Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2010

Jimmy Lemke of 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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Morning Five: 11.30.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 30th, 2010

  1. The biggest news of Monday was of course that in the interminable quest for more football dollars, Texas Christian University (TCU to most of us) will join the Big East starting in the 2012-13 season.  That makes seventeen Big East basketball schools if you’re counting at home.  Yes, the league that in large part made college basketball what it is today — with hundreds of ESPN games and the star-making powers all of it entails — is now chasing skirts in a region of the country over a thousand miles removed from its nearest member institution.  Presumably the league will now look into adding another school like Houston to lock up another major media market as the 18th hoops (and tenth football) school, and then there’s the possible addition of Villanova football should they choose to do so, but where does it end?  Does it go to twenty basketball schools by adding Memphis and Central Florida?  And what about the Big East Tournament — nobody was a fan of the double-bye system before; do we move to a triple-bye now?  How would you like to be the #20 seed in your conference tournament?  David Steele over at Fanhouse has a nice piece on how the ACC and Big East, two conferences that were to basketball what the SEC and old SWC were to football, have completely lost their hoops souls with football-driven expansion.  Luke Winn also breaks down what the addition of TCU will do (or won’t do) for the Big East from a hoops perspective — he makes an excellent point about Marquette’s recruiting prospects improving with a Texas team in tow.  Can’t say we disagree wither either’s takes at all.
  2. Condolences go out this morning to John Calipari and his family, as the Kentucky coach announced via Twitter that he lost his mother, Donna, to a battle with cancer on Monday.  Calipari does not expect to miss the Wildcats’ next game versus Boston University tonight, and we’ve heard rumors that Kentucky students will exhibit some unifying show of solidarity through the wearing of black shirts or something similar.  Nice touch.
  3. Seth Davis goes out on a shaky limb with his proclamation Monday that UConn’s Kemba Walker has been the best player in America through the first four weeks of the season.  Ok, not really, but as always, his Hoops Thoughts column is well worth the read.  Can we use this opportunity to say that having sat through three UConn games in Maui last week, we’re not as sold on the Huskies and Walker long-term as some others seem to be?  We think that UConn is a nice team — probably an NCAA Tournament team — but top ten?  We’re just not seeing it.
  4. Butler’s Ronald Nored will miss at least one game as a result of the concussion he suffered last weekend at Siena.  The Bulldogs’ next game is Wednesday in their Horizon League opener on the road against 7-0 Loyola (Chicago).  He’s questionable for Saturday’s game against top-ranked Duke as well.  With Butler not playing very well as it is, these next two games are fairly important, so it’s not a good time for Nored to be on the shelf.
  5. Bruce Pearl certainly knows how to play to an audience.  At a Knoxville Quarterback Club dinner on Monday night he mentioned former UT football coach Lane Kiffin in reference to having made mistakes and “hoping for… some other dumbass to take [me] off the front page.”  The dumbass in question, of course, was Kiffin.  Perhaps the funniest part of this series of quotes by Pearl was his reference to the “slippery rock theory,” which we suppose is a theory founded somewhere in central Pennsylvania (as opposed to its better-known but obstructionist cousin, the “slippery slope” theory).
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After the Buzzer: On 800 Wins, Internet Humility, and Fantastic Freshmen

Posted by jstevrtc on November 24th, 2010

Your Watercooler Moment. Yeesh, take your pick. On Wednesday morning the two games the majority of hoop aficianados were most looking forward to from Tuesday night will yield the headlines to a so-called undercard matchup between #3 Michigan State and Connecticut, the latter a team slated to be foraging for leftover scraps in the Big East this year. Jim Calhoun beamed after the effort shown by his players in knocking off the Spartans, saying after the game, “We proved to the world that we can play.” Also in Maui, the Kentucky vs Washington matchup was so intense they played through a freaking 4.7-on-the-Richter scale earthquake that nobody in the building seemed to notice centered 30 miles south-southwest of the island, and four time zones away, Duke gave Kansas State false hope for a half before turning out their lights and inscribing Mike Krzyzewski into the 800 victories book for a single school. Oh, and a game between Appalachian State and Tennessee Tech was cancelled because the former forgot to provide refs. All of this, a feast before the feast…on the day the Spectrum died.

Onward And Upward -- Coach K Earned His 800th Duke Win On Tuesday

Tuesday’s Quick Hits…

  • Connecticut Has A Pulse. And it’s strong. And its name is Kemba Walker. In 38 minutes of floor time in the Huskies’ capsizing of #3 Michigan State, Walker went 10-19 from the floor, 6-7 from the line, and added three boards, four assists, and three steals to his 30 points. Who cares that a kid’s getting up a shot every two minutes of game time when he’s producing like this?
  • Kyrie Lays It On. Kyrie Irving smoked Jacob Pullen as if the latter were a finely aged Cohiba Siglo. He took Pullen to the bucket several times, scored or got to the line, twice producing and-ones. Irving saw other defenders, but it was Pullen in front of him a good deal of the night; this matchup saw the freshman wood-shedding the senior to the tune of 17/5/6 asst/2 steals.
  • Unsung Wildcat Heroes, Take One. The talk will be about Terrence Jones‘ 16/17 (4-13 from the field) and Brandon Knight’s 24 points (he also had zero assists and eight turnovers), but the best line on the Wildcats’ side may have come from Josh Harrellson, the backup center many UK fans felt could barely qualify to be Enes Kanter’s personal assistant before the season. Harrellson had troubles with his handle, but in 34 minutes he contributed nine points on 4-6 shooting (one of those a trey), blocked two shots, and pulled in 14 rebounds, seven of them on the offensive end. DeAndre Liggins only added seven points and four rebounds, but he smothered UW’s Isaiah Thomas for most of the second half, frustrating him to no end (on which more in a bit).
  • Unsung Wildcat Heroes, Take Two. The only bright spot from KSU’s defeat was the play of their reserves. Four players — namely Curtis Kelly, Jamar Samuels, Martavious Irving, and Will Spradling — played at least 13 minutes (three of them were in for 20+), and they accounted for 47 of K-State’s 68 points, shooting 18-29 (62%) from the field. Could there be lineup changes in store for Frank Martin’s squad?

…and Misses.

  • Kalin, Not His Usual Ballin’. No particular player could be singled out as really letting MSU down, but Kalin Lucas would love another crack at this one. The Spartans actually shot better than UConn, but Lucas’ head-scratcher of a night consisted of a 4-12 shooting night, five turnovers and but a single assist. There won’t be many nights like this for Lucas this season.
  • The Sprint Center Floor. We had the privilege of being in the Sprint Center for the Big 12 Tournament last year. It’s a great arena for college basketball. Plenty of press seating, helpful staff, and even the distant seats in the stands aren’t bad. But for the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic tonight, its floor had ten temporary logos on it, causing it to resemble one of those NASCAR automobiles (I guess they do race for the Sprint Cup, don’t they?) or a jersey from an Australian pro league team.
  • Smeared the Beard. Jacob Pullen not only got schooled by a freshman in terms of how many times he got taken to the hole, but he couldn’t hit an elephant with a handful of rice on Tuesday night. Pullen will not have many 1-12 nights this year, and likely none in which he also throws in a defensive clanger like he did on Tuesday. But big games like this are not the time for these rare occasions to occur for the facially hirsute and usually excellent senior.
  • Isaiah Was No Prophet. When the Maui brackets were released a few months ago, Isaiah Thomas tweeted that he was hoping his squad would run into Kentucky, a sentiment fueled by the bolting of recruits Kanter and Jones to UK after committing to UW. The Wildcats’ DeAndre Liggins intercalated himself into Thomas’ DNA on Tuesday, and as a result the UW guard was flummoxed into a 4-14 shooting night, two of those buckets coming as cosmetic late layups when UK let its defensive intensity slip a notch in hopes of not fouling.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.16.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 16th, 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.

Tonight’s slate is loaded with quality games, mostly from the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

#21 Virginia Tech @ #3 Kansas State – 4 pm on ESPN (*****)

Seth Greenberg decided to beef up his non-conference schedule this year after being left out of the last few NCAA Tournaments and this may be his team’s toughest test. The Hokies enter the Octagon of Doom looking to make a statement and ease any NCAA bubble worries, at least temporarily. Most prognosticators say Virginia Tech will be a lot better than the bubble but that thought has to creep into the back of some fans’ minds at times. Led by Malcolm Delaney, four seniors return and all are starters. Kansas State has had some problems early on as coach Frank Martin benched senior Curtis Kelly against James Madison on Friday for not practicing with energy and needing to be a better teammate. His status for today’s game is unknown. Point guard is also a question for the Wildcats as Denis Clemente has moved on. All-American candidate Jacob Pullen can play the point but is better off the ball. K-State seemed to play point guard by committee in their first game as Pullen, Nick Russell, Rodney McGruder and Martavious Irving combined for all 14 of the team’s assists. Kansas State shot only 53% from the free throw line, a problem that plagued them all of last season. Both teams like to play fast but also can get after it defensively as each finished in the top 20 in defensive efficiency last season. Virginia Tech is not a particularly good shooting team so that could play right into the hands of an active Wildcat defense encouraged by their energized crowd. The Hokies may have an issue with depth, especially early in the season when they’re trying to establish a rotation. With J.T. Thompson lost for the season and Cadarian Raines still out with a foot injury, Greenberg is down to seven major contributors. He’ll need freshman Jarell Eddie and Erick Green to step up and become threats off the bench. Kansas State needs to protect the ball and defend well in order to win. Va Tech was fifth nationally in steals and 36th in turnover percentage last year so they’ll be ready to exploit the uncertain K-State point guard situation. Virginia Tech may not have enough shooting to win this one but if Kelly is out, the door will be open for the Hokies to grab an important road victory.

#3 Ohio State @ #8 Florida – 6 pm on ESPN (*****)

ESPN wants to open Louisville’s new arena in prime time but this is really the marquee game of the Tip-Off Marathon. It features a Florida team that returns all five starters and is the trendy pick to win the SEC East and possibly make the final four. Ohio State, a final four favorite, returns four starters of its own and adds super impact freshman Jared Sullinger in the paint. Thad Matta’s Buckeyes have a good blend of youth and experience and are incredibly deep as a result of their terrific recruiting class. If you like three pointers then this is your game. Florida loves to shoot the three and so does the Ohio State backcourt led by Jon Diebler. The Gators struggled a bit in their opening win over UNC-Wilmington as they allowed the Seahawks to shoot 48% from the floor. Florida only shot 32% from behind the arc and they’ll need to do better than that if they hope to beat Ohio State. They’re also going to need players to contribute off the bench because as good as their starters are, you can’t rely on five players to carry your team. Erik Murphy should be the best bet, though a talented group of freshman should see their minutes increase as they settle into their roles in Billy Donovan’s system. Donovan, a Rick Pitino disciple, plays an up-tempo system that emphasizes pressing and three point shooting. For Florida to execute the press properly, they need a fresh stream of bodies coming in and out of the game. While that’s not as important in a single game, depth issues will take their toll as the season moves along. Ohio State is absolutely loaded with a powerful backcourt, frontcourt and bench. Diebler can flat out stroke it from deep and guys like Dallas Lauderdale and David Lighty add toughness and experience to their rotation. Florida needs a good game from senior leader Chandler Parsons and they just can’t afford to have Kenny Boynton go without a three again as he did against UNCW. The Buckeyes throttled North Carolina A&T in their opener behind 24/8 from freshman DeShaun Thomas. Another solid game from him or another OSU freshman could push them to an impressive road victory in the hostile O-Dome. This will be an unbelievably competitive and hard fought game but Ohio State’s depth and talent advantage gives them a great shot to earn a road win that will help build their resume for a possible #1 seed.

#12 Butler @ Louisville – 8pm on ESPN (****)

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RTC Conference Primers: #13 – Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 23rd, 2010

Jimmy Lemke is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Butler (15-3)
  2. Cleveland State (12-6)
  3. Detroit (12-6)
  4. Milwaukee (11-7)
  5. Valparaiso (9-9)
  6. Wright State (9-9)
  7. Green Bay (8-10)
  8. UIC (7-11)
  9. Loyola (5-13)
  10. Youngstown State (2-16)

All-Conference Team

  • G: Shelvin Mack, Butler
  • G: Norris Cole, Cleveland State
  • F: Cory Johnson, Valparaiso
  • F: Matt Howard, Butler
  • C: Eli Holman, Detroit

6th Man

G: Brandon Wood, Valparaiso

Impact Newcomer

Paul Carter (F), UIC

What does Brad Stevens and Butler have in mind for an encore after their run to the title game?

What You Need To Know

  • All Horizon League games and most non-conference home games will be streamed live at, the conference’s website.  All games are free and the feed is television quality in most arenas.  It’s a service that has been around since 2007, and has expanded every year to be an all-encompassing athletics powerhouse for information, features and interviews on Horizon League basketball.  By now, if you haven’t heard about Butler‘s run through the NCAA Tournament, you’re probably still counting your hours of free America Online.
  • What most people don’t realize is how strong the conference is behind Butler. Yes, the Bulldogs ran roughshod over the conference, going 18-0 and paving their way to the title game in dominant fashion, but they had victories against the seventh and eighth place teams by a combined three points.  It’s a deep league through the top seven programs, and even UIC, who finished ninth last year, looks to be strong this season.  The Detroit Titans were seventh place despite posting a 20-win season, one of five Horizon League programs to do so.
  • It is a guard-oriented league, but post players like Matt Howard, Eli Holman, Anthony Hill and Andy Polka have proven that they can bang with the big boys.

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The RTC Interview Series: One On One With Brad Stevens

Posted by jstevrtc on September 10th, 2010

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we hope to publish weekly on Friday mornings throughout the year. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at

It used to be that the first thing that people thought when they saw Butler head coach Brad Stevens was something along the lines of, “He’s a head coach? How old is he?” That changed on April 5th. By saying things changed for him after the title-game loss to Duke, we’re not saying that Stevens looks any older. We’re saying that now people will think of him primarily as one of the best coaches in our game instead of just a young-looking basketball coach, though Stevens would be the first to deflect such praise. When you talk with Brad Stevens (whose three teams have produced three perfect academic ratings, by the way), you are immediately aware of what seems to be an innate professionalism, and the fact that this man is much more comfortable talking about his team than himself, making sure that any incoming credit goes to everyone, not just him. Most of all, though, you recognize his absolutely inflexible belief in the abstract concept known as The Butler Way, that it’s, in fact, the best way for him to grow as a coach and for his players to function as the best team possible. RTC’s John Stevens (no relation) spoke with Coach Stevens earlier this week.

Rush The Court: Coach, as the current guardian of it, in your own words, what is “The Butler Way?”

Brad Stevens: You know, I don’t think it has anything to do with basketball, technically, first of all. I think it’s just about embracing a culture of (hopefully) unselfishness and accountability, and that doing the right things will lead to the results you ultimately want from a statistical and measurable standpoint. The definition we have online is probably the best it gets. Right when you go to, it pops up. But that’s the bottom line. If you’re going to define it, that’s as good as it gets. I think it’s a really hard thing to define, and it’s more about feeling and seeing that you’re moving in a positive direction.

After Only Three Seasons as Head Coach at Butler, In Our Opinion Stevens Is Already Part of the Coaching Elite.

RTC: Last year was in so many ways a dream season, and even though you didn’t quite achieve the ultimate goal for which you set out, it was obviously a phenomenal run. Was there any particular aspect of your squad’s play that showed up as the year progressed that even you hadn’t expected, something that pleasantly surprised even you, as coach?

BS: No particular individual did, and not really from a team standpoint, either, from how we were playing. I think from a results standpoint the thing that stood out to me, the thing I thought was the best accomplishment of the year was going undefeated in the league. I’ve never been a part of that and never dreamed that I would be, and I know how hard it is to do. You know, like everybody else, I’m listening to talk shows and everybody’s talking about Boise State’s schedule and everything else, and I’ve been in those shoes from the standpoint of…boy, the pressure that they play with in their league AND the fact that, everybody they’re playing against, that’s their super bowl. You can’t quantify that. That should add points to their strength of schedule. So I think that that’s something I’ll look back at fondly from last year. Obviously you’re excited about the run to the final game. But is it better to beat five really good teams that don’t know much about you, or is it better to beat every team on your league schedule twice, teams that know you inside and out? For me, it was the latter.

RTC: The Horizon League seems to be adding better recruits each season, players who are then developed over several years by their coaches; it seems the quality of that particular conference has improved each year over the past few…

BS: I think that’s the case. I agree with you that it’s getting better, but at the same time I think it’s been really good all along. When we do what we’ve done in the tournament, and when other teams win games here or there I think that always helps the perception [of the conference].

RTC: How long did it take you to get over the championship game, the Duke game?

BS: I’ll never get over it! I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that, I wish I could. I think obviously that you always move on, but it’s a hard pill to swallow.

Stevens' Bulldogs Held Their First Five NCAA Tourney Opponents (Including Syracuse, Kansas State, and Michigan State) to Under 60 Points. Duke Scored 61.

RTC: I remember that the Sports Science guys broke it down and found that, looking at where it hit the backboard, the last shot by Gordon Hayward would have gone in but for a mere 2.5 inches. I assumed you’d still be seeing that shot in your sleep.

BS: (Laughs) There’s no doubt, I see it in my sleep. But, that’s part of it. We were so fortunate to be there in a lot of ways.

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Kentucky Cleans Up To Open Spring Signing Period

Posted by jstevrtc on April 14th, 2010

It’s the first day of the spring signing period, and we saw a few of the top remaining undecided high school seniors choose a cap (or jersey) and commit to a college today.  Two of them were surprises only insofar as they’re big-time recruits who decided to attend mid-major schools, but it was Kentucky that made the most noise today.  This info came mostly from the ESPN-U broadcast, so we’re showing each player’s overall rating in the ESPNU-100 Class of 2010 in parentheses:

The biggest verbal of the day was no surprise, since the buzz about it had long preceded the actual announcement.  Point guard Brandon Knight (4), a 6’5 lightning bolt who can score as well as he leads, pulled out a blue cap and committed to play for John Calipari at Kentucky.  He joins Enes Kanter (25) and Stacey Poole (51) in a Wildcat class for next year that might not yet be complete.  The bill of Knight’s UK baseball cap already had a major curve to it, confirming what everyone already knew — this decision was made a long time ago.  Later in the day, the top prospect in the class of 2011, 6’7 small forward Michael Gilchrist also verballed to Kentucky, further ensuring that there will be virtually no hangover after the honeymoon season of Wall/Cousins/Patterson/Bledsoe.

Knight follows another blue-clad wearer of #11.

In a class top-heavy with excellent point guards, two mid-majors scored fine floor-leaders this afternoon.  6’1 PG Ray McCallum (17) decided to stay home and play for his father at Detroit, and 6’5 SG Trey Zeigler (33) — sporting the greatest full windsor knot we’ve ever seen, with apologies to ESPN-U workhorse Lowell Galindo — continued the father-son trend in the state of Michigan by donning a Central Michigan cap.  Zeigler’s father Ernie is the coach for the Chippewas.  Zeigler specifically cited Butler’s run to the championship game this past season as one of the reasons he was comfortable in playing for a mid-major program.  There’s no question that the chance to play for their respective fathers was an incentive for these gentlemen to commit where they did, but it will be an interesting thing to watch over the next couple of years as to whether or not other top-flight recruits pull the trigger on staying close to home at other mid-major schools, especially if another small program can equal or even surpass Butler’s achievements from 2009-2010.

Speaking of the Bulldogs, we should note here that Gordon Hayward has decided to submit his name for consideration in this year’s NBA Draft, but he won’t be hiring an agent anytime soon.  Butler supporters — and there are definitely legions more, after this past season — will be sweating out Hayward’s decision-making process this summer; the Bulldogs will lose Willie Veasley and Avery Jukes to graduation, which is substantial.  Hayward’s departure would make a trip to Houston next April all but impossible.  If he comes back, though, that means the Hayward/Shelvin Mack/Matt Howard/Ronald Nored nucleus would all be returning, and we’re confident that coach Brad Stevens can groom players to fill the spaces left by Veasley and Jukes.  Butler has no commitments within the top 100, but we doubt Stevens is sweating.

Sullinger, a Columbus native, already has the Buckeye staff smiling. (G. Housteau)

Marquette took a step in replacing the graduated Lazar Hayward today by signing 6’6 SF/PF Jae Crowder, the junior college player of the year.  Crowder averaged almost 19 PPG and led Howard College (TX) to the juco title this year.  This one had been known for some time, but Marquette coach Buzz Williams made the official announcement today.

Despite Kentucky’s recruiting haul today, as it pertains to the class of 2010, the top rating still belongs to Ohio State.  They’re extremely excited about getting 6’8 PF Jared Sullinger (2) on campus (as well they should be), in addition to 6’8 SF Deshaun Thomas (12), 6’4 SG Lenzelle Smith, Jr. (80), and 6’4 SG Jordan Sibert (82).  North Carolina isn’t far behind, with Roy Williams bringing in the top-ranked player in the class in 6’8 SF Harrison Barnes (1), 6’6 SG Reggie Bullock (18), and 6’4 PG Kendall Marshall (22).  With Kentucky rumored to be leading for at least two other players within the top 30, and eight players in the top 100 still undecided, the matter of who has the best recruiting class could be altered as soon as this Saturday at the Jordan Brand Classic in New York City, where more players are expected to announce their college intentions.

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