Morning Five: 06.19.14 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 19th, 2014

morning5

  1. Most college sports fans probably aren’t following the day-by-day action in the Ed O’Bannon vs. the NCAA case taking place in Oakland, California, this month, and why would they? First of all, there’s no nifty “doink doink” Law & Order plot mover to let us know we are moving on to a more important part of the proceedings, and secondly, many people probably don’t believe that the outcome will amount to much change in their annual sports viewing habits anyway. Fair points, both, but if you’re interested in summarily catching up through the better part of two weeks of proceedings and following along in the future, SI.com‘s Stewart Mandel and Andy Staples have you covered with their daily updates. The big fish scheduled on the line this week, of course, is NCAA president Mark Emmert, who will be called to testify today and possibly beyond (if necessary). Emmert has been a staunch public supporter of the NCAA’s amateurism model throughout his four-year tenure, and you have to wonder if he will fall victim to fits of hubris while on the stand defending what is widely becoming disparaged as an indefensible system. His testimony could be a key tipping point in the ultimate outcome of this case, so keep an eye on it.
  2. The underlying force driving the O’Bannon case, of course, is money. It’s always money, and specifically, who is getting their grubby little hands on it. To most Americans just getting by, the division of tens of millions of dollars between the NCAA, schools and the television networks doesn’t much move the needle — in their view, it’s just a case of rich people enriching other rich people. But even their fur gets a little raised when a clearly successful business model that can produce a third of a billion dollars (“B”) in a single year doesn’t give a taste of the steady stream of money to those whose backs on which all those dollars were made — the athletes. And yet, the Pac-12, as Dennis Dodd reported this week, produced $334 million in 2012-13 — the most of any conference in college sports history — disseminating around $18.5 million back to each school as a result. Once you start to add ticket sales, bowl games, NCAA Tournament shares and other revenue producers to each school’s athletic pie, you start to see some very large numbers generated at the bottom of the spreadsheet. Good luck with your arguments for amateurism, NCAA.
  3. Kansas basketball got some really interesting news earlier this week when it was announced that Bill Self’s team will represent Team USA in next summer’s 2015 World University Games in Gwangju, South Korea. Typically, the WUG teams have consisted of some of the top rising stars in college basketball, but the all-star model with limited practice time for players to get to know each other has resulted in only one gold and two bronze medals in the last seven events (Team USA won six straight golds from 1989-99, for some perspective). The Jayhawks have another loaded team coming into next year’s college basketball season, but a number of those players such as Cliff Alexander and Wayne Selden, are unlikely to still be in uniform for international competition a year from now. Still, perhaps the knowledge of Self’s system and the resultant familiarity among the remaining players will allow Team USA to improve on its ninth-place finish in 2013. We can only hope.
  4. It wouldn’t be summer without some transfer news, and there were a couple of name-brand players who found new destinations this week. First, LSU guard Anthony Hickey, a solid if not spectacular player whose senior-year scholarship was not “renewed” by head coach Johnny Jones in Baton Rouge, has resurfaced at Oklahoma State and was deemed eligible to play for the Cowboys immediately. This is a major boon for an upcoming year where head coach Travis Ford is in dire need of a reliable point guard after the losses of both Marcus Smart and Stevie Clark from his team. It may not save Ford’s job in Stillwater, but it gives him a fighting chance. In other news, Maryland guard Nick Faust has decided to finish his career across the country at Long Beach State. Unlike Hickey, who took advantage of the NCAA’s “run-off” rule to become eligible for next season, Faust will have to sit out 2014-15 before playing his senior year with The Beach. We wish both the best of luck in their new environments.
  5. You probably heard about the too-soon passing of the late great baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn earlier this week, and while every American sports fan recognizes the ridiculous batting prowess of the man who hit safely 3,141 times with a .338 average over two decades in the majors, they may not realize that Gwynn was a college hoops star before he ever became one of the friendliest and most beloved faces of Major League Baseball. As SI.com‘s Brian Hamilton explains in this piece, Gwynn to this day remains one of the best point guards to have ever played at San Diego State, a two-time all-WAC selection on the hardwood that featured the best single-season assist average in program history (8.2 APG in the 1979-80 season). We never saw him play hoops, but we have to imagine that he brought the same passion and respect for our game as he did to the baseball diamond. RIP, Tony Gwynn.
Share this story

The RTC Podcast: Jim Boeheim Meme Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 25th, 2014

One week until the first conference championship tips off (Patriot League), two weeks until Championship Week begins, and three weeks from Selection Sunday… it’s time to get serious about college basketball. Or something like that, which is probably why we spent the first 10 minutes of this week’s RTC Podcast talking about the inanity and insanity of Jim Boeheim, Jim Boeheim memes, and the magic of Tobacco Road. We also found time to discuss the sport’s most loved and hated players this season, what it means to “peak” at the right time, and preview our special NCAA Tournament Prognostication Top 25 (due out a bit later today). As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts the proceedings. Have a listen.

Make sure to subscribe to the podcast/podblast on iTunes so that you’ll get all of the episodes immediately downloaded to your listening device.

  • 0:00-12:26 – Questionable Call and Boeheim Freak Out Loses the Game (But Wins the Internet)
  • 12:25-16:15 – What’s Next for Syracuse
  • 16:15-20:28 – Big Weekend in the Big Ten
  • 20:28-22:21 – What It Means to Peak at the “Right Time”
  • 22:21-26:01 – Crucial Games in the American
  • 26:01-28:25 – Other Notables From a Busy Weekend
  • 28:25-32:50 – Concern Level for San Diego State
  • 32:50-33:21 – Brief Congratulatory Interlude for Kansas
  • 33:21-38:26 – Most Liked and Disliked Players in College Basketball
  • 38:26-45:07 – Previewing the NCAA Tournament Prognostication Top 25
  • 45:07-50:03 Week Preview/Wrap
Share this story

Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 28th, 2014

The Mountain West clearly isn’t as good as it was last year. Two teams receiving invitations to the NCAA Tournament in March seems likely. While there are some future pros in this conference, there is nobody even on the radar for an overall #1 pick like Anthony Bennett was last season. We could spend the next thousand words or so telling you all the things that the Mountain West is not, but let’s focus on this indisputable fact: It remains a pretty darn exciting league. This week, in 10 conference games, there were a total of five different overtime periods; three games were decided by just two points; and five were decided by less than two possessions. And yet, inexplicably, in a conference almost defined by the strength of its home court advantages, the road warriors once again rose up, with fully half of this week’s games won by road teams; for the year, home teams are just 21-18 in conference play.

Not To Be Repetitive, But With A Pair Of Road Wins, The Aztecs Again Win Our Team Of The Week

Not To Be Repetitive, But With A Pair Of Road Wins, The Aztecs Again Win Our Team Of The Week

Team of the Week

San Diego State – When you win two road conference games in one week, you’ve got good credentials for having had the best week in the conference. When you do it in the same week that you get bumped up to #5 in the AP poll, then you’re a lock. Sure, going to San Jose State and getting a win isn’t exactly going to raise many eyebrows, but the Aztecs did what they were supposed to do there: They blew out the Spartans. And then to go from San Jose and beat Utah State in one of the toughest road environments in the country — the first ever home loss in Utah State’s long (ahem) and illustrious history in the Mountain West? That’s a serious accomplishment.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

2013-14 Conference Preview: Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 7th, 2013

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and the Pac-12. You can find him on Twitter at @Amurawa.

Reader’s Take

 

Top Storylines

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times? In some way, the 2012-13 regular season was the peak for the Mountain West basketball. As a conference, the MW finished third in RPI, behind only the Big Ten and the Big East, with regular season champion New Mexico finishing third nationally in that admittedly flawed rating. Colorado State, UNLV and San Diego State all finished in the top 35 in RPI, while only two teams – Fresno State and Nevada – finished below 100 in that rating. And best of all, five of the nine conference teams earned invitations to the NCAA Tournament, and all five were either seed-line favorites or, in the case of Boise State, involved in a virtual coin-flip in a First Four game. But Selection Sunday was the last glimpse of glory for the conference, as only two of the conference teams made it even so far as the first weekend of the Tournament, and by the time the Sweet 16 rolled around, the MW was little more than a punchline. To put it plainly, this is a conference with a lot of doubters heading into the new season.

New Mexico's Regular Season Success Was A Distant Memory Following An Opening Round NCAA Tournament Loss (Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

New Mexico’s Regular Season Success Was A Distant Memory Following An Opening Round NCAA Tournament Loss (Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

Replacing Production. To make matters worse, all of the historic powers in this conference are faced with replacing major losses. UNLV saw freshman Anthony Bennett leave on his way to becoming the number one overall pick in June’s NBA Draft, but will also have to find ways to replace transfers Mike Moser and Katin Reinhardt, along with backcourt rock Anthony Marshall. New Mexico had head coach Steve Alford bail for the greener pastures of UCLA, not a week after agreeing to a big contract extension in Albuquerque, and will also have to find a replacement for breakout wing Tony Snell, who left for the NBA. Steve Fisher and San Diego State now find themselves without any remaining ties to the 2010 Sweet 16 team, as graduates Chase Tapley and James Rahon are joined on their way out the door by their own early entrant to the NBA Draft in Jamaal Franklin. And Colorado State? Geez, if you know anybody returning on the Ram basketball squad, you and I should sit down and have a beer sometime. While there is still plenty of talent around the conference, there are a lot of players who need to produce in order to make us believe.

The Final Effects of Realignment? Not too long ago, the Mountain West was a stable collection of nine teams who seemed more or less happy to be with each other, despite a flailing cable network and a mishmash of interests. Just three seasons ago, teams like Utah, BYU and TCU were cornerstones of the conference. Now, those three schools are gone. But, to be honest, the conference has to be thankful that they have who they still have. Even in the middle of last year’s basketball season, Boise State and San Diego State each had one foot out the door to the Big East (really? San Diego and Boise, east? This still bugs me after all this time) before cooler heads prevailed. Still, in an effort to replace those teams should their defection have completed, the MW snapped up Utah State and San Jose State from the WAC, and those two teams join the conference this season, marking the end to the changes in the membership of the Mountain West, at least for the foreseeable future. One significantly unfortunate side effect of all the running around – the balanced conference schedule where everybody plays everybody at home and away is a thing  of the past.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Where 2013-14 Happens: Reason #29 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 21st, 2013

seasonpreview-1

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.

#29 – Where That’s Just Showing Off Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12, and 2012-13 preseasons.

 

Share this story

Morning Five: 10.11.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 11th, 2013

morning5

  1. In a week full of trash talk, hype machines and other nonsense, how about this for a heartwarming story of substance? ESPN.com‘s Andy Katz revealed the story of Robert Kirby, a 53-year assistant coach at Memphis who recently donated one of his kidneys to his sister, Virginia Kirk, as she gradually slid toward renal failure. It was similar to the conditions that took their mother’s life some 17 years ago, but she wouldn’t allow any of her 13 children to become a donor. Kirby wasn’t about to allow that to happen to his older sister this time around, so after become approved as a match, he underwent the procedure to remove the kidney on Tuesday and was went back home yesterday. He’ll be back on the sidelines at Memphis very soon, perhaps a few ounces lighter but no worse for the wear. Major props are due for the longtime assistant still looking for his first head coaching job, but if his selflessness in this situation is any indication of his integrity and loyalty, we hope some enterprising school in need of a head coach next April gives him a good look.
  2. While we’re on the subjects of perseverance and selflessness, America’s favorite bench-warmer in last year’s Final Four is well ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation. Kevin Ware, the Louisville guard who broke his leg so horrifically in last year’s Elite Eight contest against Duke, is, according to his head coach, going to be in uniform for the Cardinals’ first regular season game against College of Charleston on November 9. Rick Pitino stopped short of saying that Ware would play in that game, but considering that he’s already been practicing and still has several weeks left to prepare for his return, we’d have to believe that there’s a reasonably good chance that he’ll be play in that game. And while all anybody really wants is for Ware to find his fortitude so that he can contribute again, the fact is that Louisville is a better team when he can bring his energy, speed and defensive intensity off the bench.
  3. For years we’ve derided the fact that what we still call “Midnight Madness” really doesn’t have much in the way of midnight associated with it anymore. For those of you who may not remember how it was named in the first place, it had to do with the NCAA’s mandated start of practice, which for many years was at the stroke of midnight on October 15. In later years the NCAA moved the start date to the weekend closest to October 15, and of course now teams can have it in late September. All this maneuvering has taken some of the fun out of it, so we’re always looking for the new and creative ways that schools choose to celebrate the new season. Cincinnati is one school trying something different. The Bearcats will have their “Midday Madness” next Friday, October 17, at Noon in downtown’s Fountain Square. The event, featuring some light scrimmaging and fan-friendly competitions, will be open to the public and will provide a nice fall afternoon respite for the office drones working nearby. Sure, it’s a little hokey, but it is a creative way to reach fans in a way that UC otherwise wouldn’t. We like it, and wish more schools would follow their lead in coming up with interesting ideas.
  4. Over the last five seasons, Steve Fisher’s San Diego State program has averaged a total of 27 wins per year as he has built the program into one of the very best in the west. He’s done so on the backs of stars such as Kawhi Leonard, Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley and a host of others, but none of those players were exceptionally rated prospects when they arrived on campus. That may be changing, with news on Thursday that Rivals.com top-20 recruit Malik Pope (Elk Grove, CA) has committed to SDSU. Kansas and Gonzaga were also in the mix for Pope, but the 6’9″ wing (you read that correctly) was impressed with how Fisher’s program didn’t back off of him when he broke his leg twice in the last eight months (the injuries will cost him his senior year). San Diego State’s class is already among the best in program history, and if the Aztecs lock down their final target, Zylan Cheatham, it would be safe to call this group a top 25 class that would benefit the school for years to come.
  5. The last time Kansas did not win at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title was in 2003-04, Bill Self’s first season in Lawrence. The Jayhawks finished two games behind a Tony Allen and John Lucas III-led Final Four Oklahoma State team. Ten years later, Big 12 coaches are not about to make the mistake of leaving KU off the preseason top line in the league standings, even if the roster features zero returning starters. Oklahoma State, on the other hand, returns five starters to a young squad led by NPOY candidate Marcus Smart. So what did the coaches do? They split the difference. Kansas and Oklahoma State received the same number of votes (77 total, five first place votes each), ensuring that proper respect was given to both the team with the most returning talent and the team with the most incoming talent. It will be a mighty fun race in the Big 12 this season. Oh, and the Rick Barnes dead man walking watch? Eighth.
Share this story

Morning Five: 05.16.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 16th, 2013

morning5

  1. It’s now been nearly two days since the Andrew Wiggins Sweepstakes was won by Bill Self and Kansas. Reactions have run the gamut and we ran down a number of the better ones in yesterday’s M5. One we missed was this fantastic piece by Sam Mellinger at the Kansas City Star, who writes that everyone in the media and greater college basketball community needs to be very careful with the hyperbole when discussing Wiggins next season as the “Best High School Prospect Since Lebron.” Mellinger breaks down each of the best prep players in the last 10 years since Lebron, and the truth is that most of them can’t even sniff an NBA All-Star Game at this point. Some guys continue to progress, while others level off, and it’s a lesson worth remembering. Then he finishes things off with a fantastic anecdote about the humility of prep Lebron. Well worth a read.
  2. Once the ACC raided the Big East to lock up prized programs Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, it appeared inevitable that the league would eventually move its showcase event — the ACC Tournament — to Gotham in short order. Those premonitions seem to be coming true, as ESPN.com reported on Wednesday that the league is “thoroughly investigating” a move to the World’s Most Famous Arena at some point in the next several years. The ACC Tournament is scheduled to be in Greensboro in 2014 and 2015, but the options are open afterward, while the new Big East has contractually obligated MSG to hold its postseason tournament there until 2026. The crux of the matter is that the Big East will need to meet certain benchmarks to keep its deal with The Garden alive, and given just how shaky the league has become in the interim, many ACC insiders believe that the “legal ramifications” to move its own event will get worked out as a matter of course. Brooklyn’s Barclays Center is also an option too, of course, but make no mistake, the ACC Tournament will eventually reside at least part-time in NYC.
  3. While on the subject of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the league is holding its spring meetings in Amelia Island, Florida, this week and SI.com‘s Andy Staples caught up with commissioner John Swofford to get the inside scoop on how he pulled off “the most chaotic reorganization in the history of major college sports.” It’s somewhat wonky and process-oriented, but it gives a true insider’s perspective on the importance of the Maryland defection and how the perceived likelihood that the Big Ten would seek to continue moving south (Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia Tech) had Swofford failed to get his schools to agree to the media grant of rights deal in April. Although conference realignment has been disastrous to college basketball in some ways, we’re hoping like everyone else who loves the sport that this particular initiative holds steady and removes the incentive for continued raids for a good long while.
  4. Yesterday was a busy day on the transfer wire, as quite a few prominent names announced that they are on the move. The most surprising name was perhaps Penn State’s Jermaine Marshall, who was projected to be a key cog in the Nittany Lions’ resurgence next season but has instead decided to leave school to pursue professional options. The least surprising decision was that Arizona State’s Evan Gordon announced that he is headed to Indiana, where as a graduate transfer he will be eligible to play immediately for Tom Crean. A few other notables: Minnesota’s Joe Coleman is leaving the Gophers; Tulane’s Josh Davis will land at San Diego State; and, Florida’s Braxton Ogbueze will resurface at Charlotte. Davis will be eligible to play immediately at SDSU under the graduate transfer exception.
  5. Perhaps seeing a bit too much of Rick Pitino in the media lately, Kentucky head coach John Calipari held his own press conference yesterday to discuss the state of his program. And since we’ve already addressed the subject of hyperbole above, why not let Coach Cal bring us full circle: “We’re chasing perfection. We’re chasing greatness. We’re chasing things that have never been done before in the history of this game.” The perfection he refers to of course is the elusive-since-1976 undefeated season by a Division I men’s basketball team. Since Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers ran the table 37 years ago, no team has won the national title with fewer than two losses (including Calipari’s 38-2 championship squad in 2011-12). Look, we’re never going to say never because as soon as you do something like that, a Florida Gulf Coast goes to the Sweet Sixteen. But there have been an awful lot of great teams pass through the years without a sniff of a perfect season, and the concept that a team led by a bunch of freshmen — even freshmen as good as UK’s group will be — can bring the noise every single night for up to 40 games next year is nothing more than fantasy. Still, the players don’t know that, so it’s another great marketing/strategic ploy from the master salesman living in Lexington. For what it’s worth, the Wildcats sit as a 4:1 (20%) or 5:1 (17%) favorite in Vegas to win next year’s title.
Share this story

The Other 26: This Is Not Mark Few’s Best Team… Yet

Posted by IRenko on February 16th, 2013

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

After a 17-point win at St. Mary’s on Thursday night pushed Gonzaga’s record to 24-2 and cleared its biggest hurdle to a regular season record tainted with just two losses, some are wondering whether this is the best team that Mark Few has put together in his 14 years at the helm. It’s a fair question, given the way they’re playing. But the best ever? Sure, not since Adam Morrison was dragged off the court after a heartbreaking loss to UCLA ended his college career, have the Zags had a player with the combination of star power, All-American credentials, and curious hairstyle that Kelly Olynyk has brought this year. And, true, moreso than the Morrison-led team of 2006, this squad is a well-balanced offensive machine, with a multitude of frontcourt and backcourt options. They proved that on Thursday, when Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, who have deferred most of the scoring load this year to Olynyk and Elias Harris, dropped a combined 38 points on St. Mary’s.

This Gonzaga Team is Good, But Not Mark Few’s Best … Yet (James Snook / USA TODAY Sports)

This Gonzaga Team is Good, But Not Mark Few’s Best … Yet (James Snook / USA TODAY Sports)

But Few’s best team ever? They have a ways to go before they can claim such an honor. Take, for example, the 2004 team, which also dropped just two contests heading into the NCAA Tournament.  That squad was led by All-American senior guard Blake Stepp, and like Olynyk, he had lots of help. Junior Ronny Turiaf, sophomore Morrison, and senior Cory Violette shared the scoring load, with all four players averaging in double-digits. They coasted through league play undefeated, never winning a game by less than double digits, and ended the season on a 20-game win streak en route to a 2 seed in the Tournament, Gonzaga’s best ever. Their two pre-Tournament losses were to St. Joe’s and Stanford, both of which went on to earn 1 seeds that year. By contrast, this year’s Gonzaga team lost to Illinois, a bubble team, at home by 11 points.

Of course, this year’s squad could prove itself a superior to the 2004 team — or any team that Few has coached — if it can get past the Sweet Sixteen. Since Gonzaga burst onto the college hoops scene 14 years ago with a Cinderella run to the Elite Eight, they’ve yet to get reach the brink of a Final Four, much less a Final Four itself. The ballyhooed ’04 squad was upset by 10th-seeded Nevada in the second round, the ’05 team squandered a 3 seed with a second round loss to Texas Tech, and the ’06 Zags memorably collapsed against UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen (a game to which one cannot refer without remarking that it was perhaps the finest moment of Gus Johnson’s illustrious career). This Gonzaga team stacks up well with those predecessors, but unless it breaks through to the second game of the second weekend, it won’t prove to be their clear superior.

What’s undisputed, however, is that the Zags have been dominant enough to remain at the top of this year’s Top 10.  On to that, our Honor Roll, and this week’s games to watch  . . .

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Top 25: Week 6

Posted by KDoyle on December 25th, 2012

Happy Holidays, everyone. As we enter the last major dry spell of the season this week with Christmas break upon us, this might be the last chance that you’ll have to see so little movement in our weekly poll. Next weekend features a number of intriguing games involving our Top 25 teams, and conference play looms immediately after that. Even so, there were some notable changes in this week’s poll — Syracuse and Missouri were the biggest movers — so let’s jump to the Quick n’ Dirty analysis after the jump.

RTC Top 25 - Week 6

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

The Other 26: Week Five

Posted by IRenko on December 15th, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

The past week brought bad news for mid-major fans in that the 2013 edition of the Bracketbusters will be the last.  There are diverging views on the value and appeal of the Bracketbusters, which was designed to give mid-majors a higher profile in advance of the NCAA Tournament where their presence as potential spoilers is a crowd-pleasing hallmark of March Madness. Personally, I found every year’s Bracketbuster matchups to be compelling, as some of the best mid-major teams in the country were pitted against each other just as they were rounding into peak form. But individual aesthetics aside, it’s worth asking whether the Bracketbusters event served one of its more objective purposes — to help mid-major teams bolster their at-large resumes with quality wins over non-conference opponents late in the season. Recent years’ evidence suggests that Bracketbuster games have actually helped quite a bit in this regard. In each of the last three seasons, a mid-major team that snuck into the at-large field did so in part on the strength of a late season quality win over Bracketbuster weekend. And one of those teams went on to make the Final Four.

Without the Bracketbuster, This May Not Have Happened

Without the Bracketbuster, This May Not Have Happened

Last year, Iona scored its second best win of the year (in RPI terms) when it knocked off Nevada. The Gaels went on to make the NCAA Tournament as a #14 seed. In 2010, Utah State also picked up its second best win of the season — one of only two RPI top 50 wins — when it defeated Wichita State. That may have been the difference-maker that got them into the NCAA Tournament field as a #12 seed. And perhaps the most famous beneficiary of the Bracketbusters concept was 2011’s VCU. The Rams notched a critical victory over Wichita State in the middle of a rough stretch during which they had lost four of five games to close the regular season. Their at-large selection defied the odds as it was, but imagine how tough a choice they would have been for the Selection Committee without the late season quality win over the Shockers. Without Bracketbusters weekend, we may never have had the privilege of watching the Rams wreak their unique brand of “havoc” on the Southwest region en route to the Final Four. So whatever else one might say about the Bracketbusters, let it not be said that it did not make a difference.

Moving on to this week’s Top 10 and more …

Top Ten Rankings

RTC -- TO26 (12.15.12)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

San Diego State: California’s Best Team

Posted by AMurawa on December 2nd, 2012

Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and a Pac-12 microsite writer. He filed this report after Saturday night’s John Wooden Classic between UCLA and San Diego State in Anaheim.

When asked Saturday night following San Diego State’s nine-point win over UCLA at the Wooden Classic whether the Aztecs’ 26-game winning streak over teams from the state of California was proof that, for now at least, SDSU is the best college basketball program in the state, Bruin head coach Ben Howland was not about to play ball. “There are a lot of teams in California,” he said before changing the subject. When Jamaal Franklin was asked a similar question just minutes later, he wasted no time answering in the affirmative, with one caveat: “We are the best, but I’m not saying we’re the best forever.” And whether UCLA’s Howland (or USC’s Kevin O’Neill, or Cal’s Mike Montgomery, or Saint Mary’s Randy Bennett, or any other head coach of a California team whose scalp SDSU has taken recently) are ready to publicly admit it, it is hard to argue the point. Right now the Aztecs are ranked higher than anybody else in the state, and in recent history, they’re the team that has had the most success. The lone Sweet Sixteen appearance by a team from California in the past three years belongs to SDSU; arguably the most accomplished current player in the state (Franklin, the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year) calls SDSU home; and as is rapidly become clear, the Aztecs have the best fan support of any team in the state this side of the Lakers.

Steve Fisher, San Diego State

Steve Fisher Has Taken A Program That Was Once a Non-Factor And Turned It Into The Best In the State (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

When Steve Fisher agreed to become the head coach for SDSU 14 seasons ago, the announcement was little more than a curiosity. Having taken Michigan to the mountaintop in his first six games as head coach of that program back in 1989, and then following that up with the fabled Fab Five recruiting class, Fisher was unceremoniously run out of Ann Arbor for his tenuous connection to the scandal that resulted in a vacated Final Four appearances. When he showed up in San Diego, he was taking over a program with zero history that had gone 4-22 the previous season. Two years into the job, he had a .500 ballclub on his hands, and now, in the past seven seasons, his team has racked up a 177-63 record, including the Sweet Sixteen appearance in 2010-11. But perhaps the biggest feather in Fisher’s cap has been the explosion of fan interest in the Aztecs. There was a time when this team played in the sterile and crumbling San Diego Sports Arena in front of a handful of diehard fans and maybe a small group of students. Nowadays, Viejas Arena (opened just in advance of Fisher in 1997) is regularly packed to the gills and roaring loud, in part due to its large and vocal student section, The Show. And, as Aztec fans proved Saturday night, they’re ready and willing to go on the road and change any venue within striking distance into a temporary home court; on Saturday night, of the 17,000-plus at the Honda Center, a clear majority of the fans were there to support SDSU.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

After the Buzzer: On Aircraft Carrier Games, Kevin Ollie’s Debut, Top Five Dunks of the Weekend…

Posted by Chris Johnson on November 12th, 2012

This Weekend’s Lede. It’s time to put all that preseason chatter on the backburner, and start drawing first impressions, because the 2012-13 season officially got underway Friday night. Unlike the murmuring fizz of an opening that usually christens a new college hoops campaign, we were treated to several high-profile clashes over the weekend. College basketball set out to establish a definitive starting point, and this year (more than any other in recent memory), it succeeded. There are inherent risks to overanalyzing single-game sample sizes, but even after just one weekend’s action, we were able to learn quite a bit about some of the teams headlining the opening weekend. 

Your Watercooler Moment. Stick to Dry Environments (or, Why Naval Ship Games Need to Only Take Place in San Diego).

Things Started Off Well, But Quickly Deteriorated With These Games

When inclement weather forecasts pushed the Syracuse-San Diego State game from Friday to Sunday, you knew this year’s slate of naval ship games were off to a bad start. That game, which concluded Sunday evening with Syracuse pretty much dominating the hometown Aztecs (62-49) in one of the Orange’s rare non-conference games outside the state of New York, was played under gorgeous 60-degree San Diego skies. The two other scheduled match-ups – Ohio State-Marquette in South Carolina and Georgetown-Florida in Jacksonville – did not proceed as planned, as both games were called off when officials noticed condensation developing on both playing surfaces. The Florida-Georgetown game tipped off and ran into the half with minimal fuss. Up the coastline, though, the slick playing surface aboard the USS Yorktown prompted coaches and players from Ohio State and Marquette to mop the court in the hope that some good old-fashioned clean-up work could diffuse mother nature’s influence on their much-hyped shipside season-opener. As both teams quickly learned, the condensation kept coming back, and officials then made the logical move of calling the game off. Spiritually, emotionally and patriotically, the outdoor aircraft carrier games are an excellent idea. Last season’s Carrier Classic, played before gorgeous vistas and naval troops, and featuring two of the nation’s most respected programs in North Carolina and Michigan State, was a definite win. And there have been few times when a college basketball non-conference game to begin the season has drawn so much national attention. It was a special night. Logistically, though, playing basketball games outdoors in November on the East Coast is fraught with risk, and event organizers learned as much Friday. If the aircraft carrier trend is to continue, the games must be played on the West Coast, where a more favorable late fall climate will increase the chances of staging contests without conflict.

Also Worth Chatting About. Give That Man a Contract (Or, Kevin Ollie Has His Squad Playing Hard).

Kevin Ollie Cannot Escape His Former Coach’s Shadow, But With Wins Like These, He May Not Have To (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

The long-term status of UConn’s head coaching job remains unresolved for the moment, but we gained some clarity on the issue Friday night. Its leading candidate, former assistant Kevin Ollie, made a resounding statement to open his one-season job trial by knocking off Big Ten contender Michigan State 66-62 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The Huskies lost the core of last season’s underachieving yet talented team, including two first round draft picks (Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond) and two transfers (Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith). Backcourt mainstays Ryan Boatwright and Shabazz Napier carried the torch Friday night against the Spartans, with Napier pouring in 25 points on 8-for-16 shooting and Boatwright adding 13. Highly-touted freshman Omar Calhoun logged 25 minutes but finished with just one point, two rebounds and two assists. The season could not have begun in a better way for Ollie, who faces the massive burden of proving athletic director Warde Manuel he’s the right man for the job, the right personality to succeed the legend that preceded him in Storrs. There were concerns as to whether UConn would lack motivation this season, given their ineligibility for the postseason, but that was hardly the case Friday night. The Huskies played inspired basketball against a top-tier Big Ten foe known for its toughness and grit. If I were to grade Ollie’s job candidacy one game into the season, nothing less than an A+ would suffice.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story