The Week That Was: December 18-27

Posted by rtmsf on December 28th, 2010

David Ely is an RTC Contributor

It’s that time of year again: Conference season. UConn and Pittsburgh opened up the Big East slate Monday night with the first of what will be many highly-anticipated conference matchups over the next couple of months. It won’t be much longer until we get Pitt-Georgetown, Duke-Maryland, Washington-Washington State, Ohio State-Purdue and plenty over other mouth-watering games. It’s definitely a more appealing prospect than watching Kentucky pummel Winthrop or Texas beat down North Florida.

What We Learned

Taylor & Pitt Easily Ripped UConn

  • It might have been wise for Jim Calhoun to schedule some true road games for his young UConn squad before its Big East opener at Pittsburgh. The Huskies certainly played as though they weren’t prepared for what was waiting for them in the amped up Peterson Events Center. But honestly, there was little reason to think that this game was going to be anything other than a wakeup call for UConn. The Huskies boast seven freshmen, and only three players in its rotation that had ever played at that venue. No surprises here that the Panthers jumped out to an early double-digit lead and cruised to a 78-63 win. At least the Huskies can take solace in the fact that they don’t have to face Pittsburgh again until possibly the Big East Tournament. The Panthers’ length along the perimeter makes them a tough matchup for Kemba Walker, who needed 27 shots and 11 free throws to score 31 points against the likes of Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker.
  • After a less-than-stellar start to its season, in which Butler got smoked by Louisville and lost in overtime to Evansville en route to a 4-4 record through its first eight games, it now looks like Brad Stevens’ squad has righted the ship. The Bulldogs have won five in a row and just beat Washington State on Christmas Day to win the Diamond Head Classic. Key to the Bulldogs recent surge has been their improved play on the defensive end. Butler has not allowed more than 68 points since Mississippi Valley St. put up 71 on Dec. 11, and in their last four wins, the Bulldogs have allowed their opponents to shoot the following percentages: Stanford, 31.4%; Utah, 39.6%; Florida State, 38%; and Washington State, 40.7%. The Bulldogs’ defensive numbers still aren’t great, they rank 48th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings and they’re #272 in turnover %, but they’re on their way back to being a squad that can win games on the defensive end. As the schedule shifts to Horizon League play, the Bulldogs again are a safe bet to claim another conference championship.
  • When we last checked in with Tennessee, the Vols just had erased most of the momentum gained from a win over Pittsburgh with a home loss to Oakland (nothing to be embarrassed about, but not what we like to see from one of our top-10 teams). As it turns out, that loss to the Golden Grizzlies was a harbinger for what turned out to be a very unhappy holiday season for Bruce Pearl. The Vols lost their next two games, both to unranked opponents. Tennessee lost 49-48 to a Charlotte squad without leading scored Shamari Spears, who was kicked off the team a few days earlier. Then the Vols lost again by one point, this time to USC. To make matters worse, their win to halt the three-game skid did little to make people believe the Vols aren’t in the middle of a tailspin. Tennessee blew a 13-point lead to Belmont and needed a layup from Scotty Hopson with 5.7 left to escape with a 66-65 win. Despite his last-second bucket, Hopson’s recent play has been a major reason for the Vols’ struggles. Hopson scored a combined 28 points his losses to Oakland, Charlotte and USC on 8-31 shooting. He rebounded to score 19 points against Belmont, but he’s still suffering from a shooting slump. Hopson is 2-14 from three in his last four games.
  • TWTW isn’t a huge fan of making sweeping proclamations before conference play begins, nor do we like to divulge its national championship favorite until the most opportune moment. (Personally, TWTW prefers to wait until about 10 seconds left in the title game to announce who we think will win it all). But if TWTW was forced to name a team it would be Ohio State. UConn, Duke, Syracuse and Kansas are all fine choices, but there’s something about the Buckeyes that separates them from the pack. Everything starts with Jared Sullinger, who is first on the team in points (17.5) and rebounds (10.1) and is the clubhouse leader for national freshman of the year. Sullinger has owned the paint from Day 1 and has shown a knack for dominating games like few other big men this year (see his 40/13 against IUPUI and his 30/19 against South Carolina). What’s remarkable about Sullinger, though, has been his ability to avoid foul trouble. Sullinger hasn’t fouled out of one game this season and only has one game (his first) in which he had four infractions. But OSU isn’t just limited to Sullinger. The Buckeyes boast five players who average at least 10 points a game. They can beat you just as easily outside as they can inside with shooters like David Lighty and Jon Diebler, who shoot 45.5% and 47.4% from three, respectively. And freshman Deshaun Thomas is the kind of athletic wing that can score in bunches off the bench. Could Ohio State be better without Evan Turner? TWTW thinks so.
  • People wondered how Kansas would be able to integrate freshman phenom Josh Selby into its rotation once he returned from his NCAA-imposed nine-game suspension, the question being whether Selby’s presence would disrupt the Jayhawks’ chemistry from their 9-0 start. After two games, two wins and two electric performances by Selby, it’s obvious there was never a need to worry whether his addition would be anything but welcome. In his debut against USC, Selby scored 21 points and drilled a go-ahead three with 26 seconds ago to lead the Jayhawks to 70-68 win. There was no need for any late heroics in his second game, but Selby still made his presence felt, to the tune of 18 points and a 3-4 shooting night from beyond the arc. Selby’s already established himself as one of Kansas’ go-to scorers, and the fact that Bill Self had Selby not only on the court in the waning seconds against USC but shows how important Selby will be to any title run for KU.

Media Blackout

The three pieces of news to know if you’ve been living in complete isolation all week.

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ATB: A Turkey Ends Holiday Hoops Week

Posted by rtmsf on December 24th, 2010

The Lede.  ‘Twas the night before Christmas Eve (Christmas Adam, so they say), and all through the land, not a creature was shooting.  Well, that’s not completely true.  Actually, it’s not true at all, as the week of Holiday Hoops finished strong tonight.  There were several good games, some excellent performances and even an ugly incident in Oahu for our enjoyment this evening.  The schedule reduces to nearly nothing the next few days — four games in Cancun on Friday, four games in Honolulu on Saturday, two random games on Sunday — and that’s fine.  Christmas is for spending quality time with our friends and families, so as much as we’ll miss it, things will be a bit light around here as well over the weekend.  Of course, if anything major happens, we’ll be there to comment and analyze it.  Short of that, though — from everyone at RTC, have a very Merry Christmas, folks!

What a Ridiculous Incident in Honolulu Tonight

Your Watercooler MomentPlayers Go All Knucklehead in the Stands.  Mississippi State won its game at the Diamond Head Classic yesterday against San Diego, but it was a later incident between teammates Renardo Sidney and Elgin Bailey that captured all the headlines.  As the two sat in the stands prior to the Utah-Hawaii game, they got into a fracas that was of course caught on tape for the world to see.  Regardless of who was at fault in this incident, is there any doubt that MSU’s recruitment and retention of Sidney has resulted in much more trouble than he’s worth?  This was his second incident in the last week, and the prevailing meme is that there’s no way Rick Stansbury can now keep him on the Bulldog team.  With images still somewhat fresh in mind of the Malice in the Palace where fans and players went after each other, this is reminiscent and disastrous footage for the MSU program.  Heads will roll on this, we’d have to imagine.

Don’t stop, make it pop. DJ, blow my speakers up. Memphis lost the game, but they won the damn highlight reel, that’s for sure.  Hey, Mr. DJ.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Discipline Over Raw Talent.  No disrespect to the excellent players populating the rosters of Georgetown and Washington State, but their opponents tonight (Memphis and Baylor, respectively) have more players on their teams that make the NBA scouts drool uncontrollably.  Klay Thompson and Austin Freeman are considered nice players, but it’s guys like LaceDarius Dunn, Perry Jones, Will Barton and Joe Jackson who have the greater upside.  Score one (actually, two) tonight for the teams that actually know how to play the game, as the Hoyas and Cougars repeatedly used their experience to fool the teams still figuring it out.  Both shot 57% from the field while holding their opponents in the 30% range, and proved to us that Georgetown is every bit as good as its top ten ranking and Wazzu should probably be a co-favorite along with a few others in the Pac-10 this season.
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Around The Blogosphere: December 23, 2010

Posted by nvr1983 on December 23rd, 2010


If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to rushthecourt@gmail.com. We will add to this post throughout the day as the submissions come in so keep on sending them.

Top 25 Games

  • #3 Kansas 78, Cal 63: “Kansas won the Pac10 grabbed their first true road victory of the season with a win over the Cal Bears. The late tipoff Wednesday night seemed to fit the Jayhawk play at times as a Kansas team that clearly looked like the more talented team, once again couldn’t manage to stay out of their own way during portions of the game.” (Rock Chalk Talk: Recap and Statistical Analysis)
  • #4 Syracuse 93, Drexel 65: “That was the scary Drexel team we’ve been hearing about? The one that beat Louisville in the YUM? The one that’s apparently having their best season ever? Either they’re not quite as good as advertised or the Orange just about put together their best performance of the season in a 93-65 demolition job.” (Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician)
  • #8 Villanova 76, Monmouth 36: “What can anyone say about a 76-36 win? I guess the coach summed it up nicely with ‘I like where we are right now.’” (Villanova by the Numbers)
  • #10 Missouri 75, #21 Illinois 64: Taking a look at the game from the winning side and the losing side of the “Braggin’ Rights” game.
  • #25 Texas 67, #12 Michigan State 55: “Tonight, with a 67-55 victory over the Spartans, Texas once again pulled off the impressive feat of beating North Carolina and Michigan State in the span of a few days. Even more impressively, they won both games on the road. In fact, tonight’s victory ended Michigan State’s much-publicized streak of 52 consecutive home victories against non-conference opponents. Essentially, Texas was the first non-con team to win a game in East Lansing in the last 7 years. This was exactly the type of game–against a good team and hostile crowd–that young teams can be expected to lose. But we didnt. Tonight was a virtuoso win, even if wasn’t exactly a virtuoso performance. Texas did enough to win, but, unlike last year, I doubt this will be their best performance of the season. To put it more simply, the win tonight feels bigger and more important than our actual performance, which was really-good-but-not-great.” (Burnt Orange Nation)
  • #15 Kentucky 89, Winthrop 52: “My first impression of this game was, “Wow. What a game by Doron Lamb,” and upon reflection, that impression still stands. Setting the freshman scoring record by shooting 92% on 11-12 field goal attempts is simply staggering. That record has stood for nearly 20 years, and the guy who set it has a jersey hanging in the rafters. That’s the magnitude of the accomplishment by the young Brooklynite. It also seems somehow fitting that he bested another New Yorker, even though he was out of the Bronx.” (A Sea of Blue)

Other Games of Interest

  • Maryland 89, NJIT 50: “After a game that one-sided, there’s only so much you can say, as well as only so much that can be learned. Maryland defeated NJIT 89-50 in the Comcast Center, with the 39-point margin of victory the Terrapins’ second-largest all season. On the way, they dominated every statistical category: they forced 22 turnovers, shot 60% from three, limited the Highlanders to 32% shooting from the field, and generally controlled play entirely from tip-to-tip. NJIT is awful, granted, and the stats should be enough to tell you that. But hey, you take any type of blowout when you can get it.” (Testudo Times)
  • Louisville 114, Western Kentucky 82: “Louisville went on the road for the first time and gave perhaps their best performance of the season, burying 16 three-pointers on their way to a 114-82 rout of in-state host Western Kentucky.” (Card Chronicle)
  • Northern Iowa 67, Indiana 61: “Defense, experience and execution. UNI, a Sweet 16 team last season, brought all three to the table tonight, and it was all just a little too much for the Hoosiers to handle.” (Inside the Hall: Part 1 and Part 2)
  • Gonzaga 64, Xavier 54: “Against Baylor, Gonzaga showed they could win a game facing tremendous adversity. Tonight against Xavier, the Zags faced similar adversity but they did so at the friendly confines of the McCarthey Athletic Center.” (The Slipper Still Fits)

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Set Your Tivo: 12.21.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 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 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

An intriguing matchup in Knoxville and a clash in KC highlight tonight’s schedule. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

USC @ #17 Tennessee – 7 pm on ESPN3.com/ESPN FullCourt (***)

UT Has Something to Prove Tonight After Last Week (AP/M. Terrill)

All of a sudden this has become a really interesting basketball game. Each team is headed in the opposite direction with USC coming in confident after a close loss at Kansas which saw the debut of Jio Fontan while Tennessee has lost two straight after starting 7-0. Fontan played well for the Trojans but five turnovers did not help the cause in his first game since transferring from Fordham. USC will look to slow down the pace of this game on the road against the up-tempo Volunteers. The Trojans are rated #283 in tempo and should have an edge rebounding wise with Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic up front. Stepheson is a key player in this game. Coming off a season-high 18-point performance at Kansas, Kevin O’Neill needs his big man to be a presence inside against Tennessee’s Brian Williams. Stepheson is more talented offensively but he’ll have to work hard to get off quality shots against Williams. The rebounding battle is a huge factor in this game with USC coming in at #13 in defensive rebounding and Tennessee #16 in offensive rebounding. USC has to control the glass in order to win and can’t afford careless turnovers, giving the Vols extra possessions. Another area to watch is free throws. Tennessee’s stellar free throw rate has fallen in recent games but it still ranks #6 in the country. The problem is they foul a lot and put their opponent on the line at a pretty good clip as well. USC has a decent defensive free throw rate so keeping Tennessee off the line will give them a much better chance to win. Bruce Pearl now has 6’6 wing Jeronne Maymon eligible, a transfer from Marquette. He’ll add depth to the Volunteer rotation but the key player that has to get going is Scotty Hopson, just 6-19 from the floor in the Charlotte loss. When Hopson is on, Tennessee is awfully tough to beat. With Hopson playing well, teams can’t back off him and must spread the floor defensively, opening up holes where other players can take advantage. Another big player for Tennessee is freshman Tobias Harris. Going up against the taller USC defenders inside, Harris may look more towards his mid-range game in this contest. The Trojans won’t be intimidated after playing so well at Allen Fieldhouse. They’ve been up and down however, having knocked off Texas but losing to the likes of TCU and Bradley among others. Tennessee is a seven point favorite and should win, but this game is basically unpredictable after what we’ve seen from these two teams over this past week.

UNLV vs. #14 Kansas State (in Kansas City) – 9 pm on ESPN2 (****)

This is a huge game for both teams as the loser will pick up their third loss of the season. Each team has seen their offense falter recently. UNLV’s effective field goal percentage dropped quite a bit over their last two games while Kansas State’s offense did essentially nothing in a loss to Florida on Saturday. The Wildcats put up just 44 points after taking a 20-8 lead to start the game and missing 19 of 20 shots at one point. In fact, Kansas State hasn’t cracked 70 points in three of their last four games. One thing the Wildcats do very well is defend and rebound, ranked in the top ten in defensive efficiency and offensive rebounding percentage. Kansas State has to get a consistent third option on offense. Curtis Kelly can be that guy but he was ineffective in only 19 minutes against Florida. As for UNLV, the Rebels do a great job inside the arc and that’s where they need to take advantage of Kansas State tonight. Lon Kruger’s team is #8 in two point offense and #22 in two point defense. They get 57% of their points from two point range led by Chace Stanback. Though he’s struggled a bit in UNLV’s recent games, Stanback can also take his game outside where he’s a 38% three point shooter. Kansas State has to do a good job defending the interior in order to win, otherwise UNLV will run rampant inside. With a capable point guard in Oscar Bellfield and three other solid starters, Kruger has a balanced team that can put up points in a hurry when they’re clicking. For Kansas State, Jacob Pullen has simply got to play better. He looks nothing like the All-American candidate he was hyped up to be though he still leads the team in scoring by a wide margin. He’s scored 19 points in each of the last two games but has shot just 11-34 (32%). When he’s off, the opponent can lock up Rodney McGruder making Kansas State incredibly weak on offense. One area to watch in this game is turnovers, specifically how well UNLV does in forcing K-State to give the ball away. The Rebels rank #15 in defensive turnover percentage while Kansas State is #209 in offensive turnover percentage. Should they turn it over often the Wildcats can make up for it on the glass where they should hold an advantage, turning rebounds into extra offensive opportunities. As everyone knows with Kansas State, should this game be close towards the end the Wildcats are an awful free throw shooting team. Playing in front of what should be a partisan crowd, Kansas State should win this game. However, another weak performance on the offensive end will keep UNLV in this right until the very end. The Rebels are talented and have what it takes to win this game. We predict this one will go down to the wire with free throws deciding the outcome.

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Set Your Tivo: Weekend Review

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 17th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

This is the last major weekend before conference play begins in earnest and it features a bunch of solid games but none that really jump out at you as must-watch. All in all it’s a pretty good set of games. Don’t forget about the two games in the Bahamas on Saturday (Richmond vs. Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech vs. Mississippi State). They’re not on television but are meaningful, especially the latter. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Texas vs. North Carolina (Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC) – 4 pm Saturday on CBS (****)

A Smaller Venue in Greenboro, But Still a Great Game

You may never see a game between two unranked teams have this much talent on the court as this one. Yes the Longhorns are ranked in both the AP and Coaches polls but they aren’t in our own top 25. Texas has played better this year on the strength of defense and better chemistry though a loss at USC was cause for concern. Still, Texas has a ton of talent and has the ability to turn this season into a successful one. Leading scorer Jordan Hamilton still has a so-so shot selection but he’s connecting on 41% of his treys, a positive sign for Rick Barnes. Freshman Tristan Thompson has also been a plus for the Longhorns, giving them an athletic post presence who can score and defend very well. When you look at this matchup with North Carolina however, Tyler Zeller (16/8) is going to have a significant height advantage inside. You may see Barnes turn to Matt Hill for a bigger defensive presence in the paint in an attempt to control UNC’s big man. Each team has had some issues at the point guard, especially North Carolina. The Tar Heels have seen better play from Larry Drew II (2:1 A/T ratio) but questions remain with the team averaging 15 turnovers per contest. With a talented freshman in waiting, Roy Williams has to make a decision on who should see the majority of time at the point as they head into ACC play. For Texas, Dogus Balbay has seen his minutes drop in favor of freshman Cory Joseph, a move that’s understandable from an offensive standpoint but questionable in the eyes of some who see the experienced Balbay as a team leader and an effective distributor, not to mention an outstanding defender. Texas is not a particularly great shooting team as a whole so the transition to Joseph could be more about transition opportunities and easy buckets plus Joseph is a much better shooter. As for North Carolina, getting Harrison Barnes going could be the key between middling outside the top 25 and being a consistently ranked team and #2 in the ACC. Barnes is still in a slump, shooting just 33% overall over his last five games including a dismal 5-24 (21%) from three. He’s still averaging double figures and has done a nice job rebounding but the Tar Heels need more out of their star freshman. To become a really good team, UNC needs John Henson to become a consistent third option. He rebounds very well but he’s in double figures one night and single digits the next. He may have a hard time with Thompson inside but Henson is able to stretch his game out a bit and that may open things up inside for the Tar Heels. This figures to be another close game, far different from last year’s Texas blowout. This time North Carolina has the crowd to their advantage and may come out on top by a few points. It’s a huge game for UNC, their last non-conference opportunity for a quality win. Texas still has games with Michigan State and Connecticut but this is a big game for them too in a quasi-road environment. We wouldn’t be surprised either way but a slight edge has to go to UNC in this game.

#5 Kansas State vs. Florida (BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise, FL) – 3:30 pm Saturday on FSN (****)

This is the first of two key games for Kansas State, the second coming on Tuesday against UNLV. Winning one or both will certainly help the Wildcats grab a better seed in the NCAA Tournament come March. Against Florida, K-State will have to contend with the Gators’ trapping pressure defense, something that could be a problem given their propensity for turnovers and some point guard issues. Jacob Pullen has been the main distributor at four assists per game but he turns it over more than three times per game, the most on a team that averages 16 turnovers as a unit. Florida’s back court pressure could cause a lot of problems for Kansas State and plenty of extra possessions for the Gators. Pullen doing a lot of ball handling could also be a factor in his overall struggle relative to last season. He’s never been a great shooter, 40% overall from the floor for his career, but his three point shooting is down over six percent to 33% this season. It is true that other teams are trying to lock him up like Duke did, but Pullen has to work through this and become a better player in order to lift Kansas State to the next level where they can compete for a national championship. Frank Martin may go with Will Spradling at the point in order to take some pressure off Pullen. As for Florida, expect them to fire up three’s as usual (17 per game) even though the Gators shoot just 32% as a team. Billy Donovan loves the trey, yet another Rick Pitino protégé who sticks to the system no matter the personnel he has. Erving Walker has improved dramatically but Kenny Boynton still can’t find the range for Florida. Walker shoots 20% better than Boynton from deep yet Boynton has 15 more attempts this season. Kansas State should look to isolate Walker and aggressively defend him, keeping the ball out of his hands. Pullen and Rodney McGruder may have to match Walker’s deep shooting but Martin will be content with Boynton chucking shots up and hitting once in a while, requiring Kansas State to clear the boards well. Both teams rank high in offensive rebounding percentage so the Wildcats must put an emphasis on keeping Florida off the glass as that will lead to easy Gator put backs. Florida is #15 in two point percentage, largely a result of offensive rebounds and the play of Vernon Macklin inside. Macklin against Curtis Kelly will be a key matchup to watch in the low post as each player finishes well and can rebound the basketball effectively. Kansas State should not bank on outscoring Florida from the line considering their awful free throw shooting (55%) and Florida’s ability to keep opponents off the line, second in the nation in defensive free throw rate. Only three players on K-State’s roster shoot over 70% from the line and Pullen is the only one of those three who gets there often. Martin’s depth will take a hit if Wally Judge is out, dealing with personal issues, but we don’t think that will have a major impact on the game. Kansas State is still a very deep team, able to go eight or nine deep if necessary. This should be a terrific game that may come down to the very end. Ken Pomeroy predicts a two-point Florida win so this game is essentially a toss-up. We see it that way as well.

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Set Your Tivo: 12.14.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 14th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

A pair of games on the “U” highlight tonight’s schedule, the best of this slow week. Can the two home favorites avoid a letdown after big wins this past Saturday?  All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Oakland @ #4 Tennessee – 7 pm on ESPNU (***)

UT Needs to Avoid the Letdown Bug Tonight

After their huge win over Pittsburgh on Saturday behind Scotty Hopson’s career-high 27 points (10-13 FG), the Volunteers return home to face a 5-5 Oakland team out of the Summit League. Sounds easy, right? Not true, Oakland is not your ordinary .500 team. The Golden Grizzlies are in the midst of a brutal non-conference schedule, one that has already included games against West Virginia, Purdue, Illinois and Michigan State and still has Michigan and Ohio State to come after tonight’s game. Oakland nearly upset Michigan State on Saturday, falling by just a single point. Tennessee will look to use its speed and athleticism against Oakland as Bruce Pearl features a lineup of versatile guards and forwards. By contrast, Oakland features a solid front line of Keith Benson and Will Hudson. The 6’11 Benson averages 18/12 plus three blocks a game, a dominant force in the paint. Tennessee needs a strong effort out of Brian Williams in order to defend him. Stopping Hudson will also be key to a Tennessee win as he shoots 66% from the floor. Pearl may even look to a zone in order to defend the Oakland bigs or just use a double team on Benson. Tennessee, which shot 7-11 from three against Pitt, has the potential to outshoot Oakland from deep as the Golden Grizzlies rank just #281 in defending the trey. Reggie Hamilton (16 PPG, 4 APG, 39% 3pt FG) has to be on his game along with Benson and Hudson for Oakland to have a chance to win. Oakland doesn’t shoot it well from deep but Hamilton is their biggest threat, though he’s just five for his last 19 (26%). With Hopson and Tobias Harris, Tennessee has two extraordinary weapons at 6’7 and 6’8 that Oakland can’t quite match. Greg Kampe’s team is going to have to get the job done in the paint with his front court duo and that’s where rebounding comes in. Both teams are excellent rebounding units, especially on the offensive end. Each ranks in the top 15 in the country in offensive rebounding percentage though Oakland could only muster 30 total rebounds against Michigan State. Winning the rebounding battle is critical to any success Oakland hopes to have in this game. Turnover margin is the other key battle to keep an eye on. The Vols struggle handling the ball, averaging 17 turnovers a game including 20 against Pitt. Point guard Melvin Goins does a nice job but it’s really the other players that cause most of the turnover problems. They made up for that with 56% shooting against the Panthers but don’t expect that to happen again. Oakland turns it over 16 times per game so they’ll need to pay attention to this as well since they don’t force many turnovers at all. Tennessee gets to the foul line better than anyone else in D1 and Oakland’s starters play a lot of minutes. Combine those two statistics and you have a potential depth issue for the Golden Grizzlies. If players start fouling out, particularly Benson or Hudson, it’s going to be very difficult, almost impossible, to win. Expect an up-tempo game with Tennessee trying to avoid a letdown after Saturday’s terrific performance. If the Vols don’t take this game seriously, Oakland will hang around all night and have a chance to win. If Tennessee plays their game and doesn’t turn the ball over, expect the home team to come away with a nice win.

Drexel @ #20 Louisville – 9 pm on ESPNU (***)

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ATB: Tennessee Dominates Pitt Behind Scotty Hopson

Posted by rtmsf on December 13th, 2010

The Lede.  It was a relatively quiet weekend in college basketball, as most schools scheduled lightly because they are either already taking or heading into exams.  There was only one matchup between ranked teams, and most everybody else in the Top 25 rolled (17-2 this weekend).  In the two losses — UNLV and Washington — both squads played good teams in their own right in Louisville and Texas A&M on the road.  As we head into the holiday season, the next three weeks will be hit-and-miss (mostly miss) in terms of quality games, with the majority of the pre-conference tournaments finished and schools preferring to not kill themselves immediately before conference play.  Keep this in mind over the next few weeks, though.  With the onset of winter break, teams will have a couple of things going for them.  First, if they’re waiting on a key player who might have been a transfer or academically ineligible, guys such as New Mexico’s Drew Gordon or USC’s Jio Fontan or even Missouri’s Tony Mitchell, there’s a good chance that player will be back and ready to help his team soon.  Second, with classes over and NCAA hours restrictions lifted during the break, coaches can practice as much as they want.  It shouldn’t surprise you in the least if some teams that looked shaky during the first month of the season come back much more polished and stronger after the break.

The UT Defense Outdid Pitt's on Saturday (P-S/M. Freed)

Your Watercooler MomentTennessee Throttles Pitt on the Road.  You have to give it to Bruce Pearl.  When he perceives that his back is against the wall, he comes out with guns blazing, repeatedly doing things considered nearly impossible by those of us who remember how the Vols collapse when the burden of expectations is placed upon them.  Who can forget, for example, the victories over #1 Kansas and #2 Kentucky last season; or, the win at #1 Memphis in 2008; or, the victories over the back-to-back Florida teams in 2006 and 2007?  The man gets it done when he’s playing the role of woebegone underdog, and Saturday’s 83-76 victory over Pitt in their own backyard is just the latest example of this trend.  With Pearl set to miss the first eight games of the SEC season and still-untold penalties looming from the NCAA masters, he has his team believing in one another and they’re once again shocking the basketball world in the process.  So how are the Vols doing it this year?  Try defense and a junior who has finally reached his potential.  Pitt learned quickly on Saturday that this Tennessee team wasn’t just another soft SEC squad more interested in scoring than getting back and moving their feet on the other end — these Vols actually play defense.  With athletic size and length across the front line in the form of Brian Williams, Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson, the Pitt bigs had trouble finding openings, but it was the specific work that Melvin Goins put in on Pitt’s star Ashton Gibbs that made the biggest difference, holding the guard to 4-13 shooting.  On the other side, no Panther seemed to have a clue as to how to defend the lithe Hopson, who for the first time in his career on a national stage looked like the top ten recruit in the Class of 2008 he once was.  He was 10-13 from the field, hitting all three of his bombs and slicing and dunking his way to a 27-point performance befitting a significantly improved and more efficient player this season.  Sometimes it just takes certain players longer to figure out how to play this game at a high level, and Hopson’s better understanding of what a great shot is has been one of the primary reasons that UT sits at 7-0 and presumably in the top five at this point in the season.  With a light home-heavy schedule until the SEC season starts, Pearl has his team poised to remain unbeaten and near the top of the rankings when he goes on hiatus.

Quit Calling It a Court Storm!!!! Hehe, regardless of the chosen nomenclature, we had another RTC over the weekend as Fordham came back from 21 down in the second half to beat crosstown rival St. John’s.  The Johnnies suffered not one, but two separate 16-0 runs by Fordham (who, remember, only won five games the last two seasons) before succumbing down the stretch.  It was Fordham’s first win over a Big East team since the first Reagan administration (1982) and clearly a massive win for Tom Pecora’s program looking for some traction in a crowded NYC sports market.  Somewhere on the left coast, UCLA fans knowingly nodded in quiet unison…  (h/t to The East Coast Bias for sending along the clip)

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Boom Goes The Dynamite: Mid-Afternoon Games – 12.11.10

Posted by jstevrtc on December 11th, 2010

A Dentist’s Dream in Pittsburgh: As we were watching the early portion of this game we were hoping the Consol Energy Center had at least installed a blood bank somewhere in the wings. This was one heck of a physical battle from the opening tip, but we have to give respect to players from both sides, here. Already this year, we’ve seen a few physical games in which, as often happens, emotions got stirred up and something like a mini-scrap or at least a big verbal exchange happens. Not so, in this game. Both teams took what the refs gave them and it never got out of hand. No elbows, no punches, no shouting matches, nothing. There was one intentional foul in the first half (correctly called) and a tiny exchange of words in the second half, but nothing ever escalated.

Smacked Panthers: Please call the UT basketball offices if you find Scotty Hopson’s mind. Because he lost it agaisnt the Panthers. Everything the guy did (27 points on 10-13 shooting, including 3-3 from three point range) was gorgeous on Saturday. Powerful dunks, aggressive drives and finishes, silky outside jumpers from range…he found a groove that Miles Davis would have been proud of. Just as amazing was that, in the face of such a performance, Pitt showed little fightback and little interest until about 37 minutes had passed, as if the Panthers were just devastated by the Dave Wannstedt resignation.

Badgers Value the Rock: We wonder what Bo Ryan talked to his team about at halftime? First half…three offensive rebounds; second half…TWELVE?!? That’s an unreal glass-crashing effort on their own end. And efficiency, thy name is still Bo Ryan. Wisconsin’s first turnover of the second half didn’t happen until there was only 3:39 left!

Hard on the Huskies? There’s been a lot less talk about Washington over the last couple of weeks, mostly because they lost two games in Maui. They were to Kentucky and Michigan State…not exactly a couple of bran muffins. Right now they’re in a battle at Texas A&M, an incredibly tough place to be a visiting team. If they can pull this one out against the Aggies, look for the chatter to rev up for the Huskies again, and deservedly so.

Hoosiers Rising: The improvement in Indiana is obvious. They’re only down one at the half at Kentucky, though the Wildcats aren’t exactly helping themselves in the shot-selection department (1-7 from three). Indiana fans have been very patient, and the rewards are coming, we promise. What really irks us is that we heard that Scott Van Pelt was at Rupp Arena tonight. We were in Lexington last weekend and in Louisville on Wednesday, and we’ve been hoping to run into that guy on our travels at some point.

Primary Color Commentary: Dan Dakich’s breakdown of late-game strategy in the Wisconsin vs Marquette game was further evidence of why he’s a fantastic color guy, as everyone now knows. And we couldn’t agree more with Jay Bilas‘ mention, when speaking about Scotty Hopson, of how it’s actually OK to give a hot-shot high school recruit a few years to mature and develop his game at the college level.

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Set Your Tivo: 12.10-12.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 10th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Friday’s schedule is barren but Saturday has a bunch of terrific matchups. Two ACC conference games highlight a soft Sunday to close out the weekend. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#13 UNLV @ Louisville – 12 pm Saturday on ESPNU (****)

Rick Pitino’s Cardinals are a surprising 7-0 but when you really look at their schedule you realize they haven’t played top teams. Louisville’s best win is over Butler, a team clearly not even near the level it was last year. Including Butler, Louisville’s opponents have an aggregate record of just 25-31. That changes on Saturday when 9-0 UNLV heads to the KFC Yum! Center. The Rebels have already played five games away from home so they’ll be ready for a tough environment. UNLV is a strong team on both sides of the ball but they’ve really piled up the numbers on offense. They’re in the top ten in effective field goal percentage behind Chace Stanback and his 59% shooting. Stanback is a 6’8 wing/forward type player who can cause a lot of problems for the opponent matching up with him. His game extends to the three point arc as well, hitting 41% of his treys this year. It’ll be interesting to see if Pitino puts Rakeem Buckles (10/9) or Terrence Jennings (56% FG) on Stanback. Buckles is the better rebounder so Louisville may not want him drifting away from the basket trying to defend UNLV’s leading scorer. Buckles has made significant strides in his sophomore season, a theme seen throughout Louisville’s starting lineup. Pitino’s top five scorers have increased their scoring by a total of 31 PPG, making up for a lot of what they lost from last year’s team. We recall Pitino saying he’d have a bunch of guys averaging 8-15 PPG and that’s exactly what he has so far. Louisville is a strong defensive club, rated eighth in defensive efficiency. UNLV gets a lot of points from two point range (#5 in two point %) so Louisville will have to live up to their defensive billing in order to win. The Cardinals rank in the top ten in three point defense and effective field goal percentage against so UNLV point guard Oscar Bellfield (53% from three) has to have a good game controlling the ball and getting quality shots for himself and his teammates. Louisville will look to use their pressure defense to push the pace and create turnovers. Pitino said he’s been using a 24-second shot clock in practice so expect Louisville to really get up and down the floor looking for extra possessions. The Cardinals like to shoot a lot of three’s but they aren’t very good at it (32%). Mike Marra should hoist the most, averaging nine three point attempts per game while converting just 30% of the time. With Tre’Von Willis back in the fold, Lon Kruger can go nine-deep if he so chooses. Fresh legs will be needed against Louisville and could play a role late in the second half. UNLV should look to get to the free throw line to stop the flow of the game and take advantage of a Louisville team rated just #252 in opponents’ free throw attempts per field goal attempts. The Cardinals should have an edge on the boards (42 RPG) as UNLV struggles to keep opponents off the offensive glass. This is going to be a really good game, one that may come down to the very end. Louisville will probably be favored to win at home but we wouldn’t be surprised to see the Runnin’ Rebels pick up a key road victory, either.

Wisconsin @ Marquette – 2:30 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (****)

This annual rivalry is one of the most underrated in the country. Wisconsin holds a 63-53 edge but there’s an added twist this season. Marquette freshman Vander Blue originally committed to Wisconsin before signing with Buzz Williams and the Golden Eagles giving Marquette a valuable piece for the future. Each team has a star player going at it in this one, Marquette’s Jimmy Butler and Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer. They’re similar, but Leuer is taller and has a better three point game. The UW big man shoots 48% from deep and is the key man in Bo Ryan’s deliberate offensive system. With Marquette giving up 39% shooting from three on average, expect Leuer and his Badger teammates to have a big game from long range. Wisconsin’s tempo is one of the slowest in the country but they run their offense well and take terrific care of the basketball with Jordan Taylor running the show at the point guard position. Taylor has a stunning 3.92 assist to turnover ratio and teams with Leuer to provide Wisconsin with just under half of their points. Taylor is also a strong defender who will look to disrupt Marquette’s offensive flow. With Dwight Buycks questionable for this game (he did not play Tuesday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi), Buzz Williams will turn to the inexperienced Junior Cadougan who missed most of last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Wisconsin is solid just about everywhere but they’re vulnerable on the three point line. Unfortunately for Marquette, they shoot just 31% as a team from three and that’s where Darius Johnson-Odom comes in. When hot, the dynamic junior can be one of the best shooters you’ll see. He broke out against Milwaukee on November 27 (29 points, 5-7 from three) but struggled in the two games since. For the year DJO is shooting just 29% from three, down almost 20% from last season’s 47% mark. He can get it going at any time though and that’s what makes this game unpredictable. If Johnson-Odom is on, Marquette has an even better chance to pick up a home win over their rival. Tuesday night’s Marquette game saw Vander Blue break out, scoring 21 points on 9-13 shooting. However it also included the loss of Joseph Fulce, an important glue guy for Marquette. The 6’7 Fulce went down with what appeared to be a serious knee injury, the same knee that had been giving him problems before. How Marquette responds to the loss of one of their emotional leaders will be important in this game. Don’t expect Wisconsin to get to the foul line much at all so they’ll have to make up for that disadvantage with strong defense and efficient offensive sets. Marquette is third in the country in keeping opponents off the line while Wisconsin is near the bottom of D1 in getting there. The Badgers are a very good rebounding team and they should hold an edge there against smaller Marquette. Though inexperienced, Cadougan is a talented player who’s capable of replacing Buycks at the point if necessary. Look for Marquette to use Butler and fellow forward Jae Crowder inside the arc, trying to penetrate the stout Wisconsin defense. Rivalry games are usually close and this one figures to be no exception. There are a lot of unknowns on the Marquette side in this game but it would be a very big resume-building win if they can get it in front of the home folks at the Bradley Center.

SEC/Big East Invitational: #11 Tennessee @ #3 Pittsburgh (CONSOL Energy Center) – 3:15 pm Saturday on ESPN (*****)

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Checking in on… the SEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 8th, 2010

Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC.

A Look Back

  • Count me as one who didn’t see Festus Ezeli coming.  Vanderbilt’s player with the coolest name in the Southeastern Conference was named SEC player of the week for his superior play against Western Kentucky and Belmont, averaging 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks including a 24/10 performance against Belmont.  He now sports numbers of 13.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and two blocks per game.   And he’s doing it in only 21.3 minutes an outing.   He also leads the SEC in field goal percentage at 67.7%.  No bad for a guy who last year averaged 3.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per contest.  I for one was critical of Vanderbilit in the preseason claiming they would be weak inside after losing AJ Ogilvy.  Uncle Festus has done a fantastic job thus far and will be pivotal in some of the close SEC contests that Vanderbilt is likely to face in the stacked SEC East.
  • Speaking of Vanderbilt, three different Vanderbilt players — Brad Tinsley, John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli — have been named player of the week.  Tennessee’s Scotty Hopson is the only other player in the league to be given the honor.  Also, Kentucky’s Terrence Jones and Tennessee’s Tobias Harris have been trading off freshman of the week honors.  If the pattern holds, it’s Jones’ week, a sight Wildcats fans would welcome after Jones’ horrendous 3-17 foul-out performance against North Carolina on Saturday.
  • In other Wildcat news, after Auburn football’s Cam Newton was declared eligible by the NCAA, the University of Kentucky opted to re-submit their case for Enes Kanter’s eligibility from a different angle rather than go through the appeals process.  The NCAA explained their decision to allow Newton to play by stating that there was no evidence that Newton had any idea that his father was shopping his skills to universities for pay.  In the NCAA’s eyes, as Newton was unaware that there was any issue with his amateurism, he should remain eligible to play.  UK hopes that the NCAA will hold form in what it sees as a similar case with a precedent and pass down a favorable ruling on Kanter, who is a Turkish national that received benefits above expenses while playing for a professional team in his homeland.  Kanter, his family and the school maintain that Kanter intended to play college basketball all along and did not intentionally violate any rules.  The NCAA allows foreign players to play on professional teams and maintain their amateurism so long as they do not receive benefits above expenses.
  • Auburn and Missisippi State have yet to play a road game.  Auburn at least will head to Pittsburgh to play Rutgers in a neutral site game as part of the SEC/Big East Invitational.  Mississippi State, however, will be relaxing at home this week as they won’t hit the road until December 18, when they face Virginia Tech.  Hey, isn’t that when Renardo Sidney finally plays?

Power Rankings

  1. Tennessee (6-0): Tennessee is the lone undefeated team in the SEC.  Plus they didn’t play this week, which means their record went untarnished.  The Volunteers are taking an 11-day break while they prepare for Pittsburgh.  I guess it’s kind of tough to recover after facing Middle Tennessee at home.
  2. Vanderbilt (7-1): Vanderbilt just keeps climbing.  Their only loss is to West Virginia.  No shame in that, and should they beat Missouri on Wednesday, they are all but guaranteed a top 25 ranking – A pleasant surprise for a team that was picked to finish fifth in East by the media, this writer included.
  3. South Carolina (6-1): Like Vanderbilt, South Carolina continues to impress.  Their sole blemish is a hard-fought loss to Michigan State in their second game of the year.  Again, no shame in that.  This week, they beat Delaware State and then beat Clemson in a 64-60 thriller that came down to the final minute, just the way you like to beat an in-state rival.
  4. Georgia (6-2) After two straight tough losses to Notre Dame and Temple, Georgia has won three in a row.  One of those is a three-point win against Manhattan, a team that is now 2-6 and hasn’t made the Tournament since 2004.  Georgia followed that up with a 66-64 win over UAB and a 73-72 close call against rival Geogia Tech.  With Trey Thompkins playing better after a couple of unsteady early games, all should be back on track in Athens.  Thompkins is averaging 19.7 points and 7.7 rebounds and shooting well after scoring 13 in each of his first two games on 37% from the field.
  5. Kentucky (5-2): What to do with Kentucky?  They lost to North Carolina in their only game this week, so perhaps they should go lower than some other teams on this list, but to drop them to sixth or below seems absurd.  Kentucky had no answer for Tyler Zeller on Saturday and the hole inside became a gaping chasm on Saturday when big men Terrence Jones, Josh Harrellson and Eloy Vargas combined for 15 fouls, 3 turnovers, 1 assist and only 13 points on 5-19 shooting.  I can hear the “Free Enes” chants coming from UK’s campus even with my headphones blasting Smashing Pumpkins.  (Hey, I’m a nineties kid).
  6. Arkansas (5-1): Arkansas went 2-0 this week against Oklahoma and Troy.  But then again, who in the SEC hasn’t beaten these teams?  Kentucky beat Oklahoma and the Sooners have lost four since and the SEC is beating up on Troy left and right.  The Trojans have already taken their licks from Alabama and Mississippi State and now Arkansas.  Their lone win is against Division-II Huntington (AL).  Coach Pelphrey, I’d love to rank you higher this week, but I can’t against these teams.  Come back with a couple more wins next week and we’ll talk.
  7. Florida (6-2): The Gators lost to Central Florida after eking out a close one against Florida State.  I know they went and pummeled American just after that and I know UCF is now 7-0, but I also know that a team with Florida’s talent shouldn’t be dropping games like that.  When starting forwards Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons combine to go 1-14 against much smaller competition, there are problems.  Furthermore, I didn’t think it was possible, but Kenny Boynton is even worse from three this year than last year.  He is currently shooting 26.5 percent, compared to 29.4 percent in 2009-10.  Dreadful.  I wasn’t convinced this group of Gators was much better than last year’s, when the media was picking them to win the SEC and possibly make a Final Four run and they are proving me the wiser.  Step it up, Florida.  There’s a lot of work to be done before conference play starts.
  8. Mississippi (4-2): Luckily for the Rebels, Chris Warren can make those off-balance threes when they matter.  Well, at least against Southern Mississippi he can.  He’s only shooting 28 percent on the year from three, but he shot 4-9 from deep against Southern Miss in his best game this season.  That’s a good win for Mississippi against a quality opponent.  Look for Southern Mississippi to do good things in Conference USA this year.
  9. Mississippi State (4-1): The Bulldogs didn’t play this week, but Ravern Johnson still leads the SEC in scoring at 25.4 per game, and he’s got plenty of breathing room.  Kentucky’s Terrence Jones is second at 19.0 points per game.  Additionally, Kodi Augustus continues to lead the league in rebounding at 10.8 per game.
  10. LSU (5-2): Also didn’t play anyone this week.  The Tigers have been on the road exactly once so far, against South Alabama. They return to the Maravich to square off against the Central Michigan Chippewas in the second of seven straight home games. Show me something, Trent Johnson.
  11. Auburn (3-4) Well, this is the first week Auburn hasn’t been in last place.  I’m not totally sure they deserve the honor, if you want to call it that.  It’s never impressive to see a Division-II team on the schedule.  Auburn beat Georgia Southwestern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff this week, both at home.  I guess when you’re playing the tough ones, you want to give yourself that homecourt advantage.
  12. Alabama (4-4) The Tide beat South Alabama 72-50 and then got worked over by Purdue 66-47 in a game in which they went 0-9 from three.  I really thought Alabama was going to be better than this.  The three-point shooting is terrible and they turn the ball over too much.  And it’s not like they’ve played the toughest competition.  Purdue is the first team Alabama has played that should have had a shot at beating the Tide.  On the bright side, I’m sure they’ll jump back in front of in-state rival Auburn next week.

A Look Ahead

The SEC/Big East Invitational is this week and can I just say that this event has turned out to be a major disappointment on the part of the conference’s planners.  Here is the lineup this year:

  • 12/8: Arkansas vs. Seton Hall, Kentucky vs. Notre Dame
  • 12/11: Auburn vs. Rutgers, Tennessee vs. Pittsburgh

As my father used to say about my shoddy yardwork, “This ain’t cuttin’ it.”  Can we please get some kind of a legitimate invitational here?  The matchups in this series are continually disappointing.  We’re lucky that Notre Dame has been surprisingly good this year, or the Tennessee/Pitt game would be the only one worth watching.  There are 28 teams between these two conferences and these are the eight teams they schedule?  Where are Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt?  Where are Syracuse, Connecticut, Louisville, Georgetown, and Villanova?  Instead of providing us with some marquee publicity-generating matchups, we are given perennial cellar dwellers Auburn, Rutgers and Seton Hall.  Really?  As I said, it ain’t cuttin’ it.

Other Important Games this Week

  • 12/8 – Vanderbilt at Missouri: If Vanderbilt picks up a win here and wins the games they are supposed to through the rest of the preseason, they’ve probably all but assured themselves an NCAA Tournament bid.  All that’s left is the seeding.
  • 12/11 – Kentucky vs. Indiana: Twelve championships between them and a long-standing history of hoops tradition. What’s not to like?
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One Man’s Opinion: Contenders After One Month

Posted by zhayes9 on December 6th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

After engulfing myself in a nightly binge of college basketball over the first month of the season- taking in games from the Big Apple to the Little Apple and from Cancun to Maui- here is one man’s evaluation on some of the top teams in the country and where they stand heading into the final weeks of non-conference play:

Kyrie Irving has surpassed expectations thus far

Duke- It’s going to take a near perfect effort to beat Duke this season. Being able to lure Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler back to campus coinciding with a severe down year in the ACC was truly the perfect storm of circumstance. One chance a team may have to dethrone Duke is if they lure Mason Plumlee into two early fouls, keep them in the halfcourt and the Blue Devils become three-happy, but Duke does have five players who can catch fire from deep at any time. Kyrie Irving has surpassed any and all expectations during the first month of the season. His court awareness is reminiscent of a 10-year NBA veteran rather than an 18-year old college freshman. His use of the hesitation dribble, ability to split screens, explode to the basket and display innate court awareness has vaulted Irving to stardom. What makes Duke so lethal is that they have a plethora of options that can explode for 25 points on any given night, just as Plumlee did against Marquette or Singler against Oregon or Irving against Michigan State.  There’s three potential lottery picks on this team, but selfishness is never an issue and they flow together seamlessly on the court. I have a hard time pointing out exactly where Duke slips up this season; after all, they don’t face a currently ranked team the rest of the slate.

Ohio State- Here’s the one team I feel would have a good shot at knocking off Duke on a neutral floor right now. They can come close to matching the Blue Devils at every position on the floor if William Buford runs the point. Jared Sullinger has been overrated a bit in the early going. Most of his production has come off easy dunks and layups and I haven’t seen an array of post moves quite yet, although I trust that they exist in his arsenal. It’s his fellow freshmen that should be receiving more attention. DeShaun Thomas is scoring 13 PPG in just over 17 MPG of play and shooting 56% from the floor. I’ve also been wildly impressed with the headiness and intelligence of Aaron Craft at the point. He’s compiled a near 2/1 assist/turnover ratio in the early going and has done a fantastic job finding shooters Diebler and Lighty off screens or Sullinger in low post position. David Lighty is this team’s MVP. He’s a lockdown defender and has really improved his outside jumper, while Buford may have the best mid-range game in the Big Ten. One should always anticipate Tom Izzo’s team to improve as the season wears on, but the Buckeyes have to be the odds-on favorite to win this conference as of now.

Pittsburgh- I know it’s horribly cliché when talking about Pittsburgh, but “tough” is the first word that comes to mind. Jamie Dixon’s teams are never outworked and currently lead all of college basketball is offensive rebounding percentage. Pitt seemingly has an assembly line of big men they can trot off the bench to give Gary McGhee, Nasir Robinson and Talib Zanna breathers. Dixon loves to run Ashton Gibbs off screens for open looks and the junior sharpshooter is connecting better than ever, although he still lacks true point guard skills. Although the rotation will eventually be trimmed down, Dixon has the luxury of digging 10-deep into his bench that Big East rivals like Georgetown and Connecticut simply do not have. McGhee is the type of bruiser inside that every team would love to throw out there for 20 MPG. He gives Pitt’s offense extra shot opportunities and shuts down opposing big men inside. Pitt doesn’t necessarily have the star power of other Final Four contenders, but their toughness and execution as a unit may be enough to carry them to Houston.

Kansas- I think we all need to take a moment to applaud the job Bill Self has done in Lawrence. This program lost two lottery picks and an All-American and have taken maybe one step back. This is a credit to the tremendous depth Self has compiled at Kansas and his staff’s ability to develop players. When Josh Selby is eligible on December 18, this team becomes Final Four good. He could be lumped into the same category as Irving, Walker and McCamey come March. I’ve been wildly impressed with how well the Jayhawks know their roles. The Morris brothers complement each other with Marcus as the inside-outside scoring threat (18.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 65% FG, 9/15 from deep) and Markieff perfectly content with doing the dirty work on the boards and in the paint. In and out of Self’s doghouse during his tenure at Kansas, Tyshawn Taylor has done a quietly solid job filling in for Selby at the point distributing the basketball.  A player who also flies under the radar is Brady Morningstar. Most just view him as a spot-up shooter, but he’s a valuable cog for Self ushering the fast break and setting up teammates for open looks.

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Checking in on.. the SEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 1st, 2010

 

Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC.

A Look Back

  • So Bruce Pearl gets slapped with an eight game suspension and what does Tennessee do but turn around and win the NIT Tip-Off championship.  Last year, Bruce Pearl dismissed Tyler Smith from the team after he was arrested on misdemeanor gun and drug charges and suspended Cameron Tatum, Melvin Goins and Brian Williams, who were all arrested with Smith.  How did Tennessee respond then?  They held #1 Kansas to 38 percent shooting and beat the Jayhawks 76-68.  Tatum, Goins and Williams were reinstated and Tennessee went on to the NCAA Elite Eight, the Volunteers’ best finish in the NCAA Tournament in the history of the program.  Talk about responding to adversity.  Hey, maybe if Tennessee fields an all walk-on team with Richard Simmons as head coach they’ll make a Final Four appearance.
  • NBA scouts are abuzz about Kentucky’s Terrence Jones who has probably played his way into top five pick status.  He handles the ball as well as any big man in America and in three games against Oklahoma, Washington, and Connecticut he averaged 23 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks, good enough for SEC freshman of the week honors.
  • As I have said before, the East is much stronger than the West and I’m going to continue to harp on it.  The East has three teams in the RTC top 25 (Kentucky #14, Tennessee #15, Florida #19).  The West has none.  While I do expect Mississippi State to enter the top 25 at some point, I’m not sure if any other team from the West will get a sniff at it.
  • As of now the SEC East is 29-6 (.829) with no bad losses.  By way of contrast, the SEC West is 19-12 (.613).  Ok so they’re not the NFC West, but they definitely need to step it up.  The West already has the following losses:

Bad

  • LSU 53 Nicholls State 62
  • Arkansas 65 UAB 70
  • Alabama 78 Seton Hall 83
  • Alabama 47 Iowa 55

Dreadful

  • LSU 53 Nicholls State 62
  • Alabama 49 St. Peters 50 (St Who?)
  • Auburn 69 UNC Asheville 70
  • Auburn 68 Samford (and son?) 79
  • Auburn 54 Campbell 61
  • Auburn 55 Jacksonville 55
  • Mississippi State 59 Florida Atlantic 61

I’m not giving Mississippi State a bye on their loss to Florida Atlantic even if they’re playing shorthanded.  There should still be plenty of talent here to beat a team that lost to American University.

  • Time will tell if Mississippi’s loss to Dayton will look bad as the season progresses.  It’s not looking good right now though.  A week after beating Mississippi, the Flyers were doubled up by Cincinnati 68-34 in a mercy killing.  Losing to a very average Miami (FL) team doesn’t help the Rebels either.  Mississippi’s 78-71 win over Murray State is the West’s best win so far.  Murray State is now 3-3 and will have to win a lot of games the rest of the way to help Mississippi’s reputation.

Power Rankings

So let’s get down to business here.

  1. Tennessee (5-0): Can there be any question here?  Scotty Hopson was named the SEC’s Player of the Week as he averaged 18.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists while leading the Volunteers to the NIT Tip-Off championship.  He was also named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, leading his team to victories over VCU and then seventh ranked Villanova, whom they held to 34.5 percent.  If history holds, Tennessee will probably be holding teams to 25 percent once Brucey’s suspension begins.
  2. Florida (5-1): took care of business this week getting wins against in-state foes Florida Atlantic at home and Florida State away.  The 55-51 win over the Seminoles wasn’t pretty, though.  The Gators shot only 38.1 percent from the field and had 17 turnovers to only 8 assists.  You’re usually lucky to come away with the win in a game like that, especially on the road.  But a good road win it is for the Gators.
  3. Vanderbilt (5-1): Unfortunately, the shine on that win over North Carolina is already coming off.  UNC played a close one against College of Charleston this week and then lost in a game that they never even showed up for at Illinois.  All Vanderbilt did this week was trample one of the worst teams in the country, Grambling State, 92-59 in a game in which they outrebounded the Tigers 60-21.  They followed that up with an 86-73 win over Appalachian State.  Not bad for a week’s work.
  4. Kentucky (4-1): Well, the Wildcats got a great win over Washington 74-67, but they laid an egg the next night against a surprising Connecticut team that had beaten then-#2 Michigan State the previous night.  Kentucky allowed Connecticut to shoot 57.7 percent while only shooting 36.7 percent themselves.  After the Wildcats’ first game, Doron Lamb stated that the Cats hoped to be the best shooting team in the nation.  I guess he wasn’t talking about free throw shooting.  Prior to Kentucky’s game against Boston the Cats were shooting an embarrassing 59.7 percent from the line.  Insert Calipari teams’ free throw shooting comment here.  Against Boston, the Wildcats shot 59.3 percent from the field, 62.5 percent from three and 70.8 percent from the line.
  5. LSU (5-2): Three wins this week, albeit against Centenary, South Alabama and Houston, is good enough to be the highest ranked team out of the West.  LSU doubled up Centenary 78-36.  Now I don’t care if Centenary’s 0-6, anytime you double up a team and hold them to 28.3 percent shooting, you’ve played well.   LSU beat the teams they were supposed to beat, soundly.
  6. South Carolina (4-1): The Gamecocks picked up a couple of wins this week by beating South Carolina Upstate 57-41 and Western Kentucky 87-85.  I’ve said it before.  I like these Cocks.  They are leading the nation in rebounding at 49.2 per game.  Rebounding comes down to hustle and this team has it.  Who knows, keep winning in the preseason and maybe there is a tournament bid for this team, but it’s an uphill battle in the stacked East.
  7. Mississippi State (4-1): An overtime win over lowly Troy (1-4) this week isn’t anything to write home about, especially since the Bulldogs took their first lead in the game against the Trojans with only 4:54 to play.  The Trojans also had a 51-38 rebounding advantage over State and that’s just unacceptable, I don’t care who is missing from your starting lineup.  And apparently there aren’t enough guns on this team to get past the likes of Florida Atlantic. After losing to FAU, it looks like the Bulldogs need Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney more than we thought.  In the mean time, Ravern Johnson is playing like a star and never getting a breather.  Prior to the loss to Florida Atlantic, Johnson was averaging 27.3 points per game, good enough for first in the SEC and fifth in the nation.  Johnson is also averaging 38.3 minutes, 4.5 rebounds and shooting 56.3 percent from three.
  8. Alabama (3-3): Well, at least they didn’t have to face St. Peter’s again this week.  Alabama beat Alabama A&M 76-50.  Here’s a tidbit. Tony Mitchell is the model of consistency.  He’s had between 12 and 15 points in all five games this season and had a 12/15 night against A&M.  Despite losing three games early this is still a team that I think will pull themselves together and finish strong.  A dominating win over the Bulldogs was a step in the right direction.
  9. Arkansas (4-1): Not much exciting going on here.  They beat Southeast Missouri State, a team that is now 0-6, and then lost to UAB.  What I do find interesting is that coach John Pelphrey is playing eleven guys at least eleven minutes a game.  Now that’s going deep.
  10. Mississippi (5-2): I’ve already picked on Mississippi, so there’s no need to get into that further except for to say that when you play a weak preseason schedule, coach Andy Kennedy, you really pay the price when you lose to those same weak teams.  Especially when there are no opportunities to make up for those losses with a quality win or two.
  11. Georgia (4-2): came out and got what looked like a good win against Colorado without Trey Thompkins and then it turned out that Colorado’s not any good.  So all they have to hang their hat on now is a hard fought loss to Old Spice Classic champion Notre Dame. They followed that loss with a loss to Temple.  At least they beat Manhattan (2-4) by three.  Thompkins just hasn’t been himself since returning from injury.  He’s shooting only 40 percent from the field and scoring 14.7 per game.  That’s 3 points less than his average last year.  Prior to his return, the Bulldogs were 3-0, since returning, 2-1.  I don’t get it.  This guy was the media’s pick for preseason conference player of the year.
  12. Auburn (2-4): I feel for Auburn.  I really do.  They lost their entire team from last year, and they weren’t any good last year.  And then this year, they lost their top two recruits, Shawn Kemp Jr. and Luke Cothron, to ineligibility.  That said, there is a time and a place to play Division II teams and it’s called practice.  There is nothing to be gained by beating Georgia Southwestern.  It doesn’t help your team gain confidence to beat a D-II team and it does nothing for the selection committee at the end of the year as they don’t factor in wins against lower division schools.  Furthermore, if you do lose to a lower division team, you look awful.  Don’t do it again, Coach Barbee.

A Look Ahead

  • Kentucky takes on North Carolina on Saturday, and even though UNC is looking pretty weak as of late, this is one of those games that both teams really want and when you’ve got two of the all-time winningest programs on the same court, you watch, period.
  • Alabama plays Purdue on Saturday.  If the Tide want to salvage their preseason, this is the game to do it.  Beat Purdue, and there’s still an outside chance at an NCAA berth, lose and they may have to get 12 wins in conference play.
  • Like Georgia against Colorado, Arkansas vs. Oklahoma Wednesday night is a game that has less value today than it did when it was announced, with Oklahoma going through a nightmare in Maui. Creampuffs dilute the rest of the action this week, but next week will see some fantastic SEC basketball.
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