NIT Quarterfinal Preview: How Three O26 Schools Can Reach Madison Square Garden

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 25th, 2014

With Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech and Belmont all playing in the NIT Quarterfinals tonight and tomorrow, let’s examine what it will take for each O26 hopeful to reach the Big Apple next week.

Southern Miss

Southern Miss will give Minnesota all it can handle in The Barn tonight. (RYAN MOORE — AP)

Southern Miss will give Minnesota all it can handle in The Barn tonight. (RYAN MOORE — AP)

  • Opponent: Minnesota
  • TV: 9:00 PM ET, ESPN, Tuesday (Minneapolis, MN)
  • How they got here:  The Golden Eagles hosted Toledo in the First Round, handling the Rockets 66-59, before knocking off Missouri on the road by eight. In the two victories, they outrebounded their opponents by nine boards on the offensive glass.
  • Why they win: Southern Miss did not win 29 games this season by mistake. This team is deep, physical, experienced and should give Minnesota all it can handle in The Barn tonight. The Golden Eagles force opposing offenses into a ton of mishaps – they boast the ninth best turnover rate in the country – by trapping and extending their zone pressure in the half-court to give ball-handlers all kinds of trouble. The Gophers are wholly average when it comes to taking care of the rock, ranking 151st in the country in offensive turnover rate. They might struggle against Donnie Tyndall’s unique, aggressive zone look. Likewise, Southern Miss is an excellent offensive rebounding club (despite its undersized frontcourt) that should be able to garner second chance offensive opportunities against their good-but-not-great defensive rebounding foe. Standing just 6’5”, athletic guard-forward Michael Craig is excellent on the boards.
  • Why they lose: For as many turnovers as they force, Tyndall’s club is just as bad when it comes to coughing up the ball. It was near the bottom of Conference USA in turnover percentage this year, which could spell trouble against the Gophers: Like his father, Minnesota coach Richard Pitino applies pressure and gets after teams defensively. Four of Southern Miss’ six losses this season were to opponents ranked in the top-50 in defensive turnover rate, including Louisville, which smacked the Golden Eagles by 31 back in November. Additionally, this is a true road game – never easy – against a squad that has proven capable of getting hot from behind the arc (shooting 11-of-19 from deep vs. Iowa in February). That very well might happen against USM’s zone look.
  • Why you should watch: This game has some serious intrigue. Aside from the game itself – which should be a tight one – former Golden Gopher Chip Armelin is now a Golden Eagle after transferring to Southern Miss following the 2012 season. Meanwhile, Minnesota point guard Deandre Mathieu began his career playing for Tyndall at Morehead State, before transferring to Hattiesburg after the head coach left.

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O26 Resume Review: Atlantic 10, Conference USA, BYU & Green Bay…

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 13th, 2014

We’re just a few days from Selection Sunday. Let’s take stock of how the O26 conference teams and their resumes stack up in the final days before that fateful day.

Atlantic 10

  • Locks: Saint Louis, VCU, Massachusetts, George Washington
  • Work to do: Dayton, Saint Joseph’s

The Atlantic 10 seems looks to be a safe bet for five bids to the NCAA Tournament, with six being a very real possibility. And this is coming a year after the league lost Butler, Temple, Xavier and Charlotte to realignment. It’s been a banner season for the A-10. But is there a Final Four threat in the bunch? I don’t think so. The league has a lot of good teams, just no great ones. I think the Sweet 16 is the ceiling for any of the A-10’s NCAA Tournament teams.

Dayton is living on the bubble. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

Dayton is living on the bubble. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

Dayton (22-9, #39 RPI). The Flyers seem to be one of the few bubble teams — in any league in the country, really — that actually want a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Dayton is scorching hot right now, having won nine of its last 10 games. Three of those wins are against surefire locks in SLU, UMass and George Washington. If the Flyers get past their first-round game against Fordham, they’ll get a date with Saint Joseph’s in the A-10 quarterfinals Friday in what could be a play-in game to the NCAA Tournament. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the flyers third in his “Last Four In” category.

Projected seed for now: #12

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Conference Tournament Primer: Conference USA

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 11th, 2014

Championship Fortnight continues with another conference tourney tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the next week of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, Conference USA gets started.

Dates: March 11-15
Site: Haskins Center (El Paso, Texas)

2014 cusa tourney bracket

What to expect: Four teams tied for first during the regular season at 13-3 — Louisiana Tech, Tulsa, Middle Tennessee, and Southern Miss — and they’ll be seeded in that order here. Without much of a chance for at-large bids, the C-USA tourney should be a dogfight between those top four. Semifinal Friday should be a doozy if the chalk holds. The automatic bid winner could be a potential Cinderella in the big bracket.

Favorite: Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs are the top seed, having won four straight and eight of their last nine games. Tech gets it done on the defensive end, ranking 22nd in the nation in defensive efficiency (94.8 points allowed per 100 possessions). The Bulldogs aren’t too shabby on offense, either, ranking second in Conference USA in league games with 110.1 points scored per 100 possessions.

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O26 Weekly Awards: New Mexico, Jeremy Ingram, Donnie Tyndall & ECU…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 26th, 2014

Think about it, folks: this time next week, it will be March. Let that sink in for a minute… Now let’s take a step back and give some recognition to several of last week’s top performers and performances.

O26 Team of the Week

The Lobos made it loud and clear that they're legitimate. (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

The Lobos made it loud and clear that they’re legitimate. (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports)

New Mexico. If the Lobos made one thing abundantly clear last week, it’s this: They are every bit the team we thought they were back in the preseason (they are who we thought they were!). While San Diego State has captured the lofty rankings and national media attention for much of 2013-14, New Mexico — once favorites to win the Mountain West — has lurked under the radar for the better part of three months, amassing plenty of wins but not many headlines. But after a pair of statement victories in a four-night span, over two of its biggest rivals? That all changed in a hurry.

Entering last Wednesday’s game at UNLV, head coach Craig Neal was confronted with the challenge of having to focus his team on the task at hand without looking ahead to Saturday’s enormous tilt against San Diego State. Not necessarily an easy task, but an especially important one considering that the Runnin’ Rebels had more or less handled New Mexico in its own gym just one month earlier. Lucky for Neal, he never had to worry much at the Thomas & Mack Center — his senior point guard Kendall Williams took any possible questions about “focus” and immediately extinguished them with a flurry points. Williams nailed a three in the first minute of the contest to give the Lobos an early lead, then helped his team maintain that advantage for the remainder of the night by notching 29 points — including 17 in the first half — along with seven rebounds, three assists and two steals. The outcome was never in question, and what made the 68-56 final even more impressive was the fact that New Mexico, not especially known for its defense, held UNLV to a paltry 31.7 percent from the field. Now the Lobos could look ahead.

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O26 Game of the Week: SDSU at The Pit, Gonzaga-BYU, Others…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 19th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

San Diego State (22-2) at New Mexico (19-5) – 10:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday

This game — this week — is a huge one for New Mexico. If it can avenge an early loss to UNLV tonight in Las Vegas, Craig Neal’s team will return home on Saturday with a chance to pull even with San Diego State atop the Mountain West standings and solidify itself as an NCAA Tournament lock. Up to this point, the only major feather in the Lobos’ cap is a win over Cincinnati back in early December, so beating the Aztecs this weekend would not only shake up the conference race, it would also carry serious resume-boosting implications. Not to mention bragging rights in a match-up that features two of the best fan bases west of the Mississippi.

Kendall Williams and the Lobos  welcome San Diego State to the Pit on Saturday. (Eric Draper The Associated Press)

Kendall Williams and the Lobos welcome San Diego State to the Pit on Saturday. (Eric Draper The Associated Press)

In fact, considering how closely matched the game is on paper, New Mexico’s 15,000-plus screaming fans might very well become a deciding factor when it’s all said and done. According to KenPom, the Lobos are pegged as the slight favorites with a win probability of 54 percent, a figure that will dip considerably when they head to San Diego in early March. But first they get to host the Aztecs in The Pit, their menacing, subterranean arena in which they boast an all-time winning mark well over 80 percent. Not many visiting teams escape unscathed. For San Diego State fans, the silver lining is this: Steve Fisher units have gone an admirable 6-8 in the daunting stadium since he took over in 1999.

Of course, the outcome will ultimately be decided on the court, and there, each team will have distinct advantages. For New Mexico, the ability to get interior scoring from its imposing frontcourt duo of Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow will be critical. The big men combined to average 36 points and 15 rebounds in the Lobos’ two victories over the Aztecs last year; in the one loss, they mustered just two points and nine boards total. Paint production will be especially important considering that opposing guards Xavier Thames and Winston Shepard are stingy perimeter defenders, capable of minimizing Kendall Williams’ usually-considerable offensive production. San Diego State, meanwhile, hopes to continue playing the excellent team defense that has limited opponents to around 0.94 points per possession this season, good for 17th in the country. They are long, fast, physical and will suffocate teams that are ill-prepared. On the other end, the Aztecs are led by the gifted Thames — who’s likely to win Mountain West Player of the Year — and the team-wide ability to garner second-chance looks by crashing the offensive glass. Forwards Josh Davis and J.J. O’Brien must out-bang the sizable New Mexico frontcourt if San Diego State hopes to generate enough offense to survive Albuquerque. The game will be high-stakes and high-energy, so flip to The Deuce and check it out when Saturday night rolls around.

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O26 Resume Review: Bubble Watch Edition

Posted by Adam Stillman on February 19th, 2014

We are less than a month from Selection Sunday. The bubble picture is as unsettled as ever. So what better time to do a complete O26 resume review? Instead of reviewing teams that helped and hurt their profiles this past week, however, let’s take a look at all the legitimate at-large candidates among the O26 conferences.

Atlantic 10

  • Locks: Saint Louis
  • Should be in: Massachusetts, VCU
  • Work to do: George Washington, Richmond, Saint Joseph’s, Dayton

There is no way SLU (23-2) misses at this point. The Billikens are ranked in the top 10 for the first time since 1964, boast a #11 RPI and hold a three-game advantage in the loss column over VCU, Saint Joseph’s and Richmond with six games to play. The Atlantic 10 as a whole looks like a safe bet for four bids, and it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see the league get six teams into the NCAA Tournament this season.

Seven Atlantic 10 teams have legitimate NCAA Tournament hopes.

Seven Atlantic 10 teams have legitimate NCAA Tournament hopes.

  • Massachusetts (20-5, #19 RPI). The Minutemen are still in pretty good position to make the NCAA Tournament. Sure, a home loss to cellar-dwelling George Mason last week looks awful, but strong wins against New Mexico, Providence, BYU and LSU in the non-conference slate make this a solid overall profile. Home games with VCU and SLU, as well as a road tilt at Dayton, highlight the remaining schedule.
  • VCU (20-6, #23 RPI). All in all, not a bad week for the Rams. VCU took care of business at home against George Washington before falling 64-62 at SLU. A win there might have bumped the Rams up into the lock category, but they stay here for now. The early season win at Virginia continues to look better and better as the Cavaliers are on fire. VCU travels to UMass on Friday and hosts SLU on March 1.
  • George Washington (20-6, #37 RPI). George Washington rebounded Tuesday night after a rough week where the Colonials were walloped by 17 points at VCU before falling by six to UMass at home. Those were two huge opportunities for GW to cement its place in the field of 68. Then the Colonials topped fellow bubble-dweller Richmond on Tuesday, thus taking a step closer to the field. George Washington can pretty much count itself in with a win at Saint Louis this weekend. The Colonials still can hang their hats on a great neutral-court win against Creighton way back on December 1. Read the rest of this entry »
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O26 Resume Review: St. Joe’s, Dayton, BYU, Southern Miss & Boise State…

Posted by Adam Stillman on February 12th, 2014

There wasn’t a whole lot of movement in the O26 bubble picture this past week. We’ve seen teams projected safely in the field continue to cement that status — Wichita State, San Diego State, Saint Louis, etc. — and another couple squads with a gaudy records but subpar SOS and RPI numbers take themselves completely out of the at-large discussion — Harvard and Green Bay. While there weren’t many teams that picked up resume-making wins last week — most tread water or broke a little above even — we also didn’t see all that many teams exacerbate things with horrible losses. So let’s check out who helped and hurt themselves in this week’s O26 resume review:

Helped

Saint Joseph’s (16-7, 6-3 Atlantic 10)

Saint Joseph’s biggest week of the season brought mixed results. The Hawks fell flat against Saint Louis in a 65-49 loss last Wednesday before rebounding with a solid 69-62 victory against Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday. A sweep might have put Saint Joseph’s in the NCAA Tournament field, but a sweep the other way probably would have signaled lights out on the Hawks’ at-large aspirations. The week’s split saw Saint Joseph’s RPI jump from #53 to #46 in seven day’s time. The Hawks are sitting squarely on the fence in the bubble conversation. The Bracket Matrix places the Hawks as the second team in the First Four Out category. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, CBS’ Jerry Palm and Sports Illustrated’s Michael Beller have Saint Joseph’s currently out of the field as well, while Yahoo’s Brad Evans has the Hawks as the last team in the field. A home game with Dayton and road tilt at George Washington highlight the remaining slate. Ken Pomeroy, however, projects Saint Joseph’s to lose four more regular-season games, which would certainly leave the Hawks in the NIT.

Projected seed for now: Out

Dayton (16-8, 4-5 Atlantic 10)

Dayton is still alive for an at-large bid (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

Dayton is still alive for an at-large bid (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

The Flyers are back on track, winning three straight games. While this past week’s victories came against George Mason and Saint Bonaventure, a pair of teams in the bottom half of the A-10, it’s just important that Dayton keeps winning and doesn’t suffer any bad losses. Mission accomplished this week. It will be more of the same in the near future with Rhode Island, La Salle and Duquesne dotting the upcoming schedule. Then comes the stretch that will ultimately determine Dayton’s fate — a closing stretch with Saint Joseph’s, Massachusetts, SLU and Richmond. The RPI sits at #60, up five spots from a week ago. KenPom has Dayton losing to Saint Joseph’s and SLU but winning the rest of its league games. That would put the Flyers at 21-10 overall and 9-7 in the A-10. That might be enough to earn Dayton a bid.

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O26 Storylines: Boise State, Indiana State and Southern Miss…

Posted by Adam Stillman on February 7th, 2014

I’m beginning to think nobody wants a bid to the NCAA Tournament. At least not any of the O26 teams that are considered on the bubble. A couple more teams seemingly withdrew their names from consideration this past week, and that’s the laser focus of this week’s O26 Storylines post. While Wichita State’s ongoing quest for perfection is a no-brainer for storyline of the week, we already wrote about the Shockers here and here. And even though Sacramento State delivered maybe the most improbable finish of the season, it really doesn’t have any meaningful ramifications.

Are Boise State’s at-large NCAA Tournament chances gone?

Boise State is just about out of chances for an at-large bid.

Boise State is just about out of chances for an at-large bid. (AP)

Yes. It’s the Mountain West automatic bid or bust for the Broncos. Boise State (15-8, 5-5 MW) let a golden opportunity slip through its hands on Wednesday night, coming up just short in its upset bid against San Diego State. The Broncos led by as many as 14 points in the second half before finally capitulating when Dwayne Polee drained a three-pointer with five seconds left to give the Aztecs a 67-65 advantage (the final margin). That was Boise State’s best shot at a resume-making win, and the Broncos blew it. They are quickly running out of opportunities. Only a home game against New Mexico on February 12 constitutes a shot at a quality win. While the Broncos’ aren’t hindered by any horrible losses — the worst being against UNLV and its #102 RPI — Boise State can’t boast any quality wins either. Their best win is over #118 RPI Utah. Yikes. Even a win against New Mexico won’t be enough to save the Broncos. They’ve just missed out on too many chances. Just look at the list. Kentucky, Iowa State, San Diego State (twice), New Mexico, Saint Mary’s. Five of those losses were by single digits, including three that were by four or fewer points. If Boise State can’t win the MW Tournament, the Broncos will have to go down as one of the most disappointing teams of the season.

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RTC Big East Microsite Week in Review

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 18th, 2013

The 2013-14 college basketball season is off and running, and it was a really interesting week for the Big East conference, which saw a number of teams compete in big non-conference games.  Only half of the teams in the league remain unscathed, so there may be some shuffling in our power rankings this week.

Few players in the entire nation have had the start that Doug McDemott has this season.

Few players in the entire nation have had the start that Doug McDemott has this season.

Week One Power Rankings

  • 10.) DePaul (2-1), Last Week (10): The Blue Demons very nearly knocked off a Southern Miss team that many expect to be among the top squads in Conference USA, falling to the Golden Eagles, 75-68.  Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young are off to strong starts.
  • 9.) Butler (2-0), LW (9):  After handling Lamar, the Bulldogs had a close call with Princeton, knocking off the Tigers, 70-67.  Butler is getting even scoring across the board, with five players averaging at least nine points per game.
  • 8.) Seton Hall (2-1), LW (7): Things haven’t been easy for the Pirates.  After participating in the game that launched a thousand referenda on refereeing in 2013, Seton Hall edged by Kent State by two before dropping a game at Mercer in double overtime.  Fuquan Edwin and Sterling Gibbs look very good early, but with the Pirates sitting at 231st in the nation in assists at 11.7 per game, they need to do a better job of moving the ball.
  • 7.) Xavier (3-0), LW (8): Unsurprisingly, Semaj Christon is good at scoring the basketball.  The Musketeers are glad to have Dee Davis back after missing two games—the junior guard had a well-rounded game against Morehead State, scoring seven points, grabbing five rebounds, and doling out nine assists in 35 minutes.
  • 6.) Providence (3-0), LW (6): The Friars’ opening night win against Boston College doesn’t look quite as good with the Eagles going on to drop games to UMass and Toledo, but they’ll have chances to prove themselves with games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky rapidly approaching.  Providence has an array of scorers, headlined by the consistent Bryce Cotton, and as a team hits free throws at an 85 percent clip. Don’t foul these guys, America.
  • 5.) St. John’s (1-1), LW (5): The young Red Storm nearly came away with a big win against Wisconsin in their first game.  D’Angelo Harrison and JaKarr Sampson look very good through two games, while Steve Lavin and company are still waiting for freshman point guard Rysheed Jordan to put everything together.

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Evaluating AAC Non-Conference Schedules: The Bad and the Ugly…

Posted by CD Bradley on October 30th, 2013

We looked at the best of the AAC non-conference schedules in Part I, after explaining a bit of what makes for a good non-conference schedule. This season, there’s quite a bit more bad than good, which could drag down the collective RPIs of AAC members and ultimately lead to lower NCAA Tournament seeds come March.

Larry Brown's SMU Mustangs, a popular sleeper pick, have a lot riding on a trip to Virginia.

Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs, a popular sleeper pick, have a lot riding on a trip to Virginia.

The Bad

  • Cincinnati: The Bearcats return the favor of a visit last season from MW favorite New Mexico with a road trip of their own to The Pit. They also will play former Big East rival and mid-level ACC squad Pitt at Madison Square Garden. Then… well, there’s the rivalry game with Xavier, which seems poised to finish in the bottom half of a newly constituted (read: relatively weaker) Big East; N.C. State, clearly headed toward the bottom of the ACC, and Conference USA also-ran MTSU. That trio might end up in the RPI top 100; it’s highly unlikely any other team on the schedule will come close.
  • Louisville: If the defending champs can escape Rupp Arena with a win, all will be forgiven by both their fans and the committee, as a road win against Kentucky is perhaps the highest quality victory available in college basketball this year. Southern Miss, which finished with an RPI of #30 last season, is favored to win Conference USA. They face a potential Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off final against North Carolina at the Mohegan Sun. They need the Tar Heels to be there, because the rest of their foes are middling teams in weak leagues, with Charleston the most likely to crack the top 100, and several – we’re looking at you, Hofstra and UMKC – seeming likely to end up north of #300.

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ATB: More Uncertainty Atop the Big Ten, a Mini-Brawl at Purcell Pavilion and DJ Cooper’s Immense Achievement…

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 6th, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

Tonight’s Lede. Conference Tournaments, Y’all. The first conference tournament of 2013 slipped under the radar. If you missed it – and no one’s scolding you for passing on the opening round of the Big South Tournament – you can be forgiven. The smallest minnows of the mid-major world are long conditioned to early-round negligence in their conference tournaments. Just promise me one thing: When the mid-major tourney bombardment begins in earnest tomorrow, for the rest of the week and leading up until the Power Six tourneys, you will at least pretend like you know what you’re talking about when automatic bids are cashed in remote little gyms around the country and the at-large bubble pool inevitably shrinks. This stuff, whether it interests you or not, directly affects your teams’ NCAA hopes. On to the recap…

Your Watercooler Moment. Buckeyes Raid B-Town.

Stingy defense from the Buckeyes hindered Indiana's vaunted offense (AP).

Stingy defense from the Buckeyes hindered Indiana’s vaunted offense (AP).

First things first: Indiana is not invincible at Assembly Hall. Just this winter, Wisconsin went into the vaunted Hoosier Dome, controlled the pace of play and imposed its trademark trodgy style to excellent effect. The Badgers left with a five-point win and a frustrated Hoosiers fan base. Things have changed since, obviously. Indiana quickly righted the ship with five straight wins, building confidence and national acclaim by the week, and amidst all the madness at the top of the college hoops landscape this season, the Hoosiers had built something of a consensus as the number one team in the country (sorry Gonzaga, but this isn’t about you). All that was left in the final week of the regular season, which Indiana – thanks to Michigan’s win over Michigan State on Sunday – began having already claimed at minimum a share of the regular season title, was a home-and-away two-game finish. Those games commenced Tuesday with a visit from Ohio State and finished Sunday at Michigan. The latter was viewed as the biggest road block, and with good reason. Tuesday’s matchup was perceived as a stepping stone of sorts, a tune-up for the regular season finale. The offense would hum, Victor Oladipo would infect the game with positive energy and Indiana would ride a boisterous crowd to a comfortable victory. It was practically a formality.

Ohio State did not take well to the idea of a Hoosiers victory party. The Buckeyes used the stifling perimeter D of not only Aaron Craft but also bouncy sophomore Shannon Scott (who had four steals) and got another big scoring effort from Craft (15 points) to complement one of DeShaun Thomas’s habitually-high scoring marks (18 points) to pull out a nine-point win. As encouraging as it is to see Craft put together another high-scoring effort (he had 21 against Michigan State), the Buckeyes’ key to victory was their defense. Like the Badgers in early January, Ohio State took Indiana out of its offensive comfort zone, and the Hoosiers were too shaken to adjust. Ohio State didn’t just spoil Indiana’s senior night and presumptive full-regular season title clinching. It quite possibly unveiled a defensive blueprint to shut down the nation’s hottest offense.

Tonight’s Quick Hits…

  • Bubble Game of the Week. A cursory scanning of this week’s collection of games reveals an odd an utterly mystifying fact: there is only one game between two teams who truly classify as quote-unquote bubble inhabitants. Ole Miss was in danger of falling out of the conversation completely after losing to not just the worst team in the SEC this season, but one of the worst groups in league history: Mississippi State and its ghastly 227 RPI figure. The Rebels needed Tuesday night’s home game against Alabama just to stay in the picture; they got it, and probably dashed Alabama’s fading NCAA aspirations along the way. So Ole Miss isn’t totally dead, I suppose. Not yet. Winning at LSU Saturday would be a good place to start. Read the rest of this entry »
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Does the Xavier Loss Reveal the Arc of Memphis’ Season?

Posted by Will Tucker on February 27th, 2013

Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between Memphis and Xavier in Cincinnati.

Xavier outlasted Memphis, 64-62, in a game that exposed systemic weaknesses in Josh Pastner’s team fewer than three weeks from Selection Sunday. The Tigers entered the Cintas Center tied for the nation’s longest winning streak and boasting top-20 rankings in both the national polls and RPI. Their visit to Cincinnati represented the first of three consecutive road trips against potential RPI top-100 opponents, opportunities to combat the perennial whispers of “paper tiger” that pepper discussion of their Conference USA record. It also represented an audience with Xavier AD Mike Bobinski, chair of the NCAA Tournament selection committee and strong proponent of the “eye test,” as Mike DeCourcy tells us.

(Credit FOX Sports Ohio)

Xavier exposed Memphis’ vulnerability on the defensive glass (Credit FOX Sports Ohio)

They faced a Xavier team hung over from a crushing VCU comeback that all but eliminated its hopes of an at-large bid, and a student section reduced by the diaspora of spring break. Moreover with starting point guard Dee Davis injured, the Musketeers would field one primary ball-handler against the Tigers’ athletic press. It was against that backdrop that Memphis showed up and did all it could to reinforce the criticisms of its detractors. The Musketeers set the tone early with ferocious intensity under the basket and on 50/50 balls. They made Memphis look like the team with nothing to play for in the first half as they ran out to a 30-21 lead. The languid effort struck a chord with Josh Pastner: “Our energy level stunk that first half, and I believe in energy… We were minus-five in 50/50 balls at halftime –– first time in a long time that’s happened.” The Musketeers outrebounded Pastner’s team by 11 in the first half, and an six-rebound advantage on the offensive boards helped establish a 12-0 disparity in second-chance points. Memphis went to the locker room with zero points off five Xavier turnovers and only two fast break points.

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