Set Your Tivo 02.21.10

Posted by THager on February 21st, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2012
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

#12 Ohio State @ #11 Michigan State – 12 pm on CBS (****)

Kalin Lucas Leads the Spartans Against OSU

The Buckeyes blew a golden opportunity to advance in the Big Ten standings when they lost at home to Purdue last week, but they have another great chance this afternoon against possibly the best team in the conference.  They are still only one game behind the Spartans in the standings, and if they can beat Michigan State on the road, they are once again in the running to win the Big Ten title.  In addition to potentially deciding the conference champion, Big Ten player of the year honors may also be on the line, as Evan Turner will try to wrest the POY award away from Kalin Lucas.  Both players have suffered injuries this year, but appear to now be at 100% for this game.  With Turner in the lineup, the Buckeyes are a completely different team with his ability to create shots for himself and find open players.  They rank #13 in offensive efficiency, and are third in the country in two-point field goal percentage, so the Spartans may have a tough time defending them (MSU is #41 in defensive efficiency).  These teams play different styles, as OSU uses a guard-heavy lineup and three of MSU’s top scorers are forwards, so I expect the Spartans to exploit the Buckeyes in the paint.  Among Ohio State’s top four scorers, no player is taller than Turner at 6’7, so Raymar Morgan and Draymond Green may try to carry their team at home.  Michigan State is 13-1 at home this year, and shoots over 53% from inside the arc, so look for the bigger team to take one step closer to a Big Ten title.

#3 Villanova @ #19 Pittsburgh – 12 pm on CBS (****)

If somebody told you two weeks ago that entering the Villanova vs. Pitt game, one of these teams would be coming off a loss and the other was in the midst of a four-game winning streak, that wouldn’t surprise too many people.  What does surprise fans is that the losing team is Villanova, while the Panthers seem to be firing on all cylinders.  Pitt had lost four of their five games from January 20 to February 3, but now has wins over three quality teams since that slump, with victories over Seton Hall, West Virginia and Marquette.  These teams have not met since their classic last year in the NCAA Tournament, when Scottie Reynolds sent the Wildcats to the Final Four with a last second shot.  Reynolds has carried his great play into this season, and shoots 49% from the field, an impressive percentage for a smallish guard.  Pitt’s Ashton Gibbs, on the other hand, had no points in their last game against Marquette, and will have to be a contributor for the Panthers to have a chance in this game.   This contest may come down to Villanova’s unbalanced play, as they rank fifth in offensive efficiency but are #68 in Pomeroy’s defensive rankings.  Their points per game is also deceiving, as they only rank 45th in field goal percentage, so look for the Panthers to at least give Villanova a run for their money at home.

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Evan Turner Favored in NPOY Straw Poll

Posted by rtmsf on February 17th, 2010

For the third week in a row, Michael Rothstein at AnnArbor.com has taken a straw poll of nearly fifty journalists from around the nation who have a vote in one of the major national Player of the Year awards (presumably the AP, Wooden, and Naismith).  Like the annual Heisman Trophy analyses that pop up every November, the straw poll gives us a sense as to who the top NPOY candidates are heading into the final few weeks of the season as well as any trends for better or worse that are occuring.  This week’s list, released Wednesday prior to tonight’s games, is below.

Right now it appears to be a two-horse race between Ohio State’s Evan Turner and Kentucky’s John Wall, but for the first time in the three weeks of the straw poll, The Villain received more votes.  It’s unclear whether these votes were tallied before Wall’s near-triple double on Tuesday night, but Turner more than held his own tonight against Purdue with 29/7/5 assts himself (although OSU lost the game).  If DeMarcus Cousins keeps putting in the work for John Calipari’s Wildcats, he could begin shaving off even more of Wall’s supporters, as murmurs of an anti-Wall hype backlash are already surfacing in some circles.

Evan Turner is #1, For Now...

It’s somewhat interesting to us that Scottie Reynolds outpolled Syracuse’s Wesley Johnson in the Big East, even though Johnson has been the more celebrated player throughout the season — their relative placement on this list could literally come down to one game in Syracuse on February 27.  If Kansas keeps winning, expect to see Sherron Collins rise up this list fairly quickly, especially if he has another big game where he leads his team to a close victory.  We wouldn’t think Cole Aldrich will have a similar track, though, simply because his overall numbers are so pedestrian compared to the other names above him on the list (note: we recognize his substantial impact, but NPOY winners have better numbers than Aldrich will have this year).

With nearly four weeks until Selection Sunday, keep in mind that college basketball writers are a fickle bunch.  At this time of year, one particularly inspiring nationally-televised game can seal it for a player near the top of this list.  For example, who could ever forget the dominating Kenyon Martin performance against DePaul that sealed his NPOY award in 2000, or the 30/16 game that a baby-faced freshman Kevin Durant dropped in a double-overtime win against rival Texas A&M in 2007?  There may not seem like there’s a lot of basketball to be played, but writers fairly or unfairly place much more emphasis on the games near the end of the season when making their selections.  It’ll be worth keeping an eye on this straw poll the final few weeks to see how it ends up.

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ATB: Season-Saving Win for UConn?

Posted by rtmsf on February 16th, 2010

UConn Not Ready to Go Quietly. Connecticut 84, #3 Villanova 75.  Does every men’s conference in the Northeast have ADD? Is it the snow or maybe a mid-winter funk? Most likely a number of very good teams have begun to believe their season-long press clippings, while a number of other good teams have taken a hard look at their resumes, the one the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee will review in about four weeks. And they don’t like what they see. They are down to their last chances. Villanova may have been reading their press clippings. And Connecticut may have taken a hard look at their resume.  UConn bounced back from their worst performance of the season (a 60-48 drubbing by Cincinnati on their home court) with what might be their best performance of the season, as the Huskies downed the #3 Villanova Wildcats 84-75 in front of 18,123 loyal Wildcat fans at the Wachovia Center in downtown Philadelphia. Leading by one at the half, UConn broke the game open with a 16-9 run in the first five minutes of the second half.  Villanova shaved UConn’s lead to five several times over the last 15 minutes, but could get no closer. Kemba Walker scored a career-high 29 points on 6-10 FGs. “We had no answer for Kemba Walker. He just had a great night,” noted Coach Jay Wright in the postgame press conference. Scottie Reynolds scored a team-high 18 points for Villanova, on 8-14 shooting.  Villanova did not match up well on the inside against the Huskies’ frontcourt rotation of Alex Oriakhi, Stanley Robinson, Charles Okwandu, Gavin Edwards and Jamal Coombs-McDaniels. Antonio Pena was saddled with two first half fouls, and fouled out of the game at the 3:44 mark of the second half, having played only 18 minutes. Backup center Maurice Sutton fouled out in nine minutes of play, leaving freshman Mouphtaou Yarou to finish the game. In all Villanova committed thirty fouls, putting Connecticut on the line for 44 free throw attempts. The Huskies did not squander their opportunities, outscoring the Wildcats from the charity stripe to the tune of +19, well beyond the margin of victory. Fouls have become an issue for Villanova, but in most games they have been able to negate their opponent’s free throw opportunities with their own. In all three of their losses this season they have conceded many more FTAs to their opponents than they have been able to earn themselves. Losing the battle on the boards by 10 further confirms the Wildcats could not compete on the inside. “I think Villanova is good enough, if they don’t get overwhelmed on the inside to go to Indianapolis.” Put simply, tonight they were overwhelmed on the inside.

Not Much Happiness This Year for UConn... Yet

The Case For Kansas. #1 Kansas 59, #23 Texas A&M 54.  We’ve noticed a bit of revisionist history among media types when they make the inevitable comparisons between the 2009 and the 2010 seasons.  How often have you heard someone say that “there is no team that stands above the rest” when discussing this year’s grouping of teams, especially when contrasted with the alleged dominance  of the 2009 North Carolina Tar Heels.  Last year’s UNC team was really, really good — don’t take this the wrong way — but to hear it told after the fact, you wonder if any other team (say, UConn) ever had a chance.  The Heels were 27-3 in the regular season (13-3 ACC) and held the #1 ranking for nine weeks last year.  By comparison, the 2010 Kansas Jayhawks are sitting at 25-1 (11-0 B12) and have already held the top spot in the polls for twelve weeks this year.  After tonight’s gutty win at Texas A&M and with five regular season games left (including three at home), KU is well-positioned to enter the postseason at 30-1 holdin one of the more dominant regular season resumes we’ve seen in a number of years.  So why do we continue to hear that the field is wide-open this year, and any number of teams have a great chance to win it?  Hogwash.  This Kansas team is every bit as good (or better) than last year’s ‘prohibitive favorite’ Tar Heels and from our perspective it will be a major upset if the Jayhawks are not the team cutting down the nets in early April.  Once again, Kansas showed why they’re such a stalwart favorite by gutting out a hard-fought victory in a hostile environment (Bob Knight called it the best home crowd he’s ever seen, and sounded serious…) through big plays in the clutch.  Down four late in the game, Bill Self’s team stayed calm and relied on their defense and foul shooting to finish the game off with an 11-2 run, sealing another win and further cementing the perception that this team can win games in any number of ways.  A poor game from Sherron Collins (7/1 asst on 2-9 FGs) allowed A&M a fighting chance, but when it came time to play or fold, Collins made several key plays including a steal leading to a layup that tied the game just before Kansas made its final push.  Cole Aldrich had his usual 12/10/5 blks, including control of the boards during the stretch run, and Xavier Henry had 12/6, mostly from the line.  Furthermore, the KU team defense held Mark Turgeon’s two Aggie stars — Donald Sloan and Bryan Davis — to 8-27 shooting for a total of only 19 points.  Kansas has the #2 most efficient offense and #4 most effecient defense in America according to KenPom: It’s going to take a tremendous game by any one team to defeat this Jayhawk-naut.

Other Games of National Interest.

  • Maryland 85, Virginia 66.  This was a makeup game as a result of last week’s inclement weather in the greater DC area, and Virginia probably wishes that the reschedule had been set for another night.  Because on this night, Maryland couldn’t miss, hitting 70% in the first half en route to a dominant performance over the surprise team in the ACC this year.  Greivis Vasquez had 25 of his 30/8/5 assts in that half, and with the win, the Terps move into a three-way tie at three in the loss column along with Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, one game behind Duke.
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RTC Live: Connecticut @ Villanova

Posted by rtmsf on February 15th, 2010

Over the past two weeks, the Big East Conference race has become a latter day version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.  The three teams topping the conference since early January have each lost (at least…) one game in the past two weeks. Connecticut head Coach Jim Calhoun took a medical leave of absence on January 20, and the Huskies struggled in their next seven games, logging a 3-4 record under Associate Head Coach George Blaney. Coach Calhoun returned, but the Huskies played their worst game of the season in a 60-48 loss to Cincinnati. Coach Calhoun brings his enigma to the Wachovia Center to play the #4 ranked Villanova Wildcats, winners of their last two games and sole owners of first place in the Big East. Player of the Year candidate Scottie Reynolds, fresh off of a 22 point performance Saturday against Providence, will lead a potent back court offense against the Huskies’ own well-regarded back court of Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson when the two clash Monday night. Connecticut, whose conference record sits at 4-8, needs a signature win in conference, preferably on the road. Their backs are against the wall. Villanova has led the conference from their first game, but seems ill at ease as they wear the mantle of leadership. The Wildcats stumbled at Georgetown on February 6, falling back into a tie with the Orange. Syracuse however, lost again on Sunday, ceding Villanova sole ownership of first place…for the time being.  Join us Monday night at the Wachovia Center as Villanova defends its first place standing against the University of Connecticut.

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ATB: El Busto on Blockbuster Monday

Posted by rtmsf on February 9th, 2010

Not a Blockbuster Night — More Like Netflix.  Back in October, we wrote that tonight’s two featured games between West Virginia-Villanova and Kansas-Texas were two of the top twenty games of the year on the schedule.  At the time, we thought there was a good chance that the first game would feature the best two teams in the Big East, while the second game could involve the top two teams in the whole country.  As it turned out, the Big East game did in fact involve two of the top teams in the conference (but probably not the best, Syracuse), but the Big 12 game only got half of the equation right — the #1 Kansas part.  Still, the slate tonight held four of the top 14 teams in the latest polls, and we anticipated a great evening of college basketball ahead of us.  That assumption was wrong, as both games tonight were rather ugly affairs involving poor shooting and a bunch of turnovers.  All we can hope is that the rest of Rivalry Week looks nothing like tonight’s tandem of busts.

Scottie and Nova Move to the Top of the Big East (AP/David Smith)

  • #5 Villanova 82, #4 West Virginia 75.  Villanova and Scottie Reynolds continue to win games where on paper they appear to be at a disadvantage.  Tonight the Wildcats ran out to a quick lead in Morgantown behind a hot Corey Fisher, but it was (who else?) Scottie Reynolds who broke out with 19 of his 21 points (along with 4 rebs/5 assts/3 stls) in the second half to ensure that the Cats moved to 10-1 in the Big East race (tied at first with Syracuse).  To win at WVU, you need to do several things very well on both ends of the court, and Villanova did most of them, such as hitting 57% of their FGs, missing only three foul shots and going +10 on the boards.  Perhaps more importantly, VU also held Da’Sean Butler to a mere 13 points on 2-12 shooting, easily his worst game in over a month and a far cry from the 43 he dropped on Jay Wright’s team last season in a beatdown of the Wildcats.  Now that both Syracuse and Villanova have gone into Morgantown and gotten wins this year, we’re confident in stating that those are without question the best two teams in this league.  WVU and Georgetown are on the next tier, and then there’s a mess of about 4-6 teams that are largely equal but not serious threats this season.  The top of this league is better than any other conference by far, though.

Kansas Continues to Roll (AP/Harry Cabluck)

  • #1 Kansas 80, #14 Texas 68.  The second game of the night was even uglier and less exciting than the first.  After a good start for the home team to lead 14-8, Kansas went on a ridiculous 22-0 run over ten minutes to effectively put the game away very early.  It was a comedy of errors for the Horns as Kansas repeatedly stole the ball for easy runouts and three-pointers, and even though the halftime lead was only ten points, nobody in the building (including the Texas players) gave a sense that they were going to come back and win the game.  KU punched Texas in the mouth and the Longhorns didn’t like the sight of their own blood.  How bad was it for UT?  The two Kansas all-americans Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich combined to shoot 5-23 and yet this game was never in question after the second tv timeout.  Let that sink in for a moment… As for Texas, we’re starting to believe that this team is finished for the season.  There appear to be underlying problems that probably relate to definition of roles and teamwork, because the Horns appear to be a bunch of individuals playing out there.  Damion James had his typically strong night with 24/10 and J’Covan Brown had a strong second half (26 pts), but only three other Longhorns even scored tonight (Gary Johnson, Avery Bradley and Dexter Pittman combined for 16 points)!  With all of the individual talent on Rick Barnes’ team, that’s simply inexcusable.  Kansas moves to 9-0 in the Big 12 and Texas drops to 5-4, two teams clearly headed in opposite directions.

Other Games of National Interest.

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Boom Goes The Dynamite: 02.08.10 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on February 8th, 2010

We couldn’t resist.  This evening we’ll witness two of the biggest games of the year.  I don’t have to tell you, but I’ll tell you anyway — we’re talking Villanova at West Virginia at 7 PM, then Kansas @ Texas at 9 PM.  We’ll be commenting the whole evening on the games, so hit that refresh button and let’s hear what you have to say as well!

7:03 PM: Big Monday?  Heck no, how about HUUUUUGE Monday?!?  Two great games.  Raftery has already given us a “mn-a-mn!!”  Aside from the obvious excellent guard matchup, I’m interested to see how the refs are going to call this one.  PLEASE, let these guys play.

7:12: First question…did the Pirates at least give a tryout to the kid who hit the Pittsburgh assistant coach with that coin?  I’m not saying there was anything like that in the works, and we at RTC certainly don’t advocate such terrible behavior in spectators, but are you going to tell me that the Pirates’ outfield couldn’t use a guy who can throw a 500-foot strike with a nickel?  Senators, maybe?  Just a thought.

7:18: It led to free throws only, but Corey Fisher just put a Bozo the Clown suit on Da’Sean Butler.  Took the ball on a long outlet pass, took a dribble, saw Butler in front of him, gave him a QUICK shimmy-shoulder fake, and went around Butler as if his feet were in cement.  It even got a WOW and a WHOO! from Bilas and Raftery (respectively).

7:24: It has to be said: I like watching Taylor King play this game.  The guy does everything.  I dig the way’s he’s ALWAYS the first guy on the floor going after loose balls, he’s back-tapping balls, grabbing steals, snagging some offensive boards, blocking a couple of shots…and you can’t leave him open from anywhere on the floor.  He’s a difference-maker.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.08.10

Posted by THager on February 8th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2012
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

#4 Villanova @ #5 West Virginia – 7 pm on ESPN (*****)

WVU Has Been Celebrating a Lot Lately (AP/David Smith)

Depending on how this game plays out, we could be looking at some major Tournament seeding implications in this one tonight.  Before Villanova’s last game against Georgetown, they had won eleven in a row, but gave up over 100 points to the Hoyas and now must face a West Virginia team that has a six-game winning streak of their own.  The Mountaineers now stand at 19-3 and would get a huge boost in the rankings with a clutch home win over Villanova.  These teams have only met once the last two seasons, but West Virginia led virtually the entire game in last year’s 93-72 blowout victory in Morgantown.  As shown by their 90 points in a double-digit loss to Georgetown, Villanova can score with anybody.  They are ranked second in points per game and third in offensive efficiency, but what is killing them is their 64th ranked defense (according to Pomeroy).  West Virginia averages less than 74 points per game, but they are right behind the Wildcats in offensive efficiency and have a top 25 defense to complement it.  WVU only surrenders 61.5 points per game, and hasn’t given up 75 points in a single game since January 1.  In Villanova’s loss to the Hoyas, Scottie Reynolds scored 24 points, but it was on 6-17 shooting.  If he is having an off night, look for him to distribute the ball more in this game, but it may not be enough against a tough Mountaineer team at home (and their crowd).

#1 Kansas @ #14 Texas – 9 pm on ESPN (****)

Texas is still going to make the NCAA tournament, but their situation is getting more desperate with every passing week.  Following their 17-0 start, they have lost four of the last six games, perhaps none worse than the loss at Oklahoma in which they never led and trailed by as much as 20 points in the second half.  Kansas has won eight straight games, but has been in a recent funk with two overtimes and trouble putting teams away in each of their last three games.  Both of these teams can put a lot of points on the board, as they also rank among the nation’s leaders in points and rebounds per game, while Kansas also ranks fourth in assists per game.  Due mainly to their earlier performances, both teams also rank highly in defensive efficiency, but Texas has now given up 80+ points in four of their last five.  Perhaps the most intriguing matchup tonight is between big men Dexter Pittman and Cole Aldrich.  Pittman shoots over 68% from the field, while Aldrich averages a double-double (12/10).  To be honest, Aldrich has been a bit of a disappointment this year with decreases in points and rebounds per game, as well as a drop off in minutes and field goal percentage.  He couldn’t keep his stamina at the end of the Colorado game, and only scored eight points against Nebraska, but the Jayhawks will need him if they want to keep pace with their high-scoring opponent in Austin.

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RTC Live: Villanova @ Georgetown

Posted by rtmsf on February 6th, 2010

DC may be sitting under two feet of snow, but we at RTC threw on our snow boots, busted out the parka, and took the rocket sled out to the Verizon Center for today’s match-up between Villanova and Georgetown. The Hoyas have had an up-and-down two weeks. Two weeks ago during Big Monday, the Hoyas got smacked by Syracuse. A week ago, Georgetown returned the favor to Duke. Then on Wednesday, Georgetown ran into the buzzsaw that is Dominique James, dropping to 6-4 in the league. Villanova, on the other hand, has cruised to a perfect 9-0 record in Big East play, but they have yet to hit the meat of their schedule. Today kicks off what is going to be a brutal February, as Nova will play Georgetown, Syracuse, West Virginia, and Pitt on the road this month.

But that’s down the road. Today’s game will be determined on the perimeter. Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, and Corey Stokes are known names in this league, and Maalik Wayns is well on his way to being the next great Nova guard. But the Hoyas have their own trio of talented back court players in Chris Wright, Austin Freeman, and Jason Clark. When talking about Georgetown, the first name that is always brought up is Greg Monroe, but he may not be the Hoyas’ most important player. When Chris Wright scores in double figures, Georgetown is undefeated. When he doesn’t, they are 1-5. Villanova is improved on the defensive end with Reggie Redding in uniform, but Georgetown’s disciplined and patient offense is a tough one to defend.  Ask Duke.

Should be a heckuva game today. Drop by and join in the conversation!

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles… (With a Wednesday Twist)

Posted by zhayes9 on February 3rd, 2010

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every week as the season progresses.

This week’s Scribbles column will look ahead to a couple months down the road in Indianapolis, where 65 deserving teams will be whittled down to just four, and to that blissful Monday night in April when one lucky group will be dancing at mid-court to the tune of One Shining Moment. In my estimation, there are ten squads with a promising-to-slight chance of hoisting a 2010 National Champions banner during their home opener next season. I’m here to tell you those ten teams, why they have hopes of winning a national title, what’s holding them back, and the most realistic scenario as I see it come late March or beginning of April. These teams are ranked in reverse order from 10-1 with the #1 school holding the best cards in their deck.

10. Duke

Why they can win it all: Their floor leader and senior stalwart Jon Scheyer is the steadiest distributor in all of college basketball, evident from his incredibly stellar 3.28 A/T ratio and a 5.6 APG mark that ranks third in the ACC and 23d in the nation. Scheyer is also a deadly shooter coming off screens when he has time to square his body to the basket, nailing a career-high 39% from deep to go along with 44% from the floor overall. Duke is also a tremendous free-throw shooting team as a whole and Coach K has the ability to play a group of Scheyer-Kyle Singler-Nolan Smith-Mason Plumlee-Lance Thomas that doesn’t feature one player under 70% from the charity stripe. Duke also features a ton more size in the paint than during previous flameouts in the NCAA Tournament. When Singler plays small forward, Coach K can rotate Miles and Mason Plumlee, the glue guy Thomas, rebounding force Brian Zoubek and even Ryan Kelly at two positions with no player under 6’8. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more efficient backcourt in the nation than Scheyer and Smith. And it’s widely known that exceptional guard play is the ultimate key to winning in March.

What Makes Duke 2010 Different than Duke 2006-09?

Why they won’t win it all: Depth could certainly be an issue for the Blue Devils’ chances of raising their first banner since 2001. Andre Dawkins has fallen almost entirely out of the rotation and Coach K has started to limit Mason Plumlee’s minutes during important games. Also, Brian Zoubek’s tendency to immediately step into foul trouble limits his availability. It wouldn’t shock me to see Duke play Scheyer, Smith and Singler 40 minutes per game during their time in the NCAA Tournament. That could cause those key players, who rely primarily on their jump shot, to lose their legs and start throwing up bricks. Kyle Singler isn’t quite the superstar he was last season, either. Singler’s numbers are down across the board — scoring, rebounding, FG%, 3pt% — and he’s been dealing with a nagging wrist injury that may not improve in the weeks and months ahead. Duke also lacks the athleticism of teams like Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse and Texas. They could struggle with quicker guards like John Wall and athletic rebounders of the Damion James mold.

Likely scenario: I see Duke reaching the Sweet 16 as a #2 seed where they fall to a more athletic, quick group of guards that can explode to the rim and draw fouls. Duke may have height, but most of that height just isn’t a threat offensively by any stretch of the imagination. Eventually getting into a jump shooting contest could be the Blue Devils’ downfall if two of Smith, Scheyer and Singler go cold.

9. West Virginia

Why they can win it all: Da’Sean Butler is one of the best players in the nation when the chips are on the table. If the Mountaineers need a big shot to keep their season alive, Butler will demand the basketball and more than likely deliver. He’s downed Marquette and Louisville on game-deciding jumpers and led the second half charge against Ohio State. West Virginia is also supremely athletic and Bob Huggins’ teams always crash the boards with a tremendous ferocity. No contender can match the height across the board that West Virginia touts other than Kentucky. Huggins has experimented with lineups in which all of his players are 6’6 or taller, including 6’9 Devin Ebanks acting as a point-forward and 6’7 Da’Sean Butler capable of posting up smaller two-guards. Sophomore Kevin Jones is an incredible talent and a rebounding machine (7.7 RPG) that hits 55% of his shots from the floor and 44% from deep. West Virginia has the luxury of any of their forwards being able to step out and drain a mid-range jumper, from Ebanks to Jones to Wellington Smith to John Flowers every once in a full moon.

Ebanks is the X-factor for West Virginia

Why they won’t win it all: Let’s face it: Bob Huggins doesn’t have exactly the best track record when it comes to NCAA Tournament success. Huggins hasn’t reached the Elite 8 since 1995-96 with Cincinnati and only one Sweet 16 in the last ten years. In 2000 and 2002, his Bearcats lost just four games all season and yet didn’t reach the second weekend of March both times. Most also question whether the Mountaineers can hit outside shots on a consistent basis. They’ve struggled mightily in the first half of Big East games and can’t afford to fall behind against elite competition in March like they did against Dayton last season. Point guard play is a prudent question for West Virginia, as well. Joe Mazzulla is a quality perimeter defender and a capable distributor, but he’ll never be the offensive threat he was two seasons ago due to that shoulder injury. Darryl Bryant can certainly catch a hot streak shooting-wise, but in all honestly he’s more suited as an undersized two-guard. Bryant is averaging just 3.6 APG in 25+ MPG of action.

Likely scenario: I’m still fairly high on this team. I love Butler at the end of games and Ebanks can do anything for Huggins — from score to rebound to run the point — and Kevin Jones is one of the most underappreciated players in the Big East. In the end, I see a clankfest from outside ultimately costing West Virginia their season. And for all their rebounding history, the Mountaineers are in the mid-60s in the nation. The Elite Eight seems like a proper place for their season to conclude.

8. Texas

Why they can win it all: No team boasts better perimeter defenders than Texas. Anyone that watched Dogus Balbay completely shut down James Anderson in the second half Monday night knows he’s the best perimeter defender in the nation, even stronger than Purdue’s Chris Kramer. Avery Bradley came in with the reputation as an elite defender and he’s certainly lived up to that billing. Even J’Covan Brown off the bench is a capable defensive player and Justin Mason is a plus defender. When Dexter Pittman stays out of foul trouble, Texas boasts a legitimate shot-blocking presence that can negate quick guards on the rare occasion they slip past Balbay or Bradley. Texas is also the deepest team in the nation and Rick Barnes has the capability of playing 10 or 11 men on any night if he feels the need. The preserved minutes could pay dividends in the form of fresh players come March. Damion James should also be on a mission come March as a senior. He’s never reached a Final Four during his Longhorns career and came back for a fourth year in Austin to accomplish that very feat.

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ATB: On Bo Ryan’s Aptitude, John Wall’s Smile and Wesley Johnson’s Acrobatics…

Posted by rtmsf on February 3rd, 2010

Tuesday Night Hoops.  Tonight’s games weren’t all that compelling from the perspective of must-see TV, but we learned a few things.  Such as… don’t ever underestimate a Bo Ryan-coached team (that rings a bell…), John Wall is happy as a clam, and Wes Johnson should save the flips for the Winter X Games coverage.

Bo Ryan Can Coach a Little Bit. #16 Wisconsin 67, #5 Michigan State 49. Could there be a better blueprint for the basketball philosophy of Bo Ryan and the Wisconsin Badgers than this game?  Clock control, care of the basketball, good shot selection, and tough defense.  The Badgers didn’t come with any secret weapons or snazzy new game plans, here.  Just the same recipe for success they’ve employed for years, now.  In fact, they’re still without Jon Leuer and had to play without Trevon Hughes for a big chunk of the first half because of some early foul trouble.  Jason Bohannon (19/4/2) and Jordan Taylor (17/4/4) amped up their games to fill the void, both playing all 40 minutes, and accounting for half of their team’s field goals.  The most impressive number you can take from this one is found in the turnovers column; Wisconsin is the BEST in the nation when it comes to taking care of the basketball, averaging only 9.4 turnovers/game coming into this one.  The Badgers gave it up only five times on Tuesday night (they’re down to 8.4 a game) while forcing MSU into 13 of their own.  Kalin Lucas going down with a pretty ugly sprained ankle in the second half didn’t help on that front, either; more details on that injury after imaging is done on Wednesday.  The win moved Wisconsin to within two games of the Spartans in the Big Ten, and both squads have four home and four away games remaining.  For additional information, RTC Live was at the game tonight.

Wisconsin Punished MSU Tonight in Madison (Steve Apps)

Scary Situation Involving Wesley Johnson. #4 Syracuse 85, Providence 68. Coming into the game most fans viewed this as seemingly inconsequential, but the most important moment of the college basketball season may have happened with 11:56 left in the first half in Syracuse this season when uber-transfer Wesley Johnson went up to throw down an alley-oop, but got flipped by Brian McKenzie who was underneath his flight path. For a second everyone watching both in the Carrier Dome and on television had flashbacks to Travis Roy. Fortunately for Johnson, Jim Boeheim, and college basketball fans everywhere Johnson was able to get that extra half of rotation and land on his back rather than his head.  He talks about it here.  [Ed. Note: This is why we stay on the floor. Or is it our single-digit vertical?] After a rough stretch that saw the Orange struggle to take a 3-point lead into half, Syracuse rebounded behind a strong effort from Kris Joseph (career-high 23 points) and Arinze Onuaku (season-high 20 points) to lead the Orange to their best start (22-1) in school history.

Luckily Wes Johnson Wasn't Injured (Dennis Nett)

How’d the Rest of the Top Ten Do Tonight?

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Backdoor Cuts: Vol. VIII

Posted by rtmsf on January 28th, 2010

Backdoor Cuts is a college basketball discussion between RTC correspondents Dave Zeitlin, Steve Moore, and Mike Walsh. This week the guys wax poetic about the rarest thing in college basketball: the four-year star.

DAVE ZEITLIN: I feel like it happens every year. Whenever a four-year starter has a big game, people start chirping things like “How long has this buy been playing for?” and “Shouldn’t he have graduated by now?” and “I didn’t know seventh-year seniors were allowed to play.” You guys know what I mean, right? The sad truth is that the four-year star player feels like an endangered species — and we’re all victim to that kind of thinking.

Take, for instance, Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds. I remember watching him play in the NCAA tournament as a freshman, and yes while it does feel like that happened some time between the Jurassic Period and the Neolithic Age, my point is, well, my point is it shouldn’t be that way. At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, I miss the days when guys all stayed three or four years. And while I certainly can’t blame many stars for bolting early to the pros (I know there are typically many factors at play), I feel like too many are missing out on the full college experience. And, seriously, what’s better than college? Maybe bacon-wrapped scallops. And Will Ferrell. That’s about it.

Dave's Mancrush Scottie Reynolds

And all things being equal, having upperclassmen has got to help the teams themselves, right? Let’s just look at two players for a moment. At Villanova, Scottie Reynolds is on the verge of becoming the greatest player in program history — if he isn’t already. At Kentucky, John Wall is on the verge of becoming one of the best freshmen ever — if he isn’t already. Both have their teams in the top three in the latest AP poll. And while Wall will surely be an NBA star, and Reynolds may have a difficult time even cracking an NBA roster, I’d like to think come tournament time the senior will be better prepared to lead his team on a deep run than the freshman. But then again, Carmelo Anthony won a championship in his only year in college and Greg Oden almost did the same… so who knows

Either way, something bugs me about these one-year rent-a-players. I’m actually not bothered by the players themselves because, as we know, they have no choice but to go to college for a year and the true NBA-bound superstars shouldn’t feel obligated to stay longer. I think I’m mostly bothered by the coaches, who say disingenuous things like “So-and-So will help the program even after he leaves” and “I really want So-and-So to test the draft waters.” Please. Just admit you sold your soul for a season of glory and your recruiting pitch went something like this: “Come to our school and you only have to take four college courses in your entire life! And three of them will be about massage therapy! After that, I’ll help you get rich rich rich!” (Yes, I’m looking at you Calipari.)

What’s my point? I’m not sure exactly. Maybe I’m just hoping that when March rolls around, the Wildcat who’s been through it all will get just one more lucky bounce than the Wildcat who’s already planning his wardrobe for Draft Day.

And with that, my ode to Scottie Reynolds comes to a close as I pass the curmudgeon torch to my two pals.

MIKE WALSH: College basketball rosters are a revolving door, it’s sad, but true. Unlike football or hockey, basketball is one of the few sports where 18- and 19-year-olds can hold their own against guys in their 20s. And let’s be honest, what 18-year-old kid is going to be able to pass up the promise of millions of dollars when the majority of his classmates will be thrilled to rake in $30K after graduation? If someone offered me the NBA rookie minimum right now I’d be gone… I wouldn’t even finish this column (Ed. Note: we’re all replaceable, Mike.). But alas, I’m a doughy white guy with bad knees, a worse jump shot, and a bank account that wouldn’t even cover the small blind in an NBA road trip poker game.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.27.10

Posted by THager on January 27th, 2010

***** - quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** - best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** - set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** - set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2012
* - don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

#23 Vanderbilt @ #14 Tennessee – 7pm on ESPNU (*****)

Bruce Busts Out the Orange Blazer in Big Games

This should be an absolutely fantastic game. It features one of the country’s favorite teams right now in Bruce Pearl’s new-look Volunteers, as well as the most underrated team in the country in Vanderbilt. These teams are in-state rivals, and a win will be huge for either team. Tennessee just suffered their first loss since the arrest of four players earlier this month to Georgia over the weekend. This group of “new” players has not had to face adversity yet this year on the court, so it will be key for their confidence to win this one at home. Vanderbilt is on a tear, winning their last nine games en route to becoming the only undefeated team remaining in the SEC. They have shown the ability to play both sound offense and defense at times, but tonight’s game will truly test their grit when they play in Knoxville, where the Volunteers have not lost since last season. As Wayne Chism goes, so goes the Vols. He only scored six points in UT’s loss to Georgia and eight points in their loss to USC, but he has shown the ability to carry the team on his back as well (Ole Miss comes to mind). If Chism gets going against the Commodores, Tennessee will keep their home winning streak alive.

Notre Dame @ #3 Villanova – 7 pm on ESPN (***)

This is a fantastic game, but it may be lost among the plethora of incredible matchups available tonight. The Irish are right on the bubble if the season ended today, and they have six winnable games coming up on the horizon, so a victory over Villanova tonight could spark the fire they need to push through this season. Notre Dame is not getting much love in the polls, at #68 in the RPI and #80 according to Ken Pomeroy, but they are comparable to Villanova statistically. They average over 80 points a game and give up just 0.6 points more per contest than the Wildcats. Villanova is one of those teams that finds ways to win games, but Notre Dame has already beaten a top ten team previously this season in West Virginia. That victory was at home, though, and they will need to step up their game to win at the Wachovia Center, where the Wildcats are undefeated. Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher are the two guards to watch in this game, but Notre Dame also has some underrated guards in Ben Hansbrough and Tory Jackson that get overshadowed by their big men. Those two average more than five assists per game (Villanova has just one guard averaging over 3.5 per game) to complement forward Luke Harangody who can get down the court fairly quickly for a 246-pound player. Villanova has had more success this season, and is probably more talented as well, so expect the Wildcats to get off to their best start in school history tonight.

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