Around The Blogosphere: February 2, 2011

Posted by nvr1983 on February 2nd, 2011


If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to rushthecourt@gmail.com. We will add to this post throughout the day as the submissions come in so keep on sending them.

Top 25 Games

  • #3 Kansas 86, Texas Tech 66: “So much for Bill Self not being able to win in Lubbock, huh? The Jayhawks came out and immediately went to work inside, feeding Marcus Morris for the first three baskets of the game. Once the lead reached 10-2 after the first four minutes of the game, the outcome was never in doubt. Texas Tech couldn’t find a shot on the offensive end and they showed no inclination of making it difficult for anyone in blue get to the basket on the defensive end. The final score was 88-66 and it wasn’t anywhere near that close.” (Rock Chalk Talk)
  • Ole Miss 71, #10 Kentucky 69: “Well, this was a game that the Mississippi Rebels needed very badly, and they won the game on a near-last second 3-point shot by senior point guard Chris Warren.  It was an exciting game, but Kentucky comes up on the short end, I think deservedly. I was very impressed with how aggressive and how physical the Ole Miss Rebels were in this game.  They took it to Kentucky in every way you can, and they played with a heart and intensity that, if they had played like this all year, might have them in contention for an NCAA bid instead of trying to salvage a season that started with four league losses in six games.  But this game, this time, the Rebels were very, very good, and they sent Kentucky home with their third SEC road loss in four tries.  I can’t say enough about how tough and determined the Rebels were.  They won this game the old-fashioned way — they earned it.” (A Sea of Blue: Part 1 and Part 2)
  • #16 Wisconsin 66, #13 Purdue 59: “Purdue went into another difficult Big Ten venue — perhaps the most difficult — and could have come away with a win. In fact, they likely should have, but they did not, losing 66-59. The Boilers — especially these seniors — are not afraid of the Kohl Center. Closing out a win tonight would have made JJ and Smooge 3-1 at Wisconsin in their careers, a fun stat that would have been awesome to lord over obnoxious Badger fans. However, it was not to be…and while officiating was again atrocious, that was once again not why the Boilers lost.” (Boiled Sports)
  • #24 UNC 106, Boston College 74: “I’m not sure if I can express how good a game this was to people who didn’t see it. Looking at the score, sure you may be excited that UNC cracked the century mark, but you’ll probably just chalk it up to Boston College not being very good. And their defense is indeed pretty bad. But they’re a decent team at home, and Carolina just beat them worse than Duke managed in Cameron. This was the best complete game I’ve seen from the Tar Heels all season; from the moment they took their first lead – off of not coincidentally a Reggie Bullock three pointer – they didn’t let up, putting over 100 points on the Eagles in regulation for the first time since 1996.” (Carolina March)
  • #24 Illinois 68, Penn State 51: “I cannot overstate how important this game was for the Illini. Having lost four of the last five games, including one to this very same Penn State team, the Illini slumped to 4-4 in the Big Ten, and 14-7 overall, and with a loss to Indiana fell to the brink of the tournament field. Talor Battle, as you all well know, has been a total thorn against the Illini and has single handedly stolen victories against Illinois.” (Hail to the Orange)

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RTC Live: USC @ Arizona

Posted by rtmsf on January 29th, 2011

Game #120.  RTC Lives makes its first-ever trip to Arizona’s McKale Center for a battle between Pac-10 stalwarts.

Today’s game between USC and Arizona at the McKale Center represents the turning point of the conference season.  Arizona has designs on catching first-place Washington in the standings, sitting only one game behind the Huskies with the difference being the Wildcats’ loss at Seattle nine days ago.  Secure in the knowledge that UW will have to pay Sean Miller’s team a return trip in late February, Arizona knows that it can’t afford a home loss here today.  USC is coming off a solid road win in Tempe on Thursday night, and it’s clear that when their inside/outside duo of Nikola Vucevic and Jio Fontan have it going, they can compete with anyone in this league.  Arizona has a strong frontcourt anchored by All-American candidate Derrick Williams, but guard play has been troublesome and inconsistent.  Nevertheless, we’re excited to be headed to McKale tonight, site of so many great games over the years.  Join us on RTC Live…

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RTC Live: USC @ Arizona State

Posted by rtmsf on January 27th, 2011

Game #117.  RTC Live makes its first trip to the desert Southwest with a trip to Tempe for some Pac-10 basketball.

It’s been a trying first half of the Pac-10 season for Herb Sendek’s Arizona State Sun Devils, but there’s a lingering sense that they should be better than they are.  Having only played two home games en route to a 1-6 start, the schedule certainly breaks favorably for a renaissance. Two of the issues are that ASU’s usually staunch defense has been lacking and guard/forward Rihards Kuksiks has been in what seems like a season-long funk.  Tonight’s visit from USC provides an opportunity, as the Trojans come in struggling as well.  After starting off strongly by beating Washington State and UCLA, and nearly knocking off league gorilla Washington, USC lost to both Oregon schools away and split against the Bay Area schools last weekend at home.  Jio Fontan and Nikola Vucevic have played well, but there hasn’t been much consistency beyond those two.  It should make for an interesting game here tonight in Tempe.  Join us for a little Pac-10 hoops from the desert.

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All in the Family: Episode 2

Posted by rtmsf on January 25th, 2011

We’re back with the second episode of AITF, a semi-regular piece that will take a closer look at each of the six power conferences to see what interesting tidbits relating to the national picture might be occurring.  And yes, for those of you asking, we’re still classifying the SEC as a power conference (even if KenPom has the Mountain West ahead of it). 

Power Conference Rankings

1.  Big East.

  • Everyone in the Big East has now played between six to nine conference games, so we have a somewhat decent sense as to how the pecking order in this league looks at this point.  So far, Pittsburgh (7-1), Villanova (5-1) and possibly Connecticut (4-2) have separated themselves in our eyes as the cream of the conference.  Syracuse (5-2) is just a shade below that group, but they’re going to have to figure out some things before we anoint the Orange among this year’s Big East elite – we’ll keep them at the bottom of the top tier for now, though.  The next level is a muddled mess of seven teams – Louisville, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Marquette, Cincinnati, St. John’s and Georgetown.  The most likely candidate from this group to play up to the next level is (unsurprisingly) Notre Dame after last night’s big win at Pitt, while the most likely candidate to fall completely apart is Steve Lavin’s Johnnies.  ND has already played the toughest part of its schedule whereas St. John’s is already sputtering and still faces four games versus the top tier (plus Duke and UCLA).  The lower tier — Rutgers, Seton Hall, Providence, South Florida and DePaul – isn’t likely to do much more than spring an occasional eyebrow-raising upset (witness PC’s win over Louisville on Saturday).
  • Notre Dame has been the beneficiary of the scheduling gods thus far.  The Irish have played nine games (6-3), winning five in the friendly confines of South Bend while going 1-3 away from home.  With nine games left, Mike Brey’s team has only four remaining contests at home, BUT five of their remaining games are against bottom-tier teams, more than another school in the mid-pack.  If the Irish can simply win all of those, they’ll already have eleven wins this season, good enough for an NCAA Tournament bid and a strong seed.  On the other hand, West Virginia, already with wins over three of the bottom tier en route to a 4-2 record, has four games remaining against the elites including a home date with Pitt. 
  • We’re simply not a believer in Louisville despite their 15-4 overall and 4-2 conference record.  The Cards shoot 41% of their attempts from three, and when the bombs aren’t falling, bad things happen.  In UL’s two bad performances this season, vs. Drexel and at Providence, Rick Pitino’s modern-day bombinos shot 8-39 (.205) from outside the arc.  When you keep in mind that the Cards have had a soft Big East schedule thus far and escaped Marquette on a miraculous comeback, it wouldn’t surprise us to see the wheels come off soon.
  • Rutgers is at 3-4 after defeating after defeating fellow bottom-dwellers South Florida and Seton Hall last week.  But credit is due to Mike Rice’s team for separating the Scarlet Knights a little from the true bottom of the barrel by beating those two plus Providence so far this season.  Having lost the personnel they did and to already be well past last year’s pace of five wins is a solid achievement even if the schedule toughens up from here on out.

2.  Big Ten.

  • There was some consternation over the weekend about Michigan State suffering its seventh loss of the season and whether that puts Tom Izzo’s team in danger of falling onto the bubble, and that worry is misguided at this point.  According to Pomeroy, MSU has played the toughest schedule in the nation to date, and various bracketologists (Glockner – #7; Lunardi – #6; Hayes – #6) as of this morning have the Spartans still feeling comfortable.  Still, the Spartans are a couple of bounces away from having lost six in a row (instead of three of six), and it’s clear that Michigan State is struggling to find answers.  Kalin Lucas still doesn’t appear to be himself, and the continued inconsistency of Durrell Summers and Delvon Roe remains perplexing.  Sparty needs to win its next three easily (vs. Michigan, vs. Indiana, @ Iowa). 
  • Big Ten schools must be so tired of Bo Ryan and Wisconsin.  Year after year no matter the personnel the guy finds a way to become an annoying thorn in the side of every team in the league.  After a road destruction of Northwestern in Evanston on Saturday, the Badgers sit at 5-2 in the league with four shots to overtake league leaders Ohio State and Purdue on the horizon.  Since the Big Ten expanded to an 18-game conference schedule, the Badgers have averaged a 13-5 record, with Purdue (13.3 wins) and Michigan State (13.7 wins) just barely ahead.  Would you bet against them? 
  • Illinois has been close-but-no-cigar in losses to Texas and Ohio State this season, and there’s a general sense that Bruce Weber’s team is just one little thing short of being truly elite.  That one thing is interior defense.  Despite having the very large Mikes (Tisdale and Davis) inside to man the post, Jared Sullinger and Tristan Thompson shredded the Illini frontline for easy scores when they needed them down the stretch.  If Illinois had made stops in those situations (in addition to losses to UIC and Wisconsin), they would very likely be 17-3 or thereabouts and sitting in the top eight of the polls. 
  • It’s no big surprise, but Northwestern’s NCAA prospects are dim and fading to black after the beatdown that Wisconsin put on the Wildcats Sunday.  Now at 3-5 in the league with Minnesota away followed by Ohio State and Illinois at home, it’s very likely that the next two weeks will finish them off.  The sad part is that both Michigan State losses were there for the taking; had Northwestern won those, we would be handicapping a very different situation.

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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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That’s Debatable: Most Compelling Conference Race

Posted by rtmsf on January 20th, 2011

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 season.  We’re fairly discerning around here, but if you want to be included, send us an email with your take telling us why at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

This Week’s Topic: We’re a couple of weeks into conference play and early results are in on some of the contenders and pretenders.  Which conference race have you found the most compelling so far and why?

Tom Wolfmeyer, RTC contributor

The most compelling conference race this year is in the SEC.  The reason is that out of the twelve conference teams, only Auburn is so ridiculously bad so as to not cause problems for another conference team on a given night.  And hell, even the Tigers beat Florida State (y’know, the team that defeated Duke last week).  It’s a veritable trainwreck of a league this year, but what’s the adage?  You can’t take your eyes away from it, because you have no idea what will happen.  Which Tennessee team will show up — the one that beat Pitt and Villanova or the one that lost to Oakland and Charlotte?  Will Mississippi State gets its act together or will Renardo Sidney start throwing haymakers on some fans during a timeout?  Will Kentucky figure out how to play on the road or will they self-destruct due to selfish m*****f***** play?  Consider that the SEC East, by far the better division, has South Carolina at the top of its standings at 3-1.  South Carolina!  Three of the teams from this division projected to make the Tournament are 2-2 already.  On the other side, Alabama and LSU are on top.  This isn’t football, folks — those two teams have been largely terrible for the better part of the last three or four years.  Yes, this year’s most compelling league is the SEC, if for no other reason that nothing would surprise us about this basketball quagmire of a conference.

JL Weill, RTC contributor

Another year, another dog fight in the Missouri Valley. No unbeatens in the conference and all five teams with three losses or fewer have a chance. And as with most so-called mid-major conference teams, there isn’t a lot of meat on the pre-conference menus for any of the contenders. Wichita State beat Virginia and LSU, but they already have two losses in the MVC. Last year’s NCAA Tournament darling Northern Iowa took out Indiana and Iowa State but has three losses to conference foes.  The firing squad effect means that the team that finally emerges from the pack will be battle-hardened for the conference and postseason tournaments. It also means that there’s a good chance that for the fifth year in a row only one team from the MVC will make it to the NCAAs. While the conference has four teams in the RPI top 100, only one of them is in the top 40 — Missouri State — and Cuonzo Martin’s Bears haven’t beaten anyone of note. Finding an at-large berth from the MVC, even with an expanded field, could be tough. Wins are at a premium, and it’s a multi-horse race. Gotta love it.

Kevin Doyle, RTC contributor

It is anyone’s best guess as to what team will be the last one standing in the Atlantic 10. Throughout much of the non-conference slate, the Temple Owls and Richmond Spiders emerged as the frontrunners. Bill Clark and the Duquesne Dukes quickly knocked Temple off of their pedestal, while Richmond lost a heartbreaker to Bucknell at the buzzer in their final OOC game. Now, it is the school from Pittsburgh along with Xavier who are the lone squads undefeated in the A10. There are, however, five schools that are 3-1 in the conference who are nipping at the heels of the two leaders. You’d be foolish to think that the two teams up front won’t fall at some point in the coming weeks. Even Dayton—the lone .500 team in conference—has a supreme amount of talent and is fully capable of going on a run. But, losses at UMass and Xavier have set them back in the conference. Unlike many of the BCS conferences—although, the Pac-10 and ACC sure are weak this year—the Atlantic 10 is likely to only receive two bids to the NCAA Tournament this year. Ranging from 2-2 Dayton all the way up to 4-0 Xavier and Duquesne, there are a total of eight teams that are vying for an Atlantic 10 championship and that coveted automatic berth.

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It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume VII

Posted by jbaumgartner on January 18th, 2011

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC contributor.  In this piece he’ll spend each week reviewing the five things he loved and hated about the previous week of college basketball. This week, Jesse gives props to the Hopson coiffure and reveals his man crush on Jay Wright — then alienates the entire city of Pittsburgh. We’re sorry…ya Yinzers.

The Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…..listening to a Pac-10 nail-biter – that’s right, listening – on a radio this week since the game wasn’t televised. Everything in today’s media market is so visual and video-based, and you can get almost any game on the tube with the right cable package. But there was something very appealing about trying to picture exactly what was happening on the court with 2.5 seconds left using just a single voice and the crowd noise during the Washington vs Stanford game. I’d argue it even upped the drama.

I LOVED…..how I found myself wondering just how in the world Villanova coach Jay Wright always has short, athletic guards every year who can do it all. Every. Freaking. Year. Corey Fisher, Scottie Reynolds, Randy Foye, Allan Ray, and so on. While I always have to pick against ‘Nova in the tourney because I think they’ll run into someone too big, you have to appreciate the fearless perimeter play that Wright gets from his small guys.

Fisher Is Yet Another Product of the Jay Wright Short Athletic Guard Factory

I LOVED…..Scotty Hopson’s Scottie Pippen haircut. So classic. When you have by far the best name ever for a basketball player, it’s important that you back it up with the best basketball haircut of all time – the unbeatable fade. Props to you Scotty, you’re doing Pippen and Will Smith proud with the ‘do.

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Players Still Struggling With Foot-in-Mouth Disease

Posted by rtmsf on January 13th, 2011

It’s nothing new that athletes love to talk.  Mostly about themselves, but sometimes about completely unrelated things too.  Such as… girlfriends, coaches, other players, fans, referees, or anything that tangentially relates back to themselves.  This is part of the reason that social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have had to become so regulated by coaches and universities — players don’t always have the ability to filter their thoughts from their mouths (but honestly, who does?).  Two incidents in college hoops this week help to crystallize this point. 

Smith Has Some Lessons Still to Learn (UCLA D-B)

First, UCLA center and freshman behemoth Josh Smith lashed out after Sunday night’s loss to USC where he was clearly frustrated by his 22-minute, five-foul performance.  In the postgame comments, he blamed much of his 8-point, 3-rebound night on the zebras:

The refs, honestly, were terrible.  They were giving me B.S. answers [about fouls]. They were telling me this, this, this.  Hopefully, they can watch tape and correct themselves.

He also left the Galen Center on Sunday night hoisting a one-finger salute to a USC fan who had obviously irritated him.  All in all, not the greatest debut for the rookie in his first rivalry game of the series.  Predictably by Tuesday, Smith had been reeled in by UCLA staff and forced to apologize (after all, he’ll see those Pac-10 referees again), with head coach Ben Howland acting the role of disappointed parent:

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All in the Family: Episode 1

Posted by rtmsf on January 11th, 2011

We’re not sure who coined the phrase, but we here at RTC like to talk about conference play as a “family” ordeal, and it’s an apt analogy.  For the power league schools who have spent the first half of the college basketball season traveling around to take part in various tournaments and other non-conference games against teams they’re generally going to beat, the new year brings with it better competition and recognition of those old familiar faces.  Not only is there an upshot in the talent level of the opposition on a nightly basis as well as a team’s oft-first exposure to a hostile road environment, but familiarity through wars of years past usually means that teams are no longer intimidated by the names on the front of the jersey.  Witness how Georgia beat Kentucky, Colorado knocked off Missouri and West Virginia downed Georgetown over the weekend — these teams see each other every year (often multiple times), so they’re familiar with all the beauty marks and warts, angels and skeletons, patterns and pretenses, associated with each.  Like we said, it’s akin to sitting down at the dinner table with your own family — there’s only so much BS you can throw before your big brother or mom will stare at you with an eye-roll and call your bluff.   

The Family Sits Together, Stays Together

With so much action every weekend the rest of the season, what we’d like to do with this column is briefly examine the major conferences post-mortem (probably Mondays) to see what important or interesting things happened that weekend.  This is not meant to supplant our After the Buzzer: Weekend Edition series nor encroach too heavily on our Checking In On… series for each of these leagues, but we feel that it’ll be an interesting way to track each conference race for those of us who might have a favorite league but want to lightly keep tabs on the others each week as well.   

Power Conference Rankings

1.  Big East.

  • The nation’s best conference now has ten teams rated in the top 32 of KenPom, eight in the AP Top 25, seven in the Coaches Poll, and six in the RTC poll.  Talk has already developed about all of those teams (plus St. John’s as an eleventh) making the NCAA Tournament’s expanded field, and if the Tourney were seeded today, that would be reasonable.  But what’s not being said is that one, two or possibly three of these teams will tank and tank hard.  We saw it with Georgetown a couple of seasons ago and UConn last year — the brutal scheduling that the Big East requires simply is too much for some teams to handle.
  • Georgetown is starting to look like one of those teams.  The Hoyas are at 1-3 with Saturday’s home loss to WVU with a home date against Pittsburgh looming on Wednesday night.  1-4 is nowhere you want to be in this league, especially with four games still to come against top ten teams Syracuse (twice), UConn and Villanova.  When the guards aren’t scoring, the Hoyas sputter.  Where’s Greg Monroe when you need him?
  • Perhaps no team has been more disappointing than Providence in the early going.  Keno Davis’ team got off to a nice 11-2 nonconference start with a close loss to BC and a stinker to LaSalle as the only blemishes.  Marshon Brooks has played great, upping his scoring average by nearly 10 PPG and doubling his rebounding numbers from a year ago.  But after a weekend loss to Rutgers on Saturday, the Friars are now 0-4, effectively a death sentence in this league.
  • To win this league, you need away wins to supplement a superb home record.  The top five teams — Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Villanova, Louisville, Marquette — all have one, but oddly, a pair of mid-pack teams — St. John’s and West Virginia — already have two.  It’s worth mentioning to be wary of teams that only win at home — we’re looking at you, Notre Dame (3-2) and Cincinnati (2-1). 

2.  Big Ten.

  • Minnesota is the team in this league that the schedulers did no favors for this year.  After three road games to Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State, the Gophers are rather predictably 1-3.  They were competitive in each game, even missing a game-tying shot at the buzzer against OSU, but close only gets you so far.  Now they’ve learned that Trevor Mbakwe has gotten himself into hot water again and could potentially miss games just in time for a home game (and must-win) against 4-0 Purdue. 
  • Northwestern saved itself from a sure-fire road to nowhere by beating Indiana on Sunday to stave off an 0-4 league start.  Having done themselves few favors in the non-conference slate (Georgia Tech is their best win), you’d have to figure that a 10-8 conference record would be good enough, a 9-9 record would be borderline, and an 8-10 record would be suspect.  To get to 10-8 requires a 9-5 finish, a doable prospect considering that the schedule lightens up from here on out — the Wildcats are going to have to win some road games over bottom-half teams, though, starting tomorrow night at Iowa.
  • Penn State and Michigan this year appear to be the two teams that will cause numerous headaches for the elites as they claw over each other to try to win the Big Ten and earn a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.  Both teams proved capable last weekend with PSU defeating Michigan State and Michigan taking Kansas to overtime, so it behooves the Buckeyes, Illini and Boilermakers of the world to take these teams seriously, home or away.
  • Careful with Purdue.  Matt Painter is an exceptional coach and his team has handled the loss of Robbie Hummel (again) very well on the way to a 15-1 (4-0) start.  But the Big Ten schedule lays out nicely for the Boilers through the first seven games; if they can beat Minnesota without Mbakwe tomorrow night, they’ll have a great shot at going 7-0 prior to a late January trip to Columbus.  Then February is brutal. 

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RTC Top 25: Week 9

Posted by rtmsf on January 10th, 2011

With all the ranked teams losing over the weekend, there was quite a bit of movement after the top six teams in this week’s poll.  QnD analysis after the jump…

(ed. note: we revised the original Top 25 after a data entry error surfaced)

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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume V

Posted by jbaumgartner on January 3rd, 2011

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC contributor.  In this piece he’ll spend each week reviewing the five things he loved and hated about the previous week of college basketball.

The Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…..trying to figure out just how far one extremely talented player can carry a not particularly talented team. We all knew Kemba Walker wasn’t going to keep UConn undefeated for long once conference play started, but it’s been a blast watching him try. Critics will say UConn looked vulnerable this week while losing to Pitt and eking out a win against South Florida. I say, holy crap, Walker kept them in the game at Pitt despite no help (he had 31 points), and he wouldn’t let them lose a letdown game the next time out. Fingers crossed that he doesn’t wear out, because it could get ugly for the Huskies if that happens.

The Huskies May Have Finally Dropped One, But Kemba Still Gets IALHR Props.

I LOVED……some more innovative marketing, this time from Xavier, which served fried gator to commemorate a game with Florida. A fun idea, but they might have to nix that with some other teams on the schedule if they’d like to avoid the wrath of animal rights groups (Bulldogs, Bearcats….maybe not so much). They also play the Charlotte 49ers, so we’ll guess the Musketeers aren’t advocating cannibalism. Here’s another question, though – say Xavier played the mighty Banana Slugs from UC-Santa Cruz……would they dare? It can’t be worse than escargot, right?

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by rtmsf on December 23rd, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences.

A Look Back

  • For the first time this season, the Pac-10 had a week where a handful of teams combined to put together some good efforts, and more importantly, some good wins over quality competition. As of Saturday morning, it looked like more of the same for Pac-10 teams, as USC headed to Lawrence and put up a valiant effort against Kansas, before letting it slip away – a familiar course of action from around the conference. But, later that afternoon UCLA handed BYU its first loss of the season in the Wooden Classic, one of the leading candidates to that point for the best win of the season by a Pac-10 school. The next day, Arizona beat North Carolina State in Raleigh, qualifying as a decent road win. And then on Tuesday, USC wrapped up its tough two-game road trip with a win at Tennessee, probably making the Saturday UCLA win take a back seat. At any rate, while some success has come the Pac-10’s way lately, the conference still sits at 72-39 on the season, with the really quality wins over quality opponents remaining few and far between.
  • Team of the Week.  USC – This award was headed to the Southland one way or another. But USC gets the nod over its L.A. rival after basically playing Kansas and Tennessee to draws on the road, escaping with a win in Knoxville despite coming up short at the Allen Fieldhouse. The Trojan win over Tennessee gives Kevin O’Neill’s club perhaps the two best Pac-10 wins in non-conference play to this point (the other a win over Texas), with the start of Pac-10 play a week away. Junior point guard Jio Fontan saw his first action as a Trojan this week, after sitting out the first semester due to his transfer from Fordham. He was effective in his first two games (he had 15 points at Kansas and 13 points,  four assists and three steals at Tennessee), but is still working on getting comfortable with his teammates. As he settles into his role, he has the ability to make the rest of his team better, meaning the Trojans of February and March should be even more dangerous than they are now.
  • Player of the Week. Klay Thompson, Junior, Washington State – The week started out a little iffy for Thompson, as for most of the Cougars’ game at Santa Clara on Sunday, his shots weren’t falling. Throw in six turnovers and Thompson had his Washington State club on the verge of being upset. But with 17 seconds to go, he hit a three to tie the game at 71. From there the game went to overtime, where Thompson scored another seven points and his Cougs pulled out a tough one by six. Thompson wound up with 23 points (albeit on 5/16 shooting), seven rebounds, six assists, five steals, a couple blocks and four threes along the way. Not bad for a rough night. He followed that performance up with a much crisper performance in the opening round of the Diamond Head Classic on Wednesday, with 28 points and four more threes in a Cougar win over Mississippi State. He is now averaging 21 points per game on the season while hitting 48% of his shots and leading his team in assists and steals.
  • Newcomer of the Week.  Josh Smith, Freshman, UCLA – Smith was a major factor in UCLA’s Saturday win over BYU, scoring 15 points, grabbing eight rebounds and playing gutsy and smart minutes down the stretch, despite playing with four fouls, as UCLA fought off the Cougars. Smith picked up his fourth foul on a questionable call with about 15 minutes left in the game, and after he went to the bench BYU scored 11 straight points to cut the UCLA lead to just two. However, rather than keep Smith on the pine until late in the game, head coach Ben Howland showed a lot of faith in his big kid, putting him back in the game with over ten minutes still to play. Smith responded immediately, rebounding his own miss and getting the put-back just after re-entering on his way to seven points, three rebounds and perhaps the biggest defensive play of the game in a span of just over four minutes. That big defensive play occurred when Smith, playing with those four fouls, slid over in the lane in front of a driving Jimmer Fredette, and drew an offensive foul, the fourth foul on BYU’s All-American candidate. Smith has been up and down in his first month as a collegiate player, but if the Bruins entertain hopes of an NCAA Tournament invitation, they’ll need to continue to get play like this from their big and talented youngster.
  • Game of the Week.  USC 65, Tennessee 64 – In all honesty, that USC/Kansas game was probably the more entertaining game. But in a week where the Pac-10 actually pulled out some big wins, I wanted to mention a Pac-10 win in this space for the first time this season. After leading by as much as eight in the middle of the second half at Thompson-Boling Arena, the Trojans had to hang on down the stretch in order to pull this one out. Senior guard Donte Smith continued his hot play of late by hitting a big three with just over two minutes left to give USC some breathing room at 65-60, but Tennessee pulled back within striking distance with four straight free throws. But USC stepped up the defensive pressure down the stretch and forced a deep Volunteer three which rattled off the rim as time expired to earn the win. USC won despite a rough night for leading scorer Nikola Vucevic who was held to just four points and one rebound before fouling out after just 24 minutes. The Trojans were led by 5’7 freshman guard Maurice Jones and his 15 points, four rebounds, four assists, four steals and three three-pointers.
  • Game of the Upcoming Week.  Washington State in the Diamond Head Classic, ESPN on 12/23 and 12/25 – The Cougs should get a chance or two at some quality opponents in Honolulu. With a win over a short-handed Mississippi State team already under their belts, they get to face Baylor in the semifinal round. Baylor will present quite a challenge for WSU, but it also gives the Cougars a chance to put another good win on their resume. Win or lose, they should then get a chance to face either Butler or Florida State on Christmas Day, either in the championship game or the third-place game. While neither one of those opponents is ranked, they each present Ken Bone’s club with another opportunity to face some big-league competition.

Power Rankings

1. Washington State 9-1.  We mentioned the Cougars’ overtime win at Santa Clara above while awarding the Player of the Week award to Klay Thompson, but several other Cougs contributed in that game. Junior forward Marcus Capers hit all five of his shots in that game, ending up with 14 points and seven rebounds, and front-court mate DeAngelo Casto scored 15, including five in the overtime period, and added ten more rebounds. From Santa Clara, WSU headed to Honolulu for the Diamond Head Classic, and got things off to a strong start there, taking apart Mississippi State in the second half of their opening round game there. WSU outscored MSU 44-17 in the second half while hitting 12 of their 24 three-point attempts for the game and outrebounding the Bulldogs 39-23.

Looking ahead: Baylor awaits in the second round of the Diamond Head tournament, with Butler or Florida State rounding up the weekend. Once back on the mainland, all thoughts turn to conference play as a trip to Pauley Pavilion opens Pac-10 play next Wednesday.

2. Washington 7-3.  Two wins this week by an average of 29 points over teams with a combined 7-15 record tells us little or nothing about this Husky team. We know they can beat up on bad teams – they’ve made a living out of doing so. Isaiah Thomas led the way for the Huskies as he broke out his own personal 10-0 run to start the second half of Washington’s 30-point victory over San Francisco. And he took that streak and turned it into a season-high 24 points in the 28-point win over Nevada on Wednesday. Thomas’ numbers this season thus far are up nearly all the way across the board. While his scoring average is down a bit, he’s averaging career-bests in assists, steals, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, assist-to-turnover ratio, with a career low in turnovers. With competition going up a notch as conference play nears, we’ll keep an eye on those numbers to see if Thomas can keep up that level of play.

Looking ahead: A trip to Los Angeles in advance of the new year, with the Pac-10 opener at USC on 12/29 followed by a visit to Pauley Pavilion on New Year’s Eve.

3. UCLA 7-4.  The importance of the UCLA win over BYU can’t be overstated. For a young team, bouncing back from a horrific 09-10 campaign, with an 0-3 record in their three biggest games of the season and a painful loss to Montana to boot, the BYU win showed this young team that they are capable of playing with top-25 caliber programs. But, just as important as their performance in a highly anticipated game was how they would respond in the next game, against a team without as much name recognition. After UCLA’s strong performance in a loss at Kansas a few weeks back, they got caught napping in their next game against Montana. This time, they faced Montana State after the BYU game, and while there were lapses of concentration (after leading by as many as 15 in the first half, UCLA got sloppy and allowed Montana  State to retake the lead), UCLA was able to pull away late and secure a 16-point win behind Malcolm Lee’s 18 points. Ben Howland would have preferred more consistent play in the follow-up game, but at least his team was able to come away with the win.

Looking ahead: The Bruins wrap up their pre-Pac-10 non-conference slate on Thursday with a visit from UC Irvine before hosting the Washington schools in the opening weekend of conference play.

4. Arizona 11-2.  The Wildcats looked pretty bad in knocking off Northern Arizona by five last Thursday, but bounced back with a solid win over NC State on Sunday night, and then a blowout of overmatched Robert Morris on Wednesday. In the NAU game, Arizona was outrebounded 28-18 and had to fight back from a seven-point half-time deficit to get to a tie game with just over a minute left. From there, Kevin Parrom connected on a three-point play, and then Brendon Lavender got a steal that led to a breakaway bucket to complete the final margin. The NC State game was much less dramatic, as the Wildcats never trailed in the second half, but they did get outrebounded again, this time by a 36-28 margin, including an 18-7 deficit on the offensive end. The Robert Morris game was a whole other level of undramatic, as the Wildcats won by 26. Derrick Williams continued his efficient play, scoring almost 19 points per game this week, although his rebounding numbers have fallen off some – he had just eight total rebounds in the first two games before grabbing nine against RMU. The sophomore Parrom was the most impressive Wildcat this week, with his 14 points, five rebounds, four assists and three threes against NAU making up the best line of his young career.

Looking ahead: Nothing but Pac-10 play from here, as the Wildcats open with visits to the Oregon schools beginning on 12/30.

5. USC 7-5.  We’ve talked about USC pretty extensively above, so we’ll just point out here that aside from the addition of Fontan, the Trojans have plenty of room to grow defensively. In each of the last four seasons, USC ranked in the top 25 teams in the nation in terms of defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy, and last year they were number two in the country in that area. This year, they sit at a respectable 44th, but if we know Kevin O’Neill, you can expect that ranking to improve as the year goes on.

Looking ahead: Lehigh on Thursday is the last non-conference game of the regular season, with conference play kicking off Wednesday with a visit from pre-season Pac-10 favorite, Washington.

6. Arizona State 6-4.  The Sun Devils scored a couple of solid wins this week, with a three-point road-win over Nevada and a 17-point home handling of Long Beach State. The concern around Tempe has been the relatively quiet performances from seniors Rihards Kuksiks, Ty Abbott and Jamelle McMillan, but no such worries this week. Kuksiks led the way in the Nevada game with 20 points and four threes. But it was Ty Abbott who hit a clutch three just under a minute to silence a run by the Wolfpack and give the Sun Devils some breathing room. Abbott wound up with 17 in that game, then followed that up with a team-high 15 against LBSU. McMillan was also solid this week, averaging six assists per game and snagging six steals in the Long Beach game alone. Freshman Kyle Cain also had a big game against the 49ers, grabbing 16 rebounds and scoring 12 points.

Looking ahead: North Carolina A&T is the final non-conference visitor prior to Pac-10 play, with a trip to Corvallis kicking things off there next Thursday.

7. Cal 6-5.  Win a game you should win, lose a game you should lose. That’s the story of the Golden Bear week, as a loss to Kansas followed a win over Cal Poly. The bad news is this team doesn’t seem to be improving a whole lot as the season goes on. We knew that this Cal team had some growing pains ahead of it, with a slew of youngsters trying to replace last year’s decorated but now-departed seniors. In the early going, Mike Montgomery has relied on veterans like front-court grinders Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Harper Kamp and backcourt annoyance Jorge Gutierrez to keep the Bears in games out of sheer determination. These guys fight and scrap and bother the opposition (at times to the point of retaliation, as we saw with Kansas’ Marcus Morris and his flagrant elbow on Wednesday night), but they’re just not the type of guys who you can create offensive opportunities, a problem which leads to things like the infamous Cal five-point half. The hope for Golden Bear fans was that freshmen guards Allen Crabbe and Gary Franklin would use the non-conference season to settle in and be ready to break out in Pac-10 play, but while Crabbe has had some moments on his way to averaging 7.4 points and 4.7 assists per game, Franklin has struggled mightily. He’s turned the ball over more than he’s handed out assists and he’s shooting an awful 28.4% from the field. Montgomery keeps running him out there though, for 26-plus minutes a night every night, hoping that his confidence in his talented freshman will rub off some. If it does, this Cal team could surprise some people; if it doesn’t, they’ll just continue to annoy people.

Looking ahead: A meeting with Hartford on Tuesday wraps up the non-conference slate, then it is on to Palo Alto for their Pac-10 opener with Stanford.

8. Stanford 6-4.  From here on down to the last place team in the conference, there is nothing but bad news and losses this week. Stanford’s struggles started Saturday when they were dominated at Butler. After already trailing by 19 at halftime, the Cardinal were outscored 10-0 to start the half by Matt Howard alone as Butler got all over Johnny Dawkins’ club in every aspect of the game. On Tuesday, in what was the final game of an 8-4 Big 12 win in the Big 12/Pac-10 challenge, Stanford tripped up against at Oklahoma State. Juniors Jeremy Green and Josh Owens led the Cardinal again this week, as they have done most of the season, scoring 33.5 points per game between the two of them this week, as opposed to the 28 they normally average. However, there hasn’t been even a semi-consistent third option anywhere else, although freshman guard Aaron Bright threw his hat into the ring for that role against Oklahoma State with 15 points and four assists.

Looking ahead: The Cardinal host Yale on Thursday, then get their conference play opened on the second day of the new year with a battle against Bay Area rival Cal at the Farm.

9. Oregon 7-5.  Losses to Virginia and Idaho this week turn what had been a reasonably good non-conference slate for the Ducks into just a typical ugly record for a team expected to finish near the bottom of the conference. Oregon showed this week that not only are they an undersized team, they’re also simply an under-talented team, as they shot just 34% from the field combined. Senior Joevan Catron continued to produce – he led the Ducks in scoring and rebounding in each game – but he’s still playing out of position and is more or less surrounded by an underwhelming cast.

Looking ahead: The Arizona schools come to town, starting on Thursday, in what should be a long and ugly conference run for the Ducks.

10. Oregon State 5-6.  The Beavers had two very winnable games this week at home, and came away with a 1-1 record. First, the bad news: a loss against George Washington in which they turned the ball over 19 times, forced just nine turnovers and missed 15 of their 19 attempts from three. A forgettable performance, so let’s just forget it, especially since the win this week was a 20-point blowout of Illinois-Chicago, a team that just got done beating Illinois, a top 25 team. Not only is that a pretty good win for the Beavs, the way that did it has to have their fans excited, as four OSU players scored in double figures: a sophomore, a redshirt freshman and two true freshmen. Sophomore Jared Cunningham led the way with 22 points and three steals. Highly-anticipated redshirt freshman Roberto Nelson went from 14 in just his third game in a Beaver uniform. Freshman Ahmad Starks had 12 points, three assists and four threes, and fellow freshman Devon Collier had ten points, seven rebounds and three steals. When Craig Robinson assembled these kinds of recruits in Corvallis, this is what OSU fans had in mind. Throw in guys like senior forward Omari Johnson and sophomore centers Joe Burton and Angus Brandt and all of a sudden you’ve got the makings of a rotation that looks like a passable Pac-10 group. And that’s without even mentioning senior guard Calvin Haynes, a guy capable of going for 27 points, as he did against Charlotte, although just as likely to go for two points on five field goals attempts in 25 minutes, as he did in a blowout loss at Colorado. This is still a bad Beaver team, but there is no reason this team can’t at least be competitive in many games in a down Pac-10.

Looking ahead: It’s all Pac-10 play from here, as the Beavers will host the Arizona schools next week.

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