ATB: UConn Almost All the Way Back…

Posted by rtmsf on February 23rd, 2010

Was It the Refs? Connecticut 73, #7 West Virginia 62.  Jim Calhoun has definitely inspired his listless team in the last two weeks, and it could be no more apparent than tonight when the curmudgeonly old coach picked up a tech less than a minute into the game after his team found itself down 5-o early.  WVU’s Da’Sean Butler missed the two ensuing FTs, and the ‘street fight’ as Calhoun called it, was on.  The game featured a total of 45 fouls and 65 foul shots, leading Bob Huggins to state that “you can’t win” when the home team shoots two-thirds of the foul shots in a given game.  For his efforts, Huggins was thrown out of the game in the last minute for complaining about fouls.  Butler had his own opinion on the foul situation, but after throwing up a lousy 2-10 shooting night, he may be better served focusing on how the long arms of the UConn defense repeatedly frustrated him into tough shots.  On the UConn side, the story tonight was the continued emergence of Kemba Walker as a Devan Downey-style slasher who can get to the foul line for 10+ points per game.  In the Huskies’ last three wins, Walker has paraded to the foul line a total of 36 times (making 31) and is averaging 22/6 over that period.  When he’s playing at his best, UConn becomes a much more offensively diverse team, with Jerome Dyson bombing away from outside and Stanley Robinson and Gavin Edwards cleaning up the mess inside.  UConn has now defeated three top ten teams this season, but they still have work to do to ensure an NCAA Tournament bid.  You figure that they can get the Louisville game coming up next Sunday at home, but it’s the final two on the road — at Notre Dame and at South Florida — that have us worried.  This team is prone to letdowns, and those are two ripe situations for one.

It's Kemba Time (credit: John Woike)

Is Kansas a Great Team? #1 Kansas 81, Oklahoma 68.  KU wrapped up its sixth consecutive Big 12 regular season title with another dominant performance, overwhelming the Sooners with a 9-0 start and never looking back in a second half that hovered around the 20-point margin throughout.  Xavier Henry looked like the stud he  is surely becoming, with a 23/5 evening on 9-13 shooting from the field.  Sherron Collins (now the winningest player in KU history, along with Brady Morningstar) added 17/6 assts and Cole Aldrich 7/12 in their typically consistent way, but the reason we’re even asking the above question has mostly to do with the re-emergence of Henry on the offensive end.  After suffering through a bit of a January slump, the super-frosh has come on strong in his last five games, averaging 18/5 on 53% shooting and 10-21 from deep.  It’s no coincidence that the Jayhawks have not been seriously tested in four of those five games (A&M was the exception), and they’re the odds-on favorite to win the national title in Indianapolis six weeks from tonight.   KU is now three games from running the table in the Big 12 for the second time in its history (Roy’s ‘Hawks did it in 2002), and if they can do that, they’ll join a select but ignominious company of teams in the last decade to enter the postseason with only one loss (2008 Memphis,  2005 Illinois, 2004 St. Joseph’s, 2004 Stanford).  This KU team, however, is better than every one of those one-loss teams, and might just be the best team they’ve fielded in Lawrence since the 1997 Pierce/Vaughn/LaFrentz juggernaut.

Other Games of National Interest.  Zilcho.

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The Knight/Self Matter: Your Move, General

Posted by jstevrtc on February 18th, 2010

Sherron Collins‘ line after logging 16 minutes in the first half of Kansas’ eventual win at Texas A&M on Monday night:  three points, 0-3 shooting from the floor, 3-4 from the free throw line, three turnovers, no assists.

Not exactly his best half, of course.  Is it worth a benching?

Bob Knight thought so on Monday.  Providing color commentary for ESPN’s broadcast, Knight proclaimed that he would have benched Collins to start the second half, presumably to send a message.  What would that message be, exactly?  We’re guessing something along the lines of, “Hey, Sherron.  Play better.  And if you don’t, someone else  (like Brady Morningstar) will, so you’re expendable.”

Knight benching tactic: shrewd or outdated?

Keep in mind…this is Sherron Collins.  Leading returning scorer for KU over the last two seasons.  Pre-season All-American.  This is the guy who came off the bench for 11 points, six assists, and three steals in the 2008 title game as s sophomore.  That Mario Chalmers three-pointer to tie it with 2.1 seconds left in that championship game?  Collins had the assist.  Just three weeks ago, this was the kid who cringed through back spasms that had his muscles knotting up as if they were in vise grips during the Kansas State game…and still, in overtime, in one of the most raucous road environments of recent memory, when it came time to drive to the basket and take contact with less than ten seconds left, said to his coach and his team (as he has in many similar situations), “I want the ball.”

So…expendable?  We know Knight was just talking about not starting Collins; he wasn’t proposing sitting him for the game.  That would have been ludicrous.  But aren’t you taking a chance with that tactic?  If you’re going to use it, you’d better be sure that your star player will hear the message you’re trying to send, as opposed to another one that would do more damage.

Knight has taken a few hits in the media about his pro-benching comment.  And now, Bill Self has responded.

On the weekly Kansas coaches’ Hawk Talk radio show, Self was asked about Knight’s statement.  His response:  “Well, I think Coach Knight is very very wise, obviously with winning games and having a great mind…to be honest, we’re not just trying to win the game.  We’re trying to win over time.  I don’t believe in showing guys that you don’t have faith in them when things are not going well, when they’ve delivered over and over for you.  I’d never do that.”

Bill Self stuck up for his point guard and sent a message to his players -- current and future.

On a few levels, that’s great stuff from Bill Self.  From my view, that really seems to represent how he feels and isn’t just lip service.  And if you’re a recruit, isn’t that what you love to hear?  I’d feel much better knowing that the coach I could end up playing for isn’t going to sit me down or possibly give up on me when I make a mistake, or even when I’ve had a bad half.  It would be good to know that, if I’ve come through for my team on several occasions, a single bad half isn’t going to trump all of that in my coach’s eyes.  The current Jayhawks have now also witnessed another example of how he’ll stick up for them, even in this case where it’s the winningest D1 college coach of all-time offering his opinions about them.   While simultaneously complimenting Knight — though Self probably didn’t mean to put this spin on it — Self’s response makes Knight look like a stodgy, outdated disciplinarian who advocates a mind-game approach to dealing with players.  I don’t mean to put words in Coach Self’s mouth, there.  But can you think of any big-time college basketball player these days who would respond well to such a tactic without losing a little faith in his coach?  Knight’s move may have worked on his players back in his earlier days at Indiana, but this is a different time.

What will be interesting, now, is whether or not someone from ESPN asks Knight on the air about Self’s response.  I doubt that will happen, so the matter is probably concluded.  You have to admit, though — it’d be great to hear, and you know The General would love to offer his opinion.  Maybe somebody on the ESPN GameDay crew will step up for us this weekend if Knight makes the trip to Seattle.

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Morning Five: 02.18.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 18th, 2010

  1. In an era of slashing budgets, it was surprising to hear that Fordham University is planning on heavily increasing their basketball expenditures in an effort to become a major player in the NYC metropolitan area and the Atlantic 10.  Perhaps given the pathetic status of local high-major programs at St. John’s and Rutgers, it’s a reasonable gamble.  The Rams are searching nationally for a new head coach, and if a higher salary and recruiting budget will draw a dynamic young coach to The Bronx, then perhaps this could elevate the program to an NIT level.
  2. Chalk Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim up as another coach who supports expansion of the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams.  The argument he makes is that there are “eight or nine teams” in the major conferences and to leave them out (he specifically cites UConn – 12th – and UNC – 9th) means that the “64 best” are not invited.  To which we say… stick to the coaching, Coach.  If the horrid Tar Heels and the schizo Huskies are good examples of teams that will be getting in under the new 96-team format, then Boeheim’s spouting off has already made the case against the change.
  3. Mike DeCourcy argues that the USBWA made a mistake in leaving off Malcolm Delaney and Matt Bouldin from their list of final sixteen candidates for the Oscar Robertson Trophy.  In reviewing the list, though, we’re not sure who he would suggest they leave out.  Delaney over Jon Scheyer or Dominique Jones?  Bouldin over James Anderson or Robbie Hummel?  We’re not really seeing the obviousness of this.
  4. While we’re on DeCourcy, if you’re interested in who he thinks the most underrated and overrated pro prospects are in college basketball this year, here’s your chance.  We here at RTC love, we mean LOVE, Sherron Collins‘ game at the collegiate level, but we can’t get on board with him as the next Jameer Nelson in any way, shape or form.  At that size, it takes a special talent to excel in the NBA, and we’re just not sure that Collins meets that threshold (which is to say nothing about his heart or will, which are huge).
  5. Did you guys hear that the NCAA has decided to expand the Tournament to 4,096 teams?  We’ve got our money backing the Xenon International School of Hair Design in this bracket.
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Evan Turner Favored in NPOY Straw Poll

Posted by rtmsf on February 17th, 2010

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

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

Evan Turner is #1, For Now...

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

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

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ATB: Season-Saving Win for UConn?

Posted by rtmsf on February 16th, 2010

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

Not Much Happiness This Year for UConn... Yet

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

Other Games of National Interest.

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