Is Calipari’s Three-Year Recruiting Run the Best Ever?

Posted by rtmsf on August 16th, 2010

An interesting question came up among the Twitterati over the weekend when it was learned that Rivals #8 (and rising) recruit in the Class of 2011, Anthony Davishad formally committed to Kentucky.  Davis’ commitment marks the third top ten recruit in that class to have committed to John Calipari’s Wildcats, and the seventh in the 2009-11 recruiting cycles, a ridiculous feat. 

  • John Wall (#2, 2009)
  • DeMarcus Cousins (#3 , 2009)
  • Brandon Knight (#4, 2010)
  • Enes Kanter (#7, 2010)
  • Michael Gilchrist (#1, 2011)
  • Marquis Teague (#5, 2011)
  • Anthony Davis (#8, 2011)

Throw in a few other high-level recruits such as Daniel Orton (#19, 2009), Eric Bledsoe (#52, 2009), Terrence Jones (#11, 2010), Doron Lamb (#26, 2010), and an unnamed superstar or two to be named later (Quincy MillerLeBryan Nash?), and suddenly there is a realization that we could be in the midst of the single greatest run of recruiting prowess since the Wizard of Westwood had every blue-chipper from coast to coast lining up to play for him.

Calipari Continues to Rack Up Blue-Chippers (LHL/M. Cornelison)

This is what Calipari was referring to when he infamously said on draft night in June that having five UK players selected was the greatest night in the program’s history.  It’s all marketing.  As Kentucky blog A Sea of Blue notes when referring to Anthony Davis’ quotes about the commitment, Calipari isn’t selling the Wildcat program of all hoops-all the time as much as the dream; the dream, of course, being a fast-track to the League. 

But notice what is not mentioned — Kentucky tradition, the facilities at UK, playing in front of 24,000 every game, being on TV all the time — none of these things are mentioned.  Recruiting has changed.  Calipari has taken the NBA one-and-done rule and used it like the Pied Piper, tempting players to Kentucky not with cash to families or under-the-table deals, but with a short path to all the riches they desire.

Whether you believe the last sentence or not, the truth remains that players are beelining for Lexington, which brings us to the point of this article.  We have to dig pretty deep in our memory banks to remember a recruiting run that even begins to approach this concentration of elite talent.  Granted, there’s a bit of an apples/oranges confounder here — much of the reason that Calipari can load up on talent every single year is because there’s a reasonable expectation that the previous year’s competition for minutes will be gone (see: Wall begets Knight begets Teague, for example).  Still, we’ve come up with one strong comparison in the modern era (we hope you add your own in the comments below): Duke 1997-99.  As a brief aside, UNC from 1990-93, Michigan from 1991-94 and Duke from 1999-2002 were also very strong periods of recruiting at those schools, but over four recruiting cycles rather than three. 

Duke 1997-99 (recruited by Mike Krzyzewski)

  • Elton Brand (#1, 1997)
  • Chris Burgess (#7, 1997)
  • Shane Battier (#8, 1997)
  • William Avery (#14, 1997)
  • Corey Maggette (#16, 1998)
  • Jason Williams (#3, 1999)
  • Carlos Boozer (#8, 1999)
  • Casey Sanders (#16, 1999)
  • Mike Dunleavy, Jr. (#26, 1999)

The recruiting rankings alone are nasty, but when you consider the actual accomplishments of this group, it takes on a whole new meaning.  Six lottery picks, three NPOYs, two title game appearances and a national championship (2001).  In two of the years where they didn’t cut the nets down, (1999 and 2002), Duke was the prohibitive favorite to win the title (finishing #1 in the final AP poll every year from 1999-2002) in large part because they had more talent than anybody else.  They actually won it all in 2001, but we’re still trying to figure out how Jim Calhoun’s vastly underrated (but also undermanned) Huskies were able to slay the Duke dragon in 1999 (oh, right, Trajan Langdon).  It was an amazing run of talent acquisition, and we haven’t seen anything like it for at least a decade.

Duke Had Three NPOYs in Four Seasons (SI)

Therein lies the rub.  With boatloads of talent comes expectations, and winning the press conference is great for tone-setting, but getting to and winning Final Fours is what matters most in Lexington.  Again, the Duke era was different in that with the exception of Corey Maggette in 1999, Coach K did not lose any players as 1-and-dones; but that won’t deter the vultures from ripping Calipari if he continues to sign elite talent without bringing back the accompanying hardware to support it.  The biggest case in point of this thinking is how Michigan’s Fab Five class of 1991 is often considered a failure for merely going to two straight NCAA championship games and losing.  It remains to be seen how this era of Kentucky basketball will play out (so far, one Elite Eight appearance), but we already know that the level of recruiting enjoyed by Calipari in his first three classes there rivals anything experienced in the modern era.  Coach K’s classes from 1997-99 set the bar very high — it’s now up to the individual players — from Knight/Kanter/Jones to Gilchrist/Teague/Davis — to match or exceed their accomplishments.   

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Evaluating the NCAA Rule Change Proposals

Posted by rtmsf on May 10th, 2010

Usually the discussion of rule changes is about as sexy as Heidi Montag’s visible scarring around her bosom, but hey, it’s the offseason and we’ve never been ones to turn away from a perfectly good plastic appendage just because of a few imperfections.  The NCAA Rules Committee came back with its annual recommendations last week, and there are three primary ones to take note of this year.  Although the media has been rightfully focused on the immediate recommendation regarding the wanton throwing of elbows (more on this below), it was two of the other experimental recs (one men’s and one women’s) that caught our eye.  Both involve line-drawing (or more accurately, curve-drawing).  Maybe we’re just anal when it comes to court geometrics, but we prefer clearly defined rules and a clean-looking playing surface.  Both of these proposed experimental rules will help with those objectives.

Battier Was a Charge-Taking Machine at Duke (SI/M. Millan)

First, we’ve griped for what seems like an eternity about the “Shane Battier” rule — the notion that players in the college game could set up to take a charge directly underneath the basket even when the offensive player had already left his feet prior to the secondary defender/charge-taker getting into position.  The NBA never had this problem in large part because referees were hesitant to call it (and players wanted to avoid certain posterization), but for the last fifteen years or so it was one of the most despised calls in college basketball.  Nothing infuriated us more than watching a spectacular offensive move into the lane get erased as a slow helpside defender rushed to set up under the rim, received contact, flopped onto his rear along the baseline and looked for the call.  More often than we’d care to remember, the johnny-come-lately defender would be rewarded with the offensive foul, the basket would be erased, and steam would gently rise from our ears. 

Last year the NCAA finally began to address this problem by enabling an imaginary restricted zone underneath the basket where charges would not be called, a clear response to the NBA’s recent success in adding a restricted area underneath its hoops.  This worked well enough to eliminate the most infuriating transgressors — those who would camp out directly underneath the rim — but the imaginary aspect of the collegiate “line” still left way too much discretion in the hands of the officials.  Depending on the officiating crew working that night, the imaginary arc might extend out only a couple of feet from the front of the basket; whereas in others, it may extend out three, four or even five feet.  The existing rule using the invisible line was a good faith effort by the NCAA to clean up play under the rim, but it is just too difficult and ambiguous for referees to consistently apply from game to game.  In response, the NCAA has moved closer to providing greater clarity with an experimental rule effective next season that will allow a restricted area arc in the paint for the preseason tournaments and exhibition games.  Once everyone sees how well it works in those contests, our hope is that it will become a standard part of the floor in coming years.

We Hate the Multiple 3-pt Lines

The second rule change is only cosmetic when it comes to the men’s game, but for some reason it really bothers us to see courts that have multiple three-point lines on it.  A new experimental rule for next year’s women’s game involves moving their three-point line back to the 20’9 distance that the men currently use.  An analysis performed by the NCAA found that nearly two-thirds of attempts in the women’s game were already coming from behind the longer line and the corresponding make percentages were similar.  Hopefully this is the first step to unifying the three-point line distance between sports and getting rid of the unsightly redundancy on courts that host both men’s and women’s games (i.e., most of college basketball).

Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Five: 11.11.09 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 11th, 2009


  1. Wednesday is the start of the week-long Early National Signing Period for the Class of 2010.  UCLA just got a commitment yesterday from five-star 6’9 F/C Josh Smith from Covington, Washington, and the best big man in Westwood since Kevin Love was throwing in 94-footers at the Final Four.  Six of the top ten are already committed, but two of the jewels — Harrison Barnes and Brandon Knight — are still on the board. scout 2010 top 10
  2. Villanova freshman center Mouphtaou Yarou was declared eligible by head coach Jay Wright yesterday after information from an international basketball site came to light purporting that he may have been much older (25) than his reported 19 years of age.   Jeff Goodman reported later yesterday that the NCAA had previously cleared him and that the school has his immigration papers and passport showing that he is indeed still a teenager.  Maybe Villanova compliance should enlist the assistance of Orly Taitz to track down Yarou’s birth certificate?
  3. Let’s call this officiating rule of emphasis by its real name, shall we?  The Shane Battier Rule.
  4. Illinois guard Jeff Jordan will miss the Illini’s first two games for playing in an unsanctioned 3-on-3 event over the summer (while he was off the team).
  5. Revisiting Jim Boeheim’s 800th victory with some of his former players (a Matt Roe sighting!).  Also, a funny anecdote from Albany head coach Will Brown talking to his point guard during the game with SU:  “I said to Mike Black, `Mike, you’ve got to get the ball to the high post,’ ” Brown recalled. “He said, ‘Coach, I can’t see the high post.’ ”  Yes, that Syracuse zone is long this year.
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Team of the 2000s: #4 – Duke

Posted by nvr1983 on August 17th, 2009


Ed. Note: Check the category team of the 2000s for our other entries in this feature.

As we mentioned in our earlier “Team of the 2000s” posts, we felt that the top-tier programs fell into a few clear clusters. There was some debate amongst the RTC braintrust about where certain teams fell within those clusters so we can understand if you disagree with where a team is ranked (that’s what the comment section is for). Teams in the top five either have made it to every NCAA tournament this decade (a sign of at least being respectable every season) or have a 2nd championship to bolster their case.

#4 – Duke


Overview. This will be the most controversial selection on the list because it is Duke. Love them or hate them (and I’m pretty sure that most college basketball fans hate them), the Blue Devils remain the standard that other programs are judged against. That is not to say that they are the best program of the decade (there are still three teams ahead of them), but much like the New York Yankees, who are experiencing a similar title “drought,” every fanbase judges their success against what the guys in Durham are doing. To be completely honest, I ranked Duke lower than any of the other voters, but in the end their consistency (particularly during the regular season) won out and put them ahead of some of the other elite programs. The case for Duke being ranked above the teams below it in our countdown: 82.6% (regular season winning percentage–Gonzaga is the only other team to crack 80% and they don’t play in the ACC); 7 post-season and 4 regular season ACC titles (just an absurd number when you are competing against UNC although UNC’s inconsistency helped inflate this); 10 NCAA tournament trips (look at the above summary to see how often many excellent programs have missed the NCAA tournament this decade); 8 Sweet 16 appearances (maybe Duke hasn’t been that successful during the 2nd weekend, but they have gotten there more than anybody else); and 1 national title (more on this in a bit). The case against the Blue Devils? I alluded to it earlier, as Coach K’s teams have struggled mightily in the NCAA second weekend making it to the Final 4 “just” two out of the eight times they made it to the Sweet 16. In addition, Duke’s absence of a 2nd title prevents it from claiming a spot in the top 3. Out of the team’s below it, Tom Izzo‘s Michigan State Spartans have the best argument, but Duke’s vastly superior winning percentage (82.6% vs. 72.1%) and huge edge in conference titles combined with playing in a better conference (the ACC may be down, but you never see an abomination like this come out of the ACC) and NCAA-best 8 trips to the Sweet 16 (versus 6 for the Spartans) are just enough to make up for Michigan State’s edge in Final 4 appearances (4-2 although both teams were only able to seal the deal once).

battier j-will duhon

Pinnacle. As it is with any team that won a single title this decade, the choice here is simple: the 2001 title. After coming up just short with one of the most talented teams in recent history in 1999, Coach K reloaded with a class featuring Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy Jr., and Carlos Boozer. Although not quite as dominant as the group that left just before they came in (Elton Brand, William Avery, and Corey Maggette – I know he was a year after the other two, but I wasn’t going to include Chris Burgess in there), the former was able to do something the latter failed to do – win a title.  Together with Shane Battier, who led the Blue Devils emotionally and in taking flops, this group made it to the Sweet 16 in 2000 before being upset by Florida. The following year the Blue Devils were able to give Coach K his 3rd title, but not before surviving three marginally tough games (vs. USC in the Elite 8, vs. Maryland in the national semifinals, and vs. Arizona in the championship game) to claim the title. The defining moment of that title game was Dunleavy Jr.’s 3-point barrage (three 3-pointers during an 11-2 run) that re-established Duke’s control of the game. One thing that will stick with Blue Devil fans forever though is their four games against Maryland, which were some of the best college basketball games you will ever see, the most memorable being the 10-point comeback in the last minute at College Park (although we are willing to debate with someone who argues that the 22-point comeback in the national semifinals might be better).

[Warning: Maryland fans may want to avoid this video.]

Tailspin. Other than the two UNC titles? The 2006-07 season. A rather mediocre Duke team went 22-11 in a season that included two separate four-game losing streaks. The latter of those losing streaks came to finish the season with the final insult coming courtesy of Eric Maynor and VCU. Much has been made on this site and others about the lack of elite talent in Durham lately, but fielding a team whose four best players were DeMarcus Nelson (junior),  Josh McRoberts (sophomore), Greg Paulus (sophomore), and Jon Scheyer (freshman)… you are in big trouble. The primary explanation for this was that outside of Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick, the Blue Devils had a long string of McDonald’s All-American busts from 2002 on, with Shavlik Randolph, who left prior to that, being the most famous example.

Outlook for the 2010s: Grade: B+. Duke is still Duke and can land 5-star recruits, but it’s not like it was at the end of the last decade when Duke had its choice of McDonald’s All-Americans. Back then, one of the big controversies was if Coach K made the right choice taking Mike Dunleavy Jr. instead of Casey Jacobsen (for the younger generation of readers trust us when we say they were both actually very good college basketball players). Now it is a big deal when Duke lands the #3 shooting guard in next year’s class instead of John Wall. Duke will still be able to get a couple of top-notch recruits every year because of their tradition (it goes back to before Coach K, youngsters), Notre Dame-like TV deal with ESPN, Coach K’s stature, and the fact that it’s one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country (mothers like to brag about the Duke degree even if it is for the infamous Sociology major). However, the Blue Devils have fallen a notch below UNC in the hearts and minds of elite recruits and that will only get worse when Coach K retires (gasp!) as their is no clear successor in line for his throne.

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06.08.09 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on June 9th, 2009

Another week has started, and we’re within one week of the NBA Draft withdrawal deadline, so let’s see who’s returning…

  • LSU’s Tasmin Mitchell will return to Baton Rouge for his senior season (smart move).
  • Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds is leaning toward a return to the Main Line for his senior year (also a smart move).
  • Arizona’s Nic Wise will also return for his senior season (a wise move, indeed).
  • Miami (FL)’s Dwayne Collins has wisened up and will also be back for his senior season (yep, these guys are getting it).
  • Memphis players continue to jump ship, with Shawn Taggart now deciding to forgo his senior season (not a great move, but he’s already 24 and who knows what penalties Memphis may face next season).
  • Tennessee’s Tyler Smith is still thinking about returning, but he’s also considering going to Europe to start his professional career.  While on the subject of collegians moving to Europe, Luke Winn explores the issue a little further in the context of Nick Calathes’ decision to play in Greece.
  • Wake Forest’s Jeff Teague injured his knee in a workout last week, but is expected to remain in the first round and therefore will most likely stay in the draft.

Some other news bouncing around the early summer months…

  • Memphis made its defense to the NCAA on Saturday, and we pretty much agree with most of what Gary Parrish writes here.  Details are scarce as to what was actually said at the hearing, but Kentucky’s John Calipari did phone in from China, and Memphis official stated on the record that they feel that they’d made their case to the NCAA.  Not sure what else they could say in that spot though.  Memphis should hear something from the NCAA in 6-8 weeks.
  • The Shane Battier Memorial Rule will be in effect beginning next season.  Wonderful.
  • We really don’t have a good feeling about the long-term prospects of Josh Pastner at Memphis.  Nothing against the kid, but Calipari is just too tough of a situation there to follow.  He’s showing his recruiting chops already, but can he coach?
  • In a cost-cutting measure, three Big Ten schools (Michigan, Ohio St., Wisconsin) are eliminating their annual media guides for their sports teams.  We’d expect this to be a major trend in the next few months nationwide.   The NCAA is also lending a hand by suspending members’ dues this upcoming year.
  • A Tennessee congressman named Steve Cohen is petitioning the NBA to change its “one-and-done” rule.  Interesingly, his district includes Memphis, who is of course dealing with the Derrick Rose fiasco.  Georgia Tech’s Paul Hewitt took offense at some of Cohen’s comments about his former player, Thaddeus Young, and is now demanding an apology.
  • Former Razorback Patrick Beverley threw Arkansas under the bus in an interview with DraftExpress when he said, “Someone from Arkansas was doing papers, was doing me and some of my teammates’ papers…”
  • UK countersues Billy Gillispie.  This could be really fun.
  • Gary Parrish explores Billy Donovan’s thoughts on the Orlando Magic making the NBA Finals two years after he backed out of his commitment to coach that team.
  • In a bit of a shock, Fairleigh Dickinson fired head coach Tom Green after 26 years of loyal service, including four NCAA Tournament appearances and 407 wins at the school.
  • UT-Martin’s head coach, Bret Campbell, resigned after an internal audit found that he had deposited $20k in basketball camp checks directly into his personal account.
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Finally, the Shane Battier Rule is Nigh…

Posted by nvr1983 on May 6th, 2009

This is the best news that we’ve seen come out of the NCAA Rules Committee in a long time.  It’s not quite what we’ve been requesting for lo the last decade (an NBA-style block/charge semicircle under the basket), but it’s a good start.  NOTHING in college basketball makes us more irate than watching an excellent move and finish get taken away because some douchebag stepped over at the last second and camped out directly under the rim (ok, maybe Mike Patrick, but nothing else).  If the NCAA Rules Oversight Panel approves this measure on June 3, and it should, we’ll no longer have to deal with this bastardization of the rules.  Here’s the story on what will definitely be known as the Shane Battier Rule, from the AP:

The recommendation on play under the basket won’t call for a restricted-area arc painted in the lane as the NBA has, but it prohibits a secondary defender from establishing position in the area from the front of the rim to the front of the backboard. A defender must establish position outside that area to draw a charge or player-control foul.  “In our surveys and rules forums, the coaches wanted the committee to address the increasing contact that seems to occur under the basket,” NCAA Secretary-Rules Editor for Men’s Basketball Ed Bilik said. “Instead of an experimental rule, this clarifies how officials are to call this play throughout the season.”

Shane is Used to Being on the Floor

Shane is Used to Being on the Floor

If this rule is actually implemented next season and called as currently contemplated, we figure it’s worth at least three buckets for opposing teams in Cameron.  Not.  Insignificant.

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Sweetest NCAA Memories #3: Loved, Hated, But Never Ignored

Posted by rtmsf on March 16th, 2009


RTC asked its legion of correspondents, charlatans, sycophants, toadies and other hangers-on to send us their very favorite March Madness memory,  something that had a visceral effect on who they are as a person and college basketball fan today.  Not surprisingly, many of the submissions were excellent and if you’re not fired up reading them, then you need to head back over to PerezHilton for the rest of this month.  We’ve chosen the sixteen best, and we’ll be counting them down over the next two weeks as we approach the 2009 NCAA Tournament.

An NCAA victory over Duke tastes a little sweeter, and a loss to the Devils hurts a little more.  Nobody gets passions as high as Coach K’s Dookies, and we received two submissions that perfectly illustrate that range of emotions.

We Shocked the World!!! (submitted by Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit)

“Just when people say you can’t, UCan. And UConn has won the national championship.” – Jim Nantz

I’ll never forget those words. It was just three days before my 14th birthday. Growing up in Connecticut, we never really had a pro sports team, so we latched on to Jim Calhoun‘s UConn Huskies. Despite being a team of national relevance for a number of years, Calhoun had never gotten his team to the Final Four. He finally broke through in 1999, barely hanging on against 10 seed Gonzaga in the Elite 8 before beating Ohio State for what many thought to be the right to lose to a talented Duke squad in the Finals.

Duke came in riding a 32-game winning streak (their only loss was the Cincinnati in the Great Alaska Shootout, don’t ask me why I know such things) with a roster loaded with NBA draft picks – William Avery, Trajan Langdon, Shane Battier, Elton Brand, Corey Maggette.

But the Huskies hung with Duke the whole game, trailing by just two at the half, thanks in large part to 13 points from defensive specialist Ricky Moore. The second half became the Rip Hamilton Show, as the junior with the silky smooth jumper finished his last collegiate game with 27 points.

The game ended in unbelievable fashion. With UConn up 75-74, everyone’s favorite pudge-ball Khalid El-Amin drove baseline and threw up an airball, which Trajan Langdan collected with around 15 seconds left. He brought the ball up court and tried to go one-on-one against Moore. Moore forced him into a travel. El-Amin would rattle home two free throws, setting up the finish. Langdon would once again take the inbounds and dribble into a double team before turning the ball over.

And that was it.  So what is my memory?


Seeing Khalid El-Amin screaming “WE SHOCKED THE WORLD” before jumping into Jake Voskuhl’s arms.


Verne Lundquist Just Had an Aneurysm (submitted by Patrick Marshall of Bluejay Basketball)

Being a big Kentucky fan most of my life, no one can forget the 1992 East Regional Final of Kentucky vs. Duke.  The game was spectacular but what made the Kentucky team so special were the players that were affectionately known as “The Unforgettables.”  Kentucky’s basketball program had been dragged through the mud four years before in a major scandal involving academic fraud and improper payments to recruits.  However, Richie Farmer, Deron Feldhaus, John Pelphrey and Sean Woods chose to stay with the program and as seniors in their first eligible appearance, they made a surprising run in the NCAA tournament that year to the regional finals against Duke.  The three-point shot has been one of the most exciting innovations in college basketball and the Cats’ love of the three-point shot is what established my love for these Wildcats. As the Wildcats drove deeper into March, I just had to watch that game.

Back in the day I had this black and white portable tv and I remember taking it to high school musical practice so I could still watch the game while we had rehearsal.  I seem to remember that Kentucky was down somewhat big (12 pts), but some key threes got them back into the game and eventually sent the game into overtime.  As they battled in overtime it was down to what appeared to be one play.  Sean Woods drove to the basket and made an awkward bank-shot with 2.1 seconds left.  I was jumping around the room like mad and thought there was no way Duke would be able to get off a good shot – Kentucky has made it back to the Final Four.  However, it was not to be.  Duke inbounded the ball length of the court and Christian Laettner hit the storied shot that is now shown every year at tournament time.  Laettner finished his 10-10 shooting and 31 point night with a storybook ending as Duke went on the next week to gain back-to-back NCAA championships.  I just said to myself over and over, “How did John Pelphrey not react fast enough to stop a 2/3 court pass to Laettner at the free throw line.  Not only that, but he just stood there and watched him shoot it.”   Oh, I so hate Duke and oh what could have been.

The game had all the drama you could ask for with the lead changing five times in the final 31 seconds of the game and both teams combining to shoot 63% in the second half and overtime.   But that final shot is what is the most recognizable and memorable part of that game.  This season Kentucky fans not only have to watch the shot again, but have to re-live the whole drama and feel the punch in the stomach again with a new commercial including Laettner and now turncoat Rick Pitino. But in the end, this game is considered by many to be the greatest college basketball game of all time.  I know I will never forget it.

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Boom Goes the Dynamite: 03.14.09

Posted by nvr1983 on March 14th, 2009

dynamiteWelcome back to the weekend edition of Boom Goes the Dynamite. First off I’d like to commend rtmsf for his strong work on yesterday’s BGtD. You guys really have no idea how exhausting it is doing a full day’s worth of this is and he managed to do it with only a short break although it almost caused me to give up working on the site after being forced to endure the AmericanHoly Cross game yesterday. As he outlined in his After the Buzzer post last night/this morning, there are 12 conference championship games today. For the sake of maintaining our sanity and having enough energy in the tank for our huge March Madness preview, we’ll be taking multiple shifts but we promise to coordinate it so you won’t miss anything during our handoffs.

6:00 AM: Yes. That’s actually the time I’m starting this thanks to a “short nap” that ended up going from 9 PM to 5 AM. Obviously my posts will be infrequent in the early morning hours, but I’ll be passing along some news and links to you before the games start at 11 AM. The New York Times has been stepping it up with their college sports blog “The Quad” recently and has an interesting post on Louisville‘s Terrence Williams and his pre-game ritual of the giving himself a pep talk during the national anthem. Before anybody thinks this might be a Chris Jackson Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf situation, it should be noted that Williams actually stands during the anthem and is supposedly talking about family members that he has lost and asking that everyone on the court avoids injuries. Of course, we can’t verify this, but if we have any lip-readers in our vast legion of RTC readers, we would love hear your take on this particularly if you have seen this is in person.

7:00 AM: Before I head out for a few minutes to take care of some errands like stocking up on groceries for the coming storm where I probably won’t leave my apartment for 3 weeks. I thought I would pass along one of my favorite things we are doing at RTC right now. We enlisted the help of our correspondents and got them to send us their favorite March memories. We narrowed down the submissions to the 16 best entries and are counting down to #1, which will be revealed on Wednesday (the day before the tournament starts). I’d encourage you to check out the entries we have so far and keep on coming back throughout the day to see what they selected as their favorite March memories and then chime in with your memories on those moments.

8:45 AM: Ok. False alarm on that grocery run. Apparently Costco doesn’t open until 9:30 so after this post I’ll be on a short break. So today’s RTC East breakfast is brought to you by Flour Bakery and consists of their Bobby Flay-slaying “Sticky Buns” and a twice-baked brioche. Here’s a quick run-down of the games (title game in red–there’s a lot of red) that I will be focusing on today:

Early Games

  • UMBC vs. Binghamton at 11 AM on ESPN2 for the America East title
  • Memphis vs. #3 Tulsa at 11:35 AM on CBS for the Conference USA title

Afternoon Games

  • Mississippi State vs. #16 LSU at 1 PM on ESPN2 and Raycom in the SEC semifinals
  • #6 Michigan State vs. Ohio State at 1:30 PM on CBS in the Big 10 semifinals
  • #1 UNC vs. #22 FSU at 1:30 PM on ESPN and Raycom in the ACC semifinals
  • Tennessee vs. Auburn at 3 PM on ESPN2 and Raycom in the SEC semifinals
  • Maryland vs. #8 Duke at 3:30 PM on ESPN and Raycom in the ACC semifinals
  • #25 Illinois vs. #24 Purdue at 4 PM on CBS in the Big 10 semifinals

Evening Games

  • #23 Arizona State vs. USC at 6 PM on CBS for the Pac-10 title
  • Baylor vs. #15 Missouri at 6 PM on ESPN for the Big 12 title
  • Temple vs. Duquesne at 6 PM on ESPN2 for the Atlantic 10 title

Late Night Games

  • San Diego State vs. Utah at 7 PM on Versus for the Moutain West title
  • Morgan State vs. Norfolk State at 7 PM on ESPNU for the MEAC title (Periodic score updates for this one)
  • Buffalo vs. Akron at 8 PM on ESPN2 for the MAC title
  • #5 Louisville vs. #20 Syracuse at 9 PM on ESPN for the Big East title
  • Jackson State vs. Alabama State at 9 PM on ESPNU for the SWAC title (Periodic score updates for this one)
  • Utah State vs. Nevada at 10 PM on ESPN2 for the WAC title
  • Cal State-Northridge vs. Pacific at 11:59 PM on ESPN2 for the Big West title (This one is questionable)

10:55 AM: Ok. I’m back from my extended Costco run and have enough food to last me through the week. A quick summary on the early games. In the America East, Binghamton is a 5-6 point favorite (depending on your gambling establishment of choice). Honestly, I’m surprised that they aren’t bigger favorites since they come in at 22-8 while UMBC comes in 15-16 and the game is at Binghamton. It could be interesting though as they split the season series in the regular season with Binghamton winning the last game of the regular season at home against UMBC 71-51. I’m guessing the America East commissioner is rooting for UMBC to avoid the embarrassment of the CBS announcers having to explain why the conference’s regular season leading scorer (D.J Rivera) was left off the all-conference team. In Conference USA, Memphis is a 14-point favorite against Tulsa. Memphis might be playing for a #1 seed even with their ridiculously easy schedule. We’re hoping this game is more like the first time they met (a 55-54 Memphis win) rather the last time they met (a 63-37 Memphis win). I have a sneaking suspicion that it is going to be more like the latter, but we’ll be following it anyways to get a last look at Memphis before CBS’s new Billy Packer rips the NCAA selection committee for putting them over a Big East team.

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UNC: Let’s Not Go Sucking Each Other’s [redacted] Just Yet

Posted by rtmsf on December 7th, 2008

Yeah, like most everyone else, we’re equally in awe of what Carolina has been able to do thus far in the season.  We are on record saying that the Heels wouldn’t be able to get through a pretty tough first month of the season without taking an L due to the loss of Marcus Ginyard and Tyler Hansbrough to injuries, and we couldn’t have been more wrong.  The Heels have been nothing short of awesome through the first quarter of the regular season, beating eight opponents (two of which were in the preseason top 10) by an average of 30.4 points per game.

Their offensive and defensive stats are through the roof thus far.  They average nearly 100 pts per game (97.0), shooting 51% from the field and 41% from three.  They are #2 nationally in points per possession (1.207) and percentage of trips where they score at least a point (59.7%).   They share the ball amazingly well (#2 nationally in assists – 21.7) and have a preposterous nearly 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio (1.87).  The Heels also rebound with the best of the country (#8 nationally) and play defense with abandon (holding opponents to 37.3% shooting and forcing 19 turnovers per game – 14th nationally).   Put simply, this team is playing GREAT basketball.

The Heels are Posterizing Everyone in Their Path

The Heels are Posterizing Everyone in Their Path

photo credit:  Jim Hawkins/AP

So the question is begged – why do we need to finish out the season if we know that Carolina is far-and-away the best team?  Well… because it’s still early.  December 5th is a light year away from April 6th in college basketball time, and  a lot can and will happen in the interim.  Other teams will improve, and UNC, while looking indomitable at this point, could eventually suffer from the fatigue of increasing pressure to win every game and/or simply a rough night in March.  That’s the beauty of our game.  Short of a major injury, we can rest assured that the Lakers and Celtics will more than likely be back in the NBA Finals due to the sport’s seven-game series playoff format.  But in a one-game situation in the NCAA Tournament, much like the World Cup and NFL Playoffs, an inspired underdog can accomplish the unthinkable and take down the seemingly unbeatable favorite (witness last year’s Super Bowl for just such a recent example).

For proof of this, let’s take a walk down memory lane for a brief history lesson.  Below are a handful of teams who, like this year’s Tarheels, were seemingly invincible for the entire season.  That is, until they ran into a plucky team who had enough heart and made just enough plays in the right moments to block the favorite’s manifest destiny.

  • 1984 UNC (28-3, 15-1 ACC) – We can start with a former version of the Heels.  Bob Knight’s Indiana team shot 65% from the field (69% in the second half) to take down Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins’ Heels in the second round of the NCAAs.  To this day, old-time Heels fans lament an injury to Kenny Smith’s wrist that limited his effectiveness in the postseason.  UNC had only a 1-pt loss at Arkansas and a 2-pt loss to Duke in the ACC Tourney prior to the NCAAs.  Of the 28 victories, only four were by single-digit margins.  This team was nasty.
  • 1985 Georgetown (35-3, 17-2 Big East) – We still can’t fathom how this absolute beast of a defending national champion with Patrick Ewing and Reggie Williams lost to Villanova in the greatest upset in NCAA Tournament history.  Still, they did, as Villanova hit a ridiculous 79% from the field against a defensive dynamo that regularly held teams well under 40%.
  • 1987 UNC (32-4, 16-1 ACC) – UNC, led by all-american Kenny Smith and super-frosh JR Reid, lost in the regional finals to Syracuse by 4 pts, in a game where Derrick Coleman and Rony Seikaly destroyed the Heels on the boards to eke out the victory.  Their only other losses were at UCLA (5 pts), at Notre Dame (2 pts) and in the finals of the ACC Tourney vs. NC State (1 pt).  While not as dominant as the 1984 version, this team was everyone’s choice to win the national title.
  • 1991 UNLV (34-1, 20-0 Big West) – The best team we’ve ever seen that didn’t win the national title.  Simply an astonishing combination of talent and experience on the cusp of the early-entry era.  Duke, who had lost by 30 in the NCAA Final to this same team one year prior, became Duke on this night – roaring back behind Mr. March, Christian Laettner, to win the game in the final minutes 79-77.  UNLV, who placed all five starters on the all-Big West team (four 1st teamers), had beaten its opponents by an average of 27.5 pts per game coming into the national semis, including a whipping of #2  Arkansas at the old Barnhill Arena by a score of 112-105 (the final was much closer than the game actually was).
  • 1997 Kansas (34-2, 18-1 Big 12) – We still contend that this was Roy Williams’ best team (even better than the 2005 UNC national champions).  A two-pt double-OT loss at Missouri was the only blemish on a near-perfect season until upstart and eventual national champion Arizona, led by Mike Bibby and Miles Simon, pulled off an 85-82 upset in the regional semifinals of the NCAAs.  Raef Lafrentz, Paul Pierce and Jacque Vaughn led a balanced attack that absolutely devastated most of its oppenents, many of whom were ranked (9-1).
  • 1999 Duke (37-2, 19-0 ACC) – With the possible exception of 2006 UConn (who we find overrated), this was the last college team that was absolutely loaded with A-grade NBA talent. The lineup featured two NPOYs (Elton Brand, Shane Battier) in addition to draftees Will Avery, Trajan Langdon and Chris Carrawell.   Future all-star Corey Maggette came off the bench.  Only four teams all season were able to stay within 10 pts of the Devils, who crushed teams by an average of 24.6 points per game.  Had this team won the title game against UConn, it would have been on the short list of greatest teams in the modern era.
  • 2002 Duke (31-4, 16-3 ACC) – This team didn’t have the outrageous statistical profile of its predecessor three years prior, but it was the defending national champs and boasted Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Carlos Boozer in a balanced attack that seemed destined for back-to-back titles.  That is, until this team’s only bugaboo, FT shooting (68.9%) popped up to bite them in the Sweet 16 against Indiana.  Two one-pt losses, a three-pt loss and a 14-pt loss to national champion Maryland were the only blemishes on this team’s resume.

So there you have it.  Our memories don’t go back further than the 80s, but we’re sure there are probably some other great historical examples of this phenomenon.  Leave them in the comments if you wish.  Of course, there are just as many (if not more) dominant teams that actually got it done and won the national title – which one will the 2008-09 Tarheels become?  To answer that question is why we will continue to watch.

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One last shining moment for this season. . .

Posted by nvr1983 on April 6th, 2008

After Saturday night’s blowouts, we can only hope that tonight’s title bout will give us a great game to finish off the season. I think both teams have too much talent to get blown out, but I never would have expected UNC to fall behind 40-12 before nearly making Billy Packer look like an ass (again).

I’ll offer my take and hopefully rtmsf will add his too later (see below).

Aside from a shaky performance at the free throw line against Mississippi State that made their 2nd round game much closer than it should have been, Memphis has totally dominated the opposition on its way to Monday night. I don’t think I am going too far into the realm of hyperbole when I say that their performance in the last 3 games has been as dominant as any team I can remember from the Sweet 16 to the National Semifinals. The even more amazing thing is that a lot of people were picking the Tigers to lose each of those games. The Tigers gave us all an indication of how far off we were in the first game of that stretch when they destroyed Michigan State in their Sweet 16 game as they led 50-20 at half. After easily beating Texas in Houston to advance to the Final 4, the Tigers had a little tougher time with the Bruins who hung tough for a half. Despite the close score for most of the game, I never got the sense that Memphis might lose the game. Of course, the poor FT shooting was at the back of my mind. As I noted in my post immediately after the game, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose completely dominated the game with Rose controlling the game from end-to-end and CDR controlling it inside the 3-pt line. Joey Dorsey also submitted what may be the greatest 0-point performance in a Final 4 by a non-PG (I can’t think of a great 0-pt performance by a PG, but just trying to be safe). Memphis also got a solid performance out of Shawn Taggert. One thing that has gone largely overlooked in the CDR-Rose lovefest was how good the Tigers played defense, which is something they have been doing all year. Perhaps it is because they are so captivating on offense or the fact that they rely on length and instincts rather than the Shane Battier step-in-front-for-the-charge style that the ESPN analysts seem to love so much. In any case, the Tigers’ defense is what really gets things going for them. Perhaps, if their key guys stuck around for another year or two or Rose came in a few years earlier (and they learned how to shoot FTs), we would be talking about this Memphis team along the lines of a 21st century Runnin’ Rebs team.

As for Kansas, like I said on Saturday night I’m not really sure what to say. They had one of the easiest paths to the Final 4 (based on opponents’ seed) that I can remember and the cruised all the way to San Antonio with the exception of the Davidson game where they looked tight. However, they made up for it on Saturday night against #1 overall seed UNC. Their performance in the first 15 minutes of the game was among the best I have ever seen at the college level. They were all over the court hounding UNC into countless turnovers as they jumped out to a 40-12 lead. The image of the game for me was little-used, but much-hyped freshman Cole Aldrich ripping the ball away from everybody’s national POY Tyler “Psycho T” Hansbrough. After Billy Packer declared the game was over with 7:32 left in the 1st half, Kansas fell apart and appeared to be headed towards an epic collapse when UNC brought the game to 54-50 with 11:16 left in the game. The Jayhawks survived with a late run of their own (possibly due to UNC running out of gas too). If you watched the first half of the game, you are aware of the tremendous pressure that the Kansas guards can exert. That pressure will certainly be put to a challenge against the Tigers’ talented backcourt.

A couple key things to watch tonight:
1) What tempo does Kansas want to play at? Kansas showed us on Saturday night that it can thrive on a fast pace against a very talented team. However, as you have probably read Kansas has the ability to play at both a quick (talented guards & inside guys who can run) and slow pace (guards who can penetrate & multiple inside guys with developed post games). Normally I would recommend that Bill Self flip a coin and use that to decide which way to play because Kansas can win either way, but against Memphis that is a different story. While the Tigers have talented, athletic guys at every position, they are much better when the game is up-tempo and they can use their athleticism. The Tigers lack a traditional inside game and don’t have many great outside shooters. Thus, Self should really thing about trying to slow the game down. It sounds crazy given how good Kansas looked against UNC (and it’s easier said than done), but doing so would give the Jayhawks their best shot at winning their first title since Danny Manning and Larry Brown led them to the promised land in 1988.

2) Who will guard Derrick Rose? Kansas has 2 exceptional defensive guards in Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson, who both did a great job harassing UNC in the first half. As you may have heard, Rose is a completely different beast. As good as the Jayhawk defenders are, I don’t think they can stay with Rose if it is an uptempo game. However, if Bill Self listens to me and slows the pace of the game down, Kansas can use both in addition to Brandon Rush to try to contain Rose. I am assuming Rush will draw CDR, which is a tough assignment in itself, but he will need to help off CDR if and when Rose gets by his man.

3) Will Dorsey stay out of foul trouble? Shawn Taggert is a nice player, but he isn’t really built to battle the big guys from Kansas. If Memphis is going to win the title, they will need Dorsey on the court as he is the only one with the strength to give the Tigers an edge in this match-up. Dorsey will have to win the battle (or at least limit the Jayhawks’ advantage) against Darrell Arthur, Sasha Kaun, & Co. if Memphis wants to cut down the nets in San Antonio.

Who will take home the trophy?

Opening Line: Pick ’em.
Prediction: It looks like the money in Vegas is going towards Memphis winning as the line has shifted to Memphis -2, which is a pretty big shift for a game that was originally a pick ’em less than 24 hours ago. I could see this game going either way, but in the end I think the brilliance of Rose (assuming he lays off the Gummy Bears) and solid all-around play of CDR will carry the day. Plus, as I’ve learned decision markets are usually pretty reliable indicators of what will happen so I’m going with the Tigers in a hard-fought battle.

rtmsf take:

We’re still in considerable shock at just how dominant Kansas looked vs. North Carolina Saturday night. For the first ten minutes of that game, it appeared as if KU was playing Colorado in the Phog; NOT the de facto tournament favorite led by everybody’s favorite superhero, Tyler Hansbrough. Kansas was bigger, quicker, faster, and simply wanted it more. One thing we believe was a major factor but has been left unsaid in much of the MSM was that the KU players spent the entire week hearing Roy this and Roy that and they wanted to stick it to him for leaving the program in the manner that he did (even though his departure predates all of their arrivals at KU). Of course, all of the players and certainly Bill Self will deny this forever more, but KU played that first half as if something had been stolen from them. Carolina didn’t play with the same fire and intensity, and it showed (40-12). We’ll leave it to the KU fans to provide this info, but we can’t remember the last time a Roy Williams coached team was so thoroughly and completely dominated as they were last night. If it has happened at all, we’re guessing it would have been in the 90s.

As for the other semifinal, UCLA’s tendency to endure prolonged scoring droughts ultimately proved ineffective when facing a team with the caliber of Memphis’ talent. We were surprised with just how thoroughly dominated Darren Collison was by Derrick Rose as well as UCLA’s maddening inability to get the ball to Kevin Love in the post. Part of that was the Tiger defense making it very difficult for Love to find his preferred spots, but part of it is also attributable to poor decision-making by Mbah a Moute, Collison and others. It wouldn’t ultimately have mattered, because the Bruins were an offensively flawed team and they were never going to score enough points to threaten Memphis, but it still surprised us.

So we’re now left with the two least flawed teams in the tournament. It’s been well documented that Memphis struggles with FTs, and it showed in their one semi-scare against Mississippi St. in the second round; it’s also been commonly discussed that Bill Self teams have a tendency to choke under pressure, and KU certainly had a scare against Davidson and looked shaky at times yesterday after leading by 28 points. But these are ultimately nitpicks because both of these teams are beyond excellent and filled with NBA talent all over the floor. So which of these two squads is better and will win Monday night?

The thing that really stood out to us when we were watching the Carolina massacre was just how big and athletic Kansas looked compared to UNC (a team that itself has a reputation for size and athleticism). We think that this is the one area where Memphis can be exploited. UCLA was unable to capitalize on this advantage because only Love was a capable scorer on the blocks. Kansas can get offense underneath from not only Arthur, Jackson and Kaun off the bench, but also apparently from Cole Aldrich (who looked fantastic (8/7) in his 16 minutes yesterday). We think this is the mismatch that will have Bill Self salivating for the next 20 hours or so.

Memphis will counter with the silky smooth Derrick Rose (25/9/4 assts) and Chris Douglas-Roberts (28/4), but with the perimeter defense that we expect from the KU guards (who held the UNC perimeter players to 16-47 shooting), we think that Memphis is going to have trouble finding enough offense to match the Jayhawks. Put simply, there’s absolutely no way we see that the KU defense allows 83% of Memphis’ points to come from the backcourt as UCLA did, and who among the Memphis bigs will pick up the scoring slack? Dorsey? Taggart? Dozier? If that group collectively scores over 15 pts, we’ll be shocked.

So despite what the decision markets and our compadre on this blog suggest, we’re going with the Jayhawks to cut down the nets tomorrow night. Bill Self gets his first title, and John Calipari starts to hear the ignoble distinction of being the best active coach to not win a championship.

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