Where 2013-14 Happens: Reason #30 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 21st, 2013

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Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2013-14 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight. For the next three weeks, you’ll get two hits of excitement each weekday. We’ve captured what we believe were the most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. To see the entire released series so far, click here.

#30 – Where Maui Madness Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-12, and 2012-13 preseasons.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Marquette 74, #6 Butler 72

Posted by IRenko on March 23rd, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Lexington after Saturday’s Third Round game between #3 Marquette and #6 Butler. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Three Key Takeaways:

Buzz Williams Got It Done For the Second Time in the NCAAs (AP)

Buzz Williams Got It Done For the Second Time in the NCAAs (AP)

  1. Survive and Advance — In a pod full of mid-majors with Cinderella history, it was the Big East power who emerged at the end of the day, but not before being pushed to its limits. This was more of a see-saw affair than Marquette’s great escape against Davidson, and they seemed to take control of the game mid-way through the second half. But Butler was resilient, and the Golden Eagles almost threw away the win, just as Davidson did on Thursday, with an errant inbounds pass with three seconds left and a two-point lead. No doubt, memories of Marquette’s fateful loss to Butler on a buzzer beater in Maui creeped into the minds of Marquette fans. But a well-executed defensive scheme on the final possession resulted in an ugly three-point attempt from Andrew Smith that was well off the mark. After the game, Buzz Williams refused to explain his defensive setup, explaining that given all the close games Marquette has played — and is likely to play again — he wasn’t about to reveal state secrets.
  2. Butler Couldn’t Escape the Turnover Trap — The biggest advantage of Butler’s tournament draw is that none of the three teams in its pod is very good at forcing turnovers. A major reason that Butler went 0-4 vs St. Louis and VCU this year was its poor ball control. Through three halves of basketball this week, Butler committed just 10 turnovers, and in the first half tonight, Marquette had zero fast break points — a big reason the Bulldogs entered intermission with an 8-point lead. But Marquette stepped up the pressure in the second half tonight, and Butler started to crack. They coughed up the ball 10 times after halftime, allowing Marquette to score eight fast-break points and 15 total off turnovers.
  3. Rotnei Clarke Faded Down the Stretch — Clarke had a tremendous first half, showing off not just his dead-eye three-point shot, but also his underrated ability to score inside the arc, with an array of pull-up jumpers, runners, and drives to the rim. But the cooling of his hot hand in the second half deprived Butler of a reliable scoring option. After starting off 7-of-10, Clarke made just one of his last seven shots. With Roosevelt Jones struggling to a 3-of-11 performance, Butler was left with few scoring options. They labored to score, and while they managed to keep scraping points together, in part due to Andrew Smith’s yeoman effort underneath, they couldn’t scratch out enough.

Star of the Game: Vander Blue had a tough act to follow, after his late-game heroics gave the Golden Eagles a last-second win over Davidson in the Second Round. But he more than came through, putting the team on his back and carrying them to a win with an outstanding performance at both ends of the floor. Blue finished with 29 points on just 15 shots and grabbed four steals. Two of those swipes came on crucial back-to-back possessions late in the game, both of which Blue converted into easy fast break points, turning a 2-point deficit into a 2-point lead in 60 seconds. Blue had so worked himself to exhaustion that after those two plays that his coach had to give him a short rest. But he had enough energy after coming back to hit the biggest shot of the game — a corner three-pointer with 1:26 to play that tied the game at 69.

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Butler 68, #11 Bucknell 56

Posted by IRenko on March 21st, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Lexington after Thursday’s Second Round game between Butler and Bucknell. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Mike Muscala Could Not Get It Going — All eyes were on Bucknell’s Mike Muscala this afternoon, and the big man shrunk under the spotlight. He got off to a poor start, scoring just two points in the first half on 1-of-9 FG shooting. He started to find the net a bit in the second half, as the Bison climbed back from a double-digit deficit to make it a competitive game. But he never developed a good rhythm, and at the end of the day, Bucknell needed more than his nine points on 4-of-17 shooting. Butler’s defense gets some credit, but Muscala missed a lot of shots that he typically makes.

    Brad Stevens' crew flustered the Bucknell offense all game long. (AP)

    Brad Stevens’ crew flustered the Bucknell offense all game long. (AP)

  2. Not That Easy on the Eyes — Apart from an exciting stretch in the middle of the second half, this game was plagued by ineffective offense. Butler hardly put on an offensive clinic, but Bucknell was the biggest offender. After shooting a miserable 25.9 percent from the field in the first half, they couldn’t find a consistent rhythm in second. Apart from a pair of lightning quick runs that actually gave them a six-point lead, the offense continued to struggle. And it wasn’t just Muscala who struggled. The Bison’s second and third leading scorers, guards Cameron Ayers (12.5 ppg) and Bryson Johnson (11.1 ppg), continued the disappearing act that they unveiled in the Patriot League tournament, combining for 0 points on 0-of-4 FG shooting in the first half.
  3. Butler Overcame Its Cold Shooting — Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham combined to make more than 150 threes this year, but against Bucknell, the two were stone cold. They shot a combined 2-of-9 from three-point range and missed several two-point jumpers, combining to go 5-of-18 from the field. The two guards made up for their poor shooting, though, by taking care of the ball. Turnovers have plagued the Bulldogs’ guards all season, but Clarke and Dunham committed none today.

Star of the Game: With Butler’s shooters in a game-long cold spell, it fell to Roosevelt Jones to ignite the offense with his unorthodox game. Perhaps it was fitting that Jones, who resembles a fullback in appearance and style of play, was the star of a contest that had a 21-14 football-like score at halftime. Jones’ ugly shotput runners in the lane and ragged drives to the basket epitomized the ugly nature of Butler’s win. He finished with 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting and added five boards and four assists. The turnover-prone guard also had just one miscue.

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The Other 26: Bracket-Busting, East and Midwest Edition

Posted by IRenko on March 20th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC columnist and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

This is part two of our TO26 bracket analysis, focusing on the 17 non-power-conference teams that populate the East and Midwest regions. The teams are grouped into five rough categories, and, within each category, they are ordered by their likelihood of advancing.  For our analysis of the South and West regions, see here.

Regional Threats

These are the teams that have a credible chance of dancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.

  • St. Louis (#4 Midwest) — The Bilikens are flying a bit under the radar, but this is a team that should be a favorite for a Sweet 16 run. They have one of the best defenses in the country, a group of experienced guards who can attack and shoot (Kwamain Mitchell, Mike McCall, Jordair Jett), a surprisingly effective post presence in Dwayne Evans, and a pair of pick-‘n-pop big men (Rob Loe, Cody Ellis) who can drain the three. It should be said, though, that the Bilikens’ draw is not necessarily ideal. A first-round game against New Mexico State presents some matchup quandaries (see below), as does a potential Third Round game against Oklahoma State — both teams are prepared to bang and grind with the Bilikens down low. Ultimately, I think the St. Louis’ defense is strong enough to get them to the Sweet 16, where their steady guard play gives them a non-trivial chance of knocking off the Cards.
Can Rotnei Clarke Lead Butler Back to the Final Four?

Can Rotnei Clarke Lead Butler Back to the Final Four?

  • Butler (#6, East) — Yes, they’re back. Neither Bucknell nor their potential Third Round opponent (Marquette or Davidson) will be an easy team to conquer, but all three of these teams will give Butler an important reprieve from its biggest vulnerability — a tendency to turn it over. Bucknell and Marquette will also play at the kind of grinding pace at which the Bulldogs excel. And they’ll focus their offense on the areas of the floor where Butler’s defense is strongest — the paint. Butler also has the shooters — Rotnei Clark, Kellen Dunham — to bombard Marquette’s compact defense and the rebounders to exploit Marquette’s weakness on the glass. If anything, Bucknell may pose a bigger matchup problem, as they tend to chase teams off the three-point line and they don’t give up much on the offensive glass. The Bison will be a tough opponent, but when you look at Butler’s pod as a whole, a Sweet 16 run looks well within reach.

One and Done

These teams have at least a 50/50 (or better) chance of picking up a win, but are unlikely to get two.

  • Colorado State (#8, Midwest) – I would actually bump the Rams up to the tail end of the “Regional Threats” group if not for the uncertain status of starting point guard Dorian Green. The team’s unquestioned floor general, Green suffered an ankle injury in the first round of the MWC tournament, and though he played in a semifinal loss to UNLV, was ineffective. With a fully healthy Green, the Rams’ have a good chance of toppling Missouri. The two teams are somewhat similar in that they try to score in the paint on offense, while keeping opponents out of the paint of it on defense. Neither team is especially potent from the three-point line, and both rely a fair amount on offensive rebounding, though the Rams’ have the advantage here, especially as they are equally adept at controlling their defensive glass. That, along with Missouri’s tendency to be a bit loose with the ball, may be the difference-maker. And don’t sleep on Colorado State’s chances against Louisville in the next round. The Cardinals’ weak points are defensive rebounding and three-point shooting. The Rams are the best offensive rebounding team in the country, and as noted above, their defense forces teams to beat them from the three-point line. They also take pretty good care of the ball, which will serve them well against Louisville’s pressure defense. But this analysis could be all for naught if Green isn’t healthy enough to be effective.
  • Creighton (#7, Midwest) Doug McDermott is perhaps the most fundamentally sound player in college basketball. His All-American status owes itself to his incredibly precise offensive footwork, positioning, movement, shot, and cuts. He has inside-outside skills that present a very tough matchup if you’re not used to guarding him. And he’s surrounded by lots of great three-point shooters. Cincinnati’s defense has generally been strong, so they might be able to contain McDermott and the Bluejays’ three-point attack. But they’ll have to be especially effective because their offense has been truly miserable. I like the Bluejays’ chances here. A Third Round matchup with Duke would be a tougher proposition, as the Blue Devils combine a defense that shuts down the three-point line with an offense that is far more high-powered than Cincinnati’s. McDermott may well get his points, especially posting up inside, but that’s not likely to be sufficient.

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Four Thoughts From the A-10 Tournament Afternoon Quarterfinals Session

Posted by CNguon on March 15th, 2013

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. He’s covering the Atlantic 10 tournament in Brooklyn this week. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

The afternoon session saw Saint Louis beat Charlotte by 17 in a game that was in doubt for only the first three minutes. The Billikens used their defense to smother the 49ers, limiting them to 0.77 points per possession, a good sign for their postseason prospects. The second game left La Salle on the bubble as they could not overcome Butler’s shooting and rebounding, 69-58, in a game that was much closer than the score suggests.

Four Questions From Friday’s Afternoon Session:

  1. How much gas is left in Butler’s tank? The Bulldogs were in a nip and tuck battle with the a stubborn La Salle squad, but when they pushed the lead out to double digits for the first time at the 32-minute mark, La Salle could get no closer than six (twice) in the game’s last eight minutes. Dr. John Giannini’s game plan did call for the Explorers’ four guards to take turns on Butler’s Rotnei Clarke, however, and Sam Mills, Tyreek Duren, Tyronne Garland and (especially) Ramon Galloway ran the Butler guard all over the floor. They triple-teamed Butler’s lead guard on inbounds plays in an attempt to keep the ball out of his hands. Several of the senior’s three-point attempts were short on the front rim, suggesting he was still recovering from yesterday. But in the game’s last eight minutes Clarke drove the lane through traffic for a contested layup, and hit a decisive three-point attempt four minutes later to snuff another La Salle rally. Clarke scored 14 points to lead the Bulldogs, but four teammates chipped 10 or more points to make the win a team effort. Butler will face Saint Louis in the Noon semifinal Saturday for their third game in three days. Expect Clarke to spend the evening in an ice bath.

    La Salle hounded Rotnei Clarke all game long, but a couple key buckets down the stretch by the Butler star proved to be the difference. (AP)

    La Salle hounded Rotnei Clarke all game long, but a couple key buckets down the stretch by the Butler star proved to be the difference. (AP)

  2. Where will Charlotte play next? The 49ers were eliminated by Saint Louis, 72-55, in the day’s opening game and with that defeat Charlotte closes the book on it’s sojourn in the Atlantic 10 Conference. A return to Conference USA, effective for the 2013-14 season, was announced last April, but there may still be life after Brooklyn. The NIT is a distinct possibility, especially if the NIT Selection Committee gives weight to their wins over La Salle, Butler, Xavier and Massachusetts. And if they want to feature a mobile forward, there are few better than Chris Braswell, who, with 20 points and 10 rebounds against the Billikens, recorded his second double-double of the season? Read the rest of this entry »
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Three Thoughts From the Atlantic 10 Tournament Afternoon Session

Posted by CNguon on March 14th, 2013

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. He’s covering the Atlantic 10 tournament in Brooklyn this week. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

In the first half of the opening round in the Atlantic 10 Tournament today, Charlotte beat Richmond 68-63 in the first game, while Butler ended Dayton’s season 73-67. Charlotte will face #1 seed Saint Louis on Friday while Butler will now prepare for #4 seed La Salle, a team that beat them earlier this season.

Three Thoughts:

  1. Chris Mooney’s Tell – When the Jacket Comes Off, the “T” Will Follow: Richmond, ahead by three, 63-60 with 4.7 seconds on the clock, had one foot into tomorrow’s quarterfinal game with Saint Louis when the wheels came off the wagon. In the space of (according to the game clock) two seconds Charlotte hit eight free throws, as the Richmond Spiders picked up a foul and three technicals and Richmond coach Chris Mooney was ejected from the game. With Pierria Henry on the line taking his second free throw, Richmond center Derrick Williams shoved Charlotte forward Willie Clayton, the motion continued through Henry’s free throw as Clayton ended up out of bounds. The baseline referee called a dead ball foul and technical on Williams, and then the fun began. An out-of-control Gregg Robbins picked up a foul and then Mooney took his jacket off on his way onto the floor. Henry netted six more free throw attempts – sinking four — as Mooney and two more seconds were removed from the court and the clock, respectively.

    An entertaining contest will unfortunately be remembered for the chaos that ensued with five seconds left in the Richmond-Charlotte contest, highlighted by the ejection of Richmond coach Chris Mooney. (AP)

    An entertaining contest will unfortunately be remembered for the chaos that ensued with 4.7 seconds left in the Richmond-Charlotte contest, highlighted by the ejection of Richmond coach Chris Mooney. (Getty)

  2. The final score, 68-63, keeps Charlotte’s very, very slim NCAA hopes alive for another 22 hours: They meet Saint Louis in the noon game tomorrow.  A much calmer Mooney met the media after the cooling off period, apologizing to the A-10 and Richmond fans twice during his postgame comments. The meltdown was uncharacteristic of Mooney whose post-Sweet Sixteen demeanor has been almost sedate. The Spiders are not in the hunt for a spot in the field of 68, but have an outside shot for an NIT invitation.
  3. Butler is 10-1 When Rotnei Clarke Scores 20 or More Points: Clarke scored 21 on 7-of-14 shooting (6-of-12 from three point land) and 1-of-2 from the line. The Bulldogs held a three point lead going into the half, compliments of a trio of three-point conversions at the five-minute mark. Dayton, which took a total of four three-point attempts for the entire game, was scoring easily on the inside. “Credit their three point defense,” responded Dayton coach Archie Miller when asked in the postgame press conference. As for Clarke — who has managed to rise to #3 on Butler’s all-time three point shooting list in his only season as a Bulldog — the shooter used multiple screens to add  three more treys to his first half total and spark a second half run that snuffed a Dayton rally and kept the scoring gap safely in Butler’s favor. According to Clarke, “Coach drew up good play, I got good looks, credit these guys, I’ve learned to try to share the ball more and keep the focus off me. We got together (after the VCU loss) and communicated better,” developments in the past week that helped Butler handle Dayton so easily in Brooklyn.
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Atlantic 10 Season Recap and Postseason Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2013

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Tournament Bracket

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Looking Back

Conference Realignment: Who’s Got Next? A non-story for the entire season, the divorce negotiated between the Catholic 7 and the Conference Formerly Known as the Big East was finalized last week, a development guaranteed to kick off another round of musical partners. The Catholic 7 got custody of the last name (Big East) and the house (an older but stately palace in downtown New York), along with a promise to process the paperwork quickly. The new/old conference needs three more members to share the TV money and national exposure they are rumored to have negotiated with Fox Sports. The yearly payout per team, believed to be just under ten times the per-team amount the Atlantic 10 just agreed to with CBS, should draw interest. Butler and Xavier have been at the center of Catholic 7 alignment rumors since last October. Unlike Temple’s announced exit in February of last season, however, neither school has confirmed – or denied – the rumors. Xavier, a member since 1995-96, would be the second flagship program (behind Temple) to exit the conference in that last 13 months. Butler who twice went to the Final Four within the last five years, has barely had time to unpack before moving on. When given the news of Temple’s exit in February of 2012, commissioner Bernadette McGlade took a proactive tack and had two replacements in place eight weeks into the offseason. Expect her to do the same this off season. George Mason and Wichita State are the two mentioned most by fans and conference followers.

The Best Basketball-Centric Conference? Mountain West fans may disagree, but it seems certain that the Atlantic 10 Conference will send at least five members to the NCAA Tournament, equaling the highest ever achieved (1997 and 1998). Saint Louis, Butler and Virginia Commonwealth are all but certain to receive bids regardless of what happens this weekend, and prospects for Temple and La Salle remain very strong. On top of that, Massachusetts or Xavier could, with strong conference tournament showings, squeeze out an unprecedented sixth bid for the conference, though it seems unlikely.

Power Rankings

The last week of conference play opens with only three conference tournament spots – all three on the sidelines, determined. Others (that Saint Louis will take the #1 seed, Virginia Commonwealth will take #2 and La Salle most likely the #3) seem nearly certain, but note that seeds #4 through #12 are pretty much up for grabs…at least until Wednesday.

Jim Crews can smirk a little after leading the Billikens from afterthought to league champions. (USATSI)

Jim Crews has the right to smirk a little after leading the Billikens to their first regular season title in 42 years. (USATSI)

  1. Saint Louis (24-6, 13-3; #16 AP; Projected NCAA Seed #5) – The Billikens stumbled in the last week versus Xavier, but locked down the #1 seed in Brooklyn by beating La Salle. Off until Friday, coach Jim Crews’ team will meet the winner of the Richmond/Charlotte game (most likely Richmond), and if seed holds, most likely La Salle Saturday (and Virginia Commonwealth on Sunday). On the radar however is the NCAA tournament (yes the Bills are a lock at this point, win or lose Friday) seed. The consensus today is a #4-#5 seed with little prospect of moving up without a slew of early conference tournament losses elsewhere. RTC’s Dan Evans’ early March bracket matched the #5 Bills against #12 seed OVC Champion Belmont. The Bears run and gun, which would make this an interesting matchup.
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CIO… the Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 28th, 2013

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Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or follow him on Twitter @vtbnblog.

(ed. note – this week’s column does not factor in Wednesday night’s action, which saw Saint Louis beat Saint Joseph’s, Richmond defeat George Washington and Dayton top Charlotte.)

Looking Back

  • Saint Louis Breaks Out – The Billikens evicted Butler and Virginia Commonwealth and decisively took sole possession of the conference penthouse last week. On Tuesday Saint Louis hosted Virginia Commonwealth, the team that paced the conference from virtually the opening week and ranked #24 by the AP the previous Monday. The Bills pummeled the Rams by 14, 76-62, handing coach Shaka Smart’s squad the worst defeat of their season. With barely 48 hours to celebrate, the Billikens packed their bags and traveled to Hinkle Fieldhouse to play #15 ranked Butler on Friday night. Saint Louis held on to defeat the Bulldogs by 4, 65-61, and hand Butler only their second defeat at home this season. At 10-2, SLU sits atop the conference with a half-game lead (one fewer loss) over second place Virginia Commonwealth.
  • Conference Difference Margins, Week 8 – The difference margin continues to divide the conference roughly in half; nine teams have positive margins, seven teams have negative margins. The paradox is that the Atlantic 10, much like many conferences in parity, the number of teams with a 0.500 record or better numbers 11 (or 69% of the conference membership). For a power conference this parity (if the top of the conference was strong enough) could, in effect, “pull” a middling team or two into the NCAA tournament. Is the A-10 strength of schedule enough to yield a fifth or sixth bid?

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Reviewing the numbers (from Ken Pomeroy’s kenpom.com site – the conference results through Monday February 25) gives us a few things to consider:

  1. The difference margin adds greater definition to Saint Louis’ breakout last week. At +0.156, the margin is half again larger than that of their nearest rival (Virginia Commonwealth). To this point Saint Louis is in a class by itself. A rocky out of conference run will most likely keep the Bills’ NCAA seed in the #4 to #6 range, probably deceptively low.
  2. The teams are forming a series of well-defined tiers, many of which are consistent with the conference records earned so far. Note the Virginia Commonwealth/Butler grouping, distinct from the Massachusetts/Xavier/Temple tier.
  3. Duquesne and (yet again, unfortunately) Fordham have “lost touch” with the rest of the conference. The difference margins for the two lowest ranked teams suggest they are no longer competitive with their 14 conference mates. Temple’s loss to Duquesne on February 14 becomes all the more puzzling and damaging to the Owls’ post season prospects.
  4. Charlotte’s record says “even”, but the difference margin suggests the 49ers have been susceptible to blowouts. A look at the schedule reveals a tendency to lose big on the road Miami, Richmond, Saint Louis). Not the kind of credential one wants to present to the Selection Committee.
  5. Dayton maintains a positive difference margin (+0.013) widely at variance with their losing record (4-8). A Pythagorean Winning Percentage calculation suggest the Flyers should be closer to a 0.500 record (or 6-6, since they have played 12 games). They are, however, so far underwater that it is likely the Flyers will “run out of games” before they can get to a 0.500 record (8-8 given their 16 game conference schedule).

Reader’s Take

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Rushed Reactions: Saint Louis 65, #15 Butler 61.

Posted by WCarey on February 23rd, 2013

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Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Friday night’s game between Saint Louis and Butler in Indianapolis. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. These Are Two Teams “High Majors” Should Treat With Caution In March. Both Butler and Saint Louis can really, really play. While each team is very different – Butler is more offensively-oriented and Saint Louis is a team that excels on the defensive end of the court — the common denominator that exists between the two teams is that they both are capable of beating anyone. Butler has shown it is capable of doing so for several years now, but this season’s wins over #1 Indiana and #3 Gonzaga have once again proven the Bulldogs can never be taken lightly. Of Saint Louis’ 21 wins, four have come against ranked opponents — home wins over #15 Butler, #16 New Mexico, and #24 VCU and Friday’s road victory at Hinkle Fieldhouse. With the marquee victories that each squad has already earned this year, it would be wise to believe that both teams could absolutely find a way to beat a well-regarded “high major” when the NCAA Tournament commences.
  2. The Success Of Saint Louis Has To Be One Of The Stories Of The Year in College Basketball. When Rick Majerus stepped away due to a heart issue in August, the team was placed in the hands of assistant coach Jim Crews on an interim basis. The Billikens struggled through their first six games with a record of 3-3, partly due to senior guard Kwamain Mitchell being sidelined with a foot injury. Majerus passed away on December 1 when the team had that 3-3 record and since his passing, the team has won 21 of 23 games. While it might be a tad overzealous to equate the two events, it has to be noted that the way the Billikens have played since the death of their legendary leader would have had him brimming with pride. At 10-2, Saint Louis is all alone in first place in the Atlantic 10 standings and with four winnable games left on its slate (home match-ups with Saint Joseph’s and La Salle and road contests at George Washington and Xavier), a conference championship is certainly in reach, and with the adversity and heartbreak the team has experienced away from the court, that makes Saint Louis one of the stories of the year in college basketball.
  3. Despite Losses In Two Of Its Last Four Games, Butler Fans Should Not Panic. With home losses to Charlotte and Saint Louis in the last nine days, some Butler fans might feel the need to panic a bit as the conference slate winds down. Those fans need to calm down, as there really is not anything substantially wrong with the Bulldogs. When Butler lost to Charlotte on February 13, the Bulldogs were without the services of 6’11” senior center Andrew Smith, who was out with an abdominal injury. This was a big loss for the Bulldogs because Smith anchors the interior of the defense and is a solid scorer in the low post. With him sidelined, Charlotte was able to have its way with Butler’s interior defenders and rode that to a 71-67 victory. Friday’s loss to Saint Louis was a match-up of two very good teams where one played just a bit better than the other. It was the type of game that if were played 10 times, each team would have a good shot at winning five. The Bulldogs are currently sitting in a tie for second place in a very strong Atlantic 10 and with two weeks left in the season, the team still appears poised to be a legitimate contender in the conference tournament and a team that could turn heads in the NCAAs.
Mike McCall

Mike McCall Was Half of SLU’s Player of the Game Duo

Stars of the Game. Mike McCall Jr. and Dwayne Evans, Saint Louis. McCall Jr. led the Billikens in scoring with 18 points and was part of a suffocating defensive effort aimed at limiting Butler guards Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham. The effort was mostly successful as the Saint Louis defense forced Clarke to turn the ball over six times and held Dunham scoreless in the second half after he had tallied 14 points in the opening 20 minutes. Evans continued his steady play by finishing with 17 points as the team’s key post player. Another thing that was impressive about Evans’ game was that in what was such a physical contest, he only committed one foul in 32 minutes, thus never making his availability a concern.

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The Other 26: Saturday’s Top Five Bracketbuster Games and More…

Posted by IRenko on February 22nd, 2013

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This weekend marks the end of the decade-long Bracketbuster era — or experiment, depending on your perspective. Sadly, if appropriately, it looks like the event will go out with more of a whimper than a bang. Not a single game features a top 25 team, resulting in little hype for this year’s slate. But for true mid-major basketball fans, no top 25 ranking, or lack thereof, is going to dissuade them from devouring the late season, inter-conference action among the country’s best, under-the-radar-until-March teams. Here’s a preview of the five Bracketbuster games we’re most looking forward to, followed by an updated Top 10, our weekly honor roll, and the most compelling non-Bracketbuster games of the coming week.

Can Matthew Dellavedova And His Prominent Mouthpiece Lead the Gaels to a Much-Needed Win Over Creighton? (Las Vegas Sun / Sam Morris)

Can Matthew Dellavedova And His Prominent Mouthpiece Lead the Gaels to a Much-Needed Win Over Creighton? (Las Vegas Sun / Sam Morris)

  1. Creighton at St. Mary’s (6 pm, ESPN) — Both teams enter what is perhaps the premier Bracketbuster matchup with a great deal to prove. Creighton’s hot 17-1 start has given way to a rough 5-5 stretch, as the depth of the MVC has taken its toll. In four of those five losses, Creighton’s once unstoppable offense slowed to a pace of less than a point per possession. An at-large Tournament bid remains a safe bet, even with a loss to St. Mary’s, but the Bluejays are no doubt looking to this game to reignite their offense and their season. St. Mary’s, on the other hand, is in desperate need of a quality win for its Tournament resume. Having been swept by Gonzaga, Saturday’s matchup is a virtual must-win for the Gaels. Both teams have highly efficient offenses that rely heavily on the three-point shot. Whichever defense can step up its game may emerge with the win.
  2. Ohio at Belmont (10 pm, ESPN) – This should be a really entertaining game between two teams who love to run and gun. But for the colors of their jerseys, it may be hard to tell the two apart, as the Bobcats and Bruins have remarkably similar statistical profiles. Both are high-possession squads that shoot more than 40 percent of their field goals from three-point range and rank in the top 20 nationally in forcing turnovers. Both have high effective field goal percentages, but rebound poorly and allow their opponents to shoot far more free throws than they do. Toss in a great point guard matchup between seniors D.J. Cooper and Kerron Johnson, and you have the ingredients for a great nightcap to the day’s action. 
  3. South Dakota State at Murray State (8 pm, ESPN2) – Neither team is as good as it was last season, but both returned their star player. And it’s their matchup at the point guard spot, with Nate Wolters squaring off against Isaiah Canaan, that makes this a must-see game. The two players are the heartbeats of their respective team’s offenses. Each uses roughly 30 percent of all possessions, ranking them in the top 50 in the country. Wolters has been on a particularly nasty tear of late, averaging more than 33 points over his last five games, though two of his 30-plus efforts in that stretch were in defeat. Canaan, meanwhile, is coming off his own 35-point outburst in a win over Morehead State.
  4. Detroit at Wichita State (4 pm, ESPN2) — Wichita State has bounced back from a recent three-game swoon with a four-game win streak that includes two close victories over Illinois State and Indiana State this past week. They’ll be the favorites against Detroit, but his game has definite upset potential. Detroit is on the upswing, winning six of their last seven, and developing a potent offensive attack with a multitude of options, from Ray McCallum’s attacking ability to Jason Calliste’s three-point shot to Nick Minnerath’s versatile inside-out game to Doug Anderson’s physical interior play. The Titans will try to push the tempo, while the Shockers will try to slow things down and pound the ball inside to their big men Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall, who may find success against Detroit’s mediocre interior defense.
  5. Denver at Northern Iowa (8 pm, ESPN3) — After a rough 4-6 start to MVC play, Northern Iowa has righted the ship and fought its way back to where we thought it would always be — at the top of the league standings, just a step behind Wichita State and Creighton. They face a Denver team that has flown a bit under the radar, recovering from a slow start to the season to win 13 of their last 14 games. A trip to Cedar Falls will be a test of just how far the Pioneers have come. Expect a low-possession, halfcourt-oriented game, with a steady barrage of three-point shots. The Panthers have a balanced attack, with five players averaging between 9 and 13 points. Denver will turn primarily to Chris Udofia, the versatile forward who is the hub of their Princeton offense.

And now on to our updated Top 10 rankings, weekly honor roll, and the (other) games we’re keeping an eye on …

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Rushed Reactions: #13 Butler 59, George Washington 56

Posted by IRenko on February 9th, 2013

rushedreactions

I. Renko is an RTC correspondent based in D.C. and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between Butler and George Washington. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Three key takeaways.

  • GW is Getting There — Down 53-38 with under eight minutes to play, George Washington staged a furious 18-4 run, powered by an aggressive full-court defense and a renewed toughness on the glass. But with three chances to tie the game on the final possession, the Colonials couldn’t convert. This is the third time that the Colonials lost a game on the final possession to a high quality opponent at home, after falling to Kansas State 65-62 and Temple 55-53. But in his second year at the helm, Mike Lonergan has molded the Colonials into a very competitive team. At 5-4, they already have as many wins in A-10 play as they had all of last year. They’re also a very young team, starting four freshman and a junior, which should give Colonials fans optimism about the future. On Saturday, in spite of an abominable shooting performance (27.9% FG shooting), the Colonials managed to claw their way back against one of the best teams in the country. That kind of toughness and resilience that should serve them well the rest of the year and into the future.
Mike Lonergan Has Molded the Colonials Into an A-10 Contender (GW Hatchet / Jordan Emont)

Mike Lonergan Has Molded the Colonials Into an A-10 Contender (GW Hatchet / Jordan Emont)

  • Butler Is Not Exactly What You Think It Is – If you don’t watch Butler much, you might stereotype them as a team with good fundamentals, strong three-point shooting, and a solid, compact defense. The reality is more complicated.  First, as they showed in the first half against George Washington, many of Butler’s guards — Rotnei Clarke, Roosevelt Jones, Kellen Dunham, and Chase Stigall — can drive the ball to the basket. This is not just a team that comes down the floor looking to free up shooters with off-ball screens. Casual fans may also be confounded by the fact that Butler has a propensity to turn the ball over. It’s the weakest part of their offensive game, and against George Washington, it showed. The Bulldogs committed 19 turnovers, including five in the final 2:15 of the game, breathing life into George Washington’s late rally. Walk-on point guard Alex Barlow has a great story, but his ability to take care of the ball has been less great; more than 37 percent of the possessions he uses result in turnovers. Oh, and one other surprising fact — Brad Stevens gets upset … sometimes. He may be more calm than the average Division I coach, but a game-long bird’s eye view confirms that he can be just as excitable about perceived officiating errors and bad turnovers as anyone.
  • To the Victor of the Glass Go the Spoils — Butler built its nine-point halftime lead in large part because of their rebounding dominance. They outrebounded the Colonials 30-19 overall and pulled down 50 percent of their own misses, which they converted into eight second-chance points. But George Washington turned the tables in the second half. They rebounded more than 70 percent of Butler’s misses and more than 40 percent of their own en route to finishing the game with 20 second-chance points. Crucially, they pulled down seven offensive boards in the last six minutes of the game, helping to power the 18-4 run that put them in position to tie the game on the final possession.

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CIO… the Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2013

CIO header

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic-10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Looking Back

The Conference Within a Conference - Another round of Philadelphia’s historic City Series, better known as the Big 5, was played at Saint Joseph’s Hagan Arena Saturday night. At one time every game in the round robin series was played in the Palestra, the landmark arena located on campus of the University of Pennsylvania. In true Big 5 fashion, Saint Joseph’s beat Temple by a single point, 70-69, rallying from a nine point deficit to take the lead, 68-66, on a C.J. Aiken layup with 0:25 left on the clock. A shot at the buzzer by Temple’s Khalif Wyatt clanged off the rim as the Owls fell to 3-4 in (A-10) conference play and a 2-1 tie in the Big 5. With a two games left in the series (Saint Joseph’s vs. La Salle and La Salle vs. Temple), only La Salle – should the Explorers sweep – can still win outright. The “standings”:

Team

W

L

Pct.

La Salle

2

0

1.000

Saint Joseph’s

2

1

0.667

Temple

2

1

0.667

Villanova

2

2

0.500

Pennsylvania

0

4

0.000

Efficiency Margins, Week 5 – With two-to-three more conference games on the books, the margins continue to provide insight on how the conference will evolve. With a few exceptions, teams with a winning record have positive (offensive-defensive) difference margins while teams with losing records have negative margins. “Order restored” or so it would seem. The exceptions do tend to draw our attention, however (records through Tuesday, February 5):

Table01130205

  1. St. Louis’ two wins last week, the most impressive over Butler last Wednesday, helped the Billikens leapfrog both Butler and VCU (and three other teams…) to the top of the chart. The conference SOS, however, suggests the Bills have more work to do.  Butler, with the best conference record and the strongest conference SOS, is still the team to beat going into the second half of conference play.
  2. Dayton was ranked #2 on the difference margin chart last week, even though the Flyers were two games under 0.500. Their drop in the difference rankings this week, the result of another loss, suggests their difference margin will begin to dovetail with their record (rather than the record upgrading to coincide with their difference margin). The outlook for coach Archie Miller’s squad is not good.
  3. When Charlotte loses in conference, it is a rout. The 49ers’ average winning margin is 6, while their average losing margin is 24. Ouch. Coach Alan Majors’ squad has played the easiest schedule so far according to Pomeroy’s conference SOS, which suggests there are more losses ahead.

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