Morning Five: 07.16.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on July 16th, 2012

  1. It seemed like just another summer Friday to most of us around the college basketball universe, but Friday the 13th to Connecticut represented the school’s last chance at a reprieve from the NCAA regarding its postseason ban for next season. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance wrapped up its meeting last week with no change to its policies in calculating the Academic Progress Rate (APR), effectively shutting down UConn’s final hopes for a last-minute shift in its eligibility. The good news for the Husky program is that on the same day head coach Jim Calhoun, who has two years remaining on his contract, publicly stated that he would coach in Storrs for at least two more seasons. Even without the carrot of the NCAA Tournament motivating his team, Calhoun apparently believes that his squad will be pretty good next year. But of more importance to the program is whether he can rebuild through recruiting and player development so that, if 2013-14 is indeed his final season of a glorious career, the Huskies will be well positioned to remain among the elite for the next head coach.
  2. You recall last week that Class of 2013 superstar recruit Jabari Parker released his list of final 10 schools with many of the usual suspects on it. One notable wild card candidate was the appearance of local school DePaul on his list. As this article by the Chicago Tribune notes, Parker is in the unique position of potentially revitalizing a proud and historically relevant program that could springboard to a long-awaited renaissance even with only one season of the star forward on campus. Some 35 years ago, a silky smooth Chicagoan by the name of Mark Aguirre went through a similar selection process, ultimately deciding to stay home and lead the Blue Demons to the Final Four. Whether Parker follows the siren song of the national names such as Calipari, Krzyzewski and Williams or stays local remains to be seen, but the #1 player in his class projects out as a player in the mold of Paul Pierce who can make a difference immediately.
  3. Seth Davis took some time this week to profile Lehigh’s CJ McCollum, possibly the top returning mid-major guard in America next season. The clear theme of the piece is the chip on McCollum’s shoulder as a result of numerous schools, coaches, players, and others slighting him over the years. His experience at the recent LeBron James Skills Academy in front of a number of high profile scouts solidified his status as a likely first rounder in the 2013 NBA Draft, but it is his drive as someone who believes that he can play with anybody in America that has pushed his game beyond that of a normal Patriot Leaguer and into the upper echelon of college basketball talent. We cannot wait to see how he performs this coming season with (finally!) all eyes on him.
  4. Sports Media Watch recently listed the top 50 most-watched sports broadcasts of the first half of 2012, and college basketball managed to grab seven of those spots. The top game, of course, was the national title match-up between Kentucky and Kansas, grabbing the #15 overall position with 20.9 million viewers — two spots behind the BCS national title game between LSU and Alabama (#13, 24.2 million), with the NFL juggernaut claiming 13 of the other 14 above it. The two Final Four games between Ohio State-Kansas and Louisville-Kentucky came next, with a couple of Elite Eight games, a Sweet Sixteen game, and a Round of 32 game (UNC-Creighton) also ranked among the group. Just how much of a different ratings game is the NFL playing with the rest of American sports? The Pro Bowl, a meaningless hurrah that almost nobody on earth cares about, outdrew the Elite Eight extravaganza game between North Carolina and Kansas by 800,000 viewers. This fact would be hilarious if it weren’t so utterly ridiculous.
  5. We feel we’d be remiss if we didn’t provide a comment on last week’s Freeh Report outlining the depth and treachery of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State University. We’ve read reams of print on this subject over the weekend from sports writers and generalists alike, and aside from the fact that we continue to sense a sea change among the populace that the concept of a student-athlete is becoming increasingly impeachable and irrelevant, the best piece out there is this one by YahooSports’ Dan Wetzel. His article carefully and convincingly points out the shameless hypocrisy of former PSU president Graham Spanier for looking the other way when a molester was terrorizing children on his campus, while shooting off at the mouth about integrity when a player had the temerity to buy a new suit with an agent’s money. As he writes: “When Spanier didn’t report Jerry Sandusky, he said it was the “humane” way to go. When Ohio State coach Jim Tressel didn’t report that some of his players got free tattoos, Spanier believed a boiling point had been reached.” It’s well worth the read.
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Halfway Home: Evaluating the Big Ten And Looking Ahead

Posted by jnowak on February 1st, 2012

We’re halfway home in Big Ten conference play and it’s easy to argue that the conference race is no more sorted out now than it was on day one. But we can still take a good, hard look at how teams have performed and what we can reasonably expect from them the rest of the way. Here’s our midseason team evaluations, grading each squad on its overall performance through the non-conference slate and first half of Big Ten play. We also have offer a best- and worst-case scenario for each club the rest of the way, as well as a more reasonable expectation.

Illinois (16-6 overall, 5-4 Big Ten)

  • Overall Grade: B
  • Worst-case scenario: Illinois beats Northwestern this week, but wins just three more games the rest of the way (at Nebraska, against Purdue and against Iowa).
  • Best-case scenario: The Fighting Illini maintain homecourt advantage the rest of way, handling Purdue and Michigan and stealing back-to-back road wins in Ann Arbor and Bloomington to pad their resume.
  • Reasonable expectation: With trips to Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin remaining, the Illini have an uphill climb ahead of them. And that’s not good news for Bruce Weber.

Indiana (17-5 overall, 5-5 Big Ten)

Crean Has Indiana Looking Up But He Needs Some Road Wins

  • Overall Grade: B+
  • Worst-case scenario: The Hoosiers continue to struggle on the road, and lose at Michigan, Purdue and Minnesota. Sprinkle a home loss to Michigan State in there, and they finish with a 9-9 conference record. The Goodwill stores in Bloomington are overwhelmed with once-trendy “We’re Baaaaack” t-shirts.
  • Best-case scenario: Cody Zeller finds the mojo he was working with early in the season, and leads the Hoosiers to the Sweet Sixteen as Tom Crean is named Big Ten Coach of the Year.
  • Reasonable expectation: The Hoosiers are not the Top 10 team many thought they suddenly were early on, but they can do enough to get into the NCAA Tournament and solidify an overachieving season.

Iowa (11-11 overall, 3-6 Big Ten)

  • Overall Grade: C+
  • Worst-case scenario: The Hawkeyes split meetings against Penn State and Northwestern, lose at Nebraska and are blown out by Indiana and Wisconsin at home.
  • Best-case scenario: Iowa picks up the pace against some of the weakest competition in the league, and goes 5-4 the rest of the way.
  • Reasonable expectation: Most of the heavy lifting is out of the way, but Iowa will hover around .500 the rest of the season.
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Morning Five: 01.23.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 23rd, 2012

  1. It was a fall from grace of epic proportions, but no matter where you stand on the culpability of Joe Paterno with respect to what he did or did not do about Jerry Sandusky’s alleged crimes a decade ago, his passing on Sunday morning in State College, Pennsylvania, was met with sadness and reflection among those in the college athletics universe. Even though lung cancer is what ultimately felled him, it’s safe to say that the events of the last few months were instrumental in his death beyond any physical ailment. As Bill Reiter writes in a thoughtfully constructed piece, if it’s possible to die from a broken heart, Paterno probably did. Prior to Sunday afternoon’s basketball game between Penn State and Indiana in Bloomington, both teams observed a moment of silence to remember a man whose life was filled with countless successes but one notable and egregious failure (see the video here).
  2. While on the subject of failure, is the case against former Syracuse assistant coach Bernie Fine for child molestation falling apart? Zach Tomaselli, the person who set the investigation into Fine in motion with his allegations about the coach molesting him on a basketball road trip as a 13-year old, stated over the weekend that he “doctored emails and frequently lied” to try to make his case against Fine sound better. He went on to say that he plans to ask the Syracuse police department to drop the investigation against Fine, and that he will withdraw his civil suit against the ousted coach as soon as this week. Tomaselli was the only accuser whose claims still fell within the statute of limitations, so it may result that without his cooperation, the Syracuse authorities may not have enough evidence to prosecute. Where might that leave the university in terms of exposure to a countersuit from Fine for wrongful termination?
  3. Syracuse was without its sophomore center on Saturday when the Orange visited Notre Dame and it will be without him tonight as well at Cincinnati. Fab Melo, the anchor in the post of Jim Boeheim’s exceptional 2-3 zone, was suspended by the university for academic issues and it’s unclear if or when he will be allowed to return to the team. Andy Katz reported Saturday that SU is hopeful that Melo will be back in time for next weekend’s game at the Carrier Dome against West Virginia, so speculation has run rampant that he’s currently doing some additional course work to satisfy the requirements of whatever class is holding him back. Obviously, Melo has been a pleasant surprise this year, blocking three shots per game and making the Orange zone even more difficult than usual to penetrate. Syracuse will need him to return soon if they are to have any hope of getting to the Final Four again for the first time in nine seasons.
  4. There was some bad ACC injury news over the weekend affecting two of the teams vying for the top of that league. North Carolina shooting guard Dexter Strickland‘s knee injury, suffered on Thursday night in a game against Virginia Tech, was confirmed as an ACL tear on Friday and he will miss the rest of this season. His loss on the offensive end can be absorbed by the bench, but his defensive capabilities at the position as well as the spot duty he provides for point guard Kendall Marshall is more concerning. A couple hundred miles north of Chapel Hill, Virginia starting center Assane Sene will miss the next six weeks of action with a broken bone in his right ankle experienced during Thursday night’s win over Georgia Tech. Sene’s importance to the Cavaliers will also mostly be felt on the defensive end, and if Sunday’s first game without him is any indication — a two-point loss to ACC-winless Virginia Tech in Charlottesville — the Wahoos will need to figure out a way to replace him fast.
  5. In case you missed it, Saturday was one of the wildest days of college basketball we’ve had this year. Three of the top four teams in the AP poll lost, headlined by Notre Dame’s giant-killing defeat of Syracuse in South Bend, Missouri’s impressive display of offensive power at Baylor, and Florida State’s game-winning three at the buzzer to end Duke’s home court winning streak at 45. For some of our thoughts on these games and others, check out our BGTD: Selected Thoughts edition from Saturday evening.
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RTC Live: Penn State @ Duquesne

Posted by rtmsf on December 10th, 2011

After an earlier tilt on the eastern side of the Keystone State, RTC Live is in Pittsburgh tonight to get a look at a couple of western Pennsylvania schools that we’re not sure about yet this season. Join us this evening for Penn State visiting Duquesne,  after the jump.

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After the Buzzer: Lavin Returns on an Otherwise Yucky Night

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2011

Tonight’s Lede. Say It Ain’t So, Joe! On the second night of games of the opening week of college basketball, we’d be completely remiss if we didn’t comment on the insane evening that took over the airwaves while the Coaches vs. Cancer games were going on in the background. The number of stomach-turning things about this entire sordid Penn State affair are too many to count, but the absolutely shameful response by PSU students more concerned with protecting their beloved coach than recognizing the basic simplicity of right from wrong is beyond incomprehensible. Where have we come to as a society when the middle 80% of this great land are only moved to demonstration when our sports heroes are under duress or we’ve killed an enemy of the state? Why not take the streets in outrage over the numerous children whose innocent lives were destroyed by the selfish and criminal actions of a powerful few? That folks would care when it matters, and matter when they care. Mistakes were made at Penn State; it doesn’t mean that Joe Paterno is a horrible person, but it does mean that he has to go.

Lavin Returned Early From Medical Leave and Led His Team to a Victory (NYDN/A. Theodorakis)

Your Watercooler MomentLavin Returns, Surprises His Team.  How about some good news in an emotionally rough night? St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin, not someone we would characterize as a man content with sitting around at home, made an early return from his recent prostate cancer surgery and surprised his young team so much that they forgot to play the first half. Truthfully, despite a surfeit of talented parts, St. John’s is going to have evenings when the Red Storm will fall behind by 16 points in the opening stanza because players are still figuring out how to play with each other. But, as Lavin’s interchangeable pieces learn to synergize and feed off one another as they did for the game-changing run in the second half against Lehigh, the ceiling for his team this year appears fluid. And we referred to this angle the other night, but it bears repeating — cancer is an insidious disease, so we love the fact that Lavin was able to make his season debut during one of the Coaches vs. Cancer games. Even before his own diagnosis of prostate cancer, Lavin was a vocal supporter of the various anti-cancer charities related to college basketball. We wish him nothing but the best on his road to complete recovery (having a God’s Gift on hand doesn’t hurt!).

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Calhoun’s Return: Comparing Him to Other Senior Citizen Coaches

Posted by rtmsf on September 1st, 2011

Jim Calhoun‘s non-announcement announcement that he plans to return to the Connecticut sidelines for the 2011-12 season was no shocker to anybody.  If it wasn’t the interminable wait for a ‘final’ decision that tipped you off, it was the well-placed leaks from key recruits and their families; if you still weren’t convinced, surely the announcement that superstar center Andre Drummond had chosen to reclassify to the Class of 2011 and play for the Huskies this coming season clinched it.  Regardless of when you believed he’d be back,  Calhoun will coach his team this season at the rather ripe age of 69 years old (he turns 70 next May) and, despite some health issues in the past, he shows few signs of slowing down.  And, in fact, his team will be on the short list of contenders after North Carolina and Kentucky most likely to cut the nets down next April in New Orleans.

Why Would Calhoun Give This Up?

We know that with his third national title last season, the curmudgeonly coach passed Kansas’ Phog Allen (66) as the oldest coach to win a college basketball national title, but with a stacked team returning and a few more gray hairs on top of his head, it got us wondering who his senior citizen peers are within the other sports.  Here’s the list of oldest coaches to have won a title in each of the major team sports:

  • MLB - Jack McKeon (2003), 72 years old
  • NCAA Football – Bobby Bowden (1999), 69 years old
  • NCAA Basketball – Jim Calhoun (2011), 68 years old
  • NFL – George Halas (1963), 68 years old
  • NHL – Scotty Bowman (2002),  68 years old
  • NBA - Phil Jackson (2010), 64 years old
Calhoun’s championship last season falls right into the middle of that list, but if he were to win another one next spring a mere five weeks shy of his 70th birthday, he’d trail only the inimitable Jack McKeon as the oldest head coach to win a major title in American team sports. All due respect to McKeon and our friends in Major League Baseball, but Calhoun’s hands-on approach in teaching 18-21 year-old players is a completely different job than delegating those duties to a coaching staff to train older professionals — from our viewpoint, the daily demands on Calhoun’s energy are considerably more.
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Morning Five: 06.22.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 22nd, 2011

  1. Jimmer to the infinite power.  Everyone has an opinion on where the RTC NPOY will be drafted and how he will do as a professional basketball player.  NBADraft.net has The Jimmer going at #13 to the Phoenix Suns; DraftExpress has him going at #7 to the Sacramento Kings; HoopsWorld has him going at #12 to the Utah Jazz.  The mid-to-late lottery seems to be a lock, but the question that really matters is how good will he be at the next level?  Two of our favorite writers did a little interplay on the topic Tuesday, with CBS’ Gary Parrish arguing that Fredette will become a solid, productive point guard in the NBA, nowhere near El Busto, while  Jeff Goodman contends that The Jimmer will struggle mightily at the next level.  Our take?  A little more Parrish and a little less Goodman.  Fredette’s knack for scoring and distributing in different ways will keep him on the court until such time in his career that he figures out how to become at least a competent defender.  He doesn’t have to stop Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook — nobody stops those players — but he’ll need to ensure to his coaches that guys like Jarrett Jack and George Hill aren’t going for 25 points on him on a regular basis.
  2. It’s draft week so there’s a good amount of marketing of players going on right now.  In one interview sent to us with Kemba Walker reppin’ for Axe Lounge, the national champion tells us who is the UConn Husky he most admires (hint: Jesus Shuttlesworth), the player in history he’d most like to run a pick-and-roll with (hint: 10,000 ladies can’t be wrong), and the team that UConn played in last season’s NCAA Tournament that he feels has a great chance to get to the Final Four in 2012 (hint: they’re in everybody’s top two).  The link to a .wmv download of this interview is here.
  3. There are currently 73 BCS schools in college basketball among the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Big East, Pac-10 and SEC.  That number will soon increase to 74 with the addition of Utah to the new Pac-12.  According to research done by the Wall Street Journal, there are only four BCS-level schools that have never been found guilty of a major NCAA violation in any sport.  Can you name the four?  If you said… Boston College, Northwestern, Penn State and Stanford, give yourself a fortune cookie.  Four of seventy-four — that’s 5.4% for the schools the WSJ is calling “the Innocents.”  We also like to call it completely pathetic.
  4. Speaking of one of those “innocent” schools, former Penn State and current Navy head coach Ed DeChellis appears to be fitting in nicely in Annapolis.  He’s met all of his players, hired his staff (a combination of assistants from PSU and retainees from Navy), and reached out to many people to learn about the culture of the place the locals call “the Yard.”  Whether his first year will be successful at the USNA depends largely on the implementation of all-Patriot League rising senior Jordan Sugars and ROY JJ Avila into his system — the Middies were 6-8 in the Patriot last season, but possess two of the better building blocks in the conference going into next season.
  5. Everyone knows that the 2011 NBA Draft will commence Thursday night at The Rock in Newark, New Jersey, but few are likely aware that the Harlem Globetrotters held its annual collegiate “draft” as an appetizer on Tuesday afternoon.  Normally, this sort of thing wouldn’t merit a mention on the M5, but this isn’t a normal “draft” class for the eponymous barnstorming troupe.  For one, the Globetrotters picked YouTube dunking sensation Jacob Tucker, the 5’11 pogo stick from D-III Illinois College who inspired a generation of suburban shorties with his ridiculous 50-inch vertical leap.  With another of its six selections, Harlem picked 7’8 former Mountain State (WV) center, Paul Sturgess, a figurative mountain of a manwho is believed to be the tallest college basketball player at any level in history.  You see the obvious shtick here — having Tucker throw down Vince Carter-style with Sturgess playing the hapless foil of Frederic Weis.  In case you missed Tucker’s original “mix tape,” here it is…

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Morning Five: 05.31.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 31st, 2011

  1. The biggest news involving college sports on Monday was the resignation of Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel after ten very successful seasons amidst swirling allegations of misconduct involving at least 28 of his players trading memorabilia for tattoos, marijuana and cash (as reported by SI).  Normally this sort of thing wouldn’t involve this site unless the allegations leaked over to the basketball program, but speculation on Twitter and around the web about whether Tressel may face a show-cause penalty set off a mini-firestorm among several going back and forth over Kentucky’s John Calipari as a basketball equivalent (Searching for Billy Edelin noted several others here).  Calipari himself added a little fuel to the fire with his tweet on Monday night needling “the triumvirate and compadres” for their “radio silence” with respect to positive stories surrounding the Kentucky program, one of which was Brett McMurphy’s piece Monday on Cal’s association with Dick Vitale’s Jimmy V gala recently and his general philanthropy.  Remember the mantra when it comes to Calipari: loved, hated but never ignored.
  2. After quite a few names thrown around in recent days (including the itinerant Larry Brown of all people), Penn State appears closer to making a hire to replace abruptly-departed Ed DeChellis.  Andy Katz reported on Monday that three names were likely candidates — Duquesne’s Ron Everhart, Boston University’s Pat Chambers, and Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Rob Jeter — with Everhart confirmed as interviewing at PSU on Tuesday.  Frankly, Penn State fans would likely be thrilled with any of those three, as each has shown a proven capability of success at the mid-major level, but recruiting a winner to a basketball wasteland with a low (for Big Ten standards) salary will require a rather compelling pitch from AD Tim Curley.
  3. Welcome to next year.  One of the first jobs that new Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin has in front of him is to face the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in two weeks to answer for allegations that occurred under the previous guy’s direction (a jocular dude named Bruce Pearl; remember him?).  The Vols don’t expect that any probation ultimately coming their way will involve a postseason ban, but they expect to at least lose a scholarship for a year or two and have some restrictions placed on his recruiting.  We’re not sure exactly what Martin will be asked to say at this hearing other than “yes, sir” and “no, sir,” but we’re quite certain that he’ll be hoping all the while that his appearance at this sort of thing in Indianapolis will be his last.
  4. Mike DeCourcy writes about the five teams that he believes have a pretty good shot at ending NCAA Tournament droughts next season.  We won’t spoil the surprise other than to say that Ivy League fans based in Cambridge are not going to be happy with their exclusion from this list — 66 years!  Truthfully, though, his five are eminently reasonable, although choosing Northwestern to come through is probably just as dubious as referencing John Harvard’s school on any kind of such list.
  5. An elite Class of 2012 guard named RJ Hunter from Indianapolis recently committed to Georgia State over notable BCS-level schools Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Iowa.  Um, why would a player receiving offers from those schools commit to Georgia State?  Turns out that the school had a bit of an advantage in his recruiting process — his father, Ron Hunter, recently took the head coaching job at GSU in Atlanta after nearly two decades at IUPUI.  RJ said that Bryce Drew’s experience playing for his dad, Homer, at Valparaiso had an influence on his decision, and we’ve seen in recent years as Ray McCallum, Jr., and Trey Ziegler both had successful freshman seasons playing for their old men at mid-majors Detroit and Central Michigan, respectively, last year.  Good for him.
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Examining Ed DeChellis: Why Are Some Coaches Trading Down?

Posted by rtmsf on May 26th, 2011

Monday’s announcement by Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis that he was resigning from his position in order to take another job isn’t the kind of thing that normally surprises anyone.  After all, fifty or so Division-I head coaching jobs change hands in a given offseason, and DeChellis is coming off one of the best seasons of his coaching career.  His Nittany Lions finished fourth in the Big Ten last season and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade (losing by two points to Temple in the Second Round).  That he’s taking another job isn’t buzzworthy in itself; it’s that he’s not moving on to greener pastures as the new guy at Miami (FL) or Missouri, to name a couple prominent openings this year.  It’s that he’s resigning from a Big Ten school to take the head coaching position at Navy.  As in… the US Naval Academy, a Patriot League program that hasn’t been relevant since the Reagan Administration (and a gangly center named David Robinson was enrolled in Annapolis).

DeChellis Isn't the First Coach to Move Down the Ladder

It’s certainly an open secret among Penn State faithful and Big Ten watchers that DeChellis, despite PSU’s run to the NCAAs this season, was already on rather thin ice.  His eight-year career in Happy Valley resulted in more losses than wins and his relationship with the Penn State AD, Tim Curley, had reportedly deteriorated to a breaking point.  Still, by walking away from a Big Ten position — even one in the basketball wasteland known as central Pennsylvania — to take the helm at a struggling mid-major, he’s leaving at least a half-million dollars or more on the table, and essentially giving up on every coach’s dream to win and win big at the highest level of college basketball.  We’re not about to sit down and perform an analysis of the last couple of decades of coaching changes to test the theory, but in at least the last couple of offseasons, there seems to be a growing trend of coaches moving laterally or even downgrading themselves for one reason or another.  Here’s three who instantly came to mind.

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NCAA Second Round Game Analysis – Thursday

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2011

Now that the Play-In First Four games are finished, let’s get back to normalcy with the best weekend of the year beginning this afternoon.  Sixteen games, eight sites, four television channels, and several million brackets busted by roughly 3:30 PM eastern time.

#5 West Virginia vs. #11 Clemson – East Region Second Round (at Tampa, FL) – 12:15 pm ET on CBS

Expect a low-scoring, gritty and physical opener for Thursday’s NCAA Tournament action, and not just because the tip time is barely after noon and Clemson arrived in Tampa just before the sun came up on Wednesday. Both of these teams pride themselves in their toughness defensively and play extremely hard on every possession. Clemson specializes in limiting opposing offenses inside the arc behind senior forward Jerai Grant prowess in the paint, while West Virginia limits their competition to below 30% shooting from the three-point line. While both Brad Brownell and Bob Huggins have a history of trotting out stalwart defenses, the edge offensively has to side with the Mountaineers. Kevin Jones has been playing his best basketball of the season as of late, posting three double-doubles in his last four outings. Casey Mitchell is a 38% gunner from deep that is tremendous off screens in catch and shoot situations where he barely needs any room to fire. Deniz Kilicli and John Flowers have aided what has turned out to be the sixth best offensive rebounding team in the nation, no surprise coming from a Huggins-coached squad. Clemson is merely middle of the pack in Division I in allowing offensive rebounds, so the Mountaineer frontline may be able to churn out extra possessions for their perimeter weapons throughout this game. Limiting Grant is certainly a challenge, but the WV frontline should be up to the task. Combine tired legs with Mitchell feasting on a perimeter defense that just surrendered 12 threes to UAB and the edge in this 5/12 matchup has to side with the Mountaineers.

The RTC Certified Pick: West Virginia.

#8 Butler vs. #9 Old Dominion – Southeast Region Second Round (at Washington, D.C.) – 12:40 pm ET on truTV.

Both teams have won their past nine games en route to conference tournament championships. Defense has been the key for each club during their winning streaks with Butler giving up 58 PPG and ODU at 57.7 PPG against over their last nine games. Old Dominion is one of the best rebounding teams in the nation and that is where they have to take advantage of the Bulldogs. This game will be played almost exclusively in the half court with both teams preferring a slower pace. Butler ranks #11 in defensive rebounding percentage but the Monarchs are the best offensive rebounding team in the land. Blaine Taylor’s team must win this battle and protect the basketball in order to advance. They struggle at times with turnovers and lots of giveaways will negate their expected edge on the glass. Look for the Monarchs to work inside utilizing star big man Frank Hassell as well as Keyon Carter and Kent Bazemore. Butler allows 48.7% FG inside the arc and that could hurt them against the frontcourt-oriented Monarchs. Butler shoots almost 21 threes per game behind Shelvin Mack, Zach Hahn and even Matt Howard (44%). Add in the recent play of Shawn Vanzant and you have a team playing as well as they have all year. ODU is very poor against the three, their biggest vulnerability. Bazemore is a terrific defender and needs to come up big on that end against the Bulldog guards. Both teams are experienced and obviously did well in last year’s tournament so they won’t be intimidated by the big stage. While the focus will be on Howard vs. Hassell in the post, this game could be determined by guard play.

The RTC Certified Pick: Butler.

#4 Louisville vs. #13 Morehead State – Southwest Region Second Round (at Denver, CO) – 1:40 pm ET on TBS.

We’re quite sure that Louisville head coach Rick Pitino could only shake his head in disgust when he saw his team’s opening matchup on Thursday.  An in-state mid-major whose greatest strength — a dominant glass-eater by the name of Kenneth Faried — bears stark contrast with his Cards’ greatest weakness, interior play.  Over the years, Pitino has mastered the art of using team defensive principles to stymie players like Faried by throwing two and three bodies at him everywhere on the floor.  The Cards will need to again, because Faried’s nonstop motor and Rodman-esque knack for finding the ball is the best in the nation (he corrals 20% of offensive rebounds and 31% of defensive rebounds while he’s on the floor), something his players know all too well after facing Morehead State (and Faried) in the same round two seasons ago (Faried went for 14/11 in a 20-point loss).  He’s gotten better, and so has his team.  The good news for Pitino is that MSU is often sloppy with the ball, committing nearly fifteen turnovers a game, and the Eagles don’t defend the three very well (36.9%), which will allow ample opportunities for the Louisville shooters to get good looks from deep.  Two seasons ago a stronger Louisville team went into halftime only up two points on a weaker Morehead State team; expect a similar situation this year, as the relative strengths and weaknesses offset each other.  Ultimately, the Cards will find enough points through hustle and desire to fend off the school located two hours east, but we’ll forgive Pitino if he lambastes the committee for giving him this dangerous opponent for the second time in three years.

The RTC Certified Pick: Louisville.

#7 Temple vs. #10 Penn State – West Region Second Round (at Tucson, AZ) – 2:10 pm ET on TNT.

While the Owls are 25-7 and the higher seed here, this is not a team that is at full strength. They have played their last eight games without center Michael Eric, who will not return this year, and the last seven without swingman Scootie Randall, who is holding out hope that he will be able to go Thursday. The Nittany Lions, meanwhile, are at full strength, but their full strength means that their five starters are ready to play a whole lot of minutes, with only sporadic contributions from the bench, which averages less than eight total points per game. And given the pace at which Penn State plays (their games average just 60 possessions, in the bottom two percent of the nation), a pace which Temple will have little objection to, we’ll have a low-scoring, limited possession, defensive battle that will likely come down to seeing which of the two teams makes the most plays in the final few minutes. Because of that, the Lions may have the edge. Not only do they have four seniors amongst their five main players, but Talor Battle is an explosive scorer given the limited number of possessions he works with. And, among their five man rotation, only Andrew Jones is a poor free throw shooter. For Temple to counteract the experience of the Lions, they’ll need to get plenty of inside production from physical freak Lavoy Allen, while perimeter players like Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt and point guard Juan Fernandez will have to take advantage of a PSU defense that likes to pack it in and force their opponents to beat them with their jump shot. Unfortunately for the Owls, even if Randall does make it back for this game, their most efficient offensive player does not figure to have his legs back, and Temple may come up a bit short.

The RTC Certified Pick: Penn State

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ATB: Snow & Ice Keep Fans Away But the Hoops Must Go On…

Posted by rtmsf on February 2nd, 2011

The Lede.  It’s snow-and-ice-pocalypse across a major swath of the midwest and east tonight, but that doesn’t stop us from delivering this evening’s news and analysis from the comforts of our couch.  Tonight games from Boston to Boulder and everywhere in between were moved, postponed or played in front of sparse crowds of people avoiding the weather.  No matter where you sit, whether in the frigid zones getting decked by the snow or the warmer climes elsewhere, there was some pretty good basketball going on around the nation tonight.  Let’s keep everybody out there safe tomorrow trying to dig out of it, though.

Are Harrison Barnes & UNC Turning the Corner? (A. Hunger/NO)

Your Watercooler MomentIs Carolina Back? After winning eight of nine games coming into tonight’s contest at Boston College, UNC had already re-established itself back in the national rankings (#23 AP; #24 RTC) but there was a still-tenuous feeling among many about whether Roy Williams’ team was actually legitimate or not.  After all, the Heels’ best win in that streak was at home against Virginia Tech and there is still that lingering image of a craptacular performance at Georgia Tech a couple of Sundays ago.  Delving into the Heels’ resume, though, shows that their other losses really aren’t all that bad — a two-point loss to Texas (playing as well as anyone right now) in addition to Ls to Illinois, Minnesota and Vanderbilt.  These are all forgivable losses especially for a young team, but the question on everyone’s mind is whether a performance like tonight where the Heels ripped a solid BC team by 32 points is the start of something special?  We’re not quite ready to go there yet, but the recent offensive emergence of Harrison Barnes (career highs of 25 pts vs. NC State over the weekend and 26 pts tonight) gives Carolina a dimension on the wing that they haven’t had.  In those two games, Barnes has already hit nearly a quarter of his entire number of threes made for the season, and the transition of Kendall Marshall to the starting lineup in place of Larry Drew over the last four games has been an effective one.  Neither Marshall nor Drew are the type of players in the mold of Ty Lawson or Raymond Felton who will push the Carolina attack into overdrive en route to a national title, but Marshall in particular has shown a propensity for distributing the ball (his assist rate is through the roof per minute played), and for the first time all season we are now convinced that UNC is indeed the #2 team in the ACC behind Duke.  The key takeaway with tonight’s win is that Roy Williams’ team is getting better — they’re not going to the Final Four and they may not even be Sweet Sixteen-worthy this season, but in a watered-down ACC, they should have enough to at least get back to the NCAA Tournament and quite possibly win a first round game.  With presumably everyone back next season, Carolina fans could once again have the building blocks to get back onto their typical Final Four every-other-year track.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • The Big Ten Mucky Muck.  Two Big Ten games tonight proved that home teams are pretty good in this league most of the time and that it’s looking more and more like there will be a five-team race for second place in the league behind Ohio State.  Purdue dropped its fourth road game in a row to go 7-3 in the conference, and as we all know, Madison isn’t a good place to come out of a road losing streak.  Meanwhile, Illinois broke its two-game tailspin (and four of five) with a strong defensive performance in front of about twenty fans versus Penn State.  With the results of these two games tonight, OSU now has a three-game lead on Purdue, but the Boilermakers and the next five teams (Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State) are all within two games of each other.  It’s going to be a wild second half of the season to see how that league shakes out in the middle.
  • KU’s Odd Luck in Lubbock.  Strangely, Bill Self had never won a game in Lubbock prior to tonight’s destruction of the Red Raiders, 88-66.  In games in 2005, 2007 and 2009, KU went to Texas Tech with a top ten ranking and came away with losses in all three visits.  Tonight’s game was a completely different story, as Kansas ran out to a huge halftime lead and never looked back.  The Jayhawks put five players in double figures, including the Morris twins’ combined 29/16, but the most notable performance of the evening came from Thomas Robinson, who had his second consecutive great 17/9 night, well above his season averages of 9/6.  This is wonderful to see.
  • Brandon Knight, Meet the Hand (of Reggie Buckner).  One of the best blocks we’ve seen all season long sent the Ole Miss home crowd into a frenzy.  Welcome to D1, rookie.  Oh, and Chris Warren hit a 25-foot three to win the game.  That too.

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Weekly Bracketology: 01.31.11

Posted by zhayes9 on January 31st, 2011

Zach Hayes is RTC’s official bracketologist.

  • Last Four In: UAB, Washington State, Richmond, Penn State.
  • Last Four Out: Maryland, Gonzaga, Butler, Colorado State.

Analysis:

  • With the upheaval at the top of the rankings, there was as much competition for the #1 seeds this week as in any of the previous brackets. After Ohio State as the standout overall #1 seed, Pittsburgh, Kansas and Texas slid into the final three spots. Connecticut likely would have earned the spot occupied by Texas if they had closed out Louisville at home on Saturday. Although the Huskies edged the Longhorns in Austin, the overall portfolio leans ever so slightly towards Texas. As always, this is a fluid situation and could change tonight should Texas fall in College Station.
  • BYU also would have been in prime contention to snag a #1 seed if they hadn’t slipped up at the Pit against New Mexico on Saturday. The Cougars boasted the top RPI in the land prior to the loss (Kansas re-claimed that esteemed spot). BYU now joins fellow Mountain West member San Diego State on the #2 seed line along with Connecticut and Duke, who drops to the final #2 seed and #8 overall.
  • This past weekend was a major step forward for the Big East in their quest for obliterating the record for NCAA teams in one conference with Marquette edging Syracuse and St. John’s trouncing of Duke. All 11 contenders remained in the field this week and the lowest was Cincinnati as a #10 seed. The Bearcats look like the most vulnerable team in the conference to miss on an NCAA bid with both Marquette (Notre Dame, Syracuse, a plethora of close losses to NCAA teams) and St. John’s (Duke, Notre Dame, Georgetown, at West Virginia) having compiled some exemplary wins. Cincinnati still plays Louisville, Connecticut and Georgetown on their home floor.
  • Bid stealer alert! Alabama at 5-1 in the SEC automatically gains that conference’s automatic bid with both Florida and Kentucky having suffered two defeats in conference play. This bumps Maryland just barely out of the bracket.
  • Where have you gone Cinderella? The most famous of the last decade’s tournament darlings — Gonzaga and Butler -- both find themselves out of the field this week. The Zags have lost three of four in WCC play including road defeats at San Francisco and Santa Clara, while Butler has now fallen four times in Horizon play after running the table a season ago. Downing St. Mary’s in Moraga or Memphis in February would go a long way for Gonzaga and their ugly #90 RPI. Butler may have to win the Horizon League tournament which could be played in Valparaiso or Cleveland.
  • I’d like to formally welcome Penn State to the field! Home wins over Wisconsin, Michigan State and Illinois carried the Nittany Lions into the bracket for the first time. Close losses at Ohio State and at Purdue also won’t be ignored by the committee. While objectivity always comes first in Bracketology, I’d personally love to see Talor Battle in an NCAA Tournament game.

Conference Call

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