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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RTC Top 25: Week 4

Posted by rtmsf on December 6th, 2010

Not a lot of movement at the top of the polls this week as we move into the part of the schedule where schools generally lighten their loads around exams.  This poll will likely look very much the same through the holiday season.  Quick n’ dirty analysis after the jump…

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Morning Five: 12.06.10 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on December 6th, 2010

  1. Twelve is evidently enough for the Big Ten, for now. The conference’s higher-ups announced at their winter meeting that as a result of a lengthy study, after the addition of Nebraska next season, they do not “expect to be proactively seeking new members.” That’s fine, but we propose that if a conference’s membership changes through expansion/contraction so that its name subsequently becomes inaccurate by +/-2, they must change the name of the conference. In a few months, none of the four “numbered” conferences — Pac-10, Big 12, Big Ten, Atlantic 10 — will actually contain the number of teams their name indicates. The Big Ten and the A-10 have gotten away with this weirdness for a while, and now they’re all doing it. Get creative!
  2. Because Purdue doesn’t have enough injury problems, news arrived late on Sunday that sophomore guard John Hart will miss a month with a stress fracture in his foot. Hart was averaging 17 minutes a game over the Boilermakers’ eight games this season, contributing 8.4 PPG. So that’s Hart with a bad foot, D.J. Byrd with a questionable shoulder, and some kid named Hummel out with a knee. Are we just lipsticking the pig by wondering if the minutes logged by Purdue’s reserves right now will translate to valuable experience later on in the season when (almost) everyone’s healthy? Matt Painter has nine players on his roster who play at least ten minutes a game right now, and you never know who could rise up and give you a boost come tournament time.
  3. We’re on the lookout today for a statement from the NCAA as to whether or not they will consider the “new information” Kentucky has asked to submit in the ongoing eligibility saga of Enes Kanter. The case currently stands in appeal, and that appeal was heard last week. But after the Cam Newton decision came down, UK requested the chance to submit previously unconsidered information to the NCAA. If the NCAA agrees to consider it, the case goes back to square one, almost as if it were a new hearing. If they refuse, the case remains in appeal, and the appeals committee could render a final decision at any time. Got it? Whether it’s today or later in the week, we’ll have something up as events warrant, so just keep checking back here, or our Twitter feed.
  4. Just seven games in, a specific problem for Bob HugginsWest Virginia squad is already evident, according to Jack Bogaczyk of the Charleston Daily Mail. Huggins has remarked on how his team “hasn’t finished games” and that he takes full responsibility for this as coach, but Bogaczyk writes that what the ‘Eers really lack in this early stage of these post-Da’Sean Butler days is a vocal floor leader.
  5. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds of watching Jimmer Fredette play basketball to get a sense of how competitive this young man is. Ahead of BYU’s game against Vermont on Wednesday (which serves as a homecoming for Fredette), the Albany Times Union’s Pete Iorizzo pens an excellent article about how Fredette’s competitive drive was evident as early as age five, and how those fires were born — as they so often are — from that classic recipe of a basketball, a family member (in this case, an older brother), and a patch of asphalt in the back yard. We never played major college hoops, Jimmer, but your story is ours.
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RTC Instant Analysis: Mid-Afternoon Games

Posted by rtmsf on December 4th, 2010

As part of our on-going attempt to bring you the best college basketball coverage on-line, we are introducing a new feature where we give your our thoughts after each set of games over the weekend. We’ll be back a couple more times today for some instant analysis/commentary:

  • 8 PM for the 4-6 PM games
  • 10 PM for the 7 PM and 8 PM games

Mid-Afternoon Games

  1. Butler Looks More Like Butler.  Billed as the rematch of the national title game, it hasn’t taken long this season to learn that Duke is probably better and Butler is probably worse than they were last season.  But for much of the game today, Butler was competitive with Duke, and we were happy to see that.  Butler didn’t look like Butler in losses against Louisville or Evansville, and the reason for that had to do with defense.  It’s hard enough to beat Duke as it is, but you have literally zero chance if you let the guards get off from behind the arc.  Butler held the Blue Devils to 31% on 8-26 shooting from deep, which when you consider their numerous options (Singler, Smith, Irving, Curry, Dawkins), is about as good as you can ask for.  Still, it was Irving’s mini-explosion with consecutive treys in the second half that gave Duke some separation and allowed the Devils to hang on down the stretch to get the win.  Ronald Nored’s return from a concussion was great to see as well, because his on-ball defense is absolutely essential to Butler’s success, and there was no better example of that than when he cleanly stripped Kyrie Irving on the wing when he exposed the ball.  We’re not sure that anyone has ever done that to Irving in his entire life before, which shows just how good of a defender Nored is.
  2. Duke Has So Many Weapons.  Coaches preach that defense wins championships, but they privately know that defense only puts you in position to win.  You still need to have a diverse set of offensive weapons to cut down the nets.  What makes Duke so unique among the many contenders this season is that they have at least five players who can put the ball on the floor and beat you off the dribble in addition to the outside; when that’s combined with the serviceable interior offense of the Plumlees, it gives Coach K a ridiculous amount of effective options to get points when he needs them.  No better example of this was when Duke found Kyle Singler, who calmly dribbled himself into a contested 18-footer from the right wing — all net.  At the collegiate level, there’s nothing most teams can do about that shot, and Duke has multiple players capable of putting points on the board in those tough spots.  Of course Kyrie Irving is the best example of this phenomenon — his 17 second-half points ultimately drove Duke to the win, and it is his God-given ability to switch gears and score the ball anywhere on the floor that makes him nearly impossible to guard.
  3. Coach K’s 876th All-Time Win.  It’s really not even up for debate that Coach K with his four national titles and countless Final Four appearances is the second-best college basketball coach of all-time.  With today’s win over Butler, Krzyzewski tied the legendary and controversial Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp with 876 career wins, as he quickly marches toward his mentor/coach Bob Knight’s all-time record of 902 wins.  In an early Christmas present for UNC fans, K will mostly likely tie Dean Smith, with 879 wins against Elon on December 20, and pass the legend a week later against UNC-Greensboro.  If you want to project it out, given just how good this Duke team is, Kryzyewski will likely break the all-time record early in the NCAA Tournament.  Our prediction: the Sweet Sixteen.  Of course, the only number that matters to K is five, and we can’t blame him for that mentality — he has an excellent opportunity to win his fifth ring this year.
  4. Amaker Close But No Cigar.  It was a homecoming of sorts for Tommy Amaker at Harvard today as he visited his former school Michigan for a game that he had personally scheduled as the head coach there from 2001-07.  For much of the game, it appeared that Amaker would have the last laugh, as he did in his first season when the Crimson beat Michigan 62-51 in Cambridge.  However, despite a 12-point lead early in the second half, the Wolverines clamped down on defense and got sixteen second-half points from Stu Douglass (including four threes) to come back and win the game.  This will still end up being a “good” loss for Harvard, but the other storyline from this game is that John Beilein’s team may turn out to be better than expected this year.  Predicted at the bottom of the Big Ten, the Wolverines already have wins at Clemson, vs. Harvard and close losses to Syracuse and UTEP.  We shouldn’t slot them into the Tourney yet, but they’re playing tremendous halfcourt defense and are showing some signs of life.
  5. Pac-10 Finally Notches a Win.  As of this morning, the Pac-10 had an 0-5 record in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series.  California ended the winless streak with a road win at Iowa State this afternoon.  Neither team is really very good, but we’re fairly amazed that the Bears’ Mike Montgomery has figured out a way to beat anybody with a lineup that includes some of the players he has at his disposal.  In two other B12/P10 games today, Washington put up 61 first-half points at home against Texas Tech, and Oregon State takes on Colorado (simulcast at RTC Live) later tonight.  If OSU can eke out a road win tonight, with four games left in the series, things could be interesting.  Of the remaining four games scheduled, only Texas’ visit to USC on Sunday would appear to be a game where the Big 12 was favored.
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ATB: UCLA Struck Down by a Phog Phantom (in a striped shirt with a whistle)

Posted by rtmsf on December 3rd, 2010

The Lede. It was billed as a probable blowout, but when you place two of the game’s regal programs on the same floor with two of the best coaches in the business standing opposite one another, we all knew better. Kansas and UCLA represent about a million wins, a couple hundred conference titles and several dozen national championships (Helms titles included!) — well, at least it feels that way. The point is that no matter the present rankings, so long as Bill Self and Ben Howland are patrolling the sidelines at these two schools, they’ll always be competitive. Tonight’s game personified that word, competitive. Too bad it got ruined by an egregious whistle made by an official who needs to remember to let the kids decide the game.

KU Got the Call It Wanted At This Moment (LJW/N. Krug)

Your Watercooler Moment. Foul or not a foul? Should a referee make the same call with 19:01 on the clock as he does with 00:01 on the clock? These questions were the biggest story in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series game between Kansas and UCLA this evening. After 39 minutes and 59 seconds of back-and-forth basketball between two of the sport’s bluest of bloods, the game balanced on a loose ball situation where a UCLA player bumped a Kansas player as both pursued the rock. Kansas guard Mario Little arrived at the ball a split-second prior to UCLA’s Malcolm Lee, and the referee on the near-side thought the ensuing bump with 0.7 seconds remaining on the clock was sufficient to justify blowing the whistle. From our view (and most of America’s, if Twitter is any indication), that’s a bit of contact that you don’t call at any point of the basketball game, but ESPECIALLY not in a tie game such as this one with under a second to play. Although ours appears to be the majority viewpoint, there are alternate ones: ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla, for instance, stated that he believed the bump was a foul at any point of the game, and it was in fact the correct call. Gary Parrish says that there’s something for everyone in that play — KU fans, UCLA fans, and the fence-sitters. UCLA head coach Ben Howland, however, only saw it one way, throwing down a water bottle in disgust before later saying that it was a poor way to end the game. Star of the night Tyler Honeycutt said afterward, “as refs, you’re supposed to just let that go.” If this were the NBA, both UCLA player and coach would be facing hefty fines from the league, but we think that the Pac-10 will cut them some slack here, because, well, they’re right. But don’t take our word for it, check it out for yourself.

We were also lucky enough to have our correspondent Brian Goodman at the game in Allen Fieldhouse tonight. He filed this report after the exciting 77-76 finish.

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Wednesday/Thursday Check-Ins…

Posted by rtmsf on December 3rd, 2010

Here are the last couple of days worth of check-ins at a few conferences…

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Thursday’s Check-Ins…

Posted by rtmsf on November 25th, 2010

Here’s hoping everyone had a tremendous Thanksgiving Day.  Here are your west coast check-ins for this week…

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