No Shocker: Reeves Nelson Dismissed By UCLA

Posted by AMurawa on December 9th, 2011

Just a month ago, Reeves Nelson was on just about everybody’s preseason All-Pac-12 team. As of today, according to a CBS Sports report, he’s no longer on the UCLA basketball team. “After much thought and deliberation, I have made the decision to dismiss Reeves Nelson from the UCLA men’s basketball team effective immediately,” said head coach Ben Howland in a statement released Friday morning after the coach met with Nelson following his final exams.

Reeves Nelson, UCLA

Reeves Nelson's Career In Westwood Was Officially Ended Friday With His Dismissal From The UCLA Basketball Program (credit: Stephen Dunn, Getty Images)

The fall from grace was swift and unexpected, but there were warning signs prior to this season. In previous years he had been known to openly yell at teammates for mistakes on the court, he famously threw a ball at Brendan Lane’s chest in disgust and just generally showed a lot of emotional immaturity. Even in high school he was repeatedly suspended for behavioral issues. This season things got worse, and fast. In the Bruins’ season-opening loss to Loyola Marymount, Nelson grew visibly frustrated as the game went on, and he failed to participate in a couple of huddles, earning his first “indefinite” suspension of the year. After sitting out the Bruins’ next game (another loss, this one to Middle Tennessee State), he was reinstated in time for the trip to the Maui Invitational, then he showed up late for the team flight. Howland somehow allowed Nelson to catch a later flight, and then benched him for a half in the tournament opener against Chaminade. Last weekend, Nelson blew a defensive assignment just before the end of the first half in a loss to Texas, got into a verbal altercation with Howland in the locker room, was benched for the second half there (during which he drew criticism for his behavior on the bench) and then subsequently suspended indefinitely again. Then today, the divorce became official.

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Checking In On… the Pac-12

Posted by rtmsf on December 8th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences.  

Reader’s Take

 

Top Storylines

  • More Behavioral Problems – While the struggles of the Pac-12 conference as a whole has been well-documented, the sheer number of off-the-court distractions coaches up and down the conference have had to deal with has been astounding. There’s the ongoing Reeves Nelson soap opera at UCLA. Josiah Turner has been patently unable to get it together in Arizona. Jabari Brown quit on his team after just two games because he was “only” getting about 26 minutes a game. This week Utah suspended Josh Watkins, one of just three players in the Pac-12 to score in double figures in each of his team’s games (Washington’s Terrence Ross and Washington State’s Brock Motum the other two). Then there are lesser lights like Oregon’s Bruce Barron (quit on his team as well), Arizona’s Sidiki Johnson (suspended, dismissed and now transferring out) and Washington State’s D.J. Shelton (suspended). That’s not even including Joshua Smith’s issues, Jerime Anderson’s legal troubles, or Jahii Carson’s inability to get eligible. While the play on the court has been less than stellar around the conference, it is the off-the-court nonsense that is giving the conference the biggest black eye.

Josh Watkins' Troubles Are Only the Latest and Greatest...

  • Surprising Players Stepping Up – In the place of all the missing or invisible players, these teams have needed somebody to step up, and there have been some surprising players that are doing their part. Just looking at the five players that were nominated for the Pac-12 Player of the Week last week gives you a list of surprising names: Charlie Enquist, Ahmad Starks, Anthony Brown, Keala King and, the winner of the award, Solomon Hill. No disrespect to any of those guys, but I don’t think you would have found any of those names on most preseason all-Pac-12 teams. Hill has been a versatile and steadying force for Arizona.  Not only is the junior post leading the team in points (12.4 PPG), assists (3.1 APG) and minutes (31.5 MPG), but Hill is also grabbing the second most rebounds (7.8 RPG), and he’ll likely be a candidate for the Pac-12 award on a semi-regular basis throughout the year. But Charlie Enquist? That’s a guy who had scored a total of 50 points and grabbed a total of 41 rebounds in his 54 games in his previous three years in Pullman. This week he scored 28 and grabbed 19 rebounds. Meanwhile, King was awful at Arizona State last year (36.5% from the field, 1-18 threes, more turnovers than assists), but has scored 65 points in his last three games while posting a 75.8 eFG%. Starks had 16 points and four threes in Oregon State’s win over Montana, and Anthony Brown scored 27 points in two games for Stanford this week. For the underachieving teams in this conference to improve between now and March, they’ll need players to step up and make bigger-than-expected contributions.
  • Stanford For Real? – At the start of the season, it was more or less consensus that there were four teams in the upper tier of the Pac-12: Arizona, Cal, UCLA and Washington. It didn’t take long for one of those four teams to drop from that group (I’ll let you guess which one that was), but with Stanford sporting the best record in the Pac-12 at 8-1 so far (the lone loss a tough six-point defeat at Madison Square Garden to Syracuse), the Cardinal may have jumped up into that group. Of Stanford’s eight victories this season, seven of them have come by 12 or more, with only their most recent come-from-behind win against NC State being a tight one. And at least one RTC correspondent came away from that game impressed enough to confirm that Stanford is good enough, at least defensively, to contend for the conference title. The Cardinal are now in the midst of 13 days off surrounding finals, and really only have one challenging non-conference game remaining (December 22 against Butler). But, if the Cardinal can pick up where it left off, coach Johnny Dawkins‘ squad will be a tough out during conference play.

Player of the Year Watch

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 12.07.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 7th, 2011

  1. Tuesday night saw the Pac-12 conference lose yet another non-conference game, as Marquette knocked off Washington by a bucket in a back-and-forth game that provided a nice nightcap to the Jimmy V Classic in New York. The Huskies had plenty of chances down the stretch to earn a more positive outcome, but three turnovers on their last six possessions, plus a wild Abdul Gaddy attempt on the final play with Lorenzo Romar sitting on his last timeout put the Huskies on their way to their second straight defeat. With Duke on deck on Saturday, Romar’s club has its work cut out for it.
  2. In what is getting to be a tradition here with the P12 M5, we’ve got player suspensions to talk about. Oh boy! First, in an announcement that surprised exactly no one, UCLA suspended Reeves Nelson indefinitely for the second time this season. It was originally reported that Nelson had been dismissed from the team, but head coach Ben Howland corrected that later in the day. Nelson was benched for the second half of Saturday’s loss to Texas for, among other issues, blowing a defensive assignment at the end of the first half that led to a Clint Chapman dunk, then was later seen laughing on the bench as fans in the crowd called out for him. Nevertheless, he remained supportive of his teammates from the bench, leading the cheers down the stretch as the Bruins attempted to mount a comeback. With Howland and Nelson clearly at odds and the end of the semester at hand, it will be interesting to keep an eye on the UCLA program to see if the junior forward becomes the latest Bruin big man to leave the program.
  3. Meanwhile in Tucson, just a day after head coach Sean Miller hinted that point guard Josiah Turner might be on his way back into the starting lineup, the freshman missed practice and was suspended for Arizona‘s game tonight against Florida. Turner had already been benched for a game against Ball State earlier in the season for behavioral issues, and reportedly has been kicked out of practice on one other occasion. Turner had been starting to come around on the court in recent games, and the Florida game would have been an excellent chance for him to announce his arrival to a national television crowd, but despite all his talent, the youngster can’t get out of his own way so far. Jordin Mayes will need to take on a bigger role for the Wildcats in Turner’s absence.
  4. The Daily Wildcat noted that this Arizona/Florida series is the result of a friendship between Miller and Florida head coach Billy Donovan. The two first met when Donovan was a senior at Providence and Miller took a recruiting visit to the school, and has continued throughout the years as the players went on to become two of the best coaches in the land. For now, the series doesn’t extend beyond next year’s game when Florida returns the trip, but here’s hoping these two schools can make this an annual affair. We can never have too many interesting non-conference matchups.
  5. Lastly, in the wake of Monday’s suspension of their leading scorer Josh Watkins, Utah is preparing to take on Cal State Fullerton tonight. While Watkins worked out with assistant coach Andy Hill yesterday, the rest of his team was preparing to move on without him, at least temporarily. Freshman Kareem Storey will take over at the point, and he’ll need to play a big role for the Utes, but more importantly, the team needs to improve their effort, according to head coach Larry Krystkowiak, who noted that the coaching staff has had to “coach effort more than you’d like to.” Junior forward Dijon Farr was less diplomatic, saying that “some people just quit.” With a long slog of likely losses ahead, it would be quite a testament to Krystkowiak if he can get this team back on track, at least in the effort department.
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Morning Five: 12.07.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on December 7th, 2011

  1. The Big East is expected to announce today that it will add five schools to its football lineup starting in the 2013 season, and the lucky ‘winners’ are quite literally all over the country. Boise State, San Diego State, Central Florida, SMU and Rice Houston will join the league in two years, with BSU and SDSU opting to join as football-only members, while the other three come on board in all sports, including basketball. We honestly never thought we’d see a day where the mighty hoops conference that Dave Gavitt created among a number of small private Catholic schools in the northeastern corridor would ever become a safe haven for the likes of a Methodist school, Phi Slama Jama, and a Florida commuter school, but the times they-are-a-changin’. Think of it this way — at least we’ll get to see more of Matt Doherty on national television.
  2. Shouldn’t we just go ahead and pre-write the story where UCLA’s Reeves Nelson is permanently booted from the team? For the second time in the young season, the moody Bruin forward was suspended indefinitely by head coach Ben Howland for “conduct unbecoming a UCLA player.” The latest incident that drew Howland’s ire had to do with Nelson’s apparent laughter/smiling on the bench as Texas stormed back to beat his team on Saturday afternoon. If you read the comments from some of Nelson’s teammates and Howland in the LA Times article, you get a strong sense that the enigmatic forward is unlikely to figure it out. It would probably make the most sense for UCLA to move on in trying to rebuild its program without Nelson acting as a regular distraction, but we’ve been surprised with how much patience the head coach has shown with him.
  3. Let’s stay in the Pac-12, also known as the conference of unhappy players, apparently. Merely one day after Arizona head coach Sean Miller noted that his freshman point guard, Josiah Turner, may get the start in tonight’s key game against Florida, the young player was suspended for that game for an undisclosed violation of team policy. Recapping the league’s recent player woes, we already know about UCLA’s Nelson. Arizona’s Sidiki Johnson and Oregon’s Jabari Brown didn’t even make it to their first semester break before deciding to transfer. Utah’s Josh Watson has been suspended indefinitely, as has California’s Richard Solomon. Arizona State’s Jahii Carson still has not been cleared by the NCAA to play this season. Things have already been a disaster on the hardwood for this conference; it appears that the instability of the league carries over to its personnel as well.
  4. It’s rather hard to believe that he’s been around this long, but Coastal Carolina’s Cliff Ellis picked up his 700th career victory on Tuesday night against The Citadel. Nearly 80 of those wins came as the head coach of NAIA’s Cumberland College, but his 622 as the top man at South Alabama, Clemson, Auburn and CCU puts him currently at #8 on the list of active coaches, ahead of such names as Rick Pitino and Mike Montgomery. Ellis always struck us a little bit as a guy who would be happy so long as he was coaching anywhere, but he’s turned the Chanticleer program into a powerhouse in the Big South (64 wins in the last two-plus years), and with a solid core led by Anthony Raffa and Chris Gradnigo, we don’t think he’s going to retire anytime soon.
  5. President Barack Obama made headlines on Tuesday with a speech he gave in Osawatomie, Kansas, yesterday, when he referred to the steadily-shrinking American middle class as having reached “a make or break” moment in its history. Harking back to a speech given 101 years ago by Teddy Roosevelt in the same spot, Obama stated that the crisis of income inequality and opportunity in America was the “defining issue of our time.” We won’t speculate on the merits of his argument, but it’s curious that he delivered one of the more notable speeches of the third year of his presidency immediately after meeting Kansas head coach Bill Self. Perhaps the leader of the free world felt so burned by KU’s NCAA Tournament meltdowns the last two seasons that it stirred up the orator in him to make a compelling speech.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 12.06.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on December 6th, 2011

  1. With finals taking precedence over basketball at most schools across the country, we hit the doldrums of the college basketball schedule this week. Up next for Pac-12 schools is a big one, though, with Washington set to battle Marquette in Madison Square Garden tonight as the headliner of the Jimmy V Classic. The Huskies had hoped to get senior guard Scott Suggs back from his foot injury in time for this game, but he remains doubtful to play tonight though he could still possibly be back for Duke on Saturday. With the Huskies coming off a late collapse against Nevada on Friday night and Marquette riding high from their win over in-state rival Wisconsin, this game could set up nicely for Lorenzo Romar’s club.
  2. Aside from Washington’s big week, the other huge matchup in the conference this week is Arizona’s trip to Gainesville to face Florida on Wednesday. The Gators have been without forward Erik Murphy for the last three games with a knee injury, but he is expected to return for this game and he’ll present problems for the Arizona bigs, pulling them away from the basket and opening up the lane for the quick Gator guards to penetrate.
  3. Following California’s loss to San Diego State on Sunday, the Golden Bears dropped out of both the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls, leaving the conference without a single representative in either poll. Stanford, Cal and Arizona earned votes in the ESPN poll, while Oregon State also got a couple of votes in the AP poll. Meanwhile the Pac-12 announced its Player of the Week award on Monday, and Arizona’s Solomon Hill took home the hardware over other nominees like Keala King, Ahmad Starks, Anthony Brown and Charlie Enquist. Really. Did anybody on the planet have that quintet as future Player of the Week nominees even just a month ago?
  4. With UCLA in the midst of some serious struggles, Ben Howland admits he has made some mistakes and will change some things up going forward. To begin with, he now says that, in retrospect, he probably should have left Reeves Nelson at home after the mercurial forward missed the team plane to Maui a couple weeks back. Further, after sticking with his man-to-man defense to this point, Howland interrupted a reporter who was asking a question about how UCLA allowed Texas to shoot 70+% in the second half during the post-game press conference on Saturday, and volunteered the fact that he probably should have recognized earlier that this team needed to play more zone. He added that he’d be spending practice time working on alternatives to the man-to-man defense that currently isn’t working.
  5. Lastly, it seems like it wouldn’t be a Pac-12 Morning Five without some negative personnel situation to talk about. Earlier today Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak announced the indefinite suspension of point guard Jiggy Watkins, and Connor Pelton filled you in on the details of that. Reading the thoughts of some Utah fans indicates that they’ve had enough of Watkins’ antics and are ready to move on. Aside from showing up to school in the fall more than 30 pounds overweight, falling asleep in classes and missing practices, Watkins has been almost the entirety of the Ute offense. Utah averages 60 points a game, and Watkins accounts for 17.7 of those. Meanwhile, Watkins rightfully uses over 39% of Ute possessions (the highest usage rate in the country), takes over 38% of the team’s shots when he is on the court (sixth in the nation) and still manages to hand out assists on more than 52% of all his teammates buckets when he is on the court (good for second in the nation). While Watkins has plenty of holes in his game, the drop from him down to Kareem Storey or Anthony Odunsi will be significant, making a bad Utah team even worse in the short term.
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UCLA’s Bruin Road Show: An Early Assessment

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences. He filed this column after Texas’ win over UCLA Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles.

Things have been tough enough for the UCLA basketball team this season, without having its home court conspire against it. But, that’s exactly what happened Saturday afternoon as the Bruins hosted Texas at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, one of the temporary homes for UCLA this year as venerable old Pauley Pavilion undergoes much-needed renovations. Just after the under-four minute media timeout, as Longhorn forward Alexis Wangmene headed to the free throw line to shoot the front-end of a one-and-one, the entire arena was plunged into relative darkness due to an area-wide power surge. At that time, the Bruins were up 30-19 and had turned in its best 16-minute stretch of the season. Guards Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson had knocked down some threes. The Wear twins had been hitting the glass and scoring inside. And perhaps most importantly, the Bruins had been diving after loose balls, scrapping for every rebound, and defending like crazy, keeping the quicker Texas guards out of the lane – just generally outworking them to that point.

The LA Sports Arena Serves as UCLA's Home Venue This Season

Over the next 13-plus minutes, as the lights slowly reset to full-power, Texas had a chance in their huddle to start over. “We had a chance to regroup,” said the Longhorns’ freshman point guard Myck Kabongo. “Thank god for those lights. It was a turning point.” Despite, as one fan yelled out just as play resumed, “the greatest icing ever,” Wangmene hit both his free throws and the Longhorns played the final four minutes of the half with a new zeal. Kabongo in particular was like a different player, easily getting penetration against UCLA guards and finding open teammates, notching his first three assists of the day on Texas’ last four possessions of the half. By the intermission, UT has posted a quick 9-4 mini-run and cut the Bruin lead, which had been double-digits most of the first half, to just six. From there, the second half was a mere formality. Texas posted a 75% effective field goal percentage in the second half, the talented but confounding UCLA frontcourt duo of Joshua Smith and Reeves Nelson combined to play just four minutes, and Texas outscored UCLA 50-29 after the power outage.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 11.29.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on November 29th, 2011

  1. It’s a new week and a new day for the Pac-12. Nothing but sunshine from now on, right? There hasn’t been a whole lot of good news to report around the conference, so we’ll take the occasion of four wins and zero losses in a single night to be grateful for. Sure, most of the wins came against teams that major conference teams should have no reason to fear, but one of the newest Pac-12 teams posted the most impressive victory of the night as Colorado came out of the halftime locker room with a 28-14 run over the first 17 minutes of the second half against Georgia. The Buffs held on to seal a 70-68 victory that was nowhere near as close as the final score. Buffalo freshman guard Spencer Dinwiddie led all scorers with 16 points and fellow freshman Askia Booker added 14, while Andre Roberson had 15/15 in his fourth double-double of the year.
  2. Meanwhile down south, UCLA earned its first win of the season over a Division I opponent with a 62-39 victory over Pepperdine in a game whose score looks a lot more impressive than the actual play on the court. Sure, the Waves were never in this game at all, getting outscored 28-11 in the first half, but still, for UCLA, the two guys who were supposed to be the heart and soul of this team – Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith – combined for six points and eight rebounds in 22 total minutes. Nevertheless, there were good signs for the Bruins, namely Travis Wear, who took some time off from exploring coral reefs to grab ten first-half rebounds (including five on the offensive end) and freshman guard Norman Powell, who earned 22 minutes and rewarded the coaching staff with ten points, a couple of threes and a ton of defensive energy. There’s still a long way to go, and Pepperdine is certainly no Loyola Marymount, but it is baby steps for the Bruins at this point.
  3. Down the street from the Bruins’ temporary home, their cross-town rival, USC, got some good news Monday as their sophomore point guard Maurice Jones was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week, mostly on the strength of his 28-point outburst against South Carolina in the consolation game of the Las Vegas Invitational this weekend. Jones hit all seven of his three-point attempts in that game, getting his three-point percentage for the season back in the respectable range (he started the year 8-32 from deep) and more importantly, getting his team back within one game of .500.
  4. Sticking around Troy for a bit, Rick Majerus was back in the Southland this weekend, taking his Saint Louis team to the 76 Classic in Anaheim, and while there he was asked to talk about his reasons for backing out of the USC job just four days after he had accepted it in 2004. Long story short, despite his claims at the time that it was his own health that caused him to back out, in fact Majerus’ mother was fighting cancer at the time and she asked him to not accept the job so that he could remain closer to her. Perhaps just as interesting was Majerus’ claim that he thought he could have won a national championship at USC. After seeing what Majerus did with Ball State, Utah and now Saint Louis, I’m inclined to trust him.
  5. Finally, Jeff Borzello takes a closer look at the struggles that Arizona State has been going through this season and ties it back to its inability to take care of the ball. So far ASU is turning the ball over on 26.9% of its possessions, an abysmal figure good for 325th in the country. Part of the problem can be chalked up to the Sun Devils missing Jahii Carson, the heir apparent at point guard who has yet to be declared academically eligible. But Iowa State transfer Chris Colvin, who has handled most of the point guard duties so far and who the coaching staff spoke highly of in the offseason, has yet to display any comfort as the lead guard, turning the ball over 23 times thus far in 150 minutes of action. And every other starter for the Sun Devils has averaged at least two turnovers a game thus far. If Carson isn’t coming through that door, and if ASU continues to turn the ball over at this rate, this season is not going to get any better.
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Morning Five: 11.29.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 29th, 2011

SPONSORED: Rush the Court is pleased to bring you a second installment of a one-day fantasy college basketball league courtesy of FanDuel.com. The league, which is completely free to enter, will play TONIGHT involving several high-profile teams — Duke, Ohio State, Michigan, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Maryland, Clemson — and features $150 in prizes. Even better, if you beat our trained monkey that we’ve assigned to make our picks (username: RTCmonkey), you’ll win even more money. Test your college hoops knowledge to win! Seriously, play, it’s fun to track your players as the night wears on. Click here to enter.

  1. As expected the news out of Minnesota on the right knee of Trevor Mbakwe was not good. The senior forward, who appeared poised to have an excellent season, is out for year with right ACL tear (here is a Twitpic from Mbakwe late last night). Mbakwe’s injury means that the Gophers will have to search to find a replacement (likely by committee) and will also probably struggle to stay out of the Big Ten cellar. According to reports, the school is seeking a sixth year of eligibility for Mbakwe, who missed one season due to another knee injury and another season after transferring from Miami after being charged with sexual assault. Prior to the injury, Mbakwe was a late first or early second round pick. Now, if he does not get an extra year of eligibility, he may not even get drafted.
  2. Last night Billy Donovan picked up his 400th career win as Florida beat Stetson, 96-70. Perhaps, the occasion helped the Gators focus as they played well despite the game being an obvious trap game with a showdown against Syracuse looming on Friday. While the win is a nice milestone it is noteworthy for two other things: most Gator fans probably were not paying attention as they were focusing their attention on their suddenly healthy former football coach and the victory occurred at the home of the Orlando Magic, who nearly took Donovan away from college basketball a little over four years ago.
  3. Don’t expect to see more of UCLA malcontent Reeves Nelson much in the next few games after Ben Howland stated that Nelson will not be starting for the Bruins “any time soon.” Howland kept his word last and Nelson continued to do his part to keep himself out of the line-up as he got in early foul trouble to limit his minutes. While we applaud Howland for his current stance on Nelson we get a funny feeling that if UCLA continues to struggle Howland will be more forgiving of his mercurial forward.
  4. Seth Davis checks in after his work-related trip to the Bahamas (rough life, right?) where he got to watch Connecticut and Ryan Boatright. After spending some time watching the Huskies and seeing the change that Boatright’s insertion brought about Davis came away impressed with Boatright even if he came away less than impressed with other aspects of the Huskies right now. He also offers up his opinions on all things college basketball in his traditional Larry King-like Hoop Thoughts, which are always a good read.
  5. Duke picked up a commitment from class of 2013 shooting guard Matt Jones, a player that many suspected was a Duke lean for quite a while. Jones should give the Blue Devils yet another long-range threat if he remains committed to Duke (at least another year until he can sign). While Duke fans are probably happy to pick up Jones, they are probably more interested in his more highly regarded AAU teammate Julius Randle. Meanwhile, the people over at KSR appear to be handling the decision by Jones well although one reader was upset with Jones for being a “trader.”
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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume II

Posted by jbaumgartner on November 28th, 2011

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish on Mondays throughout the season. In this weekly piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED….that classic first game of the season where you just get blindsided. With a lineup full of projected first-round picks and some much-needed experience from last season, many felt that it would take a while for top-ranked North Carolina to fall. But those Runnin’ Rebels from UNLV went Jerry Tarkanian on Roy Williams’ crew and gave us 2011’s first shocker. That was seriously out of nowhere, and just two weeks into the season we can start asking what seems to be an annual question about UNC’s ability to defend the perimeter.

UNLV RTC'd the Orleans Arena Floor Saturday Night (With Good Reason)

I LOVED….how Rick Majerus has Saint Louis rolling this early. The Billikens have already knocked off Washington, Boston College, and Villanova this season – marking them as a mid-major to deal with down the road. Majerus is a fascinating coach with plenty of supporters and detractors (see this great article from Sports Illustrated’s S.L. Price in 2008) but he’s one heck of a basketball coach.

I LOVED….Griffin Lentsch’s 89 points last week for Grinnell College against Principia College. For those not familiar with Division III Grinnell, the Iowa school plays a crazy-fast, shoot-happy style that scores boatloads of points – so this kind of outburst makes a slight bit of sense. Still, I’ve been fascinated with point totals like these ever since Kobe Byrant dropped his remarkable 81. Scoring 89 points at any collegiate level is pretty remarkable.

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Checking In On… the Pac-12

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 24th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

Reader’s Take

Top Storylines

Problem Children – The overriding theme in the Pac-12 thus far this season has been problems: chemistry problems, behavioral problems, injury problems, and probably problems on top of those problems. (You know how when you repeat the same word a lot you realize how weird it sounds? Problem is a weird word.) The most high-profile of all these categories has been a handful of student-athletes around the conference creating problems for their teams out of thin air. The Reeves Nelson meltdown at UCLA has been the most high profile, with Jabari Brown’s premature defection from Oregon not far behind, but elsewhere around the conference there have been issues as well. At UCLA, senior point guard Jerime Anderson, a guy who should have been in a leadership position for this team, got busted for stealing a laptop this summer, pleading guilty to a couple misdemeanors and was suspended for two games (including one exhibition game) at the start of the year. On the same squad, ultra-talented big man Joshua Smith came back to the team this year ultra-big, looking as big or bigger than the 300+ pounds he showed he was unable to play at last year, then followed a loss to Loyola Marymount loss by making a fool of himself on Twitter. Over in Arizona, Sean Miller has had troubles of his own with freshmen Josiah Turner and Sidiki Johnson. Johnson is currently suspended, while Turner has displayed some chemistry problems of his own, causing him to be banished to the bench for a game by Miller. In short, aside from some bad basketball on the court, there have been a handful of players around the league making negative headlines off the court as well.

Problem Programs – Nobody really expected the Pac-12 to be a great conference this season, but the expectation was that it would be roughly as good as last year and primed for a big upswing next year with a batch of new highly regarded freshmen joining the talented youngsters currently littering conference rosters. Instead, through Tuesday night’s games, the conference had posted a combined 30-18 record, had just one remaining team (Stanford) still sporting an undefeated record and had a handful of teams in line for the title of worst BCS conference team. UCLA’s losses to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State have been well-documented, while USC’s 36-point disaster of a performance, in which enough bricks to build several wolf-proof houses were produced, is an excellent example of basketball at its ugliest. Nevertheless, as bad as UCLA and USC have been, one could easily envision both of those teams as middle-of-the-Pac contenders in the conference. That alone should tell you how bad the bottom of the conference is, but if further explanation is needed, look no further than Arizona State and Utah. The Sun Devils dropped a game at home to Pepperdine (a team that will challenge for the basement in the WCC) while Utah squeaked by NAIA also-ran San Diego Christian College (seriously, that’s a team that was 8-22 last year and lost 15 of its last 16 games) by three points before getting drilled by Boise State and losing to Montana State. As bad as the Pac-12 is, this Utah team is far and away the worst team in the conference.

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BGTD: Maui Musings, Act IV

Posted by rtmsf on November 24th, 2011

The environment in tonight’s Maui Invitational championship game was phenomenal. Duke and Kansas both had the strong support of fans passionately cheering for their teams, and it was a shame to see either one go home a loser after what was a great tournament. The ESPN-funded tournaments in Puerto Rico, Orlando and Anaheim this week are all are fine and well, but the organizers haven’t figured out that teams playing in front of crowds with more empty seats than filled ones loses much of what makes college basketball exciting and special. Sure, Maui is in a preferred situation in that it can engineer fabulous matchups like Kansas vs. Duke, but the tweets from around the country raving about the environment in Lahaina tonight suggest others should strive more to mimic what they have.

Let’s jump into some musings on the Duke-Kansas championship game first, followed by the Michigan-UCLA third-place game.

Duke 68, Kansas 61

Thornton's Biggest Shot of His Life Gave Duke Its Fifth Maui Title (Kemper Lesnik/B. Spurlock)

  • Tyshawn Taylor is such an enigmatic player. In the first half of tonight’s game, he was mostly spectacular, with 13 points and three assists to lead KU to a nice four-point lead over Duke. In the second half, he quite literally self-destructed, committing a ridiculous eight turnovers and only adding a single assist as Duke kept pushing forward. Think about it, in a game played in the 60s for both teams, that’s eight additional second half possessions that Taylor single-handedly gave to Duke. The most crushing error Taylor made was at just under a minute to go when he simply lost control of his dribble on a Ryan Kelly hedge with Kansas down two points. It wasn’t a disastrous turnover by itself, but it allowed Duke to gain the possession where Tyler Thornton received a pass under duress (arguably after a Seth Curry travel) and dropped in a closeout three from the corner. Kansas will once again win a lot of games this year, as they always do, but the knock on the Jayhawks coming in has been whether you can trust Taylor to get it done when the heat is on — tonight’s second half performance is highly suggestive that you cannot.
  • Moving back to that game-winner, what can you say about the onions on Tyler Thornton tonight? Not only did Mike Krzyzewski sub in the sophomore over his all-world freshman Austin Rivers at the end of the game, but a kid who had attempted a grand total of nine shots all season coming into tonight’s game made Coach K once again look like a genius by hitting not one, but two, contested threes from the corners. Krzyzewksi said that Thornton essentially won the game for Duke, and no doubt the image of his scissor-kick jumper will cause KU fans nightmares for years. As Bill Self said in Tuesday’s press conference, Kansas came to Maui to play the Blue Devils. KU fans probably felt like they had a pretty good chance to knock off Duke, a team that has now beaten the Jayhawks in four of the schools’ last five matchups dating back nearly two decades. But Taylor’s erratic mishandling of the basketball in combination with Thornton’s confidence in his jumper resulted in yet another crushing blow against Coach K for the school from Lawrence.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 11.23.11 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on November 23rd, 2011

  1. Another night, another underwhelming set of outcomes around the conference – and that’s me being generous. Let’s start things out in Kansas City, where California got absolutely drilled by Missouri in the championship game of the CBE Classic, losing by 39 points in a game that was equally mismatched in both halves. Not only could the Golden Bears not get anything going offensively, they had no chance of stopping the Tigers on the other end of the court. Mizzou held Cal to a 31.6 effective field goal percentage on the game, posting a 68.6 eFG% of their own, partly a result of some easy shots generated by the 21 turnovers the Tigers forced. Not only was Cal senior guard Jorge Gutierrez harassed into four turnovers and 4-11 shooting, but sophomore wing Allen Crabbe was held to just 1-8 from the field, and the Cal frontcourt was wholly incapable of taking advantage of an undersized Mizzou front line. The Cal loss leaves Stanford as the sole remaining undefeated team in the conference, with the Cardinal prepping for some tough matchups in New York in the NIT Season Tip-Off beginning tonight.
  2. From the middle of the country, let’s head to the middle of the Pacific, where another preseason conference favorite was getting whooped at the hands of another Big 12 school, as UCLA fell by 16 to Kansas in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational. Unlike the Bruins’ first two losses of the year, at least this time out they showed a little bit of fight, coming back from a 20-point deficit to cut the lead to as little as five late, before the Jayhawks woke back up and strode back out to the final margin with ease. Reeves Nelson played 28 minutes, although he is still coming off the bench in the wake of his recent behavioral issues, but showed the good emotion that gets his teammates inspired rather than the negative emotion that helps deflate his teammates. And then there’s sophomore center Joshua Smith who fouled out in 13 minutes of play, scoring one point and grabbing one rebound. That’s an absolute crime for a guy as talented as he is.
  3. The good news of the night for the conference was USC handling Morgan State at home by three and needing last minutes heroics by Maurice Jones and Aaron Fuller to seal a comeback from a 15-point deficit. It was a surprisingly efficient offensive performance for both teams, as each team shot over 50% from the floor, but the difference was the Trojans forcing Morgan State into 21 turnovers. Junior college transfer Greg Allen, a highly-regarded three-point shooter, scored 14 points for the Trojans, including 3-5 shooting from deep, accounting for his first points at the Division I level. With the limited offensive firepower on this USC team, Allen could be an important piece this season for Kevin O’Neill.
  4. Oregon travels to Nebraska tonight for a matchup with the Cornhuskers (6:00 PM PST, Big Ten Network), and they’ll do so without freshman guard Jabari Brown, who quit the team this past weekend. Head coach Dana Altman still maintains the door is open for Brown’s return, with no deadline for a final decision from the youngster. In the meantime, however, the Ducks have a replacement for Brown’s minutes just waiting, as Devoe Joseph, a transfer from Minnesota, regains his eligibility on December 10. The irony that they’ll be replacing a guy who quit on his team in the middle of a season with another guy who quit on his team in the middle of the season isn’t lost on anybody. There was good news for Oregon, however, as X-rays on the injured right ankle of 6’11” center Tony Woods proved negative, and while Woods’ status for the Wednesday night game is still unknown, he at least is well enough to make the trip to Lincoln.
  5. In the wake of Washington’s first loss of the season to Saint Louis on Sunday, head coach Lorenzo Romar plans to clamp down a little on the freedom he gives his players on the offensive end. After the Huskies struggled executing their halfcourt offense, Romar plans to use that game as a learning experience, saying that “offensively now guys probably won’t have get as much freedom… to take chances and experiment.” It’s a fine line for Romar, as his team’s offensive strengths are in an open court, up-tempo system, but at the same time, the Huskies need to make sure they are taking good shots, something that was obviously not the case at times on Sunday. On the injury front, junior wing C.J. Wilcox, who suffered a concussion during the loss on Sunday, did not practice with the team on Tuesday and remains a question mark for Friday night against Houston Baptist.
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