That’s Debatable: What Excites Us About the 2009-10 Season

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2009


That’s Debatable is a new feature that we’re rolling out this season.  Each week we plan on pulling out a theme or topic relevant to the 2009-10 season.  Some weeks it might be embarrassingly whimsical and other weeks serious and muted.  It totally depends on what the relevant news and issues are that surround the game each week.  Our editors and primary writers will contribute most weeks, but often we’ll ask other friends, writers and correspondents to send us something if they’re particularly well-suited for that week’s topic.  To make it palatable, each writer’s argument will be limited to 200 words: brevity will be just as important as the points being made.  We hope to have fun with it and encourage you to join us in the comments.

This week’s topic: What Excites You About the 2009-10 Season?

zach hayes – editor/contributor, RTC.

I’m most looking forward to the return of the great rivalries that college basketball provides. Whether it’s the powder blue of the Tar Heels marching onto the Cameron Indoor floor, the Georgetown grays battling down low with the orange of Syracuse, or the Jayhawks walking into the pandemonium of Manhattan, Kansas, I cannot wait for these rivalry flames to be sparked yet again. It’s not just the major conferences that provide hatred and bitterness: what about Xavier and Dayton doing battle for the A-10 title this year, Northern Iowa and Creighton as MVC foes atop the standings or Nevada and Utah State out west? Think about the individual rivalries that could bloom this season: Luke Harangody banging with Samardo Samuels inside, Edgar Sosa trying to contain John Wall and Robbie Hummel looking to stay with Evan Turner in the midwest. Even the coaching rivalries will spark up: John Calipari vs. Bruce Pearl, John Calipari vs. Rick Pitino, John Calipari vs. Jim Calhoun… you get the picture. What makes college basketball so fun is the intensity and passion. Nothing exemplifies those two qualities more than these historic rivalries.

rtmsf – editor/contributor, RTC.

And so it begins.  Within a matter of a few hours we’ll hear the first squeaks of rubber against hardwood, we’ll smell the popcorn wafting through the air, and we’ll feel the all-t0o-familiar mixed pangs of pride, sentimentality and adrenaline as we get to know these institutions all over again.  For people like us, today is Christmas without the tree or Easter without the Bunny.  But the presents are better.  Instead of an ugly tie and processed marshmallow candy we don’t need, the presents are getting to know the next-gen players like John Wall, Derrick Favors and Lance Stephenson.  It’s wondering which teams will come out of literally nowhere like Washington State in 2007, Drake in 2008 or Missouri in 2009.  It’s breaking down schedules and trying to figure out creative ways to match family vacations with top ten matchups.  It’s dreaming of 6 OTs and upset Saturdays and a 24-hour orgy of televised hoops.  This season, as every season, the cellophane-wrapped newness excites us with its pristine, shiny facade.  Anything is possible.  Everything is possible.  What excites us about the 2009-10 season?  Its existence.  Let’s tip it off and watch the beauty unfold, shall we?

john stevens – editor/contributor, RTC.

“Preseason” tournaments.  Big Monday.  Conference challenges.  Bill Raftery referencing lingerie.  Philadelphia’s Big 5.  The joy of Gus Johnson.  The late-night west coast game (in the East).  Mid-majors.  Kalin Lucas.  Buzzer-beaters.  Championship Week.  Verne Lundquist and Len Elmore.  The sounds of rubber on hardwood and leather through string.  Majors.  A screaming Gary Williams.  The concurrent holiday season.  Dick Vitale.  The love/hate of Duke.  The (presumed) resurrection of Kentucky.  The defending-champ entitlement of Carolina.  The hope of Purdue, Texas, ButlerLuke Harangody.  The perseverance of Miss Andrews.  Low-majors.  Rihards Kuksiks‘ shooting form.  Conference play.  Kyle Whelliston’s Mid-Majority (and Bally).  Dance teams.  Gordon Hayward.  Road trips to games.  Student sections.  The early-season importance of Dayton-Creighton.  The enormity of Duke-UNC.  The new Spring.  Bubbles.  Selection Sunday.  Burst bubbles.  The first two rounds.  The Four.  Monday night.

This is about one hundredth of what I could write.  I’m excited about this season in the same way that I get excited in those minutes waiting in an airport before a relative or a good friend steps off the plane.  It’s the return of something I love, and because it’s been gone for so long.

nvr1983, editor/contributor, RTC.

Two things stick out for me: Kentucky’s freshman class and the potential emergence of a mid-major as a threat in March/April.

  • Kentucky’s freshmen have been one of the major stories of the offseason after Kentucky fired Billy Gillispie and hired John Calipari who had put together one of the top recruiting classes since Michigan’s famed Fab 5. Although Calipari lost Xavier Henry to Kansas when he moved to Kentucky, his incoming class with Patrick Patterson might be enough to get him a chance to face Henry in April.
  • While college basketball has a tournament that college football fans can only dream about that gives the little guy a chance it seems like the talk of the rise of the mid-major has been premature. In the past five years only one mid-major (outside of Memphis) that was feared coming into March has advanced to the Elite 8 (#3 seed Xavier in 2008). While Gonzaga (all hype in March since Casey Cavalry’s sophomore season) and George Mason (one fluky run) are nice I am looking for something more substantial. Right now the top candidates are Butler, Dayton and Siena. I’ll be watching to see if someone steps up.
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RTC 2009-10 Impact Players – Wrap-Up

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2009

impactplayersOver the course of the last ten weeks we’ve broken down sixty players from around the country whom we expect will have the biggest impact on college basketball this season.  We performed this exercise geographically, choosing five high-major and one mid-major player from each of the somewhat arbitrary ten regions of the country.  If you’d like to read through the individual regions (and we highly encourage that), you can check all ten here.


If you don’t have the time or inclination to read through all of the previous posts, we’ll summarize here for you by rating the strongest to the weakest regions.

(ed. note: we started this so long ago that Binghamton still had a promising basketball program, and DJ Rivera still had a place to play)

1.  Lower Midwest Region (OH, IN, IL, IA, NE, KS)

lower mw summary

Overview. This seemed pretty clear just at a first glance.  Aldrich, Collins and Harangody are three of the 1st team AAs on the RTC preseason list, and Brackins and Turner are on the 2d team.  This group has unbelievable scoring ability, size and experience.  The only weak link is the mid-major inclusion of Eldridge, who is a fine player, but not in the class of the rest of these superstars.  The nation’s heartland is the epicenter of college basketball talent this year.

Best Players Left Out. Where to start?  The depth in this region is incredible.  Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard at Butler, Robbie Hummell and E’Twaun Moore at Purdue, even Lance Stephenson at Cincinnati.  The #6-10 players in this region would probably be better than all but a few of the other regions.

2.  Mid-South Region (KY, TN, MO, AR, OK)

mid-south summary

Overview.  It was a very close call between this region and the South Atlantic, but we felt that the guard play of Warren and Wall with Anderson on the wing would compensate for what this team gives up in size.  And it doesn’t give up much, considering Patterson, Smith and Jordan are all exceptional inside.  Tough call, but Wall is the likely #1 pick, so he’s the x-factor.

Best Players Left Out.  Plenty of raw size here, including Samardo Samuels at Louisville, Michael Washington at Arkansas and DeMarcus Cousins at Kentucky.  Throw in the skilled size of AJ Ogilvy at Vanderbilt and Wayne Chism at Tennessee and this area will punish you on the interior.

3.  South Atlantic Region (DC, VA, NC, SC, GA)

s.atlantic summary

Overview.  This is the third region that’s chock full of NBA talent – each of the rest below have smatterings of it, but not nearly as much.  Aminu, Booker and Singler all define skilled versatility, while Monroe could end up the best big in the entire country if he wants it enough.  Sanders is a little undersized but relentless as well.

Best Players Left OutEd Davis at UNC was a lighting rod topic, as some felt that he’d be an all-american this year with his length and skill set.  Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal are two others.  A good argument could be made that this region had the best players left out, but it sorta depends on how this year plays out due to their relative youth and inexperience.

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #3 – Big East

Posted by rtmsf on November 5th, 2009


Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

Predicted order of finish:

  1. Villanova
  2. West Virginia
  3. UConn
  4. Cincinnati
  5. Louisville
  6. Georgetown
  7. Syracuse
  8. Seton Hall
  9. Pittsburgh
  10. Notre Dame
  11. Marquette
  12. South Florida
  13. Rutgers
  14. Providence
  15. St. John’s
  16. DePaul

Preseason Awards.

  • Player of the Year. Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
  • Newcomer of the Year. Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
  • Breakout Player of the Year. Kemba Walker, UConn

big east logo

All-Conference First Team.

  • Kemba Walker, UConn
  • Scottie Reynolds, Villanova
  • Devin Ebanks, West Virginia
  • Greg Monroe, Georgetown
  • Luke Harangody, Notre Dame

All-Conference Second Team.

  • Jerome Dyson, UConn
  • Deonta Vaughn, Cincinnati
  • Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia
  • Wesley Johnson, Syracuse
  • Lazar Hayward, Marquette

All-Conference Third Team.

  • Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
  • Corey Fisher, Villanova
  • Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall
  • Stanley Robinson, UConn
  • Samardo Samuels, Louisville

All-Rookie Team.

  • Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
  • Peyton Siva, Louisville
  • Maalik Wayns, Villanova
  • Dante Taylor, Pitt
  • Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanova

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RTC 2009-10 Top 65 Games: January

Posted by zhayes9 on October 22nd, 2009


Last Monday we broke down the top games of November and December as part of our season preview here at Rush the Court. As we examine the best games of the month of January, keep in mind what games during this crucial portion of the season usually represent: separating the contenders from the pretenders. With conference play heating up, the true top-seed players emerge from the pack and leap up their conference standings, while teams that may have overachieved or floated along on a cupcake-filled slate during the first two months begin to fall apart. Here are the games of great importance to circle on your calendar for January:

Ed. Note: we are not including projected matchups from the preseason tournaments in these 65 games because those will be analyzed separately.

January 1- West Virginia at Purdue (#7 overall)– The top game in the entire month of January will be played on the first day of 2010. You won’t find a more bruising, rugged and intense contest played all year with Bob Huggins and Matt Painter’s teams battling it out in East Lafayette. West Virginia is led by the shooting ability of Da’Sean Butler, the super-athletic Devin Ebanks, the two headed point-guard combo of Joe Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant and impact JC transfer Casey Mitchell. Purdue will be entering their third full season with the core of E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and Keaton Grant intact.

January 2- Louisville at Kentucky (#23 overall)– This game has been circled for fans of Big Blue since the details emerged of Rick Pitino’s affair and subsequent extortion mess. They’ll be on Pitino relentlessly for these transgressions because they know their ultra-talented Wildcats can back up the berating on the court. Kentucky fans will also be eager for revenge after Edgar Sosa’s stunning game-winning three a season ago crushed Kentucky in Freedom Hall. Sosa will have to handle sensational freshman John Wall this time around.


January 9- Kansas at Tennessee (#12 overall)– If Tennessee gets into an offensive rhythm, they can hang with the Jayhawks. Look for Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism to utilize their versatility to move Cole Aldrich, Marcus Morris, Thomas Robinson and other Kansas bigs away from the basket while allowing their wings — Scotty Hopson, J.P. Prince –– to penetrate inside and draw fouls while Kansas has to recover. This could be an electric, high-scoring affair that may be decided at the foul line.

January 9- West Virginia at Notre Dame (#24 overall)– How about four top-25 games to kick off the month of January? This Big East clash is one of West Virginia’s toughest road tests in their quest of a conference title. Notre Dame recently had a long home court winning streak and the West Virginia forwards Devin Ebanks, Wellington Smith and Deniz Kilici have to deal with the likely BE POY Luke Harangody. Whether the Irish can receive production from their guards is the key.

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RTC 2009-10 Impact Players: Mid-South Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 7th, 2009


Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic South and Deep South) are located here.

It’s time for the fifth installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of landlocked states that produce some really good basketball players – the Mid-South.   Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season.  Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five  in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation.  Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man.  We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off.  The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?

Mid-South Region (KY, TN, MO, AR, OK)

mid-south_impact_players copy

  • James Anderson – Jr, F – Oklahoma St. An obvious and unanimous choice for our Mid-South list, James Anderson cannot be blamed if he has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder right now.  Let’s see:  he’s the third-leading returning scorer in the Big 12  for the upcoming season; last year the guy averages 18.2 points, 5.7 boards, shoots over 48% from the field as well as over 82% from the line and 41% from beyond the three-point line… and he gets left off the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 list.  Anderson has coolly acknowledged his surprise at this slight, and we think he’s well within his right to do so.  No doubt this will provide motivation for the versatile forward as he embarks upon his junior season for a Cowboys squad that needs him in the leadership role.  Gone are Byron Eaton and Terrel Harris, leaving only Anderson and Obi Muonelo in terms of returning double-digit scorers.  That’s over 27 points a game for which to compensate, so Anderson will get the touches, without question.  Last year was the first trip to the NCAA Tournament for Oklahoma State in the last four years, and despite the aforementioned losses, Cowboy fans are most assuredly expecting another bid this season.  If it’s going to happen, it will be on Anderson’s shoulders.  We know that making our Impact Players list for the Mid-South region isn’t the same as making the preseason Wooden Award Top 50.  But at least we can say… hey James… we got your back, man.
  • Patrick Patterson – Jr, F – Kentucky. Patrick Patterson didn’t need a ton of motivation to return for a junior season in Lexington. The potential NBA riches were surely enticing, but with the news of John Calipari’s hire and subsequent commitments of a recruiting class for the ages, Patterson found himself in a spot where another season at Kentucky may mean a national championship, a far cry from the tumultuous two campaigns he spent in the Bluegrass State under the tutelage of Billy Gillispie. Patterson is a physical specimen in the paint for Kentucky and coach Cal has to be absolutely salivating at the thought of pairing Patterson and diaper dandy DeMarcus Cousins there to complement John Wall, Darius Miller and Eric Bledsoe on the perimeter (just think if Jodie Meeks had stuck around). Patterson nearly finished with a double-double last season at 17.9 ppg and 9.3 rpg, including a dominant 22/15 performance at future #1 seed Louisville, a 19/16 vs. Miami and 21/18 vs. Auburn. In fact, Patterson led the SEC with 15 double-doubles in 2008-09 and was the only player in the conference to finish in the top five in scoring and rebounding. A wildly underrated part of Patterson’s game is his 77% ft to go along with an efficient 60% from the field overall. Most NBA scouts think Patterson will only get stronger and continue to improve with another season in college, a scary thought for opposing SEC coaches and forwards, and a delightful proposition for Calipari. The 6’8″ big man already possesses an NBA-ready frame, a beast on the blocks that loves to bang inside and fight for any rebound in his vicinity. If Patrick Patterson gets the ball deep, he will score. Period. And with John Wall, possibly the top point guard in the nation this season, making those entry passes, Patterson should be able to average a double-double for Kentucky, only adding to the 1,000+ points he’s already totaled as a Wildcat. Barring injury (which isn’t a certainty as PP battled a stress fracture in his ankle in 07-08), Patterson seems about as surefire as anyone in the country to earn national accolades this season. But with realistic hopes of a Final Four at Kentucky for the first time in Patterson’s career, it won’t be about personal accomplishments for the determined forward; it’ll be all about wins.

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RTC Class Schedule 2009-10: Villanova Wildcats

Posted by zhayes9 on October 1st, 2009

seasonpreview 09-10

There’s not a single program in the entire 16-team Big East in as strong a shape as the Villanova Wildcats.

Even in a league loaded with top-ranked mainstays like Louisville, Connecticut, Georgetown and Pittsburgh, it’s Villanova in the best position to dominate the pre-eminent college hoops conference in the land for the foreseeable future. Their coach, Jay Wright, is the ideal face of a dominant program, a terrific leader and communicator who has done a phenomenal job recruiting since arriving at Villanova, from assembling the guard-oriented Foye-Ray-Lowry-Nardi foursome to the 2009-10 class of top-50 quartet Mouphtaou Yarou, Maalik Wayns, Dominic Cheek and Isaiah Armwood. They play in the strong media market Philadelphia and at the NBA-fitting Wachovia Center. Last season, the Wildcats won 30 games and reached their first Final Four since 1985.


Wright has built such a program that another Final Four remains a viable expectation for Villanova fans heading into 2009-10. Along with the star-studded recruiting class, Wright returns potential All-American guard Scottie Reynolds to team up with junior Corey Fisher for a tremendous backcourt, a strength that’s par the usual since Wright took the helm in Philly. Duke transfer Taylor King and sharpshooter Corey Stokes can certainly stretch the floor and hit big outside shots this season. Losing senior leader and double-double forward Dante Cunningham, along with glue guy Dwayne Anderson, stings, but Reggie Redding and Antonio Pena are experienced cogs. Most importantly, the #2 recruiting class in the nation (behind Kentucky) should provide a huge boost immediately for a squad that will likely be named the Preseason Big East favorites.

How does the schedule look for the Wildcats? Let’s take a peek:

Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 5. Incredibly, Villanova only has five true home games in the non-conference slate. Two of their road games are in the city of Philadelphia with back-to-back short trips to St. Joseph’s and Temple scheduled. Their other three Philly foes- La Salle, Drexel and Penn– will face the Wildcats at their on-campus arena. There’s some potential for difficult games on Jay Wright’s schedule, but no truly elite opponents in November and December. Villanova will travel to DC to take on ACC contender Maryland at the Verizon Center in what should be their most challenging test. A trip to Puerto Rico in November could pit the Wildcats against either Dayton or Georgia Tech in the second round and either Mississippi or Kansas State in the final. The second round could be trickier than the final as Dayton and Georgia Tech are borderline top-25 teams with talented frontline players Chris Wright (Dayton) and Derrick Favors (Georgia Tech) that should be hard to handle for an inexperienced frontline.

Cupcake City: While no single challenger blows you away, the only true “cupcake” on the non-conference schedule is the first contest of the year against Farleigh Dickinson. The other home games shouldn’t prove too much of a test- Penn, La Salle, Drexel, Delaware and a neutral site game vs. Fordham. The Wildcats also face George Mason in the first round in Puerto Rico. None of those CAA/Atlantic 10-type teams will prove huge tests for Wright’s squad, but credit the Villanova coach for going light on the lightweights.

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More on Gladwell’s Full-Court Pressure Argument…

Posted by rtmsf on May 13th, 2009

We think we’ve isolated what Gladwell’s problem derives from on the fallacious full-court press argument he made last week.  Put simply, he’s drinking the Rick Pitino kool-aid.  We don’t blame him, Pitino is an engaging guy who can sell ice cubes to eskimos, and Gladwell wouldn’t be the first to slurp it all up (ask Karen Sypher or any Boston Celtic fan ca. 1997-98).  But it appears that Pitino is his sole source of information when it comes to how underdogs win basketball games, and somehow Coach P has convinced Gladwell that much of his collegiate success is based on undertalented yet hungry players who were able to maniacally pressure Goliaths into turnovers and easy buckets.  It’s almost as if Gladwell doesn’t realize that Pitino has been a Goliath for most of his career, nor does he realize that there are probably better ways of accomplishing a similar result (i.e., slowing games down to a crawl).  In this week’s back-and-forth with Bill Simmons, Gladwell writes:

You’re right. I am a bit obsessed with the full-court press at the moment. I just did a story for The New Yorker about how underdogs beat favorites, which had a lot about basketball in it. For the story, I went down to Louisville and had a long chat with Rick Pitino. He argued that the press is the best chance an underdog has of being competitive with stronger teams, and I think his record proves the case. That Providence team he took to the Final Four in 1984 has to have been just about the least talented team EVER to reach that level.  Then, of course, Pitino takes one of his first Louisville teams to the Final Four in 2006 and this season’s team to the Elite Eight, and no one’s going to argue that either of those teams were filled with future Hall of Famers.


First of all, it was 1987, not 1984, when Pitino’s Providence team went to the F4, and we contend that it was Pitino’s early-adoption of the just-instituted three-point shot that gave his team a competitive advantage that season more than their use of full-court pressure defense.  PC set records that still stand today at the school for taking (665) and making (280) threes (over 8 per game), led by their sharpshooting guards Delray Brooks and of course, Billy Donovan.  Traditional powers from the early to mid-80s such as Georgetown and Louisville were slower to utilize the new shot, and as such, they quickly became less relevant over the next several years until they realized its value.   Providence’s full-court press was important to achieving that success, but the three-point shot was decidedly more important.

Secondly, least talented team EVER to make the F4?  George Mason 2006, Wisconsin 2000, LSU 1986, among others… say hello.

Finally, his record proves the case?  How?  Pitino is a masterful recruiter, and this is nothing new to anyone who has followed college hoops during the last twenty years.  While it’s true that his BU and Providence teams weren’t particularly talented, his teams dating from 1992-97 at Kentucky and 2002-09 at Louisville were mostly loaded.  We thought the argument Gladwell tried to make here is that the full-court press levels the playing field for the Davids of the world vs. the Goliaths, right?  How is using Rick Pitino’s teams, the majority of which were exceptionally athletic AND talented, as your example of this?  The 2005 Louisville team (Pitino’s fourth season at the school, btw) went 33-5, had an all-american wing playmaker in Francisco Garcia and a very good point guard named Taquan Dean to go along with the standard Pitino cast of numerous replaceable parts – all long, lean and athletic.  That team was a #2 seed (corrected: #4 seed) in a region where the common perception was that the Cards were a better team than the #1 seeded Washington Huskies.  This is supposed to be a scrappy group of underdogs?  And who among our faithful readers is going to swallow the argument that the 2009 Louisville team (a #1 seed and preseason favorite along with UNC and UConn) wouldn’t have been nearly as good without their press, as Gladwell implies.  What about Earl Clark?  Terrence Williams?  Does he not realize that these two were among the best dozen or so players in college basketball this season?

And what about this indefensible jewel regarding Louisville center (and freshman all-american) Samardo Samuels?

When we were talking, Pitino called over Samardo Samuels, who is, of course, Jamaican — his point being that this was his ideal kind of player, someone who substituted for a lack of experience with a lot of hunger. There is something weird, isn’t there — and also strangely beautiful — about a coach who deliberately seeks out players who aren’t the most talented?

Right.  The same player who was the 2008 USA Today POY at the high school level and rated #9 overall in his class by Rivals isn’t the most talented.  Jamal Mashburn, Tony Delk, Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer, Derek Anderson, David Padgett, Juan Palacios, Derrick Caracter, Jerry Smith  and many others were also lesser-talented players whom Pitino plucked from the bottom of the barrel because of their innate hunger (not talent).   (Amir Johnson, Sebastian Telfair and most recently Jeremy Tyler are additional lesser-talented players whom Pitino sought for their hunger only to be disappointed when they headed straight to the pros… because they were less talented.)

Yeah, Samuels is Undertalented

Yeah, Samuels is Undertalented

Gladwell has fallen hard for the Pitino pitch.   Here’s more.

There are two other things here that fascinate me. After my piece ran in The New Yorker, one of the most common responses I got was people saying, well, the reason more people don’t use the press is that it can be beaten with a well-coached team and a good point guard. That is (A) absolutely true and (B) beside the point. The press doesn’t guarantee victory. It simply represents the underdog’s best chance of victory. It raises their odds from zero to maybe 50-50. I think, in fact, that you can argue that a pressing team is always going to have real difficulty against a truly elite team. But so what? Everyone, regardless of how they play, is going to have real difficulty against truly elite teams. It’s not a strategy for being the best. It’s a strategy for being better. I never thought Louisville — or, for that matter, Missouri — had a realistic shot at winning it all in the NCAAs this year. But if neither of those teams pressed, they wouldn’t have been there in the first place.

Let’s break this down again, because it’s clear that Gladwell does not understand why he’s wrong about this.  Louisville and Missouri have elite talent and elite athletes at the college level.  Their pressure defense only makes them better because they’re already really good to begin with.  These two teams are not and never were underdogs in the David mold.  They’re excellent college basketball teams and that statement would be true no matter what style of defense they chose to play.  The elite teams that Gladwell mentions a pressing team will always have trouble against – yeah, what he’s failing to recognize is that Louisville and Mizzou are the Goliaths in that scenario.

A true David in the college game is a team that is outclassed from a talent and/or athletic perspective.  Often it’s both.  If a team deficient in one  or both of these areas tries to press a legitimate Goliath such as a UConn, Michigan St. or Oklahoma this year, they’d have gotten crucified.  A pressing team at the collegiate level must, must, must have good athletes (and enough of them) to become successful; otherwise, the elite guards populating rosters on the Goliaths will absolutely destroy it.  There’s a reason that the few pressing teams that pull major upsets in the NCAA Tourney, while somewhat lacking on skill, are always full of guys who can run, jump and terrorize teams with their long arms and defensive activity.  We’re thinking of Bruce Pearl’s teams at UW-Milwaukee and Mike Anderson’s UAB teams as good examples.  Short on individual talent, but long on athleticism.

So what do you do if you’re a David who is  short on both?  Gladwell suggests that full-court pressure evens things up, and uses his junior high girls basketball example as evidence to that fact.  The problem, which we covered in our previous examination of this topic, is that at the collegiate level, a team that is significantly less skillful and less athletic than its opponent will suffer extreme humiliation by employing this strategy.  The proper way to combat this is to instead slow the game down, limit possessions, run an efficient offense and play hard-nosed halfcourt defense.  Princeton did this to UCLA, Bucknell did this to Kansas, Vermont did this to Syracuse, and there are many, many other successful examples.  Seriously, does anyone in their right minds believe that those three teams could have pulled the upsets by pressing the Goliath?

It’s preposterous, yet that’s what Gladwell would have us believe.

You Need Athletes to Make This Work

You Need Athletes to Make This Work

The bottom line is this.  Successful pressing requires athletes at the elite level of college basketball.  If you do not have athletes (and most Davids don’t), then you will get run ouf of the gym as Goliath scores layup after dunk after layup on your smaller, slower team.  Your best strategy is instead to slow the game down and limit possessions while playing smart basketball on both ends.  We see upsets like this nearly every year in the NCAA Tournament.  The one caveat, however, is if you have players who can match up reasonably well with a Goliath from an athletic standpoint, then you may consider pressing as a viable strategy.  The problem with this, of course, is that it’s fairly rare in the college game that a true David will have that kind of athletic stable at their disposal.  If you’re lucky enough to have both talent and athletes to run a press (as Pitino has had throughout much of his career, along with Nolan Richardson and some others), then such a strategy can devastate opponents – the real question should be why more Goliaths don’t institute the full-court press, rather than Davids.   This is why we continue to argue that full-court pressure defense is a better strategy for an elite team rather than an underdog – those teams already have the proper tools of talent and athleticism to employ it.

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Boom Goes the Dynamite: Elite 8 Day Two

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2009

dynamiteAfter last night’s fantastic games (especially the VillanovaPittsburgh game last night–probably the best game I have ever been to), we are hoping that today’s match-ups can equal what we saw last night. One of the more interesting things from the coverage last night (other than the fact that CBS cut to their regularly scheduled programming soon after the game was over according to reports that I have heard) is how little publicity ESPN and other media entities are giving the Scottie Reynolds mad dash to win the game. I’d be interested to hear your perspective on this since I was at the game and out for a couple hours after the game ended.

Anyways, here’s your schedule for today:

  • 2:20 PM: #2 Michigan State vs. #1 Louisville
  • 5:05 PM: #2 Oklahoma vs. #1 UNC

Even though the late game is getting a lot of the hype for the Blake Griffin vs. Tyler Hansbrough massacre match-up, I think the early game might be a better game. I think people are giving Louisville too much credit for destroying a very mediocre Arizona team and Kalin Lucas will do a much better job navigating the Cardinals pressure than any point guard they have faced this year.

Let me know what your thought in the comment section and I’ll be back a little after 2 PM to get things started.

2:15 PM: What happened to the guy posing with Magic Johnson? It looks like he got into a bar fight, but he looks like he’s pushing 70.

2:20 PM: Interesting fact regarding the coaching match-up today: Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo have never coached against each other.

2:22 PM: How crazy would Gus Johnson have been if he was calling the game in Boston last night? I’m pretty sure he would still be yelling today.

2:25 PM: Slow start for both teams (2 points combined in the first 3:30). I’m guessing this is just a bit of nerves. Hopefully the level of play will pick up.

2:30 PM: “Everywhere he (Pitino) goes success follows” – Gus Johnson. The residents of Boston would beg to differ.

2:43 PM: The teams still seem to be feeling each other out and the game seems to lack a real flow to it. Midway through the first half the teams are on pace to scored 92 points combined (a game after Louisville scored 103 points by themselves). How long the Spartans can maintain this pace before they need to go to their relatively inexperienced reserves?

2:50 PM: One thing to keep your eye on if the game is close late: free throw shooting. I harped on it last night after the Pitt-Nova game, but the Cardinals shoot an atrocious 64.4% as a team while the Spartans shoot 69.6% as a team. In fact, that may actually understate the difference in free throw shooting between the two teams. Louisville only has one starter who shoots over 67% from the line (Edgar Sosa at 74.2%) while Michigan State has 2 starters  who shoot 80% or better from the line (Kalin Lucas and Goran Suton) in addition to a key reserve (Chris Allen).

3:00 PM: I just stumbled across this article from 2 days ago where Rick Pitino says that the responsibility of watching over a basketball program rests on the coach’s shoulders. He says they aren’t directed at anybody in particular, but if Louisville makes it to Detroit Jim Calhoun might want to speak to Pitino outside. . .

3:08 PM: Great feed there by Edgar Sosa. This game is really starting to pick up. Could we have a repeat of yesterday? I think this could be another great game, but I have my doubts about UNC-Oklahoma. I have a feeling that the Tar Heels could run away with that game.

3:11 PM: Michigan State goes into half leading by 3. Izzo has to be thrilled that his team adjusted to the Cardinals’ pressure so quickly now he just has to hope their legs hold up.

3:15 PM: Scott, I think Pitino will make a few adjustments and the Cardinals will probably come out of halftime with the pressure cranked up to 11. If Michigan State can weather that storm and keep it within 5 points midway through the 2nd half they should be fine. The one interesting thing about the lack of respect Louisville has gotten this year is that I don’t think they will feel the pressure that the typical #1 overall seed would in this situation. I mean obviously there is some pressure trailing at halftime of an Elite 8 game, but I don’t think they will have the typical pressure of expectations that a #1 overall seed would have.

3:30 PM: BS, I’m sure you’ll get your wish (at least the dunking on part, but probably not the broken collarbone stuff). As for questioning the hatred of Hansbrough, it’s definitely out there. I think the reason Eric Devendorf was at another level is that he’s a lot more demonstrative and there was the accusation and suspension for striking a female student even if the charges were later dropped. I’m sure if you go to Durham, NC you will find quite a bit of hatred of Hansbrough. To be honest though, when I spoke with Hansbrough earlier this year he seemed to be a nice enough guy even if he seemed a little too intense almost an hour after the game.

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Midwest Region Game-By-Game Previews – 1st Round

Posted by zhayes9 on March 18th, 2009


#1 Louisville vs. #16 Morehead State

For Louisville to win: It’s pretty simple for Louisville in this 1-16 matchup: do exactly what has gotten you to the point of receiving the #1 overall seed in the tournament. They shouldn’t have much problem playing their usual lockdown defense, employing their frantic press and letting the pure athletic ability of guys like Earl Clark and Terrence Williams completely overwhelm the star-struck Eagles.

For Morehead State to win: The triumphant winners of the inaugural Play-In game, Morehead State will need a God-delivered miracle to prevail over Louisville. They hope their stud big man Kenneth Faried (13.9 PPG, 13.1 RPG) can push around Clark, Williams and Samardo Samuels enough inside where it becomes a guard-oriented shooting contest. Hope that Edgar Sosa, Preston Knowles, Andre McGee and Co. reverts back to their November shooting woes and pull off the monumental upset.

#8 Ohio State vs. #9 Siena

For Ohio State to win: The Buckeyes will need to play steady, Big Ten-like team defense on Siena’s trio of scorers and run a bunch of isolation plays down the stretch for their superstar Evan Turner (17.1 PPG, 7.0 RPG). At times Turner can penetrate and score at will; Siena simply does not have that type of talent on their roster. They also need to utilize B.J. Mullens inside due to Siena’s lack of height.

For Siena to win: The Saints have been led all season by their own Big Three- Kenny Hansbrouck, Edwin Ubiles and Alex Franklin. Receive balanced scoring out of those three like they’ve perfected all season (all average between 14.8 and 13.6 PPG) and they could surely take down the Buckeyes. The Saints will also be shorthanded inside trying to box out bodies like Dallas Lauderdale and B.J. Mullens. They’ll need Ryan Rossiter and Franklin to pound the boards constantly.

#5 Utah vs. #12 Arizona

For Utah to win: Luke Nevill outplaying Jordan Hill would be nice. Seriously, this is one of the best first-round matchups in the entire tournament. If Nevill can get Hill into foul trouble, the entire complexity of this game changes. Nic Wise and Chase Budinger love shooting it from the outside and the Utes wouldn’t mind getting into a three-point contest with Shaun Green and Lawrence Borha both over 40% from downtown.

For Arizona to win: Even though Arizona is the 12-seed, not many would refute that the Wildcats have the superior talent in this game. They can escape all of the regular season’s distractions now and out-talent the Utes. Nic Wise needs to have a quality outing for Arizona to win; when he’s hitting threes and running the offense with ease, Budinger gets open shots, Hill gets touches inside and Arizona can beat anyone.

#4 Wake Forest vs. #13 Cleveland State

For Wake Forest to win: The Demon Deacons need to avoid underestimating a clearly inferior opponent. As with losses to Georgia Tech, NC State and Virginia Tech, the young Deacons have played down to their competition. The Vikings went into the Carrier Dome and won this season when Syracuse did the same thing. Hopefully Jeff Teague and James Johnson come out right away with a fire in their collective bellies.

For Cleveland State to win: One thing Wake Forest does not do well at all is make threes. Their entire offensive game is generated by penetration and mid-range jump shooting. Coach Gary Waters should pop in the game film from Wake’s latest loss to Maryland and examine how the Terps chopped up the inconsistent Deacon defense. Cedric Jackson is the perfect point guard to lead the way.

#6 West Virginia vs. #11 Dayton

For West Virginia to win: The Mountaineers simply need to play like they did last weekend in the Big East tournament. Set screens to free deadeye shooter Alex Ruoff, let DaSean Butler work his multi-faceted offensive game, continue to witness Devin Ebanks mature into an elite scorer and rebounder and hope Darryl Bryant keeps distributing like a senior.

For Dayton to win: It’s going to be awfully difficult as West Virginia seems to be picking up steam lately and you know Bob Huggins will have them prepared and intense. Not only will stars Chris Wright and Marcus Johnson need to play outstanding games, but their deep bench must contribute offensively. It’s all about keeping West Virginia off the boards and hoping Ruoff has a bad day from the outside. If that happens, the Mountaineers can look very confused offensively.

#3 Kansas vs. #14 North Dakota State

For Kansas to win: Ben Woodside is not only the Bison’ top scorer, he’s the engine behind their incredibly efficient and unselfish offensive game plan. He’s quite a task for Sherron Collins in the first game of the tournament. If Collins can shut down Woodside on the defensive end, North Dakota State should have trouble scoring with the Morris twins, Cole Aldrich and others blocking shots inside. This young Jayhawk team will live and die with the play of their junior leader Collins.

For North Dakota State to win: They need to play some semblance of tough defense. We all know the Bison can score points in bunches and have some prolific offensive options, but the only way the Bison will be fitted for Cinderella’s slipper is if they can contain slashers Collins and Tyshawn Taylor and bang bodies with the Morris twins and Aldrich. If they fall behind early, it is imperative they stick with their offense that’s gotten them this far instead of panicking.

#7 Boston College vs. #10 Southern California

For Boston College to win: The Eagles can sometimes look really crappy on defense. The Trojans have so many weapons, BC needs to play inspired defense to win this game. The most arduous task will be to contain Taj Gibson inside with Joe Trapani and Josh Southern. Gibson has an NBA-body and tremendous scoring potential. Trapani and Southern must play defense inside similar to their effort in Chapel Hill when they knocked off the Tar Heels.

For Southern California to win: Stud freshman DeMar DeRozan played like a possessed man during the Pac-10 tournament and USC finally came together to play up to their potential. If DeRozan outplays Rakim Sanders and explodes to the rim with ease, the entire USC offense improves drastically. Defending Tyrese Rice will also clearly be imperative. Should Daniel Hackett hold Rice, the Trojans will win.

#2 Michigan State vs. #15 Robert Morris

For Michigan State to win: The Spartans clearly have enough talent to win this 2-15 game easily. If only a couple of their many weapons are flowing offensively, they should be fine. Izzo’s boys are also in the top ten in defense and rebounding. Overwhelm the Colonials with the talent of Lucas, Morgan, Suton, Summers and they’ll prevail by 20+.

For Robert Morris to win: For the Colonials to pull another Duke-Belmont 2-15 scare, they’ll need to play their usually efficient offensive game. Their entire team shoots 48% from the floor and Jeremy Chappell is especially remarkable- 16.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 47% FG, 85% FT, 41% 3PT, 2.5 SPG as one of the most unheralded all-around players in the nation. If Chappell has a monster performance and Michigan State can’t get into any flow offensively, the Colonials have a shot.

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NCAA Basketball 2009: The BCS Version

Posted by nvr1983 on March 16th, 2009


With the release of the brackets on Sunday evening there has been quite a bit of controversy (Arizona over St. Mary’s being the predominant gripe) and there have been some interesting moments with Jay Bilas and Digger Phelps ganging up on Dick Vitale and almost bringing him to tears. However, it was nothing compared to the furor that we saw when the BCS released its final poll that determined the BCS bowl games and more importantly the national championship. We thought it would be a fun exercise to try to make a mock BCS basketball system. I used the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls as the human polls and’s InsiderRPI,, and Sagarin’s ratings as the computer polls. There are a couple polls I excluded for other reasons: Kenneth Massey’s (wasn’t updated yet) and Jerry Palm’s (not free). I did not throw out the high and low computer polls for two reasons: (1) we only had 3 available and (2) they were fairly similar with a few exceptions (Gonzaga in the RPI, but they weren’t going to be a factor anyways because of Memphis).’s InsiderRPI didn’t include the games from Sunday, but after looking at the final results they would not have had any impact on the rankings  based on the teams involved. Here are the results:


If you want to try and follow along, here are the BCS criteria.

Now onto the match-ups. . .

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