Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler. Periodically throughout the preseason, RTC will take an in-depth look at the schedules of some of the more prominent teams in college basketball.
Sean Miller’s fifth season in Tuscon could easily turn out to be his best. Despite the graduation of key seniors Solomon Hill (a first round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft), Mark Lyons, and Kevin Parrom – in addition to the surprising departure of freshman Grant Jerrett to the professional ranks, Miller has assembled the most talented roster that Arizona has seen in quite some time. A solid Pac-12 conference and challenging non-conference schedule will challenge the Cats’, but a nice blend of returnees and newcomers should give the man at the helm ample leeway to steer this storied program deep into March.
Nick Johnson will be asked to do more — both on and off the court — for this young but talented Wildcat team
Team Outlook: This will be a new-look Arizona team, as last year’s squad was built around departed seniors Lyons and Hill. Some familiar faces will be back and poised to fill leadership roles this time around, with junior Nick Johnson (11.5 PPG, 3.2 APG, 1.9 SPG) most prominent among them. The athletic two-guard shot the ball better from three-point range as a sophomore (39% after 32% as a freshman), and should also serve as the Cats’ best perimeter defender in 2013-14. Sophomores Kaleb Tarczewski (6.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 22.2 MPG) and Brandon Ashley (7.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 20.5 MPG) return to anchor the frontcourt, with each likely seeing a slight minutes increase, despite the arrival of a duo of freshman studs in the same frontcourt. Both Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson were McDonald’s All-Americans last spring, and immense immediate contributions from both freshmen would surprise no one. Gordon especially shapes up as a good candidate for a jump to the NBA after a season of stardom in Tuscon, as he is currently projected as a Top-20 pick in the 2014 draft on NBADraft.net. Gordon’s production will be one of the keys to this Wildcat season, but he may not be Sean Miller’s most important player. Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell (11.4 PPG, 5.5 APG, 2.8 SPG in 2011-12) will be filling Lyons’ shoes and running the show in Tucson this season. McConnell was an efficient lead guard in the Atlantic-10 and should quickly acclimate to the Pac-12, but the absence of proven ball-handlers elsewhere on the roster means his transition has to be a smooth one for Arizona to be successful. He will be a welcomed change-of-pace for teammates used to the shoot-first Lyons dominating the ball, and his steal % of 4.7 (12th best in the nation in 2012) is ample indication of a dedication to both ends. The talented youngsters around him will keep expectations low for McConnell individually, but don’t be shocked if he emerges as the leader of this club. Read the rest of this entry »
Tonight’s Lede. Tournament Commencement. Day one of the NCAA Tournament proper, the field of 64, is officially in the books. Games were won, upsets were wrought, careers ended and through it all, bracket hope springs eternal for those who survived their first big test. The second half of “second round” competition will tip off in just a few hours, followed by a weekend of further elimination and refinement. There is no mistaking it: the NCAA Tournament is here and we’ve only barely scratched the surface of the drama to come in later rounds.
Your Watercooler Moment. What? Harvard?
The most shocking result of the day came as an almost unthinkable late-night surprise (Getty Images).
Next year was going to be the year I picked Harvard to not only win its opening round game, but – depending on how the matchups shook out – quite possibly rip off a sweet-16 or even Elite 8 run. The Crimson get seniors Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey, snagged this offseason in a sweeping academic scandal, back for 2013-14, along with another solid recruiting class and a promising young backcourt in Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders. The Crimson have all the pieces to crash the field next season. It is from this backdrop that you can understand why what Harvard pulled off Thursday night at EnergySolutions Arena was a year ahead of schedule. The Crimson downed three-seed New Mexico in the biggest upset of the Tournament’s first day. It was also Harvard’s first ever NCAA Tournament win, and it came thanks to a depleted roster holding one of the nation’s best backcourt duos, Tony Snell and Kendall Williams, to a combined 17 points and two assists. The Lobos were a trendy Final Four pick. They had size and experience and a skilled seven-foot big man to anchor their offensive attack. They had the considerable weight of being the Mountain West’s Tournament entrepreneur. Harvard has its first Tournament win in school history and maybe the most remarkable upset we’ll see this March.
Also Worth Chatting About. A12-5 Upset Double. You Saw it Coming.
A seeding mismatch left Oklahoma State with a brutal first-round matchup (AP Photo).
Because there was so little immediate uproar about teams actually getting in/left out of the Tournament, people channeled their anger towards the bracket itself. Two of the biggest points of contention within were Oregon’s mystifying 12 seed following a Pac-12 conference Tournament championship and Cal’s comfy opening-round location (San Jose). The Ducks deserved more respect than a 12-seed and the Bears, for all their success in conference play, did not deserve the benefit of playing so close to their Berkeley Campus. Oregon’s underseed wasn’t just a slight to Dana Altman’s team, it was a menacing first-round predicament for Oklahoma State, a five-seed criminally burdened with a Ducks team that was in contention for a Pac-12 regular season crown for much of the season. Oregon dominated Marcus Smart and company from start to finish; an innocent observer would have suggested Oregon was the five seed, and OSU the 12. A few hours later, fellow Pac-12 12-seed Cal did not disappoint the hometown crowd in avenging a regular season home loss to UNLV. Neither of these P-12 squads belonged in their respective bracket locations. Oregon is not a 12 seed; it’s just not! And the Rebels, with their putative seeding advantage, never should have had to play what amounted to a road game in their opening-round matchup. None of it was very fair, and all of it confirmed what most instinctively believed upon bracket reveal Sunday afternoon: the committee screwed up.
Tonigh’s Quick Hits…
Two One Seeds. Two Totally Different Stories. There are big expectations for Gonzaga this season. The questions aren’t about the Zags’ worthiness as a No. 1 seed so much as they are what follows: can Mark Few’s team finally break through into the deep rounds? Judging by their-opening round game against 16-seed Southern, the answer is an emphatic no. The Jaguars pushed Gonzaga to the brink in Salt Lake City, and were it not for a couple of clutch deep jumpers from point guard Kevin Pangos, Thursday may have brought the first-ever 16-1 toppling. Phew. Louisville’s first-round game was far less interesting. The Cardinals whipped North Carolina A&T, holding the Aggies to 48 points and validating their overall No. 1 seed in every which way.
Memphis! Whenever Josh Pastner’s name cropped up in conversation, the impulsive reaction was to spew out the following statistic: 0. As in, tournament wins since Pastner took over the Tigers’ head coaching job in 2009. No longer will Pastner be juxtaposed with Tournament ignominy so immediately – Memphis fans will very much want another win or two before Pastner is off the hook – not after the Tigers fought off Matthew Dellavadova and Saint Mary’s in a highly anticipated 6-11 matchup Thursday. With Memphis headlong into a round-of-32 date with Michigan State this weekend, Pastner’s Tournament run is probably over. But the first one is always the toughest, or so they say, and Pastner and his team managed to accomplish that much in a year where first-round failure would have triggered an unrelenting stream of local fan venom throughout the long offseason.
Three Trendy Upset Picks Fall Short. In any given year, there are a few matchups where you feel confident enough, matchup-wise, to pull the trigger on a brave and courageous high seed victory. I heard a wide selection of suggested first-round knock offs in the lead up to Thursday, and three of the most frequent were (11) Bucknell over (6) Butler, (14) Davidson over (3) Marquette and (11) Belmont over (6) Arizona. All of which seemed very reasonable for different reasons: Mike Muscala can really work the paint; Davidson boasts one of the better frontlines in the country along with an elite in-game coach; Belmont is almost perennially Tournament-worthy under Rick Byrd. I wouldn’t have been shocked in the least to see any of those dominoes fall. None of them did, only Davidson really came close and now those doubted favorites (Butler, Marquette, Arizona) can press forward without the burden of potential first-round upset embarrassment.
Not So Efficient Now, Pitt. According to Ken Pomeroy’s win prediction formula, Pittsburgh went into Thursday’s 8-9 game against Wichita State with a 73 percent chance of advancing. Pomeroy’s efficiency ranks have recommended the Panthers all season (they ranked eighth as of Thursday in his per-possession database), and many data-savvy bracketeerists took that as a cue to simply and heedlessly push Pitt on through to a third-round matchup with Gonzaga, where Jamie Dixon’s team would give the Zags all kinds of physicality matchup issues. The only problem? The Shockers, ranked 34th in Pomeroy’s system, were more efficient than Pitt in every conceivable way throughout their 40-minute second-round tussle, and after an 18-point win it is Wichita, not the Panthers, who will get a clean shot at dropping the Zags this weekend.
The Point Guard Duel That Wasn’t. More than a genuine interest in seeing whether South Dakota State could pull off an unlikely upset of three-seed Michigan Thursday night, there was considerable buzz about what Nate Wolters – a semi-nationally known lead guard with an alluring all-around game – could conjure up against consensus First Team All-American and projected first-round draft pick Trey Burke. Fans were expecting a back-and-forth, individual, put-the-team-on-my-back kind of PG battle; this was Wolters’ night. It never materialized. Burke finished with just six points on 2-of-12 shooting and Wolters dropped 10 while making just three of 14 field goal attempts. The game itself was competitive going into the half, but without Wolters doing crazy, Wolters-like, 53-point things, the Jackrabbits never really stood a chance. The point guard battle of the Tournament was a dud and the game wasn’t much better.
Game-Winner of the Night. Everyone’s confident Davidson upset pick looked really convincing for about 35 minutes. Then Marquette shifted gears, found its three-point stroke late and Vander Blue did the rest.
Derrick Nix, Michigan State (NPOY) – The first game on Thursday was not what anyone would call competitive: Nix poured in 23 points and 15 rebounds as the Spartans controlled Valpo throughout.
Dwayne Evans, Saint Louis – A lot of people like Saint Louis as an Elite 8-Final Four-range team. Evans (24 points, six rebounds) gave you no reason to reconsider in Thursday’s stomping of New Mexico State.
Arsalan Kazemi, Oregon – Scoring touch aside, Kazemi affects the game exclusively with his defense and rebounding more than perhaps any other player in this Tournament. His 11-17 double-double Thursday is standard issue evidence.
Dorian Green, Colorado State – Not all of the Mountain West flopped Thursday. UNLV and New Mexico are good as gone, but CSU, thanks in part to Green’s 26 points against Missouri, are gearing up for an intriguing third-round fixure with Louisville.
Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga – I can’t ignore Olynyk’s 21 points and 10 rebounds – Olynyk has been consistently awesome all season. Whether he can lift the Zags to a win Saturday over Wichita State, I’m not so sure.
Tweet of the night. Beating a rugged three-seed like New Mexico, who many believed actually merited deserved a two-seed, is a huge feat in the moment. It’s even bigger for Harvard in a historical context.
New Mexico just became the Land of Disenchantment. And brackets implode nationwide. Like everybody else on Twitter right now #Harvard
Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #1 Gonzaga and #16 Southern in Salt Lake City.
Three Key Takeaways.
Kelly Olynyk and His Troops Sure Had to Sweat on Thursday
Keeping It Close. After keeping it tight for the better part of 30 minutes, it looked like Gonzaga was ready to pull away and ease to victory. Kelly Olynyk had scored 15 of the Zags first 18 points in the second half and with Southern having no one with the size and quickness to match him, we were ready for the inevitable double-digit win. But then something funny happened. Some of the Bulldog jumpers stopped going down, they turned it over a few times and the next thing you know, following some key blocks and increasingly improbable three-point shots going down for the Jaguars, we were all tied up with under four to go. But down the stretch, the Gonzaga guards took the baton from Olynyk and between Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., scored the final ten points for the Zags to seal the game.
So That’s A Number One Seed? There was plenty of talk since the brackets were announced about the long-term viability of the Bulldogs after earning their first-ever one-seed. And, the early returns are not promising. Certainly, the Jaguars needed to hit some insane three-pointers to stick around, and Olynyk looked at times like a guy capable of overpowering his smaller opponents, but this was not an impressive performance by the Zags. Elias Harris turned in a 2-for-10 outing and got rejected at the rim twice by smaller Southern defenders and the Bulldog backcourt caused absolutely no problems for the quick Southern backcourt. With a tough and talented Wichita State team awaiting in the next round, Gonzaga is going to have to play much better. One area where the Zags do deserve credit thought: down the stretch as the game tightened up where it could have been really easy for them to feel the pressure, they played with poise in the final few minutes.
Southern Celebrations. We’ll have hazy memories of these guys years in the future, so let’s take some time right now to recognize some of the great performances turned in by Jaguar players today. Off-guard Derick Beltran time and time again hit big shots, knocking down four threes as well as a pair of late two-point jumpers in his defender’s face; point guard Jameel Grace was nails throughout, getting into the lane in order to create opportunities, even if he hit just one of his eight field goal attempts; Brandon Moore and Javan Mitchell patrolled the paint, racking up seven blocks between them against taller opponents. And all told, the Jaguars got terrific performances by guys up and down the roster.
Star of the Game. Southern University. I could pick somebody from the winning team here (Olynyk’s 21/10 or Pangos’ 16 and big shots down the stretch are good candidates), but really, the star here was Southern University from start to finish. And I can’t even single out one of the players. From head coach Roman Banks on down the line, the Jaguars all deserve credit.
I. Renko is an RTC columnist and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.
Oh, well. What’s a royal ball? After all, I suppose it would be frightfully dull, and-and-and boring, and-and completely… Completely wonderful. – Cinderella
It’s time for college basketball’s annual ball, which means it’s time for America to fall in love with Cinderella all over again. There are 36 teams from the 26 non-power-conferences who have been invited to this year’s Big Dance, and while the slipper no longer fits for some of the more prominent of these schools, for the bulk of them, this is a rare opportunity to make a name for themselves on the grandest of stages.
This is the first of a two-part series taking a look at the NCAA Tournament prospects for all 36 teams hailing from The Other 26. We focus today on the TO26 teams in the South and West regions, grouping them into five rough categories, and, within each category, ordering them by their likelihood of advancing.
These are the teams that have a credible chance of dancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.
Can Kelly Olynyk Lead the Zags to Their First Final Four?
Gonzaga (#1, West) — It’s been five years since a TO26 team reached the top seed line. In 2008, Memphis rode its #1 seed all the way to the brink of a national championship, and Zags fans are hoping for the same — and perhaps more — this year. Gonzaga has no glaring weaknesses. They are led by an athletic, skilled frontcourt, the centerpiece of which is NPOY candidate Kelly Olynyk. They get steady guard play from Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, and David Stockton. If they’re to run into any trouble, it will likely be against a team that (1) sports a strong, athletic interior defense that can contain Olynyk, Elias Harris, and Sam Dower and pound the glass, and (2) can hit the three-point shot consistently, as Illinois did in beating them (Gonzaga’s defense allows a lot of three-point attempts). There are a fair number of teams that meet the first criteria in the West bracket, but not many with a lot offensive firepower from the three-point line or otherwise. In short, this is as good a shot as Gonzaga has ever had to make the Final Four. The eyes of the nation will be watching to see if they can make good on their promise.
Virginia Commonwealth (#5, South) – VCU is a popular sleeper pick for the Final Four, and there’s some merit to that notion, but here is the most important thing you need to know about them: They are 25-2 on the year (and 14-0 in A-10 play) against teams with a turnover rate over 18 percent. And they are 1-6 (and 0-5 in A-10 play) against teams with a turnover rate under 18 percent. The Rams’ first-round opponent, Akron, falls squarely in the former camp (20.8 percent), a problem for the Zips that will be exacerbated by the absence of their legally-troubled starting point guard, Alex Abreu. After that, things get a bit trickier for the Rams. Their two potential Third Round opponents, Michigan and South Dakota State, rank in the top 10 in the country in turnover rate. Those stats are perhaps somewhat inflated by the fact that both teams play in conferences that don’t feature a lot of pressure defenses, but if you’re looking for a point guard to lead you against such a defense, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than Trey Burke or Nate Wolters. It’s true that Michigan has struggled lately in general, and that if you look ahead to a potential match-up with Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen, Havoc’s odds of success improve, but I’d caution against over-exuberance at the Rams’ chances given a potentially dicey Third Round contest.
Championship Week reached a crescendo on the eve of Selection Sunday, as thirteen automatic bids were handed out. As each of the 31 automatic qualifiers plays their way into the Dance over the next week, we’ll take some time to give you an analytical snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets this week.
How About A Court Storming On An Opponent’s Home Floor? Completely Legal, Especially If A Trip To The Big Dance Is On The Line. Congratulations Albany.
America East Champion (24-10, 12-7)
RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #143/#152/#172
Adjusted Scoring Margin = +2.0
Likely NCAA Seed: #16
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
It’s been a rollercoaster of a year for Albany, but Saturday’s ticket-punching win at Vermont means the ride will roll on to the Big Dance. The America East champs put together an impressive 11-3 non-conference campaign that included a win at Washington, but conference play proved trying for Will Brown’s team, as a 9-7 finish left them as the fourth seed in the America East tournament. Albany lived the familiar March mantra “survive and advance” to the fullest this week, winning three games by a total of eight points to earn the bid.
In a fashion quite typical for these Great Danes, Albany won games this week in which they scored 50, 61 and 53 points, respectively – not exactly “grab some popcorn and take in the show” territory here. The tempo is predictably slow (279th nationally), and with national ranks of 170th offensively and 144th defensively, Albany is very much middle of the road on both ends of the floor. Where the Great Danes do excel is on the glass. They are an above average offensive rebounding team and rank 40th nationally in collecting caroms on the defensive end, aided in part by a relatively big lineup, especially for the America East.
The Albany offensive blueprint is not especially refined, but they rely heavily on a small senior duo of three-point shooters. 6’0” Mike Black leads the Danes in scoring at 15 a contest and towers over his backcourt mate, 5’10” Jacob Iati, who chips in 12.2 PPG. The two have combined to make 139 threes this season, and they would be well served to keep chucking come next week, because unless Albany gets slotted for the First Four in Dayton, it will take a hot shooting night and then some (and then some more, and some more…) to keep the Danes surviving and advancing.
Rulers Of Conference USA For The Final Time, Memphis Is Dancing Again
This weekend marks the end of the decade-long Bracketbuster era — or experiment, depending on your perspective. Sadly, if appropriately, it looks like the event will go out with more of a whimper than a bang. Not a single game features a top 25 team, resulting in little hype for this year’s slate. But for true mid-major basketball fans, no top 25 ranking, or lack thereof, is going to dissuade them from devouring the late season, inter-conference action among the country’s best, under-the-radar-until-March teams. Here’s a preview of the five Bracketbuster games we’re most looking forward to, followed by an updated Top 10, our weekly honor roll, and the most compelling non-Bracketbuster games of the coming week.
Can Matthew Dellavedova And His Prominent Mouthpiece Lead the Gaels to a Much-Needed Win Over Creighton? (Las Vegas Sun / Sam Morris)
Creighton at St. Mary’s (6 pm, ESPN) — Both teams enter what is perhaps the premier Bracketbuster matchup with a great deal to prove. Creighton’s hot 17-1 start has given way to a rough 5-5 stretch, as the depth of the MVC has taken its toll. In four of those five losses, Creighton’s once unstoppable offense slowed to a pace of less than a point per possession. An at-large Tournamentbid remains a safe bet, even with a loss to St. Mary’s, but the Bluejays are no doubt looking to this game to reignite their offense and their season. St. Mary’s, on the other hand, is in desperate need of a quality win for its Tournament resume. Having been swept by Gonzaga, Saturday’s matchup is a virtual must-win for the Gaels. Both teams have highly efficient offenses that rely heavily on the three-point shot. Whichever defense can step up its game may emerge with the win.
Ohio at Belmont (10 pm, ESPN) – This should be a really entertaining game between two teams who love to run and gun. But for the colors of their jerseys, it may be hard to tell the two apart, as the Bobcats and Bruins have remarkably similar statistical profiles. Both are high-possession squads that shoot more than 40 percent of their field goals from three-point range and rank in the top 20 nationally in forcing turnovers. Both have high effective field goal percentages, but rebound poorly and allow their opponents to shoot far more free throws than they do. Toss in a great point guard matchup between seniors D.J. Cooper and Kerron Johnson, and you have the ingredients for a great nightcap to the day’s action.
South Dakota State at Murray State (8 pm, ESPN2) – Neither team is as good as it was last season, but both returned their star player. And it’s their matchup at the point guard spot, with Nate Wolters squaring off against Isaiah Canaan, that makes this a must-see game. The two players are the heartbeats of their respective team’s offenses. Each uses roughly 30 percent of all possessions, ranking them in the top 50 in the country. Wolters has been on a particularly nasty tear of late, averaging more than 33 points over his last five games, though two of his 30-plus efforts in that stretch were in defeat. Canaan, meanwhile, is coming off his own 35-point outburst in a win over Morehead State.
Detroit at Wichita State (4 pm, ESPN2) — Wichita State has bounced back from a recent three-game swoon with a four-game win streak that includes two close victories over Illinois State and Indiana State this past week. They’ll be the favorites against Detroit, but his game has definite upset potential. Detroit is on the upswing, winning six of their last seven, and developing a potent offensive attack with a multitude of options, from Ray McCallum’s attacking ability to Jason Calliste’s three-point shot to Nick Minnerath’s versatile inside-out game to Doug Anderson’s physical interior play. The Titans will try to push the tempo, while the Shockers will try to slow things down and pound the ball inside to their big men Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall, who may find success against Detroit’s mediocre interior defense.
Denver at Northern Iowa (8 pm, ESPN3) — After a rough 4-6 start to MVC play, Northern Iowa has righted the ship and fought its way back to where we thought it would always be — at the top of the league standings, just a step behind Wichita State and Creighton. They face a Denver team that has flown a bit under the radar, recovering from a slow start to the season to win 13 of their last 14 games. A trip to Cedar Falls will be a test of just how far the Pioneers have come. Expect a low-possession, halfcourt-oriented game, with a steady barrage of three-point shots. The Panthers have a balanced attack, with five players averaging between 9 and 13 points. Denver will turn primarily to Chris Udofia, the versatile forward who is the hub of their Princeton offense.
And now on to our updated Top 10 rankings, weekly honor roll, and the (other) games we’re keeping an eye on …
I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.
It wasn’t that long ago when we were musing in this space about whether an early December ankle injury was hindering Nate Wolters’ performance. After missing two games, Wolters registered three straight games with a sub-100 offensive rating (per Ken Pomeroy), decidedly mediocre performances by Wolters’ high standards. But those would be the only three games this year where Wolters fell below that mark, as he emerged from his funk with a 28-point performance in a big win over New Mexico. Since then, Wolters has been as productive as ever. But none of us could have expected what happened on Thursday night. Wolters exploded for an incredible 53-point performance.
Nate Wolters Owned the Court on Thursday Night (South Dakota State Athletics)
Wolters shot 17-of-28 from the floor, including 9-of-14 from three-point range. He added 10 points from the free throw line. He outscored the entire opposing team, IPFW, in the second half, 38-37. He scored in every which way — step back threes, drives through the lane, catch-and-shoot threes, drives along the baseline, threes off ball screens, pull-up jumpers … you name it, he did it.
Wolters is now averaging 22.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game. He commits just 2.3 turnovers a game despite using more than 30 percent of the Jackrabbits’ possessions. He shoots over 80 percent from the free throw line and over 40 percent from the three-point line. And perhaps most important of all, he has led his team on an eight-game winning streak that has buried an uneven start to the conference season and put the Jackrabbits in a first-place tie with Western Illinois. If you’ve yet to catch the Wolters show, fret not as there are some high-profile opportunities in the coming weeks. Next Saturday, the Jackrabbits welcome Western Illinois to Brookings, and you can bet that the joint will be jumping. And a week later, Wolters will take his talents to Murray, Kentucky to square off against Isaiah Canaan and the Racers in a premier Bracketbuster matchup.
On to this week’s Top 10, our Honor Roll, and the games to watch this week …
I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.
It was a brutal week for the TO26 top 15, as the top four teams lost five games combined. Read on to see how that shuffled the rankings. After the revised top 15, we look at the top 10 results of the past week, sorting through both the headline-grabbing upsets and the big games that may have slipped past your radar. Then we preview the top 10 games of the coming week, which includes a bounty of top matchups this Saturday and several small conference teams putting their first-place records on the line against their stiffest competition.
Four days after coaching his first game of the season in an 83-58 victory over Southern on Sunday, Texas A&M’s Billy Kennedy, diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease this fall, will now lead his men into Madison Square Garden tonight.
Billy Kennedy Returned to the Bench This Weekend
The Aggies will face Mississippi State in the semifinals of the Coaches v. Cancer tourney, but Kennedy’s story has nothing to do with tonight’s game– or any other game, for that matter. After A&M hired him from Murray State to replace Mark Turgeon, Kennedy learned of his diagnosis in September when symptoms such as exhaustion began to sprout up. It’s amazing that Kennedy made a recovery so quickly. Especially with such a high-strung and pressurized position as a Division I head basketball coach, nobody would have blamed him for sitting out an entire season. As Andy Katz mentions in his article on the matter, associate head coach Glenn Cyprien expects Kennedy to take it easy at times, and Cyprien will likely do a lot of hands-on coaching as Kennedy continues his recovery.
Although Parkinson’s has no cure, Kennedy will surely have access to the best treatment plan, so here’s to hoping he lives a full life from here on out, both on and off the basketball court.
The big game from a media perspective on what was essentially college basketball’s opening night was the Carrier Classic. From what we have seen and heard about the scene, it certainly lived up to the hype even if the game itself was a little disappointing. Of course, this game was more about honoring veterans on Veterans Day (something that honestly should be done more than once a year) as well as showcasing college basketball (also something that should be done more than once a year). We think the event did an excellent job of that and we have heard from quite a few non-college basketball fans (yes, we are forced to interact with them on occasion) who saw some of the game on television and thought that it was a really cool setting. We haven’t heard what the TV ratings were for the game, but we assume they will be outstanding for an early season college basketball game as long as they don’t include the nose-dive that certainly happened as soon as the Five for Fighting concert started.
As you may have heard, Mike Krzyzewskitied Bob Knight‘s Division I record of 902 wins on Saturday with Duke’s win over Presbyterian. If you weren’t aware, you must not have been watching ESPN, which ran this news on its scrolls for much of the past 36 hours. And the hype is just getting started as Krzyzewski will be going for the record outright tomorrow night when Duke plays Michigan State in the opening game of the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden. While the media is ready to crown Krzyzewski with the title as #1 among the rest, we think that might be jumping the gun a little for two reasons: (1) he is coaching against Tom Izzo, who is pretty good in his own right, and (2) we will be covering the game and Krzyzewski is 0-2 in games at which this editor has been (a ridiculous loss in 2002 to FSU and last season’s blowout loss to St. John’s at Madison Square Garden).
There was some good news and some bad news on the injury front over the weekend. First, we will start with a little good medical news although it doesn’t qualify as an “injury”: Billy Kennedy, who took some time off to adjust to his new diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, returned to the sidelines yesterday and guided Texas A&M to a 25-point victory over Southern. Arizona also got some good news as Kevin Parrom, who was shot while he was home in New York City in September and also had to deal with his mother passing away less than a month ago, played for the Wildcats for the first time since the incident. While Parrom made an impact on the stat sheet with six points, four rebounds, and two assists in 18 minutes, his presence was probably felt on more of an emotional level during Arizona’s ten-point win over Ball State. On the other hand, Louisville got even more bad news on the injury front as junior guard Mike Marra injured his left knee midway through the second half and had to be carried off the court by two people during its win over Lamar. Marra appeared to be relatively upbeat after the game, but an MRI last night revealed a torn ACL and therefore he will miss the rest of the season.
There were a pair of interesting suspensions late last week. The first comes from North Carolina State where C.J. Leslie is being forced to sit out the first three games of the team’s season due to impermissible benefits he received (using a friend’s car and receiving money from that same friend to help pay for the apartment application fees for Leslie’s half-brother). The other is at Marquette where freshman Juan Anderson was also suspended for three games for accepting a free ticket to a luxury suite at a Milwaukee Brewers playoff game. We have heard quite a few people come to Leslie’s defense saying that it is common for college students to borrow cars, but with college athletes the concept of a “friend” can get blurred very easily and we understand the NCAA’s rationale in cases like this (particularly when you consider the payment for an apartment application fee). We haven’t heard many people jump to Anderson’s defense yet because that is a pretty clear violation to most people, although Anderson could have just as easily said a “friend” had an extra ticket and invited him to the game.
On Thursday, we mentioned Jeff Capel‘s $1.75 million golden parachute from Oklahoma. Well, it turns out that Oklahoma also received a parting gift from the Capel era: three years of probation and $15,000 fine. The punishment is the result of an investigation into the actions of former assistant coach Orlando Taliaferro, who failed to report impermissible benefits given to Tiny Gallon and then lied to NCAA officials during their investigation. Taliaferro was hit with a two-year show cause penalty while the school was primarily hit by reductions in its ability to recruit, but is not prevented from playing in the postseason (unless you factor in the resultant quality of their team).
For our complete list of 2011-12 conference primers working backward from #31 to #1, click here.
Reader’s Take I
Southern & Grambling APR Victims. When the NCAA released its annual Academic Progress Rate report in May, the SWAC contained two of the five basketball programs facing a postseason ban in 2011-12 as a result of consistently poor scores over several years. While this news shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed the APR since it was implemented several years ago, the teeth of the rule is finally taking hold on individual institutions. Southern and Grambling probably were not going to be in a competitive position to make the NCAA Tournament this season anyway, but this is something that each school must take seriously in order to secure their D-I existence. The two institutions submitted APR improvement plans to the NCAA over the summer, and with good reason — without a considerable short-term jump in scores, the next penalty is restricted membership in Division I.
Will the APR Eliminate HBCUs in Division I? Southern and Grambling’s APR predicament highlights a harrowing situation among the two Division I basketball leagues comprising historically black colleges and universities. With the APR cut line increasing from 925 to 930 as of next year, and a corresponding postseason penalty for programs failing to make that cut in the future, the SWAC and MEAC could face an untenable situation where every one of its members is ineligible for postseason play, and ultimately on restricted status. If the 930 threshold had been in effect last year, for example, only one school — the SWAC’s Alcorn State, with its 4-24 overall record and 944 APR score — would have been eligible for the NCAA Tournament. The APR has been shown to correlate strongly with African-American enrollment, and at the low-budget HBCUs that comprise the SWAC and the MEAC, this development presents tremendous cause for concern. Whether this is purposeful or not, we’ll leave for you to decide.
Even though the season technically started earlier on November 8th we all know that Friday night was the real start of the college basketball season and the Internet is buzzing about weekend’s action. We scoured the Internet to find the best local voices to give you an inside look at what happened in the night’s biggest games. If you’re confused by the rankings, that is because they are from the official RTC Top 25. If you are interested in participating in this feature, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
#2 Michigan State 96, Eastern Michigan 66: “Season openers generally aren’t going to be works of tremendous beauty, so they might as well be entertaining. And this one was (other than the constant stream of guys going to the free throw line, I guess). This team promises to be as entertaining as any Tom Izzo has coached–and that’s saying something. Becoming a truly efficient operation will take a little longer.” (The Only Colors)
#3 Ohio State 102, North Carolina A&T 61: “Hype. Rarely do teams, players and coaches ever live up to it. In No. 4 Ohio State’s season opener, the freshman class showed their addition to four returning starters is the perfect recipe to end a 51-year national championship drought in Columbus and, in the process, live up to their enormous hype.” (Eleven Warriors)
#6 Villanova 68, Bucknell 52: “Villanova fans who hoped for an early blowout were surely disappointed by some poor shooting and sloppy play in the early going. Both teams played to a draw until Villanova took the lead for good with 12:38 remaining in the first half. From that point, their lead would grow to as many as 16 points before the Bison clawed their way back to cut it to 5 points halfway through the second half when Maalik Wayns and Corey Fisher took control.” (VU Hoops)
#7 Kansas 113, Longwood 75: “Kansas won it’s 60th game in a row in Allen Fieldhouse, and while it was just Longwood, there was a healthy dose of positives to take from the game. First, some roster things to clear up: Josh Selby sat again, and Self said there was no new news on that front. Elijah Johnson also had the night off in street clothes. Self said that he would address the situation after the game, but some shots of him on the bench showed him smiling and laughing, so it can’t be too serious. And Royce Woolridge played, so he is obviously not redshirting.” (Rock Chalk Talk)
#11 Syracuse 68, Northern Iowa 46: “All in all, it ended up looking a lot more solid at the end than it did in the beginning. The good news is, its early and while Northern Iowa isn’t as good as they were last year, they’re a decent opponent. They’ll get better and this win will look good in a few months. The freshmen can play (when they’re not fouling willy-nilly). The bench is deep. Kris Joseph has that takeover mentality we were hoping for. Rick Jackson looks dependable. All we need to do is work out what’s going on at the guard spots and figure out the pecking order and we’ll be in good shape.” (Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician)
#14 Kentucky 88, East Tennessee State 55: “I must say that it is hard to judge teams when they shoot the ball as well as UK did. The old axiom is that good shooting makes up for a bunch of mistakes, and that proved to be the case more often than not tonight. It isn’t that the Wildcats played poorly — to the contrary, as a team they played very well, arguably their best game of the season so far. But that does not mean that they played flawlessly.” (A Sea of Blue)
Terrence Jones: 1st freshman to debut with a double-double since Jules Camara (Credit: Kentucky.com / M. Cornelison)
#15 Gonzaga 117, Southern 72: “The man who paced the Zags was without a doubt Steven Gray. The senior leader was simply phenomenal tonight. His outside shot resembled his freshman season and he would have easily secured a triple-double if he could have finished out the game. Unofficially, Gray finished with 25 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds, and three steals. That’s about as good as it gets in the college game. Gray has always been a guy that can do everything and tonight was a prime example.” (The Slipper Still Fits)
#18 Georgetown 62, Old Dominion 59: “Well that wasn’t fun at all. Georgetown survived one of the ugliest basketball games since James Naismith invented it in 1891. Down by eight with less than 10 minutes to go, it looked like Georgetown’s offense wouldn’t score another point. Then, in a flash, Chris Wright and Austin Freeman score 13 points on four shots, and all was forgiven.” (Casual Hoya)
#24 Temple 62, Seton Hall 56: “Coach Fran Dunphy’s Owls got the 2010 college basketball season off on the right foot after defeating Seton Hall on Friday night. The Owls were able to hold off a late surge by the Pirates to earn their first win of what hopes to be a very long season. Temple struggled a bit in the first half of play, but eventually managed to build up a 10-point lead over Seton Hall. The momentum carried into the second half and was able to hold on through the final buzzer.” (The Owl’s Nest)
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The North Carolina hoops team recently went shopping for donations to the Salvation Army, providing toys for underprivileged children around the holidays. A great cause at a great time of year.