re most likely to fall as the pressure mounts and they don’t have the home crowd behind them. Plus they will get a still to be determined BracketBuster matchup, another possible stumbling block. With an RPI in the high 30s and an SOS well over #200, I don’t see this team getting more than a #5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It has the potential to make a run but I foresee it bowing out in its first or second NCAA game. 

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Tracking The Four: Cuse Get Juiced and Leaves One Unbeaten Team Standing

Posted by EJacoby on January 24th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor & correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

Welcome back to TT4, where the lowest ranked team of the four in this week’s RTC Top 25 also happens to be the only undefeated squad left in the country. Will Murray State lose a game before the Big Dance? They continue to win in impressive fashion and are now getting a key cog back in the lineup for the stretch run. Meanwhile, our two major-conference teams are coming off poor weeks and UNLV keeps quietly handling their business. All four TT4 teams remained ranked in the Top 20 and have important games this week. Let’s look at what’s new:

Murray State Racers

Isaiah Canaan and Murray State Continue Pushing Towards Perfection (AP Photo/S. Dennee)

  • Trending UP Because… – They are the only undefeated team left in the country! After being down at halftime, the Racers climbed back to defeat Morehead State on Wednesday, 66-60, in a huge road win that was their toughest remaining test. Please raise your hand and leave a comment below if you had Murray State as the last team to lose this season. Not only is MSU unbeaten but they are getting their third-leading scorer Ivan Aska back any day now, as the senior forward has been cleared to play by doctors. All things are looking up for the Racers (20-0, 8-0 OVC), and all of their remaining games have suddenly become must-watch, or at least must-follow action as they try to make history.
  • This Week’s Key CogIsaiah Canaan. The star guard was named Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Week after going for 20 points in the win at Morehead State and 21 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals in a road win over SIU Edwardsville on Saturday night.
  • Play of the Week – The Racers were down by one against Morehead State until Canaan hit this deep three-pointer with 3:58 left to give Murray State a lead they would not relinquish.
  • Talking Point – The head coach of SIU-E, Lennox Forrester, was thoroughly impressed by the Racers on Saturday, and thinks they may have a special season ahead: “They carry a swagger about them. They’re at least a Sweet Sixteen team and maybe Elite Eight. They could be a so-called Butler.”
  • Coaching Tree of Life - The last time Murray State was ranked before this season (1998), Mark Gottfried was the head coach. The last Racers’ rookie head coach to win 20 games was Mick Cronin in 2003-04, and the in-jeopardy MSU single-season wins record of 31 came under Billy Kennedy’s watch in 2009-10. Gottfried, Cronin, and Kennedy are all major coaches at NC State, Cincinnati, and Texas A&M, respectively, today; perhaps coach Steve Prohm is next in line for a big-time job. Then again, Prohm could also be deserving of a major raise and extension there in Murray.
  • Stats Central – They’ve earned praise for proficient three-point shooting, but an underrated aspect of Murray State’s offensive game is their attacking prowess. The Racers have a season-long free throw rate (which measures FTA/FGA) of 45.1%, which ranks 19th nationally. But they’re even more outstanding in conference play, with a rate of 52.8% that ranks third in the country amongst all teams in their conference games.
  • What’s Next? – The Racers have just one game on tap for this week, at home against Eastern Illinois on Saturday (8:00 PM ET). EIU is 2-4 in OVC conference play and coming off three straight losses.

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

  • Trending EVEN Because… – They took care of business this week by thrashing TCU at home before then opening up a big second-half lead and defeating New Mexico at home as well on Saturday. The Runnin’ Rebels continue to look the part of a consistent, elite team and they’ve even slid into the Top 10 of this week’s RTC Top 25. UNLV (18-3, 2-1 MWC) has only lost on the road to three teams that are either ranked (SDSU) or receiving votes (Wisconsin, Wichita State) this week. They are ranked sixth in the RPI and should get a very strong look at a top three NCAA Tournament seed if they continue to play this well.
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Tracking The Four: Let’s Play 21 Questions

Posted by EJacoby on January 20th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor & correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

For this week’s wildcard edition of TT4, we’re going to tackle some burning questions regarding each team. All four teams have pressing issues as they try to hit their strides in conference play, and there’s one team on our list that specifically needs to find some answers, quickly, if they want to stay relevant as a contender. Find out the answers to each question, or at least our quick takes, below each question. If you want to play along, comment with any of your answers!!!

Is Mike Moser the Best Player of our Four Teams? (Getty Images/E. Miller)

1. Which game on Syracuse and Murray State’s schedules should be circled as their toughest challenge to an undefeated regular season?

Monday night’s game in Cincinnati is Syracuse’s first shot at going down, while Murray State’s game on February 15 at Southeast Missouri State will be their toughest test.

2. Can Indiana recover from this losing streak to regain their status as a top three team in the Big Ten?

They’ll be able to recover, but Indiana is not a top three Big Ten team (OSU, UM, & Michigan State are better).

3. Will UNLV be able to win big games outside of Las Vegas, like SDSU did in The Pit this week?

They’ve already played seven true road games, so yes this will help UNLV win conference road games.

4. The Hoosiers have lost three straight games while the Racers have won 19 straight, but who would win on a neutral court if they played today?

We’d love to see this in the NCAA Tournament and today we’re going with Indiana, but if Ivan Aska comes back strong for MSU, ask again in two weeks.

5. When they inevitably need a bucket in crunch time, whom will Syracuse and Jim Boeheim draw the play for?

He doesn’t specialize in taking over games, but Kris Joseph is still the most talented offensive player and toughest mismatch on the team, so he should get his number called.

6. Will UNLV’s 69.1% free throw percentage come back to haunt them at some point this season?

Although it’s the worst of these four teams, no a 69% rate should not be a huge concern for the Rebels.

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ATB: On Buzzer Beaters, Murray State’s Road Test, and Indiana’s Legitimacy…

Posted by rtmsf on January 19th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. What. A. Night. The beauty of college basketball is that you can never quite predict when you’re going to luck into a great evening of hoops. Sometimes you look at the schedule and figure you’ll be riveted to your seat on the couch all night, only to be disappointed with a bunch of blowouts. Tonight the slate didn’t look terribly compelling other than a couple of games, and yet the buzzer-beaters, excitement and even an RTC or two kept pouring in. Let’s jump into a wild and wacky Wednesday night of action…

It Was a Special Night in Lincoln (J. Hannah/LJS)

Your Watercooler Moment. Buzzer, Buzzer, Toil and Trouble. There were a number of last-second shots to win games tonight around the country, and while only one of them involved a ranked team losing, that doesn’t make them any less interesting.

  • Hilton Magic. It didn’t carry quite the same weight as Iowa State’s RTF football victory over then-#2 Oklahoma State back in November, but the Cyclones’ basketball comeback resulting in Scott Christopherson’s banked three at the buzzer was no less compelling. The reaction of the Cowboy players after the ball drops through the net tells the story, but more on OSU’s meltdown a little later in this post. For now, just enjoy the dagger from 25 feet.

  • Kilpatrick Courage. After UConn’s Shabazz Napier drilled a long three with 9.5 seconds remaining to tie the game, Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick calmly dribbled up the right side of the court, crossed over right to left to create some space, and sunk an equally long three to give UC the lead (and the ballgame) with 2.5 seconds remaining.

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Tracking The Four: And Then There Were Two (Unbeatens)

Posted by EJacoby on January 17th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor & correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

In this second full edition of TT4, two of our teams have taken a step backward while the other two continue to roll along as the only unbeaten teams remaining in the country. Do Murray State and Syracuse both have a good chance to go undefeated in the regular season? All four of our teams remain ranked in the Top 20 of the major polls. Let’s take a look at the juxtaposition between the two pairs of teams that are making headlines for different reasons:

Murray State Racers

Isaiah Canaan and Donte Poole are Running Full Speed Ahead for Undefeated Murray State (AP Photo/L. Dennee)

  • Trending UP Because… – They’re still without injured starting forward Ivan Aska, who has a broken hand, and the Racers continue to take care of business. MSU (18-0, 6-0 Ohio Valley) remained undefeated after knocking off Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech at home over the past week. The Racers’ unbeaten start extends the school record to open a season, and improving to 18-0 also set the school record for longest win streak overall at any point.
  • This Week’s Key CogDonte Poole. The senior guard has been the perfect complement to Isaiah Canaan all season, but it was Poole who did the heavy lifting this week. He averaged 24.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals in two games last week, including a career-high 28 points versus Tennessee Tech, to propel his team to those victories. The prolific three-point shooter was more aggressive attacking the basket, getting to the line a total of 23 times in the two games, converting 21 of those shots.
  • Play of the Week – Twenty-five seconds into this video clip, watch star guard Canaan split defenders on a high pick-and-roll before a crafty finish at the rim. The announcer pronounces his name wrong, so just let the highlight do the talking.
  • Talking PointSteve Prohm on improving to 18-0 despite missing their best forward: “Credit our guys’ resiliency. We’re having to play a lot of different ways and we’re just trying to figure things out and they’re doing things on the fly and making adjustments and I couldn’t be prouder of them.
  • Best Read - ESPN’s Dana O’Neil sat down with coach Steve Prohm for an interview Tuesday that discussed how the first-year coach has dealt with success, amongst other issues.
  • Stats Central – According to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers, the only currently ranked teams that played a more challenging non-conference schedule than Murray State were Duke, Kansas, and Gonzaga. The Racers were actually picked to finish third this season in the OVC by conference coaches in the preseason poll, behind Austin Peay and Tennessee Tech. Those two teams now don’t have as many wins combined (17) as the Racers currently do on the season.
  • What’s Next? – MSU has two road games this week against conference foes dreaming of ending a perfect season. First is a test at Morehead State on Wednesday (7:00 PM ET) against the defending champions of the OVC. Morehead, 3-3 in conference play thus far, is a tough team whose five best players are all upperclassmen. The Racers then head to play at SIU-Edwardsville against a Cougars team that is also 3-3 in conference. Murray will look to continue their undefeated streak again without their best big man as Aska has been ruled out for these games.

Syracuse Orange

  • Trending EVEN Because… – Already at the top of nearly every poll and rating, there’s not much higher to go. Syracuse remained undefeated and improved to 20-0 (7-0 Big East) after beating the three teams at the bottom of the Big East conference last week. The Orange handled their toughest task at Villanova last Wednesday without a problem, and it’s been weeks since SU played a game in which the outcome was ever in doubt after the first 10 minutes. Fast starts are becoming a staple of this team, and it holds leads easily with the most talented bench in the nation. Jim Boeheim’s team is beating Big East opponents by an average of 15.7 points per game, although five of their seven games have come against the bottom four teams in the conference.
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Morning Five: 12.09.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on December 9th, 2011

  1.  We were very afraid of this when we saw it happen live on Tuesday night, and sure enough, the results came back yesterday. Marquette center Chris Otule has torn his left ACL and may miss the rest of the season depending on the severity of the tear and the treatment decision between he and his doctors. As we mentioned in that night’s After the Buzzer, we really hate this for the 6’11” junior. Not only is he playing with the severe disadvantage of only having vision in one eye, but he’s suffered broken bones in both his left and right foot during his time in Milwaukee. Despite his best efforts, the guy has seemingly never been able to stay healthy. No matter his decision on a treatment plan, he’s only been able to play in 57 games in four seasons, so we’re crossing our fingers that he’ll get at least one more injury-free season of basketball at Marquette.
  2. How about some better injury news? Texas A&M’s Khris Middleton is expected to officially return to his team for Saturday’s game against Louisiana-Monroe after spending the better part of the last month rehabilitating a hamstring injury suffered in the first game of the season. His loss hasn’t impacted A&M’s fortunes terribly against a light schedule, as the Aggies have only one loss against Mississippi State so far, but he will be needed on the floor for an upcoming game against Florida and of course the 18-game Big 12 schedule. In other good news, Ohio State sounds like it expects to have its NPOY candidate, Jared Sullinger, back in action for Saturday’s monster game versus Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. Although Thad Matta played coy with his answers in the article, if Sullinger is “dancing around” his dorm room, he’ll be ready to play this weekend.
  3. In a somewhat odd turn of events, St. John’s sophomore point guard Nurideen Lindsey has decided to transfer out of the program. What makes it peculiar is that the starter has averaged nearly 30 minutes per game and is putting up good numbers in the first month of the season — 12.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG. His statements about leaving are even more confounding: “I came to St. John’s for a couple of reasons. One was to be close to my mom, whose health has been up and down due to some past experiences. The second was to play for Coach Lav. In both instances, it has not worked out how I envisioned.” He surely isn’t holding Lavin’s own health issues against him, so there has to be something else going on here. More on this later today on RTC’s Big East microsite.
  4. The number of D-I schools is apparently set to grow again, as Northern Kentucky will join the Atlantic Sun Conference and start playing a full conference slate as soon as next season. Even though the school will not be eligible for league championships and revenue sharing for a few years while going through a probationary period, NKU preferred to join the much-farther geographic footprint of the A-Sun rather than the closer-to-home OVC because it was willing to let them play games next season. The A-Sun is generally located in the deep South — Georgia, South Carolina, Florida — although it does have two schools in Tennessee and as we’ve learned in conference realignment theater, geography rarely matters anymore. The article reports that the average road trip within the league will be around 580 miles, though, which can seriously add up for mid-major school budgets.
  5. You’ve been waiting patiently for it, well here it is: Luke Winn‘s weekly power rankings. Per usual, there’s more graphs, still frame images, and thoughtful analysis than you can shake Seth Davis’ stick at, but if you look carefully, you’ll find his All-Americans after one month, his analysis as to why Louisville fails to impress us, and an rundown of why Saturday’s delightful stack of games without the annoyance of football is something worth carving your day around.  Enjoy.
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Belmont Leaves Atlantic Sun for OVC

Posted by rtmsf on May 16th, 2011

You may have thought that after last summer’s seismic shifts of conference realignment (or the threat of it) involving nearly all of the major conferences, we’d have an uneventful offseason in that regard this year.  So far, that’s generally been true.  With the the moves pending at Nebraska, Utah, Colorado, BYU, Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada and TCU, and the television dollars already in place for the new Pac-12 and Texas/ESPN deals, it’s generally been all quiet on the realignment front this year.  The ridiculous incentives and free-for-all mentality that drove last year’s posturing and maneuvering among the major players of the sport have now settled; but at the lower levels of Division-I basketball, the party never ends.  Schools are always looking for ways to upgrade from one conference to another, and Friday’s announcement that Belmont University will switch from the Atlantic Sun to the Ohio Valley Conference beginning in 2012 should surprise nobody.

Belmont is a Mid-Major Hoops Powerhouse These Days

The driving force behind this move is, what else, money.  Belmont, located in Nashville, is in the northwestern hinterlands of the A-Sun’s footprint, a league that stretches from Tennessee east into the Carolinas and all the way down to south Florida.  The OVC, on the other hand, is clustered in Tennessee and Kentucky, with the majority of its schools located within a couple-hour drive of Nashville.  As Belmont AD Mike Strickland noted, the school stands to save at least a quarter-million dollars a year on travel costs alone.  Even with the $200,000 buyout required to leave the Atlantic Sun, the program expects to have that cost more than covered in its first year within the OVC.

While we certainly understand the financial incentives and the better “fit” aspect of this move, we’re not as convinced as to the benefit to Rick Byrd’s basketball program.  The Bruins have made four of the last six NCAA Tournaments out of the A-Sun, and it will be joining a top-heavy OVC led by Murray State, Austin Peay and Morehead State.  The problem is that even with the inclusion of Belmont into the Ohio Valley, the league is still going to be a one-bid conference, so it appears to us that Belmont’s move will only make it more difficult for the school to earn its way into the Big Dance.  In a comment relating to the move, Byrd stated that Belmont will now have a “one in twelve” shot to make the NCAAs, whereas it was “one in nine” in the A-Sun — notwithstanding the probability error inherent in his analysis, why would viewing your odds of going dancing as less likely ever be a good thing?

Byrd’s team will bring back nearly everyone from a 30-5 (19-1 A-Sun) team that made the NCAA Tournament in 2010-11, losing to Wisconsin, 72-58, in the Second Round.  The methodical ball-control style of Bo Ryan’s Badgers was a bad matchup for the Bruins, but they’re already getting some buzz as a team to watch next season.  As you’re well aware, the OVC’s Morehead State upset Louisville last season, and Murray State knocked out Vanderbilt the season before, yet despite Belmont’s considerable hype, Rick Byrd’s program is still awaiting its first-ever NCAA Tournament win.  As a final encore in a league they’ve owned the better part of the last half-decade, perhaps 2011-12 will be the year, serving notice to its future OVC brethren that their treasured automatic bid will be significantly tougher to secure in the future.

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N.C. State Goes With Gottfried

Posted by jstevrtc on April 5th, 2011

The coaching carousel is really gaining momentum now that the season has ended, and Mark Gottfried has decided to turn in his ESPN mic-plates for North Carolina State colors.

Gottfried Takes On the NCSU Coaching Job -- And a Whooooole Lot Of Headaches

Ending a long and frustrating coaching search, the Wolfpack announced the hiring of Gottfried within the last hour. Gottfried’s last gig was at Alabama, where he coached for ten seasons and part of an eleventh (1998-2009). He posted a 210-132 (0.614) overall record and an 84-83 record in SEC play as leader of the Crimson Tide, taking his team to the NCAA Tournament for five straight seasons from 2001-02 to 2005-06. His 2003-04 team made the Elite Eight before losing to the eventual champion Connecticut Huskies. Gottfried left in January of the 2009 season after star guard Ronald Steele decided to jump ship, and hasn’t coached since.

Before his time at Alabama, he coached three seasons at Murray State from 1995 to 1998, taking the OVC crown all three years, and making NCAA Tournaments in his last two seasons there. He was 68-24 (40-12) at MSU. Gottfried also won a  national championship in 1995 in his last of seven seasons at UCLA as an assistant under Jim Harrick.

The initial reaction to this hire appears to be to compare it to St. John’s’ taking on Steve Lavin last year, since, like Lavin before him, Gottfried most recently worked as a color commentator and studio analyst as part of ESPN’s college basketball coverage. To us, though, the hiring of Gottfried in Raleigh is more a product of how many coaches at smaller programs — for example, guys like VCU’s Shaka Smart and Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, two targets of the NC State search — are choosing to live by the Valvano Doctrine of “don’t mess with happiness” and stay at programs at which they’re already successful, as well as hoping that they can mimic Brad Stevens‘ recent successes at Butler. With what Stevens and his Bulldogs have achieved in the last two years, if you’re a coach at a mid-major program, it makes staying at your smaller school a lot more attractive of an option than, say, the prospect of going up against Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski at least four times a year on the court and fighting them for local stud recruits off of it. What also can’t be ignored is the reluctance that some coaches may have had to work with NC State athletic director Debbie Yow, whose stormy relationship at Maryland with coach Gary Williams was well-publicized.

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The Week That Was: Feb. 15-21

Posted by jstevrtc on February 22nd, 2011

David Ely is an RTC Contributor 

Introduction

Monday’s Syracuse-Villanova and Kansas-Oklahoma State games kicked off Judgment Week at ESPN, and TWTW has no idea what that exactly means. Are our opinions (or “judgments,” if you will) supposed to be dramatically altered based on this week’s outcomes? Syracuse’s win over ’Nova doesn’t mean they’re no longer a flawed team that’s capable of looking great one night and mediocre the next. And barring any game-changing injury, you shouldn’t think differently about a squad based on a couple of games at the end of February. You are who you are at this point — no extra judgments are necessary. So why does ESPN feel the need to dub almost every week now? Just stop at Rivalry Week. Sometimes games are just games, they don’t need any extra labels. There’s only one real judgment to be made this week — Battle: Los Angeles looks like a god-awful movie. 

What We Learned

Smith And the Devils Are Back On Top of the Polls, But It Means Less At This Time of Year

We thought that Tristan Thompson was just speaking for Texas when he said that the Longhorns would prefer not to replace Kansas as the No. 1 team in the next AP poll — turns out he was expressing the sentiments for just about every possible No. 1 team in the nation. On Saturday #4 Pittsburgh went down at St. John’s, followed by #2 Texas at Nebraska, and then on Sunday #3 Ohio State lost at Purdue. ESPN Stats & Information said it was the first time that the #1-4 teams in the ESPN/USA Today poll all lost in the same week since 2003 — yikes. But this isn’t the first week that we’ve seen this level of attrition in the polls; remember, it was just a few weeks ago that 13 of the AP’s Top 25 lost and half of the top 10. So who deserves to be #1 now? Duke got the nod on Monday, but do the Blue Devils deserve to be vaulted all the way from #5 to the top? In all honesty, you could probably just put the top six teams on a dartboard (top seven if you want to include BYU who got two first place votes), close your eyes, throw your dart, and there’s your #1 team. Not that it matters — during the season #1 in college hoops has always felt like a superficial title to TWTW. What’s really important is who’s in position for a #1 seed. It’s not important to determine who’s #1 now. The competition to watch is the race to distinguish between teams #4 and #5.

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ATB: The Day After

Posted by jstevrtc on January 28th, 2011

The Lede. Hopefully everyone was over their Jimmer hangovers by the time the games started tonight. Judging by Twitter, and…well, pretty much every sports outlet in the nation, the transitive verb “to Jimmer” has entered the American sporting lexicon with some serious impact. We can’t remember when a college baller’s name has ever been used in this fashion; nobody ever said “You got Turnered/Walled,” or “He Morrisoned them,” or “They Hansbrough’d the heck out of that poor team.” And the only name we can think of that contains a reverent “The” at the beginning that’s in regular use today belongs to U2 guitarist The Edge, though — and credit to Seth Davis for starting the trend — “The Jimmer” is now commonplace usage in referring to just about everybody’s favorite player.

Darius Morris and Crew Start the Celebration (J.Gonzalez/Detroit FP)

But enough of that for now. We’ll have many chances to discuss him later. Tonight we saw three tough conference road wins, two of them in games involving bitter rivals. We have a couple of RTCs we have to weigh in on, and a pair of outstanding tweets from the Gonzaga vs St. Mary’s game. First, though, we start…with Sparty.

Your Watercooler Moment. On the halftime coverage of ESPN2’s St. Mary’s @ Gonzaga game, when asked about how dire the situation was for Michigan State this year after their loss to Michigan tonight, even the understated Dan Dakich hesitated for effect and said gravely, “Well…it’s pretty serious.”

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ATB: Zags Seem Wobbly While Washington Does Not

Posted by rtmsf on January 21st, 2011

The Lede.  To give you a sense of what tonight’s basketball landscape looked like, it was a Pac-10 game that commanded the most national attention.  A lot of games out there, but few that were all that interesting.  Still, it’s our job to find those nuggets, so here goes…

Santa Clara's RTC Was Delayed by the Players' RTCrowd (h/t DLeung)

Your Watercooler MomentGonzaga in Trouble.  Hear us out, first.  We’ve seen Gonzaga play at least a half-dozen times or more this season, and the excuses made for Elias Harris’ injury notwithstanding, we’re still waiting to be impressed.  Tonight’s loss at Santa Clara where Kevin Foster went all kinds of crazy for a career-high 36 points did not help Gonzaga’s standing in our eyes.  Given that this was their first true conference road game and SCU isn’t very good, we’re starting to wonder if Mark Few’s team could be on the verge of a giant letdown this year — yes, to the point where the Zags don’t even make the NCAA Tournament.  Consider that coming into tonight’s game, GU was #46 and Pomeroy has them at #36, neither spots what you would call in the true safety zone for an NCAA bid; then, also consider that we think the Zags are looking at one, possibly even two, losses to St. Mary’s in addition to whomever else rises up to defeat them on the road this year (USF again?  LMU?  Portland?).  Another problem is the non-conference schedule — in a different year, wins over Baylor, Xavier, Oklahoma State, Wake Forest and (projected) Memphis would be more meaningful than they are this season.  The Zags’ only true quality win this year was way back in November over Marquette at the CBE Classic.  Pomeroy projects Gonzaga to go 12-2 in the WCC this year, which means a single loss more at St. Mary’s, but frankly, we think they have a few more stinkers left in their queue this season.  Call us crazy, but we think there’s a better-than-even chance that the mainstay program from Spokane will be sweating bullets come Selection Sunday this year.

Tonight’s Quick Hits….

  • Isaiah Thomas’ Slide Save Into the Tunnel.  After this season is completed and in the books, if there’s a single play that will define the success that Washington enjoyed, it will be the incredible dive and save behind his back that Isaiah Thomas made in the second half of tonight’s game against Arizona that resulted in his body sliding at least twenty feet into the corner of the arena as well as a bucket on the other end for his team off the break.  It was one of the most fantastic hustle plays we’ve ever seen in the collegiate game, and needless to say, we’ve logged quite a few hours over the years.  The play epitomized why this Washington team has a chance to do something special this year — since Abdul Gaddy’s ACL injury, Thomas has stepped into the point guard role assiduously, upping his scoring to just over 20 PPG and his assists to over 9 APG, including double figure dimes in his last two games.  The guy is simply giving an all-out effort each night and, as Sean Miller said after the game, Thomas should be getting more credit for his play than he is getting.
  • Klay Thompson’s Near Trip-Dub.  Washington State’s Klay Thompson was all over the place in the Cougars’ win over struggling Arizona State tonight.  The 6’6 junior is no stranger to filling up the stat sheet, but this evening’s performance was particularly exceptional.  Not only did he shoot his way to 22 points, but he also grabbed eight rebounds, dished out nine assists, ripped three steals, blocked a couple of shots and committed four fouls just for good measure.  The assist total tied a season high while the rebound total was two off, but it was the closest he’s gotten this season to an elusive triple-double.  With Reggie Moore back tonight, we still believe that Wazzu is one of the better teams in the Pac-10, but they have some work cut out for them to catch cross-state rival Washington.
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