RTC Final Four Snapshots: Butler Bulldogs

Posted by zhayes9 on March 28th, 2011

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. We begin the dissection with the Butler Bulldogs and their incredible run to back-to-back Final Fours.

Mack and Vanzant form a capable scoring tandem in the Butler backcourt

Crucial Tourney Moments: Unlike last season when the Bulldogs pulled away from UTEP, Syracuse and Kansas State late in games to advance to the Final Four, each step towards Houston this season has been decided by one or two crucial plays Butler turns to their advantage. There’s Shawn Vanzant throwing the ball off the backboard that eventually resulted in a Matt Howard layup just before the horn to beat Old Dominion. There’s Gilbert Brown missing the second of two free throws in a tie game that opened the door for Nasir Robinson’s brain cramp for the annals. How about Howard corralling an offensive rebound to finally put to bed the Badgers after a ferocious rally or Butler’s little-used freshman Chrishawn Hopkins finding Howard on a key assist and draining a huge three from the left wing when it appeared Florida was about to pull away? These types of winning plays have defined Butler in their two unfathomable March runs.

Advantage Area: Both Butler and VCU are strikingly similar when it comes to efficiency ratings, but where Butler stands out if the game is close is their ball screen action with Shelvin Mack and his proficiency in one-on-one situations late in the shot clock. While VCU’s point guard Joey Rodriguez is more of a distributor and their wings are superior in catch-and-shoot situations, Mack has the ability to operate in “take ‘em” situations when the offensive set has crumbled, the shot clock is heading towards single digits and Butler badly needs a basket. While Mack has struggled percentage-wise with his shot this season, he carried the Bulldogs in their upset of Pitt and his one-on-one prowess was never better exemplified than in the waning second of Butler’s Elite Eight win over Florida when a pick-and-roll resulted in a switch and Mack pulled up for a dagger three. VCU doesn’t have one designated player to match Mack basket-for-basket late in a one or two possession contest. Butler is also extremely physical defensively and their ball screen defense was a huge reason for their win over ball-screen heavy Florida.

Potential Downfall: While Butler didn’t turn the ball over with great abundance all year, they never had to test their mettle against a full court press as capable as VCU’s during their conference season or NCAA Tournament run. The Rams will trot out their 1-2-1-1 press in an attempt to speed the tempo and force turnovers after made shots and, if the final five minutes of Butler’s Sweet 16 near-collapse against Wisconsin was any indication, Brad Stevens needs to spend some practice time this week gearing up for VCU’s full court pressure. It’ll be imperative for Mack and fellow guards Shawn Vanzant and Ronald Nored to focus on ball security and not allow the Rams to dictate tempo. Their press befuddled Kansas at times on Sunday and that built-up fatigue was clearly evident in KU’s jump shooting woes.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.26.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 26th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

East

  • Kentucky/North Carolina is a power matchup in the Elite Eight. The Tar Heels defeated the Wildcats in their showdown last December. Since then, both teams have matured, thus setting the tone for a battle of epic proportions.
  • Ohio State big man Jared Sullinger said he will return to Columbus for his sophomore season. This is a bit of news that we will not believe until it is set in stone. Ask again in a month or so as the draft entry deadline nears.
  • Against both Princeton and Ohio State, Kentucky guard Brandon Knight struggled mightily with his shot, but came up big when it mattered most. We would imagine that the Wildcats will need a much more consistent performance from Knight if they wish to get past North Carolina.
  • Marquette showed some fight in the second half of Friday’s game against North Carolina. It was too little too late, as the Golden Eagles had a terrible first half in which they scored only 15 points.
  • Despite early season struggles, North Carolina center Tyler Zeller believes that the Tar Heels knew they could get deep into the tournament all along. Zeller and his teammates will need this confidence, as they are slated to face a red-hot Kentucky squad on Sunday.

Southeast

  • When Butler went through a swoon in January, head coach Brad Stevens called good friend Mark Few for advice to get his team through the tough time.
  • This Indianapolis Star columnist is not attributing Butler’s run as “magic,” but merely as the best team winning. The Bulldogs need to be on their game if they want to beat Florida to advance to their second straight Final Four.
  • Hailing from little Connersville, Indiana, Butler forward Matt Howard has been the heart and soul of the Bulldogs throughout this season. Howard has been so unselfish that point guard Ronald Nored has, at times, had to beg the big man to shoot more.
  • Florida guard Erving Walker has put the Gators on his back more than once this season. The junior from New York City stands much taller than his 5’8 frame would suggest.
  • Once an afterthought at Georgetown, forward Vernon Macklin has made a big difference for Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators. It is tough not to root for a kid like Macklin, who has battled adversity throughout his collegiate career.

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NCAA Sweet Sixteen Game Analysis – Thursday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 24th, 2011

After three days of quiet, it’s time to get serious about figuring out this national championship thing.  Sixteen to twelve… let’s check out tonight’s games.

#2 San Diego State vs. #3 Connecticut – West Regional Semifinal (at Anaheim, CA) – 7:15 pm ET on CBS.

Does Fisher Have Another Final Four Run in Him?

One of these teams has won two national championships. The other just got done winning their first two NCAA Tournament games ever. While the Aztecs have had a great breakout season and now stand at 34-2 on the season, UConn has won 44 Tournament games in the Jim Calhoun era alone. Luckily for SDSU, past performances in the Big Dance need have no impact on this year’s games. If you throw out the bloodlines for the two programs, you’ll find that we have the makings for what should be an excellent game. We’ve got star power on both ends of the court, with UConn’s point guard Kemba Walker a candidate for the National Player of the Year and SDSU’s Kawhi Leonard an All-American candidate. We’ve got big name coaches with national championships and Final Four experience, as Calhoun will be matched up with Steve Fisher, who won one title at Michigan in ’89, then got back to the title game in both ’92 and ’93. We’ve got an impressive freshman class including Shabazz Napier, Roscoe Smith, and Jeremy Lamb on the UConn side matched up with three starting seniors on the Aztec squad. In short, we’ve got all the trappings of a serious battle. For the Aztecs, the big goal is going to be slowing Kemba Walker. While SDSU has had plenty of experience at trying to slow another high-scoring point guard (one Jimmer Fredette – you may have heard of him), Walker is a different challenge for SDSU, as he is a quicker, shiftier guard than Fredette, and a guy who you’d rather have shooting the three than challenging his defenders off the dribble. As a result, it is likely that D.J. Gay and/or Chase Tapley will get the majority of minutes tasked with defending Walker, while frontcourt players like Leonard, Billy White and Malcolm Thomas will be left to keep one eye on Walker while trying to body-up the Huskies’ athletic offensive rebounders up front. The SDSU frontcourt will also have to provide the majority of the scoring, and given that they haven’t seen a team as big, long and bouncy as the Huskies, they’ll need to prove that their opponents’ size does not bother them. The Aztecs figure to have plenty of support from their fans, who only need to drive about an hour north to attend the game, but they’ll need to prove that their shaky performance down the stretch in Saturday’s game against Temple was an aberration rather than the norm. Until they can close out a game in the NCAA Tournament with confidence, we’re not sure they’re trustworthy against a big-time foe.

The RTC Certified Pick: Connecticut

#2 Florida vs. #3 BYU – Southeast Region Semifinals (at New Orleans, LA) – 7:27 pm ET on TBS.

Looking at this game on paper, it’s pretty hard to find any discernible differences between these two teams. The main determinant of this game will likely be tempo. BYU would love nothing more than to get the Gators caught up in a fast-paced game, forcing them to recklessly throw up ill-advised three pointers leading to long rebounds and many Cougar runouts. Dave Rose’s team excels in transition with Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery leading the charge. While Emery is certainly a terrific point guard, his biggest impact on this game could come defensively. He’ll guard Florida’s Erving Walker in all likelihood and that could be a major problem for the 5’8 Walker. Emery’s length and quickness has the potential to disrupt the Florida floor general, plus the BYU senior ranks #15 individually in steal percentage. If Walker can’t get the offense flowing, Florida may result to lots of isolations and quick shots, certainly not ideal for a team that does its best work at a slower pace in the half court. The Gators have a big advantage inside and have to use it to win. Billy Donovan needs to keep Kenny Boynton, expected to play after spraining his ankle against UCLA, in check and make sure his guards work the ball inside to Vernon Macklin, Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus. This could very well be the game where the loss of Brandon Davies dooms BYU for good. The Cougars rank a paltry #222 in offensive rebounding percentage so Florida should hold a significant edge on the glass. BYU has been out-rebounded in four of their seven games without Davies and we expect that trend to continue tonight. Defensively, Florida has to keep Fredette off the free throw line and force him to make outside shots. It’s alright for the Gators if Jimmer drains more than a few bombs but he’s most dangerous when he can get into the lane and to the stripe, or create for others when defenders are drawn to him inside. Florida ranks #15 in defensive free throw rate and will have to keep that up against Fredette specifically. We have to wonder if Donovan will assign Parsons the task of defending Fredette. Parsons is a big man (6’9) but he’s fairly quick for his size and can bother Jimmer with his superior length. Quickness will be the issue because Fredette possess a terrific first step to blow by opponents. The Cougars will have an edge at the line if this is a close game since Florida struggles as a team (67%). It should be a terrific matchup but a slight edge has to go to the Gators in New Orleans this evening.

The RTC Certified Pick: Florida.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.19.2011

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 19th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

East

  • George Mason took out a fizzling Villanova in the first round, and continues to carve its own identity separate from the 2006 Final Four squad. The Wildcats’ season is over, and considering it lost 11 of its last 16 games, including its final six, perhaps it’s for the best.
  • The blistering performance Marquette put on Xavier Friday night sent a big message to its doubters. The Golden Eagles shot 57% on their end, and put the clamps on star Musketeer Tu Holloway. Next for Buzz Williams‘ team is Syracuse, a team Marquette beat earlier this season.
  • The Tar Heels broke out in the second half to pull away from Long Island. The high-scoring final outcome, 102-87, didn’t take long to become a polarizing talking point between tempo-free stat-heads (UNC gave up 0.89 points per possession) and traditional analysts (87 points allowed to a lower-tier mid-major)
  • Syracuse stuck to its game plan of feeding Rick Jackson and polished off Indiana State. The game ended at 12:41 AM local time in Cleveland (more on this later), and set up an intra-conference battle with Marquette on Sunday (this too).
  • For Lorenzo Romar and company, winning away from home has been a large concern, but it shook off the stigma, if only for one night, in their win against Georgia. Is it open season on Bulldogs head coach Mark Fox?
  • West Virginia may mix in a 1-3-1 look on defense today when the Mountaineers clash against Kentucky. The game is a rematch of last season’s regional final in Syracuse, when WVU bested John Calipari‘s team in the Carrier Dome.

Southeast

  • The Southeast region has a full slate on Saturday, including a battle between Florida and UCLA. Though the rosters have turned over, UCLA can exact revenge from elimination at the hands of the Gators in the 2006 and 2007 Final Fours.
  • Gonzaga faces the same question posed to the 35 teams on BYU‘s schedule to this point – how do you stop Jimmer Fredette? It seems like there’s nothing out of the realm of possibility from 30 feet in for Fredette, so Gonzaga’s defenders need to be on high alert.
  • Free throw proficiency has been a major factor to Wisconsin‘s success this  season, which is on the line in Saturday’s game against Kansas State. The Wildcats need to show patience in defending Wisconsin’s attack, and play smart defense.
  • Butler guard Ronald Nored had to swallow his pride and accept a late-season move from a starting to role to a contributor off the bench. Will he provide a spark against the top-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers?
  • For all the attention Jacob Pullen receives (and deservedly so), Rodney McGruder is one of Frank Martin‘s more underrated players. Six-foot-four guards who average six boards a game don’t fall out of the sky.

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Set Your Tivo: 03.08.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 8th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Only two games affect the bubble tonight, but four of the five listed here are for auto-bids or will go towards deciding one. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

Princeton @ Pennsylvania – 7 pm on ESPN3.com (***)

Coach Sydney Johnson Will Gladly Take Another 25 From Mavraides -- As Long As It Results In a Win

The formula for Princeton is simple: win tonight and beat Harvard in a playoff on Saturday (4 pm at Yale) to earn the Ivy League’s automatic bid. Should the Tigers lose tonight, Harvard will claim the title and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.07-01.09

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 7th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

The first big hoops weekend of 2011 features many important games across the land. Here are five key games followed by a host of others. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Cleveland State @ Butler – 7 pm Friday on ESPNU (****)

With Butler’s loss at Milwaukee on Monday, folks in the Horizon League used to the Bulldogs’ dominance are excited that this may be the year someone else takes the title. Cleveland State leads the league by a game over Detroit and Wright State while holding a one and a half game lead over Butler heading into tonight’s game. Should the Vikings win on the road tonight and plow through the rest of their Horizon schedule, expect to see Cleveland State win the league. Obviously we’re a long way off from that but CSU is currently in a nice position. Butler’s problems have been on the defensive end. The Bulldogs have given up an average of 73.6 PPG in their losses while their defensive efficiency has dropped significantly from their top five ranking of a year ago.

The Bulldogs Need Mack Back On Track Tonight, And From Now On

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ATB: Coach K Catches Dean — Carolina Fans Look Away in Horror

Posted by rtmsf on December 21st, 2010

The Lede.  Happy Holidays, everyone.  As we dive headfirst into Christmas week spent with our loved ones and hope that you’re doing the same wherever you live, the college basketball landscape looks a little peaked.  After an unimpressive exams period of games last week, the bulk of this week’s games occur over the next three nights, and after that we’ll hit a four-day interregnum where most coaches allow players to take short breaks to enjoy the holiday season with their families.  Tonight involved a very light slate of games but things will progressively improve until Wednesday when we’ll have a solid mid-week lineup to consider.

The Two Go Way Back, But K is the Legend Now (photo credit: RNO)

Your Watercooler MomentCoach K Ties Dean at 879.  With tonight’s blowout victory over Elon, Mike Krzyzewski tied his longtime rival eight miles away in Chapel Hill, Dean Smith, for the #2 spot on the all-time wins list in Division I basketball.  There have been a lot of these lately; in fact, Coach K just tied and passed Kentucky legend Adolph Rupp a couple of short weeks ago, but if you ask anyone over thirty who has lived on Tobacco Road, you know that this one (and the next one where K will pass Smith) means a little more.  Prior to Krzyzewski’s arrival at Duke in the early 80s, the Blue Devil program was a nice little place for basketball.  They’d been to some Final Fours and had some very good teams over the years, but they were not considered an elite program anywhere near Smith’s Tar Heel program or even NC State a few more miles down I-40.  K set his sights directly on matching and surpassing the talent level and existing success of the program in Chapel Hill, and within a little more than a decade he’d already been to a slew of Final Fours and won back-to-back titles (Smith matched K in 1993).  Nobody in his right mind could have ever imagined that the midwesterner with the funny name at the private school in Durham could ever overtake the folksy Kansan at the public school in Chapel Hill in terms of  success and stature, but Duke’s win over Elon tonight is just one more huge prong in an argument that’s long been settled: when it comes to K & Dean, Krzyzewski is the better coach, and history will quite possibly judge him as the second-best of all-time behind John Wooden.  Sorry, Heels fans, but it’s true.

Upset of the NightJacksonville 71, Florida 68 (OT).  A strange game scheduled at a strange time (1 PM) on a Monday afternoon after students have gone home, but a somewhat predictable result.  Can we just go ahead and put Florida in as one of our first-round victims in the NCAA Tourney this coming March?  This Gator team is a carbon copy of all the other underachievers that Billy Donovan has had in his decade-plus in Gainesville.  Just switch out Kenny Boynton for Anthony Roberson and Chandler Parsons for Matt Bonner, and you’ll see what we’re talking about.  Donovan has only had one class in his entire tenure  at Florida who actually defended their tails off and had a legitimate post presence inside — the ballyhooed Oh-Four class that happened to win a couple of national titles in 2006 and 2007.  Almost every other team has relied way too much on spotty guard play with questionable decision-making skills.  You can go all the way back to White Chocolate in the late 90s if you want, but the style of players are the same.  Bottom line for the 2010-11 Gators: Erving Walker and Boynton shoot way too much considering how inefficient they are with the ball, and there’s no single big man among Parsons, Alex Tyus or Vernon Macklin who can guarantee you points inside when you need them.  Sorry, Gator fans, but we’ve seen this Florida team too many times before.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • John Shurna.  It’s not often that someone shoots 60% in a game (9-15) and his conversion rate declines, but that’s what happened with Northwestern star John Shurna tonight as he came in dropping a 64.3% and ended the night at 63.6%.  With another impressive 26/6/4 stls evening, the guy is just on fire right now.  His season averages of 25/5/3 APG/3 SPG are all-american caliber numbers, and the only criticism that can be levied against the 6’8 forward is that he’s doing it against inferior competition (NW’s schedule has been delectably creampuffish so far).  Tomorrow night’s game against the long, athletic players on St. John’s will be somewhat instructive with how he responds.
  • Kemba Watch.  Kemba, you’re killing us.  For the third straight game, the dynamic Husky point guard was well under the 30 PPG average he carried through the first month of the season.  His 20/5/4 assts/3 stls was plenty enough for his team to beat Coppin State convincingly, but his season scoring average is now down to 27.2 PPG and we’re starting to fret.  He needs to explode for forty against Harvard on Wednesday because we don’t think that next Monday’s game against Pittsburgh will be a great scoring game for him (in two games against the Panthers, he’s averaged only 10 PPG).

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Set Your Tivo: 12.09.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 9th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

A clash of offense vs. defense in Philly and a huge game between two teams needing a big win headline tonight’s schedule. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#8 Georgetown @ Temple – 9 pm on ESPN (****)

Georgetown & Austin Freeman Have Taken On All Comers This Season

Temple earned their biggest win of the year in Washington, D.C. on Sunday night defeating Maryland in the BB&T Classic. Tonight they welcome Georgetown to the Liacouras Center hoping to pick up their fourth win over a power conference team. Temple ranks #7 in defensive efficiency while Georgetown is #6 in offensive efficiency so it’ll be interesting to see which team can impose their will on the other. After all, you’d have to figure something has to give. There are also two great individual matchups, one at the point guard position and the other in the paint. Chris Wright runs the offense for the Hoyas and he’ll go up against Juan Fernandez. They’re both point guards but one can really stroke it. Wright shoots the three extremely well and has distributed the ball effectively, averaging seven assists per contest. Fernandez lacks a strong shooting game but uses his body and basketball IQ to his advantage, driving to the bucket and creating for his teammates. His production is down a bit this year but he’s still a dynamic threat when he has the ball in his hands. In the post we’ll see Georgetown’s Julian Vaughn battle for position and rebounds with Temple’s Lavoy Allen. Each player averages seven rebounds per game and whoever holds the edge on the glass stands a good chance to win this game. Extra rebounds will give Georgetown more opportunities to get the ball back out to the perimeter where they’re one of the best in the country while Temple will look to use extra possessions in the paint. The Owls get 67% of their points inside the arc, tops in the nation in that department. Georgetown is the complete opposite, leaning on the back court trio of Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark for 63% of their scoring output. Freeman is 25-46 (54%) on the year from three while averaging 20 points each time out. The preseason Big East player of the year has lived up to the hype and carried Georgetown to a top ten ranking. Clark has seen his minutes drop by two a game but his production has increased drastically. He’s the glue guy for John Thompson III, a steady hand and a clutch shooter in late game situations. One area of concern for Georgetown tonight will be turnovers. The Hoyas average 15 per game and cannot afford to be handing out extra possessions on the road in what should be a hostile arena. This is Temple’s marquee non-conference home game so you can expect the Philly fans to be ready to rock. Temple can win this game by shutting down Georgetown’s three point attack and you have to believe Fran Dunphy emphasized that in practice this week. Georgetown is the better team however and has already won two games in tough environments, at Old Dominion and against Missouri in Kansas City. This will be a close game but Georgetown has the talent and experience to come away with a very good road win.

Butler @ Xavier – 9 pm on ESPN2 (***)

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2010

Jimmy Lemke of PantherU.com is the Horizon League correspondent for Rush The Court

A Look Back

  • How They Fared: The Horizon League, unlike most conferences, begins its conference season the first week of December; most teams play two games, with a couple playing only one game and competing non-conference the rest of the week.  Easily the most impressive team of the week was Cleveland State, who rolled through Wisconsin and preserved their undefeated record.  Norris Cole has the inside track on Player of the Year, and coach Gary Waters has assembled a dominant team behind him.
  • Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot: Fans unfamiliar with the Horizon League would assume that Butler is the team to find at #1 in this week’s Mid-Major Top 25.  They’d be wrong.  Butler has given way to Norris Cole and Cleveland State, who are all the rage as they take no prisoners.  The Vikings absolutely dominated a Milwaukee team at the U.S. Cellular Arena, where the Panthers are almost unbeatable.
  • Tip Of The Cap: This week’s TOTC goes to Matt Howard of Butler, who tied Bobby Plump (you might know him better by his fictional likeness, Jimmy Chitwood of Hoosiers) for 11th on the Butler University all-time scoring list.  Our friends at Victory Firelight were happy to see that.

Power Rankings

  1. Cleveland State (10-0, 2-0 Horizon) – For the past decade, the Vikings were 1-19 in the state of Wisconsin – 1-9 in Green Bay and 0-10 in Milwaukee.  In the week leading up to the games, coach Gary Waters called it “Revenge Week.”  Mission accomplished.  The other mission accomplished? Putting Norris Cole in the driver’s seat for Player of the Year.
  2. Valparaiso (6-2, 2-0) – Coach Homer Drew‘s Crusaders made the short trip to Chicago and calmly walked out 2-0 with a nail-biting victory at UIC and a commanding performance at Loyola.  Winning the latter pushes Valpo past Butler in our conference power rankings for the week.
  3. Butler (4-3, 1-0) – Shelvin Mack and the Bulldogs sweated out a victory on Chicago’s near north side, beating Loyola 65-63.  A strong showing against Duke should have kept them at the #2 spot, but for the uncertainty surrounding Mack’s cramps and Ronald Nored‘s concussion.  Both players should be on the court this week, but the Dawgs are much thinner than last season and need both on the court even more than before.
  4. Detroit (5-4, 1-0) – The Titans split two games last week, losing at home to Akron before dumping Horizon League foe Wright State.  Ray McCallum Sr.‘s Titans could be winning even more if they had some bodies to spell their stellar starting five; four Titans are in the top ten in the conference in total minutes and minutes per game.
  5. Loyola (7-2, 0-2) – It was a sobering week for the Ramblers, who have to be thinking about 2009-10, when they began 11-2 before flopping all the way down to 14-16 for the season.  For the second straight year, the Ramblers put a scare into Butler, but the excitement at the Joe collapsed following a double-digit home loss to Valpo.
  6. Green Bay (4-4, 1-1) – Brian Wardle‘s crew came into the week favored to win a game and lose a game.  They did just that, dropping a home loss to Cleveland State before wiping the floor with Jerry Slocum’s Youngstown State Penguins.  Rahmon Fletcher continues to be a boon for the Phoenix, placing third in the conference in scoring at 16.6 PPG.
  7. Milwaukee (4-5, 1-1) – It’s hard to put the Panthers lower since they did win convincingly over Youngstown State on Thursday.  It’s impossible to put the Panthers any higher given the absolute garbage showing against Cleveland State on Saturday night.  Last week, we talked about their Jekyll and Hyde ways.  That continued this past week, but at least they came out with a W.
  8. Wright State (3-5, 0-1) – Had the Raiders pulled out a victory against middling Big East team Cincinnati or Detroit, they’d find themselves much higher on the list.  Bobby Donlon‘s crew is much different than they were under Brad Brownell, whose defensive mindset has lost its way.  The Raiders are giving up 78 points per game this season, and they won’t be seeing a bye to the semifinals of the conference tournament unless that changes.
  9. UIC (4-5, 0-1) – Akron pulled out the close victory at UIC, the second near-victory for the Flames of the week.  If UIC had been killing teams heading into the conference season, they might find themselves higher.  However, that signature win over Rhode Island seems further in the rear-view mirror every day.
  10. Youngstown State (4-3, 0-2) – The Penguins’ 4-1 start got the fans in Youngstown paying attention, but a quick 0-2 start in conference against struggling clubs in Green Bay and Milwaukee puts YSU at the bottom of the barrel.  Along with Wright State and Loyola, the Penguins are one of the only teams to go winless; unlike Wright State or Loyola, they weren’t playing significantly better competition.

A Look Ahead

Week one of conference play is in the books, and the standings will remain the same until after Christmas.  Three games against high-major foes dot the lineup this week, with Purdue visiting Valpo’s ARC and Milwaukee taking a trip west to Madison.  Loyola hopes to pull off a stunning upset at Kansas State.  Let’s hope the timekeeper knows what they’re doing at the Cintas Center this year as Butler takes its turn as the away team in a home-and-home with Xavier.

  • 12/7 – Purdue at Valparaiso, 9 p.m. ESPNU
  • 12/8 – Milwaukee at Wisconsin, 8:30 p.m. Big Ten Network
  • 12/8 – Wright State vs. Air Force, 7 p.m. HLN
  • 12/9 – Butler at Xavier, 9 p.m. ESPN
  • 12/11 – Milwaukee at South Dakota State, 8 p.m.
  • 12/11 – Loyola vs. #3 Kansas State, 4 p.m.
  • 12/11 – Cleveland State at Sam Houston State, 4:30 p.m.

Remember When… they screwed up the clock at Hinkle last season?  Take a look back:

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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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Set Your Tivo: 12.04-12.05

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 4th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

The biggest hoops weekend of the year thus far features a blueblood clash, a national championship rematch, a good mid-major battle, a key top 25 Battle in Seattle and a bunch of other quality matchups. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#14 Kentucky @ North Carolina – 12:30 pm Saturday on CBS (****)

The UNC-Kentucky Game Is Always Special

Two of the three members of the 2,000 win club meet in Chapel Hill with the Tar Heels holding a 21-11 edge in this series. Even better, Gus Johnson is calling this game for CBS in its first nationally televised game of the season. North Carolina has won five of the last six meetings and could really use a quality win after starting the year 0-3 against major conference opponents. The story for North Carolina will be turnovers. Roy Williams must be going crazy over his backcourt, which committed 14 of UNC’s 18 turnovers in a loss to Illinois on Tuesday. Carolina ranks #217 in turnover percentage but Kentucky, surprisingly is just #305 in forcing turnovers. That could help North Carolina’s confidence in a home game where the place will be sold out and the fans really fired up. If Harrison Barnes can break out of his slump, North Carolina has a really good chance to win this game. Tyler Zeller and John Henson have been the only reason UNC has been competitive. With everyone else on the team having a hard time, Zeller and Henson have combined to average 26 points and 18 rebounds per game. They’ll face a different kind of challenge against Kentucky star freshman Terrence Jones. The 6’8 Jones has been on a tear to start the season, averaging 21/10 while blocking over two shots a game and stretching his game to the perimeter as well. It’ll be interesting to see whether Roy Williams puts Henson or Barnes on Jones defensively as neither comes close to Jones’ strength and athleticism for his size. A better strategy might be to let Jones get his points and focus the defense elsewhere, specifically on getting turnovers from Brandon Knight. The freshman point guard has played well for John Calipari, but his 4.5 turnovers can be a major problem against an up-tempo team like North Carolina. UNC ranks #19 in tempo which is the quickest pace Kentucky has seen since Washington in Maui. Against the Huskies, Knight had eight turnovers and no assists, though he did score 24 points. North Carolina’s guards must be ready defensively against a Kentucky team that shoots 41% from long range, good for #25 in the nation. The Tar Heels have not been good defending the trey, ranking #185. This matchup could tip the balance of this game towards UK if UNC doesn’t defend well. North Carolina gets 61% of its points from inside the arc, something to watch against Kentucky’s tough interior defense which ranks #8 in block percentage. Expect a fun to watch game with a lot of talent on the floor and intensity on the sidelines and in the stands. It’s hard to predict a winner here because UK has the edge overall but UNC is at home where they enjoy a nice advantage. Best to call this one a toss-up.

#1 Duke vs. Butler (IZOD Center, East Rutherford, NJ) – 3:15 pm Saturday on ESPN (***)

The rematch of last year’s epic title game doesn’t have nearly the same feel. Duke is better than last year while Butler has had a rough start to the season with point guard Ronald Nored suffering a concussion against Siena. He’s day-to-day according to Brad Stevens and may miss this game. Butler’s do-everything star from last year’s team, Gordon Hayward, is gone too, averaging just two points a game in less than ten minutes for the Utah Jazz. The Bulldogs were shredded by Louisville and upset by Evansville at home last week, two disappointing losses for a team that came in with high expectations again this year. Look for Duke’s shooters to dominate this game as Butler really struggles on offense and is mediocre defensively inside the three-point line. Butler ranks #171 in two point defense and is one of the worst teams at blocking shots, #312. Duke’s opponents get most of their points inside the arc but Butler is just #246 in two point percentage. Leading scorer and rebounder Matt Howard is making 55% of his shots but as a whole the team is just at 43.5%. Shelvin Mack is back too and has done a nice job distributing the ball, especially with Nored out. Howard’s foul problems are still there but he has yet to foul out of a game this season. Going up against the athletic Mason Plumlee and company inside, it would be naïve to think Howard won’t have foul problems in this game given his history. Duke is the top ranked team in offensive efficiency and should be able to pile up the points against Butler. Kyrie Irving, coming off his spectacular 31-point performance against Michigan State, makes his return to his home state of New Jersey and will surely be ready to play well in front of the home folks. Duke simply has too much for Butler this time around. While it’s sure to be nostalgic for most college basketball fans, don’t expect this game to be close especially if Nored is still out.

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RTC Live: Butler @ Loyola (Chicago)

Posted by rtmsf on December 1st, 2010

Game #52.  RTC Live heads to Chicago for an early-season tilt between Horizon League foes.  Unbelievably, conference play is already here. 

Coming off a shocking loss to Evansville the Butler Bulldogs will open Horizon League play at the Gentile Center in Rogers Park, Chicago against the surprising Loyola (IL) Ramblers. You can catch the game on the Horizon League Network. Loyola is off to a 7-0 start after a narrow escape versus San Francisco on Saturday. Having returned their top seven scorers, the Ramblers have been able to get out of the gate quickly this season – and have played especially well at home. Butler has struggled a bit to replace Gordon Hayward and work some talented new freshman into the rotation and it showed on Saturday as the Bulldogs dropped a 71-68 overtime decision to the Purple Aces. Point guard Ronald Nored missed the game against Evansville due to a head injury he suffered against Siena, and it’s questionable whether he will be able to return for this game. Last season, this matchup went down to the wire with Butler pulling off 48-47 victory only after Loyola missed two shots in its final possession. The Ramblers are a team-oriented outfit with five players scoring in double-figures. Senior Geoff McCammon leads the way with 14.4 points per game. Join John Templon of Chicago College Basketball at 6:45 p.m. CT as we attempt to discover if Loyola has what it takes to be a force in the Horizon League this season, or if Butler will not relinquish the crown without a fight.

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