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)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Share this story

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 (*****)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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?
Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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:


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


  • 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.
Share this story

Floriani: Tempo-Free at the Preseason NIT

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2010

Ray Floriani of College Chalk Talk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC, and makes additional contributions based on his analysis from action around the country.

There has been a lot of news coming out of Knoxville, Tennessee, as of late. Until last week, all of it centered on activity off the court – from Bruce Pearl’s recent troubles with the NCAA to last year’s player suspensions. Presently, the conversation is shifting to what is transpiring on the floor as Tennessee captured the Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden. They did it in resounding defensive fashion.

Let’s take look at a tempo-free analyses of each of the games contested at the World’s Most Famous Arena.

First Semifinal

VCU 39 28 29 18
Tennessee 42 26 38 19

Neither team was a walk-it-up-the floor type as they both came to New York averaging over 70 possessions per game. In an 80-possession contest, Tennessee had the offensive efficiency edge, 96-90. The talk at halftime was the Rams’ shooting, or lack of it. Their eFG percentage the first half was a horrid 28%. Only a rebounding edge and the Tennessee’s careless ball-handling style (23% TO rate) kept them within one at intermission.  In the second half, VCU found the range thanks to 6’2 guard Brandon Rozzell (23 points, 19 in the final half). The big story was rebounding. Bruce Pearl’s club cleaned the glass the second half. Scotty Hopson, a 6’7 wing who was a matchup problem all night for VCU, had 11 boards to complement his 18 points and 6’10 Brian Williams enjoying a New York homecoming, adding 13 rebounds. In the end, the Vols edged the Rams, 77-72.

Jamie Skeen made these fans proud of his tenacity on the boards.

Second Semifinal

UCLA 44 31 26 18
Villanova 44 45 33 10

At the half, Villanova enjoyed a 15-point lead and a huge 122-78 edge in offensive efficiency. In a low 70s possession game (UCLA 73, Villanova 71), the final numbers were a bit more respectful but Villanova still enjoyed a 116-96 OE edge. Credit a better second half by UCLA largely due to an improved defensive effort after halftime. Throughout the contest, the Bruins could not keep the Villanova guards in front of them defensively as Ben Howland planned. Corey Fisher shot 6-9 en route to a game high 26 points. Fisher constantly drew fouls from beaten Bruin defenders and was 14-15 from the line. Villanova cleaned the glass, largely due to sophomore Mouphtaou Yarou who pitched in a big 13-point 16-board night.  UCLA did have four in double figures, but not Tyler Honeycutt. The 6’8 forward came in averaging 15 PPG but struggled scoring just eight points on 3-8 shooting. Villanova was able to prevail, 82-70, also on the basis of their low turnover rate.


VCU 56 26 33 17
UCLA 54 15 52 26

VCU was devastated on the glass, but extremely efficient overall. The pace was to the Rams’ liking (UCLA 80 possessions, VCU 76) with Shaka Smart’s club owning an impressive 117-106 edge in offensive efficiency. Even with a quick pace, VCU did not get into transition similar to the semis and actually trailed UCLA 16-6 in fast break points.  As noted in the table, UCLA owned the backboards largely due to Tyler Honeycutt (13 rebounds) and Reeves Nelson (10). The turnover rate was a killer for the Bruins with Honeycutt and Reeves in the mix again, combining for 8 of the 21 Bruin miscues.  Another encouraging sign for VCU was inside play. The Rams scored 34% of their points from three (actually right on the team average coming to New York) but displayed a nice presence in the paint in Jamie Skeen. The 6’9 senior scored a game high 23 points while grabbing a team high 9 boards. In the end, VCU topped UCLA, 89-85. The level to which the Bruins’ defense improves is a major storyline in Westwood.


Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Set Your Tivo: 11.26.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 26th, 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.

There are lots of good games today, most with implications are from tournaments. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

Old Spice Classic Semifinal: #25 Wisconsin vs. Boston College — 12 pm on ESPN (***)

Wisconsin enters today’s game coming off a brutal to watch 50-35 win over Manhattan in the opening round yesterday at Disney. Jon Leuer led the Badgers with 16/13 in a game that had the same halftime score (17-10) as the Patriots/Lions NFL game. Boston College scored a thrilling 67-65 win over Texas A&M as Dash Harris’ coast-to-coast layup try fell off the rim as time expired. Reggie Jackson scored 21 points on 8-12 shooting to pace an Eagles team that shot 47% overall from the floor. BC held off a second half charge from the Aggies and overcame a 29-14 shellacking on the boards to pull out the win. Wisconsin is rated eighth in offensive efficiency but has struggled shooting the ball recently. They’ve shot under 40% in their last two games but have made up for it on the defensive end, especially yesterday. Bo Ryan’s stingy defense held Manhattan under 50 FG attempts and 28.6% shooting. Wisconsin is strong on the boards as well, ranking #1 in offensive rebounding percentage and #7 in the same statistic on the defensive side meaning they clean the defensive glass very well. Not surprisingly, Wisconsin has out-rebounded every opponent it has faced this season. That’s going to be a problem for Boston College, a team that ranks #267 in offensive rebounding and had a rough time against the Aggies yesterday. The Eagles shot it well from three for the first time all year against A&M and that’s something Steve Donahue may want to take advantage of again today. Wisconsin ranks #298 against the three, the one thing they don’t do well defensively. BC isn’t much better however, ranking #293. Expect a well played game at an average to below-average speed as Boston College protects the ball very well and Wisconsin doesn’t force many steals and turnovers due to their deliberate style of play. The Badgers have assisted on 63% of their made shots this year, a sign of a disciplined offensive system led by Jordan Taylor. We expect this to be a close game but Wisconsin has the edge in most areas and that should be good enough to advance to the finals of this tournament.

76 Classic Semifinal: Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State — 2:30 pm on ESPN (**)

Oklahoma State got by a pesky DePaul team in the first round on the back of Marshall Moses’ 27/9 on 11-14 FG while Virginia Tech rolled over Cal State Northridge. This game features a lot of statistical contrasts and most would seem to favor the Hokies. The most glaring of which has to be turnovers. Virginia Tech does turn the ball over too much but they also force a bunch due to their style of play. Oklahoma State turned it over 25 times against an up-tempo DePaul team while Virginia Tech forced the same number against Northridge. That doesn’t bode well for today’s matchup if you’re a Cowboy fan. The Hokies get to the line extremely well and that should give them a big advantage in this game. The Pokes of OSU foul a lot, ranking #321 in FTA/FGA, a measure of how often your opponent gets to the line. Virginia Tech doesn’t take advantage as much as they should, averaging 69% from the stripe. Malcolm Delaney is the creator and best player for Seth Greenberg while Jeff Allen has had a nice start to his senior season in the post (11.5/9/4). He’ll play a key role defending Moses if he chooses to enter the paint. Virginia Tech blocks a lot of shots, ranked #16 in blocked shot percentage. Oklahoma State is even better at #12 so expect a war in the paint. Neither team shoots or defends the three very well so a lot of the action should be confined to be inside the arc with guard penetration and dishing to guys like Allen and Darrell Williams for OSU. The Hokies have an edge in talent and Travis Ford still isn’t too sure about what to expect from his club in a transitional year. Virginia Tech is a solid favorite here and should advance. For Oklahoma State to win, they’ll need to do a great job controlling the ball and getting rebounds in order to limit opportunities for the Hokies.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Live: Preseason NIT Semifinals

Posted by rtmsf on November 24th, 2010

Games #33-#34.  It’s back to the World’s Most Famous Arena for the semifinal round of the Preseason NIT.

Villanova comes into this one at 4-0, although their path has not been as easy as their margins of victory would indicate. Bucknell and Boston U. both gave the Wildcats a fight, all while they are dealing with a suspension to star freshman JayVaughn Pinkston. Villanova’s attack is centered around their backcourt, and while Corey Fisher has yet to really catch fire this season, Maalik Wayns looks like a potential superstar. UCLA will be the first real test for this Villanova team. The Bruins come into this one at 3-0 and a bit under the radar. The front line of Reeves Nelson (19.3 ppg), Tyler Honeycutt, and Joshua Smith is underrated and Lazeric Jones is an upgrade over Jerime Anderson at the point. The question mark is going to be Malcolm Lee. He rolled an ankle against Pepperdine, and his status (as of this writing) is still uncertain.

The nightcap is between Tennessee and VCU. Tennessee is a bit of a question mark this season. They have some talented and versatile players in Tobias Harris, Scotty Hopson, and Cam Tatum. All three are capable scorers with length and athleticism. But Brian Williams still is not in shape at center and the combination of Melvin Goins and Trae Golden has not exactly yielded terrific point guard play. VCU may play in the CAA, but don’t be fooled — this is a very good basketball team. Joey Rodriguez is the best point guard you’ve never seen play (18.3 ppg, 10.3 apg, 2.0 TO’s in three games), Jamie Skeen is a power forward transfer from Wake Forest, Ed Nixon is as good a defender as you will find on the perimeter, and Bradford Burgess and Brandon Rozzell are terrific complementary scorers. I’ll go as far as to say that I think VCU will win tonight.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Boom Goes The Dynamite: ESPN’s 24 Hours Of Hoops Marathon 2010

Posted by jstevrtc on November 15th, 2010


For the third year in a row, ESPN is bringing us what we consider one of the great television events on the sports television calendar, the 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon. That means that for the third year in a row, I’ll be live-blogging the whole thing from start to finish — and this year, we’re climbing this hoops blogger’s Everest without supplemental oxygen. That is to say…I’m going caffeine-free. More importantly, here is the schedule of games for this year’s marathon (all times Eastern):

  • 12:00 midnight — Miami (FL) at Memphis (ESPN)
  • 2:00 am — St. John’s at St. Mary’s (ESPN)
  • 4:00 am — Central Michigan at Hawaii (ESPN)
  • 6:00 am — Stony Brook at Monmouth (ESPN)
  • 8:00 am — Robert Morris at Kent State (ESPN)
  • 10:00 am — Northeastern at Southern Illinois (ESPN)
  • 12 noon — Oral Roberts at Tulsa (ESPN)
  • 2:00 pm — La Salle at Baylor (ESPN)
  • 4:00 pm — Virginia Tech at Kansas State (ESPN)
  • 5:30 pm — Marist at Villanova (ESPNU)
  • 6:00 pm — Ohio State at Florida (ESPN)
  • 7:30 pm — Miami (OH) at Duke (ESPNU)
  • 8:00 pm — Butler at Louisville (ESPN)
  • 9:30 pm — Belmont at Tennessee (ESPNU)
  • 10:00 pm — South Carolina at Michigan State (ESPN)
  • 11:00 pm — San Diego State at Gonzaga (ESPN2)
  • 11:30 pm — Pacific at UCLA (ESPNU)

The first attempt at this resulted in some hallucinations and arrhythmias as the hour got late (I had been up for 16 hours before starting the live blog) and I required a few caffeine-laden beverages. Last year, we had a technical glitch that kept us on our toes, but the live blog survived. This time, to raise the standard yet again, I’ll be sans caffeine. I know that without a webcam (we’re not that kind of site) you have no reason to believe that I’m not pounding sodas and cappuccinos and Five Hour Energy drinks by the blender-full. Since I believe RTC is the only site that’s done this all three years, well…you’ll just have to trust me. After two years, I think our relationship is in that kind of place. I hope you’ll join us right here (the live blog will continue in this post) a few minutes before midnight. Now, for my pre-live-blog meal. How’s a little turkey and wine sound?

11:47 PM Monday — Here we go. The high-def at the RTC Southern Compound is rockin’. We’ve checked the router and the internet connection to the building (which bit us in zee buttocks last year), and it appears solid. The football game is all but over (as it has been since halftime). Let’s go.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story