ATB: Season-Saving Win for UConn?

Posted by rtmsf on February 16th, 2010

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

Not Much Happiness This Year for UConn... Yet

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

Other Games of National Interest.

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

Posted by jstevrtc on February 11th, 2010

Pardon the baseball reference, but we know that if a guy’s throwing a no-hitter you’re not supposed to talk to him about it.  In fact, you’re supposed to just stay away from him, let him sit in the dugout alone, and act like nothing special is happening.  We don’t go for such superstitions around here, so let’s check out the teams that are currently undefeated in their conferences, and who has the best chance to actually pull off a perfect conference campaign.

Last season, there were only two teams that streaked through their conference schedules without a blemish — Memphis went 16-0 in the CUSA, and Gonzaga tallied a perfect 14-0 in the WCC.  Memphis kept it going three games into this conference season, but back on January 20th UTEP showed the Tigers that they were having none of that, and snapped Memphis’ conference winning streak at 64 games.  The Zags stumbled ten days later at San Francisco after winning their first six WCC games this season.

Can Aldrich, Collins, and the rest of the Jayhawks run the conference table?

Right now (before Thursday night’s games), there are no less than eight teams with perfect conference records.  We list them here along with the next time they’ll put it on the line, and our prediction as to when they’ll drop their first conference game — if at all:

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ATB: El Busto on Blockbuster Monday

Posted by rtmsf on February 9th, 2010

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

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

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

Kansas Continues to Roll (AP/Harry Cabluck)

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

Other Games of National Interest.

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ATB: Is it Dominique or Dominant Jones?

Posted by rtmsf on February 4th, 2010

Dominique Jones is SupermanSouth Florida 72, #8 Georgetown 64.  A few days after getting its best win of the year against Pittsburgh at home, South Florida outdid itself tonight with a major upset at Georgetown to move back into the middle of the pack at 5-5 in the Big East race and put the Bulls squarely into the NCAA Tournament picture.  The primary reason for the recent four-game surge, of course, has been the astounding play of guard Dominique Jones, who dropped another 29 points (plus 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals) to give him a ridiculous 140 points in the last four games (all USF wins, mind you).  Georgetown, coming off a big win versus Duke and looking ahead to a huge game this weekend against Villanova, may have found itself lacking focus, but as usual, the Hoyas’ fortunes came down to the offensive play of Chris Wright, and he was not good.  His 3-10 shooting included 0-6 from deep, and even though Greg Monroe (21/8/3 blks) and Austin Freeman produced (21 pts), it wasn’t enough for the Hoyas to survive.  Monroe was in foul trouble in the second half, which undoubtedly ended the Hoyas’ chances as soon as he left the floor.  We’d like to believe that this was a minor blip on the Hoya season exacerbated by a player hitting on all cylinders and a motivated team, but we have a feeling that Georgetown’s margin for error is just so incredibly slim because of the complete lack of quality depth.  Where’s Vernon Macklin and Jeremiah Rivers when you need them?

Dominique Jones: USF Superman (AP)

Backyard Brawl, Literally#6 West Virginia 70, #21 Pittsburgh 51.  WVU easily handled Pitt tonight in the Backyard Brawl tonight, with solid games from Da’Sean Butler (18/5) and Kevin Jones (16/6), but it was an incident late in the game with the Mountaineers up twelve that makes you wonder what the hell is in the water in Morgantown these days.  Just days after the WVU student section took heat for their uncouth behavior during the Louisville game, and barely 15-20 minutes after Bob Huggins excoriated the crowd for throwing things onto the court, someone threw a coin from the stands (see below), hitting Pitt assistant coach Tom Herrion just below the eye.  The incident that inspired the bad behavior wasn’t even all that rage-inducing, as a couple of players got tangled up when a ref got under them and everyone fell to the ground.  There certainly weren’t any punches thrown, and neither player seemed all that upset with the play.  Pitt’s hot start to the Big East season has officially come to a grinding halt with this loss (four in five games), shooting just 30% and handing out just five assists in this one.  The Panthers get Seton Hall at home prior to hosting WVU again next week — these unbalanced schedules are crazy, eh?  Final thought – WVU’s Deniz Kilicli came off the bench for nine points on 4-4 shooting in only seven minutes – what a debut for Bob Huggins’ new big man.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles… (With a Wednesday Twist)

Posted by zhayes9 on February 3rd, 2010

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

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

10. Duke

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

What Makes Duke 2010 Different than Duke 2006-09?

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

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

9. West Virginia

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

Ebanks is the X-factor for West Virginia

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

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

8. Texas

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

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ATB: Kansas Makes a Statement in Manhattan

Posted by rtmsf on February 1st, 2010

Game of the Weekend. #2 Kansas 81, #13 Kansas State 79 (OT). First, props to the K-State fans for stepping up on Gameday.  They created an environment for this one that was as electric as any place we’ve seen this season.  There’s no doubt their players felt the love, too.  They needed to.  If you think these teams thought this was just another game, think again.  Sherron Collins was so amped up that he was dehydrated BEFORE the game started.  Jacob Pullen was seen on two different occasions dry-heaving into a trash can at the KSU bench.  If Kansas could manage a win in such surroundings, they’d be the presumptive #1 on Monday and would certainly deserve it.  The first narrative hook came early when Bill Self yanked Cole Aldrich (18/11/3 blks) and evidently reminded him on how to use his size to eat up space on the inside, because he began to hit layup after layup and pull rebound after rebound.  KSU stayed close even with Aldrich’s elevated play, but as the Wildcats’ shot selection began to fail them, KU built a five-point lead.  This was quickly erased as Jacob Pullen began to get more touches, and KU’s halftime lead was a mere point.  The Jayhawks managed to build it back to eight early in the second half, but KSU remedied that by settling for layups instead of bad looks from three, and by hitting the offensive glass HARD.  After regulation time couldn’t decide it, and a neck-and-neck overtime, it’s only fitting that this game should be effectively decided by an incredible play by a big time player.  With KU up by a point and thirteen seconds left, Sherron Collins — battling dehydration and muscle spasms the entire night — drove to the hole knowing he was going to take contact, knowing there was little chance he was going to land in any way except on his back, and banked in a lay-up for a three-point play.  The Wildcats’ body language told the story.  He couldn’t convert the free throw, but after a Cole Aldrich offensive board and two Brady Morningstar free throws (which proved to be vital, after Jacob Pullen drilled a long three at the buzzer), it was done.  There were a few moments of celebration by the Jayhawks, but soon after, what you saw was more solemn pride and relief.  True, there isn’t much difference between the one-loss teams at the top of the polls.  But you can’t really have a three-way tie for #1, and the way the wins and losses have fallen — and after seeing what Kansas went through to win in Manhattan — the Jayhawks deserve the top position for now.

Collins and KU Will be Back at #1 (KC Star/Rich Sugg)

Finally, No Obama Jinx. #11 Georgetown 89, #7 Duke 77.  Well, at least Duke shot 84.6% from the free throw line. And that’s because you can’t guard free throws.  If you look at the numbers on this one, you might simply assume that the Hoyas “out-defended” the Blue Devils, since they held Duke to a 37% shooting day, including 31% (9-29) from three-point range.  All due respect to the Hoyas, because that statement is formally true — in this case, though, it’s not profound.  This wasn’t the Duke defense to which we’ve grown accustomed.  If you were looking for that in this game, you saw it on maybe one of every five Georgetown possessions.  Even more importantly, John Thompson III instructed his squad to be as selective with their shots as the admissions committees are with applicants at these schools.  As a result, Georgetown took 16 fewer shots in this game than the Devils — but hit 72% of them (33-46), an unfathomable number against anyone, let alone Duke.  All but maybe two of Georgetown’s attempts from behind the three-point arc were good looks, and they hit six of them (46%).  What was it that forced Duke out of their usual game plan?  Was it just Georgetown’s economical approach?  The excellence of Greg Monroe (21/5/5)?  The presence of Barack Obama and Joe Biden on the front row?  RTC Live in the building?  Hard to say.  Maybe it was the fact that this wasn’t Cameron Indoor, since Duke has dropped four of the five true road games it’s played this year.

Obama Giving the Zebra Tips on Dipomacy (AP)

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles…

Posted by zhayes9 on January 26th, 2010

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

1. I’d be fairly shocked if Gonzaga is any lower than a #3 seed when the brackets are unveiled in March. In fact, I’d be fairly shocked if the Zags lost again this season. Think about it: they’ve already notched wins on the road against the three teams most likely to shock Mark Few’s team by dispatching Portland, Saint Mary’s and San Diego on a single road trip. They have one challenging non-conference game left against a rebuilding Memphis team in which Gonzaga will surely be favored. The only team I could see possibly stunning the Zags is Pepperdine and their explosive guard Keion Bell. The Waves only fell by seven in the Kennel this past week behind Bell’s 37 points, but they’re still 7-13 on the season and I highly doubt Bell is going to post 37 again on a stingier Gonzaga defense. Win out and Mark Few is looking at 27-3 (16-0) heading into the WCC tournament where they could finish with a 29-3 (18-0) overall record and an RPI in the top-20 with their only losses at Michigan State, at home against Wake Forest and Duke in MSG. That sets up Gonzaga for a #3 seed in the Spokane regional, meaning two quasi-home games until the regional (and they could be in the Salt Lake City regional). German import Elias Harris has spear-headed the Zags hot streak. He’s averaging 16/8 and shooting nearly 60% in a tremendous debut campaign.

Vasquez heating up for the Terps

2. Remember that Greivis Vasquez guy on Maryland who’s had a pretty damn good career? After scoring in the single digits in his first four games and struggling mightily with his jump shot in Maui, the brash and often polarizing emotional sparkplug for the Terps is heating up in a big way. And that’s bad news for the rest of the wide-open ACC. Vasquez has now scored in double figures his last 14 games including a 30-point outburst at Wake Forest and 22 in a big home win over Florida State. He played his most efficient game Saturday in the blowout win over NC State, notching 19 points on 7-11 FG and 3-4 3pt. Despite the concerning start, Vasquez is now playing like the ACC POY contender he truly is. His 43% FG is only second to his 44% as a freshman (but he only needs three more shots to match the amount taken that season), his 39% 3pt is far and away a career best, and he’s also contributing with 6.1 APG and 4.6 RPG, solid totals for a 6’6 guard. I fully expect Duke to win the ACC- they’ve already played two of their three most difficult ACC games- but Maryland is absolutely a contender to finish second behind Vasquez, the continued improved play of Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes (46% 3pt), plus the superb coaching of Gary Williams.

3. Other than maybe Georgetown or Notre Dame, the most disappointing team in the nation last season may have been Baylor. The Bears entered the season fresh off reaching the NCAA Tournament just a few years following the Dave Bliss fallout with Scott Drew being lauded as one of the best young coaches in the game. Even though a late-season Big 12 Tournament and NIT push healed some wounds, the 5-11 Big 12 mark a season ago was still a campaign to forget. What led to the downfall? For one, Baylor ranked #103 in defensive efficiency in 2008-09. During their crippling six game Big 12 losing streak, the Bears surrendered 95 points to Oklahoma, 89 to Missouri and 83 to Texas Tech. In a related story, Baylor is ranked in the top 25 this week and ranks 41st in defensive efficiency. What has sparked the change? A big reason is the human eraser Ekpe Udoh in the post, a Michigan transfer who ranks sixth in college basketball in block percentage (Baylor ranks first in the nation in the same category). Baylor as a unit has also turned up the intensity on the defensive end, ranking third in the nation in opponents two-point FG% behind just Mississippi State and Florida State. Baylor hasn’t forgotten how to score, either. They rank 15th in offensive efficiency and eighth in effective FG%. Anyone who watched the Bears go toe-to-toe with Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse last Monday knows this team can play.

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The RTC Midseason All-America Team

Posted by rtmsf on January 23rd, 2010

We’re a little past the halfway point of the 2009-10 season now, and we wanted to make sure that we had given the players who had performed at an elite level their due and propers with a little love from the crew here at RTC.  Here is our 2009-10 Midseason All-America Team.

First Team (** unanimous)

  • John Wall** (G), Kentucky (17.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 6.8 APG, 2.1 SPG) – Wall has been the most electrifying and clutch player in America so far this season.
  • Wes Johnson** (F), Syracuse (17.1 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.8 BPG) – Johnson does it all for Jim Boeheim’s team, proving the cranky old man right.
  • Luke Harangody** (F), Notre Dame (24.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG) – the nation’s scoring leader isn’t just a bomber; he’s also in the top five in overall efficiency.
  • Damion James (F), Texas (17.3 PPG, 11.0 RPG) – James is the clear leader of a Texas roster brimming with talented players.
  • Evan Turner (F), Ohio State (18.6 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 5.5 APG) - Mr. Triple-Double (two this year) missed a month and still made it onto the first team.

Second Team

  • Sherron Collins (G), Kansas (16.3 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.3 SPG) – Collins has proved his worth in late-game situations where he’s taken charge.
  • Cole Aldrich (C), Kansas (10.8 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 3.4 BPG) – Aldrich doesn’t get enough touches, but his impact on the game is invaluable to the Kansas attack.
  • Jon Scheyer (G), Duke (19.1 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 5.8 APG, 4.0 A:TO ratio) – Scheyer has proven he can handle Duke’s point guard duties exceptionally well.
  • Scottie Reynolds (G), Villanova (18.7 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.5 SPG) – Big Shot continues to improve, leading Villanova to 17-1.
  • Al-Farouq Aminu (F), Wake Forest (17.3 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.3 BPG) – the Leap that we all expected from Aminu in year two has happened.

Third Team

  • Da’Sean Butler (F), West Virginia (15.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.4 APG) – Butler’s superb numbers get crowded out by the other talented forwards in the Big East.
  • Quincy Pondexter (F), Washington (20.4 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.4 SPG) – it’s been a disappointing first half for UW, but not because of Pondexter.
  • Jarvis Varnado (F), Mississippi State (14.1 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 5.3 BPG) – the nation’s most feared interior presence continues to erase possessions for the opponent.
  • Patrick Patterson (F), Kentucky (16.3 PPG, 7.9 RPG on 63% FG) – Patterson is not as hyped as Wall or fellow big man DeMarcus Cousins, but he’s more efficient than both.
  • Jimmer Fredette (G), BYU (19.4 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.6 SPG) – Fredette’s elevated production has helped BYU get off to a fantastic 19-1 start.

Others Receiving Votes:  Jacob Pullen, Kansas State; Ekpe Udoh, Baylor; Xavier Henry, Kansas; Avery Bradley, Texas; Kyle Singler, Duke; Dexter Pittman, Texas; Greg Monroe, Georgetown; Jerome Dyson, Connecticut; Robbie Hummel, Purdue; Ed Davis, UNC; Omar Samhan, St. Mary’s; Klay Thompson, Washington State.

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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by jstevrtc on January 21st, 2010

Patrick Sellars is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

Power Rankings:

  1. Texas (17-1, 3-1) – I can’t fault Texas for losing on the road to Kansas State for two reasons. First, Kansas State is a great team that deserves their top ten rankings, and second because it was a road game in a conference where the home team consistently comes out on top.
  2. Kansas (17-1, 3-0) – The Jayhawks just barely squeaked out a win over Baylor behind great play from Marcus Morris and Sherron Collins. KU looks like they’re ready to make a big run and separate themselves from all the other contenders in the conference.
  3. Kansas State (16-2, 3-1) – I really thought that KSU would be overmatched against Texas, but the Wildcats won the game by dominating what was thought to be the best frontcourt in the nation.  Jamar Samuels and Rodney McGruder were the heroes for Frank Martin’s squad in their biggest home victory since 1994.
  4. Missouri (14-4, 2-1) – The Tigers blew a big lead against the Sooners in Norman on Saturday, but they should be able to rebound at home against Nebraska. Mizzou will put their 30 game home winning streak on the line against the Cornhuskers.
  5. Baylor (14-3, 2-2) – I really like how the Bears are playing at this point in the season.  Last night they played a very close game against KU on the road, which shows that this Baylor team has a lot of pride.  Ekpe Udoh is the key to this team’s success, but it should be easy for them to win most of their games against Big 12 South opponents (excluding Texas).
  6. Texas A&M (13-5, 2-2) – The Aggies are squarely on the bubble as we head into the last week of January. The win over Oklahoma was key for this team’s tournament hopes, and it is nice for TAMU fans to see production out of guard B.J. Holmes.
  7. Oklahoma State (14-4, 2-2) – The Cowboys have the toughest stretch in their schedule coming up, so it should tell us if this Oklahoma State team is good enough to play in the NCAA Tournament or if they are destined for the NIT.
  8. Oklahoma (11-7, 2-2) – The Sooners got a huge win over Mizzou at home, but they may have seen their tournament hopes slip away with the loss to Texas A&M on Tuesday night. Seven losses before we hit February is far too many for a team with so much talent.
  9. Texas Tech (13-5, 1-3) – The Red Raiders’ very weak non-conference schedule probably is hurting this team more than it is helping them. TTU needs to get back to .500 in the conference before we can start talking postseason again.
  10. Colorado (10-8,1-3) – I think we will see more wins for Colorado in Boulder, but I really don’t think CU will be able to pick up any wins on the road unless the game is in Ames or Lincoln.
  11. Iowa State (12-6, 1-2) – The Cyclones have fought hard in all of their conference games thus far. Their first three, that is.  It’s a long Big 12 season and it’s a loaded conference.
  12. Nebraska (12-6, 0-3) – NU may have seen its only potential win slip out of their hands when they blew a halftime lead against ISU.

Team of the WeekKansas State Wildcats - Really a no-brainer here, after the Wildcats knocked off the number one team. KSU got a lot of help from the Longhorns’ terrible free throw shooting, but that shouldn’t take any credit away from the outstanding play from Kansas State’s frontcourt.

Player of the WeekJamar Samuels, F Kansas State – Coming off the bench and having a 20 point/12 rebound performance against the top rated team in the nation warrants you a Player of the Week honor in my book. Without Samuels I don’t see how KSU wins that game.

This Week’s Predictions:

Colorado at Texas A&M (Saturday January 23rd, 1:30 PM ET) - Donald Sloan and company have a lot to play for in this game. They can’t let CU steal a win from them on their home court. I think Cory Higgins will keep this one close, but in the end TAMU will pull away with the victory.  Winner: Texas A&M

Kansas at Iowa State (Saturday January 23rd, 2:00 PM ET ESPN) – I really think Iowa State can win this game. Craig Brackins and Marquis Gilstrap are a tandem that can reek havoc on any team, and Kansas is not playing their best basketball as of late. I wish I had the guts to pick ISU, but I’m taking the safe route and going with the Jayhawks.   Winner: Kansas

Oklahoma State at Kansas State (Saturday January 23rd, 4:00 PM ET) – Historically, teams are very vulnerable after coming off a huge win. However, the crowd will be loud in Manhattan and I think we’ll see a hard-fought but relatively easy win for Frank Martin and Kansas State. Winner: Kansas State

Nebraska at Missouri (Saturday January 23rd, 6:00 PM ET) – The worst team in the Big 12 is coming into Columbia, where the Tigers have not lost in 30 straight contests, and the game is sold out. Nothing is pointing to a possible win for the Huskers.  Winner: Missouri

Oklahoma at Texas Tech (Saturday January 23rd, 8:00 PM ET) – Texas Tech is coming off their first Big 12 victory, but it was just a seven point win over Iowa State at home. TTU has been the team with the least bit of “home court advantage” in this conference, so I think OU comes into Lubbock and steals a win.  Winner: Oklahoma

Missouri at Kansas (Monday January 25th, 9:00 PM ET ESPN) – KU hates Missouri, and loves every opportunity it gets to thrash the Tigers on their home court. I don’t think that MU will get destroyed, but I don’t see any way how Mizzou could get a win over the Jayhawks in Lawrence.  Winner: Kansas

Kansas State at Baylor (Tuesday January 26th, 8:00 PM ET) – Baylor is in search of their first big win in the conference, and I think they will get it Tuesday night in Waco. Ekpe Udoh and LaceDarius Dunn will be too much for KSU to handle, and the Bears will help their case for the NCAA Tournament.  Winner: Baylor

Texas Tech at Texas (Wednesday January 27th, 9:00 PM ET ESPNU) – This will be Texas’ first home game since their loss to Kansas State, so there will be plenty of fans cheering on the Longhorns as they take on an in-state rival. Damion James may have his best game of the season against TTU, and show you why he should be National Player of the Year.  Winner: Texas

Texas A&M at Oklahoma State (Wednesday January 27th, 7:30 PM ET ESPN2)- Wow, this is going to be a very important game for both teams. Both are on the bubble looking for another win to help their tournament hopes. I like Oklahoma State in this one just because it is in Stillwater, but I will not be surprised at all if TAMU comes out with a victory.  Winner: Oklahoma State

Iowa State at Oklahoma (Wednesday January 27th, 9:00 PM ET) – Cade Davis and Willie Warren should each have big games, but there is no one in Oklahoma’s frontcourt that can contain Brackins or Gilstrap. I’m picking an upset here, as I think ISU will be too much for OU on the inside.  Winner: Iowa State

Nebraska at Colorado (Wednesday January 27th, 10:00 PM ET) – Colorado can match their win total from last season if they pick up a victory against lowly Nebraska, and that’s exactly what they will do. The Cornhuskers are just too far behind the rest of the conference in terms of talent level.  Winner: Colorado

Non-Conference Games:

Texas at Connecticut (Saturday January 23rd, 4:00 PM ET CBS) – UConn is overrated, even when they are out of the Top 25. I know that the game is in Connecticut, but there is no way that the Huskies will have an answer for Texas’ talent and depth.  Winner: Texas

Massachusetts at Baylor (Saturday January 23rd, 4:00 PM ET ESPNU) – UMass currently have seven wins. I really like Baylor’s chances in this one.  Winner: Baylor

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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by jstevrtc on January 15th, 2010

Patrick Sellars is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

Power Rankings:

  1. Texas (16-0, 2-0) – Right now the Longhorns are the best team in the nation, and Avery Bradley is playing at the level he needs to if UT wants to win the National Championship.
  2. Kansas (15-1, 1-0) – I was very surprised by the loss to Tennessee, but it isn’t enough for me to think that the Jayhawks still can’t win the Big 12, or the National Championship for that matter.
  3. Kansas State (14-2, 1-1) – The top three teams in the Big 12 have stayed pretty consistent this season. Denis Clemente was lights out in the first half against Texas A&M, and if he can continue to shoot the three like that KSU will be insanely dangerous.
  4. Missouri (14-3, 2-0) – So far, Mike Anderson and his Missouri Tigers are silencing everyone that doubted Mizzou could get back to playing at an elite level with the loss of their “Big Three”.
  5. Texas A&M (12-4, 1-1) – Picking the fifth best team in this conference is very difficult right now. I give the edge to the Aggies because of what they’ve been able to do in non-conference games, and I also think that Donald Sloan is one of the most underrated players in the nation.
  6. Baylor (13-2, 1-1) – Flukes happen, and I truly believe it was a fluke that Colorado beat Baylor on Wednesday night in Boulder. I’m not saying that the Buffaloes are a bad team, but I think Baylor can play at a much higher level.
  7. Oklahoma State (13-3, 1-1) – If I can say one thing about Oklahoma State, it’s that they have not surprised me at all this season. As of today, they are on the bubble like everybody thought they would be and their offense is totally reliant on James Anderson.
  8. Oklahoma (10-6, 1-1)Willie Warren can lead this team to an NCAA birth, but he has to play at the highest of his abilities. Tiny Gallon is finding his stride, and that’s everything but good news for the rest of the Big 12.
  9. Texas Tech (12-4, 0-2) – I cannot explain what happened in Stillwater on Saturday. That will probably be the low point for Texas Tech basketball this season, however they are slowly slipping out of the national picture and the only way to get people talking about you is to win some games.
  10. Colorado (10-6, 1-1) – I didn’t think the Buffaloes would get a conference win this early. Maybe Colorado is going to be a tougher team than everyone thought.
  11. Iowa State (11-5, 0-1) – Cyclones fans had every reason to be excited about this season, but so far it’s more of the same.
  12. Nebraska (12-5, 0-2) – Could we see a winless Big 12 season in Lincoln? It’s possible, but improbable. The Cornhuskers will have chances to beat Iowa State and Colorado at home.

Team of the Week — Missouri Tigers.  Beating Kansas State at home would have meant nothing if they lost to Texas Tech later in the week, but Mizzou pulled it off and are looking at Top 25 candidacy.

Player of the Week — Avery Bradley, G, Texas.  What a start to this youngster’s Big 12 career. 29 points in a big win over Colorado, and then a much-needed 24 in UT’s nailbiter against Iowa State. He also had a combined 15 rebounds and 9 assists in those two games.

Top Stories:

  • Home Court Advantage — One major theme in the conference this season is that, in conference games, winning on the road is a very tough task. Road wins in the Big 12 have been few and hard to come by, and any team that steals a road win should be feeling very good about themselves. So far only 4 road teams have won in conference games.
  • Kansas Falls — Don’t worry Jayhawks fans, I wouldn’t sweat this loss to Tennessee. First off, it’s the nonconference schedule, which has no effect on KU’s first goal (to win the Big 12 Regular Season Title), and I think it will light a fire under this Kansas team. I still believe Kansas will be in the Final Four at the end of this season.

This Week’s Predictions:

  • Texas A&M at Texas (Saturday January 16th, ESPNU 6:00 PM ET) — This should be another easy win for the Longhorns, but the Aggies should stick around for a while. UT has too much depth, and TAMU just can’t matchup with the likes of Dexter Pittman and Damion JamesWinner: Texas
  • Texas Tech at Kansas (Saturday January 16th, 1:45 PM ET) — Its too bad that a Texas Tech team with a lot of promise coming into the season is going to have to start 0-3 in the conference.  Sherron Collins and company are way too much for the Red Raiders to handle.  Winner: Kansas
  • Missouri at Oklahoma (Saturday January 16th, ESPN2 1:00 PM ET) — Although Mizzou may look like the better team on paper, winning on the road is not their strong suit. I think the Sooners will get their first big win of the year Saturday in Norman.  Winner: Oklahoma
  • Kansas State at Colorado (Saturday January 16th, 4:00 PM ET) — This is going to be a much closer game than people think. Colorado fans have been looking for something to cheer about for a long time, and with the chance to knock off a top 15 opponent after defeating a ranked team at home earlier in the week, I think the CU fans will come out strong. However, Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen are not going to let the Wildcats fall subject to this trap game and KSU will pull out a very close one in Boulder.  Winner: Kansas State
  • Iowa State at Nebraska (Saturday January 16th, 8:00 PM ET) — The Cornhuskers are just not a very good basketball team, and Iowa State has Craig Brackins. Brackins should be able to do major damage in the post, and the Cyclones will notch their first conference victory.  Winner: Iowa State
  • Texas at Kansas State (Monday January 18th, ESPN 9:00 PM ET) — This is a tremendous matchup for a Monday night basketball game. Most likely we will have a battle between two Top 10 teams. A very experienced Texas team with a conditioned coach versus a Kansas State team that many think is overachieving.  In the end, I think the play of Avery Bradley will win this game for UT. Pittman and James will do their regular work inside, but Bradley’s outside shooting will dictate how many double teams the big men see. I predict Bradley will have a great game and Texas will march on, still undefeated.  Winner: Texas
  • Oklahoma at Texas A&M (Tuesday January 19th, 8:00 PM ET) — I am starting to believe in the Sooners, which is probably a bad idea because I think they might implode and end up making me look like an idiot. When I look at the talent on that team, and the fact they’re led by Jeff Capel, I see Sweet Sixteen. However, OU is the surprise team in this conference because they are underachieving, and I think they will drop this game to TAMU.  Winner: Texas A&M
  • Baylor at Kansas (Wednesday January 20th, ESPN2 9:00 PM ET) — I think Baylor has what it takes to pull an upset in this game, however I don’t think they will use that talent well enough to actually execute a victory. I could make it simpler: Kansas doesn’t lose at home.  Winner: Kansas
  • Colorado at Oklahoma State (Wednesday January 20th, ESPNU 9:00 PM ET) — If you truly enjoy college basketball there are a lot of things intriguing about this game. Two of them are NBA prospects Cory Higgins and James Anderson. Another is the fact that both teams are dying to make the postseason, and these games can end up being the best (see Texas A&M vs. Baylor 2008).  Winner: Oklahoma State
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ATB: Can We Stop Discussing Big 12 Home Teams Now?

Posted by rtmsf on January 14th, 2010

Big 12 Home Teams No Longer Unbeatable.  We saw the stat floating around on one of the ESPN360 feeds for the first time over the weekend, and by the early part of this week it was ubiquitous.  Undoubtedly last week somebody in the Big 12’s stats department realized that the league’s home teams had only lost a single game all season (Northern Iowa’s victory at Iowa State in early December) and began marketing it as unassailable proof of the conference’s superiority.  It’s a manufactured statistic, but anytime people start repeating such a meme it takes on a life of its own.  By last night, after Kansas State and Colorado’s home wins to move the league to 114-1 on the year in their own buildings, you might have thought from listening to the announcers on the night’s games that we were in the midst of an epic realignment of the balance of power of the sport.  Sigh…  such is the 24-hour national news cycle.  At any rate, tonight’s three games featured three really good Big 12 teams going on the road to a conference rival, and collectively those three teams — #1 Texas, #3 Kansas,  Missouri — made mincemeat of that stat.  Let’s not speak of it again.

  • #1 Texas 90, Iowa State 83.  Texas’ freshman crew continues to impress, as they combined for 46/11/7 assts in UT’s 16th consecutive win to start the season.  This game was close for about a half, but UT came out and wrested control of the game in the second half behind Avery Bradley’s scoring (16 of his 24 in the 2d) and if this kid is going to keep playing like his last two games (22-28 from the floor, 7-7 from three), then Kansas’ Xavier Henry is going to have some serious competition for Big 12 FrOY this season.  Up next to stay unbeaten: rival Texas A&M at home.
  • #3 Kansas 84, Nebraska 72.  Kansas found itself down double-figures very early on the road in this one, but the Jayhawks were able to stay composed and use their superior depth and experience to pull away from pesky Nebraska late behind turnovers and strong interior play.  Cole Aldrich didn’t have a huge game (6/9/3 blks), but he didn’t need to, because Marcus Morris came off the bench to provide 19/7, including several timely plays during they key stretch where KU pulled away.  Kansas doesn’t utilize the three-point shot to a great degree, but the Jayhawks hit thirteen tonight, including 4-5 from Sherron Collins (22/5 assts).
  • Missouri 94, Texas Tech 89 (OT).  Mizzou used its fullcourt press to force 18 Red Raider turnovers and get a great game from Marcus Denmon off the bench (20/6) to win a key road game in Lubbock tonight.  The Tigers very nearly blew it, though, letting an 11-pt lead slip away in the final four minutes of regulation and allowing the game to be sent to overtime on two FTs by Tech’s John Roberson.  Then in the overtime period, it was Texas Tech’s Nick Okorie who had two FTs to give his team the lead, only to miss both of them with 20.4 seconds remaining and allowing Mizzou to hang on.

Clemson, You Simply Cannot RTC in This Situation!! #19 Clemson 83, #13 North Carolina 64.  Surprisingly, this was over very early.  Clemson came out and jumped on UNC with two large Trevor Booker-sized feet, and for the rest of the game the Tar Heels were one big turnover machine (25 total).  Closest UNC came in the second half was 12.  Booker’s 24/9/4 assts led Clemson to only their fifth win in sixteen tries against the Tar Heels, and their first since 2004.  Message to Clemson fans: we at RTC agree that this was an important win and dealing with UNC has caused you some recent frustration.  But you were FAVORED in this game, and UNC was only six spots ahead of you in the rankings.  We hope you enjoy the win, because you deserved it.  But this version of Gathering at the Paw (which we thought was a football tradition only) does not meet our criteria as a valid RTC.  You simply cannot RTC when you’re the favored team!

Jamie Dixon, COY#20 Pittsburgh 67, #15 Connecticut 57.  On Tuesday night we saw Evan Turner inject himself right back into the Player of the Year race with his late-game tour-de-force in stealing that win at Purdue.  Wednesday night gave us all a good look at a man who is likely the favorite for Coach of the Year (we just got some mean looks from people in Lexington) at this point — a certain Jamie Dixon of the University of Pittsburgh.  Going to Hartford and playing Connecticut is a tough task for anyone, but getting UConn coming off a loss makes that trip even more treacherous.  The Panthers didn’t care.  They started the game by streaking to an early ten-point lead, immediately putting UConn on the defensive.  The Panthers then led by 32-39 at the half and, even though they shot a tepid 39% from the field (23-59, and 4-12 from three-point range), held off the Huskies for the first part of the second half, causing the Hartford crowd to grow restless.  Just like you knew they would, Connecticut then made their run, a 10-0 stretch that gave UConn a one point lead at 47-46.  It was back-and-forth until the 5:00 mark, at which point Pitt took a lead (52-51) that they would not relinquish for the remainder.  The stats show that Pittsburgh was able to hold off UConn by outrebounding them 26-13 in the second half and by hitting 17-20 at the free throw line.  We say, however, that it was the intrinsic toughness of this Panthers squad that earned them this victory.  To outwork UConn on the glass (both offensive and defensive) in their own building, to drive the lane and take contact with abandon in the way they did…that takes guts.  And that’s a product of what Dixon has instilled in this team.  If you’ve heard his players do interviews over the last couple of weeks, you’ve noticed that these Pittsburgh kids love talking about how great the chemistry is on their team and how much they’ve bought into Dixon’s mindset and vision for their squad.  Everyone knows you have to have quality players (the “Jimmies and Joes”) to be competetive at all, especially in a cut-throat conference like the Big East.  But team chemistry is the ultimate catalyst for success.  Coaches can go whole seasons without having their players “buy into” what they’re trying to teach.  Dixon has achieved this with a team that lost 60% of its scoring from last year and had been forgotten about by just about everyone up until they started their current seven-game win streak, the last three coming on the road in-conference against Syracuse, Cincinnati, and Connecticut.  The Huskies now find themselves going out of conference to Michigan this Sunday, needing a win to stay ranked…and relevant.

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ATB: Upset Weekend, But Don’t Act Surprised…

Posted by rtmsf on January 11th, 2010

Upset Weekend.  Let’s get one thing out of the way right away.  It was a great weekend of college basketball, with over 175 games of juicy goodness, starting with Friday evening’s Sunshine State battle of A-Sun foes Jacksonville and Stetson, and ending with tonight’s Civil War game in Eugene between the Ducks and Beavers.  If you didn’t get enough hoops over the last 54 hours, then you probably need your head checked (our appt. is Tuesday morning).  But let’s not get too excited about this weekend just yet.  By our count, there were ten upsets involving ranked teams, and a host of others barely survived.  But this is something we all knew was coming.  It’s called life on the road in conference play (note: we realize, of course, Kansas was on the road in non-conference play), and it’s what makes the next ten weeks so much more fun than the previous ten.  No longer will teams be able to play Holy Names and Penn Central and St. Augustanus to pick up easy Ws.  No, they now have to face conference foes — the family — and like your nutty Grandma at the holiday dinner table, the family can be harsh in its brutal honesty.  If your team has a weakness, the family will find it and exploit it.  If your team has multiple question marks, your days of skating by with superior athletes and a friendly home crowd are over.  If your team has been using smoke and mirrors to get it done this year, well, the seven years of bad luck are about to begin.  This phenomenon happens every single year, and every single year we all get all fluttery and hyperbolic talking about the early upsets, but the fact of the matter is that there are no dominant teams in the 1-and-done era and truthfully the real surprise would be if we didn’t have great weekends of parity like this one.

Hopson Crushed It on Aldrich (credit: Saul Young)

Now, About That Kansas Thing#15 Tennessee 76, #1 Kansas 68.  This was going to be one of the tougher games of the season for Kansas regardless of the Tennessee personnel issues, but you can almost imagine Bill Self fretting about his team’s focus when he found out that 40% of the Vol offense would not be available for this game.  There’s no question that Kansas has elite talent, but they’re not robots, and it’s understandable that all the news about the UT players might have led to a bit of a letdown.  Bill Self referred to his team’s lack of aggressiveness as manifested in the worrisome fact that KU’s all-american center Cole Aldrich (7/18/4 blks) only took five shots in 30 minutes despite a considerable size advantage inside.  Repeated post-ups in the halfcourt offense resulted in few touches for Aldrich, as Sherron Collins and Tyshawn Taylor in particular were more interested in chucking threes and calling their own number throughout (20 and 11 shots, respectively).  Tennessee, to its credit in using just six scholarship players and several walk-ons, kept hustling and scrapping for loose balls and hitting big shot after big shot every time it seemed that the superior KU talent was surging.  Skylar McBee’s step-through three from the left side as the shot clock expired and UT up three very late was the stuff of legend (see below), and we doubt the walk-on marksman will be buying his own meals in Knoxville for many a year after he graduates.

In a game where the odds were repeatedly stacked against the Vols — the missing players, the foul trouble of Wayne Chism and JP Prince, the horrid FT shooting (15-29) — Pearl’s team was able to take to heart what has always made the colorful coach such an interesting guy.  He sees himself as an underdog, but his teams only seem to take on that scrappy mentality when they are actually sitting behind the eight-ball.  Tennessee always comes strong when they’re not expected to win — the game at Memphis in 2008, the wins over the national champion Gators in 2006 and 2007 — but it’s the games where they’re considered the heavy favorite that give Pearl’s teams trouble (last year’s two blowout Ls against struggling Kentucky come to mind).  You could very reasonably argue that in the Vols’ two wins this week with six scholarship players (vs. Charlotte and the Jayhawks), they’ve looked better than they did when they went ten deep.  The problem is that the underdog role can only be embraced and milked for so long, and there’s still an entire sixteen-game SEC slate ahead of them.  Today was a tremendous, mood-lifting sort of win for the UT basketball program, but it won’t mean much if the Vols finish at 8-8 in the SEC East.  Still, Bruce Pearl’s charges should be incredibly proud of themselves and by all means should stay away from rental cars and various weaponry after this big win (Pearl didn’t mention that, but he did mention complacency in his postgame speech below).  Final thought: Scotty Hopson (17/4).  Kid looked like a superstar today; his dunk over Aldrich was ridiculous.  Keep it coming, young fella.

RTC Meets Ashley Judd.  RTC editor John Stevens got to meet Kentucky Superfan Ashley Judd after Saturday’s Georgia game, and given that this may be a once-in-a-lifetime event, it deserves its own space.  Here’s John:   

I have to include the fact that I got to meet Kentucky alumna Ashley Judd at this game…and by “meet,” I mean shake her hand, stand beside her with my recorder (one of about 30 total) in her face, ask her a question, and smile dumbly at her like a mental patient who knows it’s almost pill time.  Let me tell you something, folks.  I don’t usually get star-struck (when you’ve sat behind Goodman, Bozich, DeCourcy, and Forde in a media room, hell, you’re ready for anything, heh), but when Ashley Judd looks you dead in the eye?  Ballgame.  Good night, everybody.  Yes, she’s very attractive.  But it’s not just that.  She’s got that “star quality,” meaning that when she’s looking at you and talking, it’s morphine.  You are tractor-beamed, and you’re very aware of it when your time is over.  This is not something she’s trying to do, it’s something with which you’re born or you aren’t.  They say politicians have this ability, too, though I doubt I’d feel the same effect if I were standing in front of, say, Strom Thurmond.  As for my question, because she had been asked every possible hoops-related question by the 30 or so reporters around her, I asked her how that frenzy in the media room compared to the scene on a Hollywood red carpet.  She replied like someone who, though she was glad her Wildcats escaped, was even happier to be home, even if temporarily.  She smiled, thought for a second, and said with relish,  “This is better!  This is the blue carpet!”

Ashley is Happy to See RTC There

Moving On… Obviously, there were a bunch of other upsets this weekend beyond #1 Kansas going down, but we don’t have time to discuss them all so here are some of the key takeaways as we see them.

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