The Other 26: Cowboy-ing Up

Posted by IRenko on January 5th, 2013

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.

College basketball has just four undefeated teams left. You can likely recite the identity of the first three:  Duke, Michigan, and Arizona, who occupy the top three spots in the AP rankings. But you may be surprised to learn that the fourth team is the Wyoming Cowboys. Larry Shyatt’s squad sits at 13-0 after a successful non-conference season that featured solid wins over Colorado, Illinois State, and Denver.

Leonard Washington Has Led Wyoming to a Surprising Undefeated Start (Troy Babbitt / US PRESSWIRE)

Leonard Washington Has Led Wyoming to a Surprising Undefeated Start (Troy Babbitt / US PRESSWIRE)

Last year, the Cowboys finished sixth in the MW. Then in the offseason, they graduated three of their five starters. So how have they managed to reel off 13 straight victories to start the year? Wyoming is very strong defensively, but they were just as good, if not better, last year. The biggest difference is a major improvement on offense, as their adjusted efficiency has gone from 0.99 points to 1.08 points per possession. That may not sound like a big difference, but when you realize that a single game is composed of dozens of possessions, it adds up to a substantially better offensive performance. This increased efficiency has been driven by the Cowboys’ ability to get to the free throw line and to convert on two-point opportunities. Senior forward Leonard Washington deserves the credit for leading the team in both respects. The 6’7″ tweener is shooting 63.7 percent on two-point field goals and draws 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes — one of the higher rates in the country.

The second significant factor in the Cowboys’ improvement is the offseason development of senior Derrious Gilmore and sophomore Larry Nance, Jr. (yes, the former NBA player’s son). Gilmore has rewarded Larry Shyatt’s decision to hand him the starting point guard spot by improving his per game averages from 3.1 points and 1.1 assists per contest to 11.8 points and 3.2 assists per game. He averages more than 32 minutes per game, second most to Washington. Nance, meanwhile, has gone from averaging 4.1 points and 4.0 rebounds per contest to 11.2 and 6.8, respectively.  He shoots over 60 percent on two-point attempts and 84.2 percent from the free throw line. Add in the contributions of returning starter and senior guard Luke Martinez (14.5 points, 42.2% 3FG) , and the Cowboys have a feature a surprising amount firepower.

Despite their undefeated mark, it remains an open question as to how good the Cowboys really are. Last year, they got off to 14-2 start during non-conference play but crumpled to a 6-8 record in the Mountain West. This year’s record is even more impressive to be sure and, as noted above, features some solid if unspectacular wins. But the strength of schedule is about to kick into a higher gear, as they enter conference play against a very deep and talented Mountain West. If they can maintain their offensive improvement through the rest of the year and continue to get contributions from a range of players, they may be Dancing for the first time since 2002 and just the second time in 25 years.

Let’s move on to this week’s Top 10, the performances that caught our eye this past week, and the games to watch in the week ahead.

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The Other 26: The Mountain West Enters the Spotlight

Posted by IRenko on December 29th, 2012

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.

The action was light during this past holiday week, but the Mountain West’s finest took advantage of the lull to thrust themselves into the spotlight with two exciting contests, a pair of one-point games against top 10 teams decided by last-second blocks. In the final of the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, San Diego State fell just short against third-ranked Arizona, losing 68-67 when Xavier Thames’ potential winning shot was blocked by Arizona’s Nick Johnson as time expired. Two days later, New Mexico visited eighth-ranked Cincinnati and emerged with a hard-fought 55-54 victory that was sealed by a last-second block from sophomore Alex Kirk. What was most impressive about these hard-fought contests is how both teams showed that even if you take away some of their key weapons, they are deep and versatile enough to compete.

(Getty Images)

Alex Kirk Led a Tough New Mexico Performance Against Cincinnati (Getty Images)

The Lobos distinguished themselves not just with a victory, but the way they earned it. They are accustomed to racking up points at the free throw line, but reached the charity stripe at only a 20 percent rate, far below their season average and good enough for just six points. But they gritted out the win by patiently moving the ball against Cincy’s high-pressure halfcourt defense to find open shooters and cutters. Junior point guard Kendall Williams turned in a performance befitting of a team leader, stepping up to hit several big three-pointers and finishing the game with a team-high 16 points. But it was Kirk who set the tone with his lunch bucket performance, fearlessly hurling himself into battle against Cincinnati’s imposing frontline and surviving with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting, seven rebounds, and three blocks, including a game-clinching rejection of a Sean Kilpatrick three-point shot.

The Aztecs, too, can be proud of the fight they showed in Honolulu despite coming up short. Leading scorer Jamaal Franklin was held to just nine points, his lowest output of the season.  But Franklin found other ways to contribute, pulling down eight rebounds and dishing out six assists. And San Diego State found other players to carry the scoring load. Chase Tapley, who had already poured in 46 points in the first two games of the tournament, dropped 19 against Arizona to push his season scoring average to 15.8 PPG. And the Aztecs showed how strong their defense is, holding the Wildcats to 37.3 percent shooting.

This Saturday, UNLV will have a chance to intensify this week’s spotlight on the Mountain West when they travel to North Carolina. In a year when the conference seems as deep as any in the country, the only lingering doubt heading into this past week was whether they had the heavyweights to compete with the nation’s best teams. But as the final week of non-conference play comes to a close, the conference’s top teams are leaving little doubt that they can.

Top Ten Rankings

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The Other 26: The New A-10 Asserts Itself

Posted by IRenko on December 21st, 2012

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.

When the A-10 added Butler and VCU to its ranks this past offseason, we knew that the two teams would strengthen the now 16-team conference. The two schools, each of which has had recent improbable Final Four runs, were expected to join the ranks of Xavier, Temple, St. Louis, and Dayton, and, along with a resurgent St. Joseph’s, UMass, and LaSalle, make the A-10 the deepest and, arguably, most exciting non-BCS conference in the country. But after the past week, it’s become clear that not only are these two programs going to add depth to the A-10, they may very well conquer it in their first year.

Rotnei Clarke’s Sharpshooting Helped Butler to a Big Upset of Top-Ranked Indiana (Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports)

Rotnei Clarke’s Sharpshooting Helped Butler to a Big Upset of Top-Ranked Indiana (Brian Spurlock/USA Today)

By now you know that Butler took down top-ranked Indiana 88-86 in a thrilling overtime win last Saturday. What was most surprising about the win, though, was how Butler did it. It wasn’t their vaunted defense, which gave up 1.13 points per possession to Indiana’s full-throttled attack — the second most this year for the Bulldogs and well above their averages during the Brad Stevens era. Rather, it was Butler’s efficient offense, which registered 1.16 points per possession. Part of that was their three-point shooting (11-24, 48.1%) with Rotnei Clarke leading the way (5-11). We have come to expect that from Butler, which often relies on the three-point shot as a great equalizer. But the more surprising, and perhaps more significant, elements of Butler’s offense were its willingness to attack the basket and its prodigious output on the offensive glass.  Sophomore wing Roosevelt Jones led the attack, often exploiting a favorable matchup against Jordan Hulls, en route to 16 points on 6-10 shooting (no threes). And the Bulldogs rebounded nearly half of their own misses — 48.7%. To some extent, the Bulldogs took advantage of sloppy block-outs by Indiana, but this reflects a season-long strength and a marked shift from the early years of Brad Stevens’ tenure. In Stevens’ first four seasons, Butler never averaged an offensive rebounding percentage of more than 32.8 percent. But last year, the Bulldogs hauled in 35 percent of their misses, and this year, it’s up to 39.4 percent.

As impressive as Butler’s win was, VCU quietly made waves of its own this past week as they pummeled Alabama and Western Kentucky by a combined 51 points. In both games, VCU went for the kill early, jumping out to big leads on the strength of their Havoc defense. The Rams did not allow Alabama to score a field goal until 10:44 had elapsed, en route to a 33-18 halftime lead that they would convert into a 73-54 final score. Alabama finished the game with 18 turnovers — a season high, as it often is for teams facing VCU’s defensive pressure. Four days later, VCU suffered no letdown from its BCS beatdown, whipping on Western Kentucky, one of the Sun Belt’s top teams and last year’s Tournament participant. After jumping out to 15-3 lead, the Rams would head into halftime up 42-16, cruising the rest of the way to a 76-44 win.  VCU forced a whopping 32 turnovers, including one on each of Western Kentucky’s first three possessions.

The old Bulldogs may be learning new tricks while the Rams thrive on the tried-and-true, but regardless of how they’re doing it, both teams have vaulted themselves to the top of A-10 heap.  Don’t take my word for it, ask the computers. Any of them — Butler and VCU are the A-10’s two highest ranking teams in the RPI, Sagarin ratings, and Pomeroy ratings.  The A-10’s mainstays have not distinguished themselves. Temple was routed badly by Duke in its first real competitive game of the year and just lost to Canisius at home by 10 points; Xavier is trying to replace five starters; St. Louis is trying to get their feet under them after losing their coach and then their star point guard to injury; and St. Joe’s, UMass, and Dayton have struggled to find consistency. As a result, there is a good chance that the A-10 will crown a champion it has never crowned before.

On to this week’s Top 10 and more …

Top Ten Rankings

RTC -- TO26 (12.21.12)

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The Other 26: Week Five

Posted by IRenko on December 15th, 2012

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.

The past week brought bad news for mid-major fans in that the 2013 edition of the Bracketbusters will be the last.  There are diverging views on the value and appeal of the Bracketbusters, which was designed to give mid-majors a higher profile in advance of the NCAA Tournament where their presence as potential spoilers is a crowd-pleasing hallmark of March Madness. Personally, I found every year’s Bracketbuster matchups to be compelling, as some of the best mid-major teams in the country were pitted against each other just as they were rounding into peak form. But individual aesthetics aside, it’s worth asking whether the Bracketbusters event served one of its more objective purposes — to help mid-major teams bolster their at-large resumes with quality wins over non-conference opponents late in the season. Recent years’ evidence suggests that Bracketbuster games have actually helped quite a bit in this regard. In each of the last three seasons, a mid-major team that snuck into the at-large field did so in part on the strength of a late season quality win over Bracketbuster weekend. And one of those teams went on to make the Final Four.

Without the Bracketbuster, This May Not Have Happened

Without the Bracketbuster, This May Not Have Happened

Last year, Iona scored its second best win of the year (in RPI terms) when it knocked off Nevada. The Gaels went on to make the NCAA Tournament as a #14 seed. In 2010, Utah State also picked up its second best win of the season — one of only two RPI top 50 wins — when it defeated Wichita State. That may have been the difference-maker that got them into the NCAA Tournament field as a #12 seed. And perhaps the most famous beneficiary of the Bracketbusters concept was 2011’s VCU. The Rams notched a critical victory over Wichita State in the middle of a rough stretch during which they had lost four of five games to close the regular season. Their at-large selection defied the odds as it was, but imagine how tough a choice they would have been for the Selection Committee without the late season quality win over the Shockers. Without Bracketbusters weekend, we may never have had the privilege of watching the Rams wreak their unique brand of “havoc” on the Southwest region en route to the Final Four. So whatever else one might say about the Bracketbusters, let it not be said that it did not make a difference.

Moving on to this week’s Top 10 and more …

Top Ten Rankings

RTC -- TO26 (12.15.12)

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CIO… the Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 13th, 2012

CIO header

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Looking Back

  • And Then There Was One – Charlotte and Temple entered their Saturday games undefeated, and the 49ers beat Central Michigan by 12 to run their string to nine while Temple, facing consensus #2 Duke on a neutral court, could not keep up, losing by 23 to drop to 6-1. Charlotte is one of 14 unbeaten Division I teams remaining, and the 49ers have thrived through senior Chris Braswell’s dominant play. Coming off of a season-beginning suspension, the 6’9” senior forward/center has been on a tear, leading the team by averaging 14.3 points with 7.0 rebounds per game. Two freshmen wings, Willie Clayton and Darion Clark, have stepped up with strong board play while providing solid scoring support. Their biggest test is coming on Saturday, as they travel to Miami to face the Hurricanes of the ACC. Stay tuned.
Temple's One-Two Punch of Khalif Wyatt (above) and Scootie Randall Went Cold Against Duke. (AP)

Temple’s One-Two Punch of Khalif Wyatt (above) and Scootie Randall Went Cold Against Duke. (AP)

  • Fall Semester Finals – The fall semester is winding down as most Division I schools head into final examinations last week and this week. And so it is with the Atlantic-10’s non-conference schedule. With a body of work already in place, a number of teams around the conference are facing their biggest challenges of their non-conference schedules. Temple fell to Duke last Saturday, and while the loss surprised only the delusional, the margin – 23 points on a neutral court – was shocking. Butler traveled to Evanston, Illinois, and beat Northwestern of the Big Ten, but an even bigger test looms ahead as #1 Indiana has a play date with the Bulldogs next Saturday. The Musketeers stubbed their toes in Cintas Center, dropping a two-point decision to the Commodores of the SEC, but they have no time to dwell on the lost opportunity as the Crosstown Classic (the name changed from the historic “Crosstown Shootout” no doubt due to unpleasant memories of last season’s game-ending brawl) is set for Wednesday, December 19. Undefeated Charlotte travels to Miami to face the Hurricanes. Virginia Commonwealth has already seen a ranked team or two, but Alabama comes to town Saturday to give the Rams yet another opportunity to spruce up their resume.
  • The (Really) Big A-10? – ESPN’s Andy Katz and Dana O’Neil reported that the seven Catholic (basketball-only) members of the Big East met with Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco Sunday to express their growing concerns about the current state of the conference and the diminishing status and quality of the conference’s basketball product.As the Big East continues to show signs of stress with conference realignment, sources within the Atlantic 10 have shared with Katz and O’Neil that A-10 conference members are open to the opportunities and challenges a 20- or 21-member conference would create. These sources are looking at the possibility that as many as seven of the Big East’s basketball members may opt to leave the Big East or persuade another two-to-four members to join their bloc and vote to dissolve the conference and split the proceeds; or, in the extreme, decide to leave the conference and investigate membership opportunities elsewhere (like the A-10). The sources believe that the A-10, bolstered by the additions of VCU and Butler, would be an attractive destination for those Catholic schools. A major stumbling block, however, is the revenue gap. Big East basketball schools currently realize between $1 and $1.5 million in basketball-derived TV revenues. The A-10 members anticipate a $350,000 annual payout from the league’s recently concluded TV contract.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

Butler and Temple swap places, as do Saint Joseph’s and Virginia Commonwealth. Fordham, Rhode Island and George Washington continue to struggle while Charlotte and Dayton continue to win and place some good wins on their resumes. The conference always has a few teams that take a long time to find their spot in the pecking order. Who really belongs at this point? A number of squads are putting in their bids.

  1. Butler (6-2) – The resume shows two double-digit losses and a big win over a Division II opponent, but with a win over North Carolina and a road win over Northwestern, boosted the Bulldog over the Owls this week. Two games last week (IUPUI and Northwestern) saw freshman guard Kellen Dunham show again he has the potential to develop into that second reliable outside shooter behind Rotnei Clarke. A consistent outside threat should loosen up the inside for Roosevelt Jones and Khyle Marshall. Freshman center Andrew Smith’s efforts against IUPUI and a double-double versus Northwestern drew a nod from the conference, but he will probably not get those opportunities in every game. Here and there, however, his should be effective.

    Rotnei Clarke and Butler have a huge contest against Indiana on the horizon (AP)

    Rotnei Clarke and Butler have a huge contest against Indiana on the horizon (AP)

  2. Temple (6-1) –The margin of Temple’s loss to Duke Saturday, 23 points, was a surprise. Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly exploited a younger and less polished front court rotation (mainly forward/center Anthony Lee and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson) on defense, causing Lee to sit with two fouls early in the first half, which forced Fran Dunphy to commit more bodies to post defense. And then Duke’s guards exploded. Dunphy needed a well-managed game from his senior guards Scootie Randall and (especially) Khalif Wyatt, but they did not deliver. Wyatt launched 10 field goal attempts in the first half, many shots were hurried and out of the offensive flow. Dunphy brought out the starting five to start the second half, but sat Wyatt just under the 14 minute mark (about six minutes into the half) and did not bring him back as he worked the deeper parts of his bench. The front court will be a problem going forward, but the back court must learn how to mask that weakness or Temple will continue to slide. Read the rest of this entry »
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The Other 26: The RIP, Rick Majerus Edition

Posted by IRenko on December 8th, 2012

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.

We start this week on a somber note, adding our voices to those who have mourned the passing of Rick Majerus. Much has been said, and said well, about his place in the game, as a teacher, a tactician, and a person. But his loss is felt especially deeply by fans of mid-major basketball. That’s in part, of course, because Majerus coached exclusively at non-BCS schools. He will go down with greats like Don Haskins and John Cheney as coaches whose imprint on the game far exceeded the imprint of the conferences in which their teams played. Most coaches who excel at the mid-major level quickly ascend to the top rungs of the game, a fact to which the annual coaching carousel testifies. Majerus never made the leap, his one opportunity prematurely aborted due to his ongoing health problems. As a result, he may never be mentioned in the same breath as Wooden, Knight, Smith, Krzyzewski, Rupp, or Allen, though he was perhaps their equal, if not better, when it came to Xs and Os.  But Majerus was able to do something that those greats were not — to make a distinctive mark on the game while operating from its periphery.

The Mid-Major Community Has Lost An Icon With The Passing Of Rick Majerus (Getty Images)

Yet, there was much more to what made Majerus a mid-major icon. It wasn’t just that he was coaching at the margins of the game, it’s that he seemed to be living at the margins of life. Has there ever been a more unlikely figure to pace the sideline at a National Championship game than the bald and portly Majerus, a divorced and childless bachelor living for years in a hotel and who, 30 years earlier, had been cut from his high school basketball team? We were all familiar with Majerus’ public battle with his appetite, which had exacted a personal and professional toll long before it took his life last week. Even the heartwarming stories of Majerus’ devotion to his mother seemed a constant reminder that this was a man who had formed no lasting human attachments beyond the one he came into the world with. He was a misfit and despite his disarming and self-deprecating personality, an easy target for ridicule.  But he proved that you don’t need All-American talent, All-American looks, or an All-American family to make good on an All-American promise — that one’s starting point does not dictate their destination. It is the maxim by which mid-major basketball abides, and for the past 30 years it has had no greater exemplar than the one we lost last week. May he rest in peace.

TO26 Top Ten

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ATB: Hoosiers Tested by Georgetown, Butler Destroys UNC, and a Record-Breaking 138-point Effort (Seriously)…

Posted by Chris Johnson on November 21st, 2012

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

Tonight’s Lede. No. 1 Hoosiers Survive First Real Test. The Legends Classic Championship did not feature the matchup we all spotlighted on calendars and hyped up to ridiculous proportions in the preseason. It didn’t come down to a titanic mid-air class of Shabazz Muhammad exploding to the rim and Cody Zeller attempting an acrobatic swat on a final possession. That’s half true because UCLA never made it there. Georgetown took down the vaunted Bruins Monday, and for entertainment purposes, a Hoyas win in all likelihood set up a tougher challenge for No. 1 Indiana than anything UCLA could have mustered at this early stage. The Hoosiers handled said challenge, though not without producing a fair measure of late-game drama. Tuesday night’s Legends Final was the first showcase game for the preseason national championship favorite. The proceedings matched every bit the hype. But Indiana’s spotlight game wasn’t the only major storyline from Tuesday night. Shall we dig in to the rest of college hoops’ biggest developments?

Your Watercooler Moment.  NCAA Scoring Record Snapped.

On a night where Indiana staged its biggest game yet, and Michigan State potentially lost a crucial asset, Thomas’ 138-point game shines through (photo credit: AP Photo).

Say what you will about competition level or defensive effort, throw out any “volume shooter” pejoratives you like, because Jack Taylor’s 138-point game in Division III Grinnell College’s 179-104 win over Faith Baptist Bible is downright impressive any way you slice it. Taylor, a 5’10’’ sophomore cashed 27 three pointers and finished 52-of-108 from the field. This counts as an offensive explosion of the highest order, not just by Taylor, but also by Grinnell.  For those familiar with the program, though, the wow factor must have been tempered somewhat by the Pioneer’s recent track record: before last night’s win, Grinnell combined to score 241 points in its first two games, both wins. I’m a sucker for high-scoring affairs just as much as the next guy, but at what point does a desire to push the pace and execute quickfire offense sacrifice reasonable strategic wisdom? Does the Grinnell playbook just exclude defensive strategy all together? Or is the offense-focused system just some incredible recruiting tool that’s all too popular among players to pass up? There’s playing fast, and then there’s Grinnell. Whatever your level of affinity for pace, it’s hard to quibble with Taylor’s awesome display Tuesday night. No matter how distorted, or how amenable to high-volume shooting and ball-dominating tendencies, Grinnell’s offense gave Taylor a night he will never forget. And no one — not for stylistic eccentrity, not for the inordinate number of shot attempts he took to get there, not for the clear and concerted effort his team made to get Taylor as many shots as possible so he could score as many points as possible — can begrudge him that.

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ATB: Bruins Fall in Brooklyn, Chaminade Beats Rick Barnes Again, and Indiana Finds Other Scoring Options…

Posted by Chris Johnson on November 20th, 2012

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

Tonight’s Lede. Shabazz Muhammad Gets A Harsh Welcome. In light of Friday night’s 11th hour news of freshman super-prospect Shabazz Muhammad’s reinstatement, an immediate upward revision of UCLA’s season expectations was very much in order. After all, Muhammad is, depending on your source, arguably the top freshman in the country, and a huge difference-maker for the Bruins’ chances of a major rebound to the upper echelon of the Pac-12 after several uncharacteristically down seasons. We got our first look at the Bishop Gorman product tonight, and the results were mostly what you’d expect from a guy getting his first taste of major college hoops. The potential was readily there — Muhammad scored 15 points in 25 minutes; the polish – that’ll come in time, with more game action and meaningful repetitions. The larger takeaway from Monday night wasn’t Muhammad’s debut. It was Muhammad’s team, and the way it dropped the ball in its first showcase game of the season. How did the Bruins, No. 1 recruiting class in tow, get worked at the Barclays Center? We shall explore…

Your Watercooler Moment. UCLA Not A Finished Product.

The debut of the No. 1-ranked recruit in the country, Muhammad, was overshadowed my Georgetown’s offensive execution (Photo credit: Getty Images).

The obligatory modifier for college hoops teams at this time of the year is one you’ve heard time and again: it’s still early. Teams need time to develop, to guess at different schematic adjustments and lineups, to grow comfortable in their respective offensive and defensive systems. This logic applies for most every team, but most of all for young and inexperienced ones. Which brings us to UCLA, and the Bruins somewhat surprising loss to Georgetown. The Hoyas spoiled Shabazz Muhammad’s debut by shooting over 50 percent from the field, getting 23 points from junior Markel Starks and unleashing sophomore Otto Porter from relative medical obscurity to great effect (18 points, 11 rebounds). UCLA looked disengaged and unorganized defensively. The Bruins didn’t click on the other end of the floor. Muhammad’s debut brought the mostly expected reality that this year’s No. 1 recruit is not – despite what this UCLA fan’s widly popular t-shirt solidarity might have you believe – a LeBron James-type basketball destroyer of worlds. If this was the Pac-12 championship game, or an NCAA Tournament contest, all measures of criticism and conclusion-drawing would be fair game. In this instance, UCLA’s first real run with a new roster against quality competition, chalk it up as a learning experience. UCLA will tighten things up defensively – Ben Howland’s coaching track record is a documental embodiment of defensive improvement. And Muhammad will learn how to play with rising star Jordan Adams. Missing out on a potential Final matchup with No. 1 Indiana isn’t the outcome Howland had in mind. It’s also not a doomsday scenario. Not in the least.

Also Worth Chatting About. Buzzer-Beating Madness in Maui. It didn’t take long for college hoops to provide us the first truly memorable slice of buzzer-beating hysteria. This one came courtesy of Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke, whose uncharacteristically poor shooting streak (he finished 7-of-21 and 4-of-14 from three) did a complete 180 when Butler needed it most. Butler trailed Marquette by two with eight seconds remaining in regulation when Clarke received the inbound pass, drove the length of the floor and netted a one-handed off-balance leaner – after which his teammates, expectedly, piled on to celebrate. The dismissal of Chrishawn Hopkins late this offseason left Butler with a dearth of perimeter scoring. It made Clarke’s transfer even more crucial. He may not own Hopkins’ ability to create and score off the bounce. What he does have is a lethal three-point stroke, and apparently one that glosses over whatever struggles felled him the previous 40 minutes.

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Rushed Reactions: Saint Louis 70, Texas A&M 49

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 19th, 2012

Brian Goodman is an RTC editor and correspondent. He filed this report from the first semifinal of the Edward Jones CBE Hall of Fame Classic Monday night.

Here are three thoughts from Saint Louis’ dismantling of Texas A&M:

  1. SLU Can Get By And Then Some Without Mitchell and Majerus. The Aggies aren’t likely to turn many heads in their first season in the SEC, but Billikens’ head coach Jim Crews did a terrific job executing his game plan in all facets despite some athletic mismatches. Saint Louis frustrated Texas A&M by denying second chances, holding Billy Kennedy‘s team to a meager 15.2% offensive rebounding rate and forcing 18 turnovers. The methodical pace of the game didn’t allow for gaudy individual totals, but a collective defensive effort and constant activity in SLU’s halfcourt sets allowed the Billikens to get stops and open looks with regularity. Transition offense was hard to come by, but in a tougher Atlantic 10, Saint Louis’ patience and defensive toughness will allow the team to hang with the conference’s best squads. SLU also showed an ability to bounce back from adversity. Last week, the team took two significant losses, one to Santa Clara and one to their coach’s declining health as Majerus officially stepped down from his post and the “interim” tag was removed from Crews’ title. Majerus’ departure wasn’t unexpected, but the same can’t be said for Saint Louis’ head-scratching home loss to SCU. Beating a mediocre Texas A&M squad won’t erase last week’s blemish, but there’s something to be said for a team that can bounce back in such convincing fashion.
  2. Texas A&M Is Sorely Lacking In Cohesion: Ray Turner may have sunk all of his shots tonight, but he attempted only four. As one of the expected leaders at Texas A&M, he’ll have to play a bigger role than what he displayed Monday night. Turner was only passively involved in the offense and his frustration may have been planted in the opening minutes of the game. He was forced to call an early timeout on an inbounds play, and at the foul line a few minutes later, Turner came away with an empty trip. He was hardly the only one on his team who struggled, however. Elston Turner poured in a team-high 16 points, but did so on an inefficient 12 shots while committing five turnovers. The Aggies turned the ball over 18 times as a team, committed 22 fouls, and shot an abysmal 44% from the stripe. Tabbed to finish ninth by the SEC media, A&M was bound to struggle after Khris Middleton’s departure, but the Aggies will need much more from their senior leaders, to say nothing of their role players, to stay competitive in a top-heavy conference.
  3. Keep An Eye On Jordair Jett In The Backcourt: It wouldn’t be a cliche if there wasn’t some truth to it, but SLU has an invaluable cog in its experienced point guard, Jordair Jett. The junior displayed excellent court vision against the Aggies, dishing out a career-high eight assists. Jim Crews was very laudatory towards his floor general after the game, citing his familiarity with the system and knowledge of where his teammates are at all times. As a big guard at 215 pounds, one might expect Jett to be more aggressive and use his body to absorb contact on the way to the rim at least occasionally, but his patient and savvy style is a breath of fresh air from some of the out-of-control point guard play we’ve seen throughout the country in the young season. Jett wasn’t afraid to use his strength on defense, though, as he grabbed five rebounds and tallied three steals. His four turnovers indicate that he’s far from a finished product, but his willingness to let plays develop could play a huge role in SLU’s chances against Kansas Tuesday night.
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Morning Five: 11.19.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 19th, 2012

  1. We can finally stop talking about the NCAA’s investigation into Shabazz Muhammad and focus on Shabazz Muhammad the player after the NCAA reinstated Muhammad. We could be cynical and point out that they did this soon after reports came out that the NCAA may have already determined that Muhammad was ineligible before all the evidence was reviewed, but we won’t do that. In the end both sides got a little bit of what they wanted as the NCAA got a chance to punish Muhammad (3 games and having to pay back ~$1,600 in impermissible benefits) and UCLA got its best player back just before they start playing against some of the best teams in the country.
  2. With one non-basketball basketball issue out of the way–Muhammad’s eligibility–another non-basketball basketball is here to fill its place–Maryland possibly moving to the Big Ten. One of main drivers of Maryland’s potential move is Under Armour founder and Maryland alum/booster Kevin Plank, who has reportedly been lobbying the members of the school’s Board of Regents to move to the Big Ten. It is worth remembering that Maryland was one of two ACC schools that opposed a recent motion to increase the exit fee for leaving the ACC from $20 million to $50 million (Florida State was the other and is/was believed to be interested in moving to the SEC at some point). According to reports, if Maryland goes to the Big Ten then Rutgers will follow suit giving the Big Ten 14 schools (hello, higher education) as it heads into its next TV contract negotiations. Just when we thought we had heard the end of conference realignment we get sucked back into another cycle.
  3. While college basketball gained a star in Muhammad it lost a coaching legend when Rick Majerus announced that he will not return to his job at Saint Louis due to ongoing health issues and also presumably retire from coaching. Majerus, who is most well-known for his time at Utah and led Saint Louis back to relevance on the national college basketball landscape, spent a quarter century on the sideline as a head coach compiling a 517-216 record. Despite his numerous on-court accomplishments Majerus will perhaps be best remembered for his personality (as evidenced by his numerous headline-making remarks while at ESPN and quirks off the court (living in the Marriott in Salt Lake City during his nearly one decade long stint at Utah). While we will miss Majerus in the college basketball world, we wish him the best of luck with his health issues and the next stage of his life.
  4. For the most part North Carolina has avoided the national spotlight with their ongoing academic scandal, but we have to wonder at what point they are going to feel the effects of it. Now a former academic adviser (“reading specialist”) has come forward with specific allegations against the school that go deeper than just the ones that have previously been covered in the major revenue-producing sports. At some point you have to figure the NCAA has to come down on the school. While it may not run counter to amateurism rules what reportedly happened at UNC appears to be counter to what an institution of higher learning is supposed to be about yet they appear to be getting away with it because while these individuals were able to get away without getting a college education at least they didn’t get into a club for free.
  5. Normally when a starting point guard for a top ten team returns we think it may alter the complexion of a season, but in the case of Scottie Wilbekin, the replacement at Florida for Erving Walker, we may have to make an exception. Wilbekin, who averaged 2.6 points and 1.6 assists per game, inherited the job from Walker and has not done a thing yet in college to make us take him seriously. He started his career as the starting point guard by sitting out three games for an undisclosed violation of unspecified rules. He returned to action last night and put 8 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists in 23 minutes off the bench against Middle Tennessee State. Wilbekin will have one more game to work on his game before the Gators face a daunting three-game stretch: home versus Marquette then on the road for Florida State and Arizona.
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ATB: Murphy Lifts Florida, Creighton Survives Scare, and a 39-30 “Thriller”…

Posted by Chris Johnson on November 15th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. Styles Clashed, Tempo Prevails. The realization that Kentucky has not yet blossomed into the transcendent juggernaut it was last season creates an interesting situation atop the SEC title race, where the likes of Florida and Missouri are very well in line to seize the opportunity should the Wildcats falter in any significant way. Of the three likely contenders, the Gators can now lay claim to the most impressive non-conference win – which, if you throw in the forever expunged naval ship game with Georgetown, should be Florida’s potential second impressive non-conference win. In any case, this Wednesday night headliner gave us a nice glimpse of Billy Donovan’s charges against a Tournament-caliber foe, and a decent jumping off point from the blue-blood bonanza that took place last night in Atlanta. Plus, for you x’s and o’s savants, whenever a giddy-up offensive thoroughbred like Florida tangles with the ploddiest of plodders, Wisconsin, the clash of styles is awfully fun to observe. This game didn’t disappoint. Let’s dive into the Gators’ triumph, plus some of the other action on a rather blasé night of college hoops…

Your Watercooler Moment. Erik Murphy Eases Florida’s Frontcourt Concerns.

As frontcourt scoring options go, Murphy gives Florida an excellent complement to Young (Photo credit: AP Photo).

The logical stopping point on any even-keeled analysis of Florida’s offensive potential this season rests on two key developments: Kenny Boynton’s unrestrained three-point trigger and Patric Young’s development slowly, surely, eventually, into a viable scorer and rebounder on the low block. With nine three-point attempts through two games, Boynton’s already off to the running. Young has been efficient – 8-for-14 shooting and a combined 20 rebounds so far – but his progress feels like a backstory in light of senior forward Erik Murphy’s spotlight 10-for-10, 24-point, eight-rebound night against the Badgers. The star turn of one-and-done guard Bradley Beal during last season’s Elite Eight run, not to mention the Billy Donovan/Rick Pitino interplay, among other nuggets, conspired to de-emphasize Murphy’s importance to Florida’s offensive chemistry. Did you know the 6’8’’ senior forward hit double figures 19 times last season? You’ll certainty take notice after the hyper-efficient shooting display he threw down tonight. If Young can’t make the improvements everyone’s been expecting since he arrived on campus, if he can’t elevate his footwork, post awareness and interior scoring touch to match the physical tools befitting a lottery pick, Murphy’s interior scoring responsibilities could skyrocket. The question going forward is whether last night’s sterling effort was a blip or a sign of things to come. His teammates sure appreciated it (see video below)…

Tonight’s Quick Hits…

  • When McDermott Doesn’t Score… Any early-season national player of the year projections invariably include one name: Doug McDermott. For all his success last season, and Creighton’s likely Top 25 status this season, McDermott may never be recognized as the nation’s best player. What we do know is that McDermott is crucial to the Bluejays’ chances of reigning over the mid-major landscape, and last night’s home win over UAB offered a perfect example of his outsized role. Foul trouble kept McDermott on the bench for much of the first half, and he ultimately finished with just five points, the first time he’s failed to record double figures in his last 37 games. In case anyone was interested in a defensive antidote for Creighton’s high-powered offense, the Blazers found your solution: keep McDermott off the court. Simple enough. Read the rest of this entry »
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Get to Know Them: Ten Players Ready to Break Out This Season

Posted by Chris Johnson on November 2nd, 2012

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

Every college basketball season brings a new cast of stars. There are freshman, the super-prospects hyped up to disproportionate levels who may or may not live up to their billing. Then there are the returning players, the guys who showed flashes of stardom the previous season and are ready to truly hit their stride after an offseason honing their games. Highlighting these players doesn’t require much insight or deep thought. You know a star when you see one. Discovering under-the-radar gems, the diamonds in the rough, the players who emerge from the depths of the unknown to make a splash on the national stage, is another matter entirely. It requires a comprehensive knowledge of the game – and not just the Kentuckys and the North Carolinas and the Dukes of the world. You know those guys. The focus here is the more unheralded crop of players ready to make the leap into the general college hoops consciousness. What follows is my vain attempt at singling out those very players I described above. You may not know these names now, but by the time March rolls around, my bet is that you will.

*Editor’s note: you will notice there are no freshmen on this list. That is no mistake. This list is geared towards returning players. If you’re interested in a more freshmen-centric preview analysis, check out this list of newcomers who are “ready to play big roles on their new teams.”

Rotnei Clarke – Butler

The Bulldogs three-point shooting will improve immensely with Clarke joining the fold (Photo credit: Getty Images).

Relative to recent history, Butler did not have the best 2011-12 season. Let’s not sell the Bulldogs short: They reached the semifinals of a national postseason tournament for the third straight season. Only this time, it wasn’t the NCAA Tournament. Instead, Butler got bounced in the semifinals of the CBI, a huge downturn from the two preceding Final Four trips. Butler may never again string together that level of Tournament success, but Clarke gives Brad Stevens’ team a much better chance than it had last season. Plain and simple, Clarke, who made 91 of 208 three-point attempts in 2010-11 (he sat out last season after transferring from Arkansas), can shoot the lights out from beyond the arc. And what does Butler desperately need as it enters its debut season in the A-10? Long-range shooting, where last season it finished ranked 341st in three-point field goal percentage.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Georgia

Basically any chance Georgia has of challenging in the SEC this season and making a push for an NCAA bid rests on Caldwell-Pope, whose freshman season was something of a disappointment considering the McDonalds All-American hype he brought to Athens. With a year of experience under his belt, and a greater chance to showcase his talents without being comparatively dwarfed by the likes of Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Caldwell-Pope should blossom. Georgia doesn’t offer much help in terms of solid complementary players, so Pope will be asked to carry the load. Kentucky and Missouri are heavy favorites to challenge for the SEC crown this season, but if Pope plays to his recruiting promise, the Bulldogs are more than capable of notching a few wins against the league front-runners. NBA scouts are already drooling over the 6’4’’ guard’s potential. He’ll make good on those claims this season.

Read the rest of this entry »

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