In a week full of trash talk, hype machines and other nonsense, how about this for a heartwarming story of substance? ESPN.com‘s Andy Katz revealed the story of Robert Kirby, a 53-year assistant coach at Memphis who recently donated one of his kidneys to his sister, Virginia Kirk, as she gradually slid toward renal failure. It was similar to the conditions that took their mother’s life some 17 years ago, but she wouldn’t allow any of her 13 children to become a donor. Kirby wasn’t about to allow that to happen to his older sister this time around, so after become approved as a match, he underwent the procedure to remove the kidney on Tuesday and was went back home yesterday. He’ll be back on the sidelines at Memphis very soon, perhaps a few ounces lighter but no worse for the wear. Major props are due for the longtime assistant still looking for his first head coaching job, but if his selflessness in this situation is any indication of his integrity and loyalty, we hope some enterprising school in need of a head coach next April gives him a good look.
While we’re on the subjects of perseverance and selflessness, America’s favorite bench-warmer in last year’s Final Four is well ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation. Kevin Ware, the Louisville guard who broke his leg so horrifically in last year’s Elite Eight contest against Duke, is, according to his head coach, going to be in uniform for the Cardinals’ first regular season game against College of Charleston on November 9. Rick Pitino stopped short of saying that Ware would play in that game, but considering that he’s already been practicing and still has several weeks left to prepare for his return, we’d have to believe that there’s a reasonably good chance that he’ll be play in that game. And while all anybody really wants is for Ware to find his fortitude so that he can contribute again, the fact is that Louisville is a better team when he can bring his energy, speed and defensive intensity off the bench.
For years we’ve derided the fact that what we still call “Midnight Madness” really doesn’t have much in the way of midnight associated with it anymore. For those of you who may not remember how it was named in the first place, it had to do with the NCAA’s mandated start of practice, which for many years was at the stroke of midnight on October 15. In later years the NCAA moved the start date to the weekend closest to October 15, and of course now teams can have it in late September. All this maneuvering has taken some of the fun out of it, so we’re always looking for the new and creative ways that schools choose to celebrate the new season. Cincinnati is one school trying something different. The Bearcats will have their “Midday Madness” next Friday, October 17, at Noon in downtown’s Fountain Square. The event, featuring some light scrimmaging and fan-friendly competitions, will be open to the public and will provide a nice fall afternoon respite for the office drones working nearby. Sure, it’s a little hokey, but it is a creative way to reach fans in a way that UC otherwise wouldn’t. We like it, and wish more schools would follow their lead in coming up with interesting ideas.
Over the last five seasons, Steve Fisher’s San Diego State program has averaged a total of 27 wins per year as he has built the program into one of the very best in the west. He’s done so on the backs of stars such as Kawhi Leonard, Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley and a host of others, but none of those players were exceptionally rated prospects when they arrived on campus. That may be changing, with news on Thursday that Rivals.com top-20 recruit Malik Pope (Elk Grove, CA) has committed to SDSU. Kansas and Gonzaga were also in the mix for Pope, but the 6’9″ wing (you read that correctly) was impressed with how Fisher’s program didn’t back off of him when he broke his leg twice in the last eight months (the injuries will cost him his senior year). San Diego State’s class is already among the best in program history, and if the Aztecs lock down their final target, Zylan Cheatham, it would be safe to call this group a top 25 class that would benefit the school for years to come.
The last time Kansas did not win at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title was in 2003-04, Bill Self’s first season in Lawrence. The Jayhawks finished two games behind a Tony Allen and John Lucas III-led Final Four Oklahoma State team. Ten years later, Big 12 coaches are not about to make the mistake of leaving KU off the preseason top line in the league standings, even if the roster features zero returning starters. Oklahoma State, on the other hand, returns five starters to a young squad led by NPOY candidate Marcus Smart. So what did the coaches do? They split the difference. Kansas and Oklahoma State received the same number of votes (77 total, five first place votes each), ensuring that proper respect was given to both the team with the most returning talent and the team with the most incoming talent. It will be a mighty fun race in the Big 12 this season. Oh, and the Rick Barnes dead man walking watch? Eighth.
Brian Otskey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #7 San Diego State and #10 Oklahoma in Philadelphia. You can also find Brian at @botskey.
Three key takeaways:
The Mountain West picks up a much-needed win. In what has been an otherwise disappointing tournament for MWC teams, one of the conference’s better clubs was able to get on the board and advance. The win move the Mountain West’s record to 2-3 and the Aztecs have the potential to do even more with a tough (but still a #15 seed) Florida Gulf Coast team waiting in the wings on Sunday. Colorado State is the only other remaining standard bearer for the Mountain West and will go to battle in an interesting game with Louisville on Saturday. Given what has transpired and the matchups ahead, San Diego State is likely the final hope for the Mountain West.
Surprise, surprise, Steve Fisher has his team playing well in the NCAA Tournament. Fisher’s squad advanced to the Round of 32 Friday evening. (AP)
San Diego State was impressive defensively. The Aztecs have been a good defensive team all year but they did a fantastic job shutting down second-leading scorer Steven Pledger and the Oklahoma supporting cast. San Diego State has the #15 defensive efficiency in America and it showed tonight. The Aztecs don’t have many players with a lot of height on their team but most of them have great length and quickness, something that bothered the Sooners all night long. Oklahoma shot just 39.7% and scored only 22 points in the second half as the Aztecs locked in defensively. San Diego State also dominated the glass, 40-29, the final task in closing out defensive possessions.
It was a good year for Oklahoma. Lon Kruger got what had been a deflated Oklahoma program into the NCAA Tournament in only his second season in Norman. However, Kruger will lose three of his key player in Romero Osby, Steven Pledger and Andrew Fitzgerald. The recruiting class coming in is decent but it’s not going to make a huge difference next season. The Sooners may take a step back in 2013-14 but this season was still a strong building block for the future. Kruger has had success pretty much everywhere he has coached so I’d expect Oklahoma to continue to improve its program in the years to come after a successful 2012-13 campaign.
Star of the Game: Romero Osby, Oklahoma. Although it was in a losing effort, Osby poured in 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting, single-handedly keeping the Sooners within striking distance for the majority of the game. San Diego State did a great job on Pledger and nobody else could get it going for OU. If it was not for Osby, this would have been a big time blowout.
Jeff Capel had it working in Norman. Building off the success of his predecessor Kelvin Sampson, Capel took the Sooners to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in 2007 and 2008. Heading into practice, the 2008-09 season had all the makings of a season to remember. The Sooners boasted the future #1 pick of next year’s NBA Draft coupled with Willie Warren, a McDonald’s All-American from Dallas, not to mention the return of veteran contributors Taylor Griffin and Tony Crocker. They won 30 games that year before eventually losing in the Elite Eight to eventual national champion North Carolina.
Since 2009? Nothing.
For the first time since this guy suited up, the Sooners are dancing. (Joe Murphy/Getty Images)
But it was only a matter of time before a program like Oklahoma would rise again. Lon Kruger, known as a fixer of ailing programs, has the Sooners dancing in just his second season in Norman. As the Sooners hovered around the middle of the Big 12 this year, they were searching for a leader and found it in senior Romero Osby, He’s playing the best basketball of his career, and I believe that had he not made the step from role player to lead, the Sooners may have been on the outside looking in with this Tournament. After struggling to start the year, another senior, Stephen Pledger, has turned it on as well. Oklahoma finds itself as the #10 seed in the South Region paired with #7 seed San Diego State. As a result, OU can conceivably win its first foray back into the Madness since those Griffin brothers were still wearing red uniforms together.
Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), Midwest (11 AM), South (1 PM), West (3 PM). Here, Kevin Doyle (@kldoyle11) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).
You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Kevin breaking down the South Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.
Favorite:#3 Florida (26-7, 16-5 SEC). A month ago, Florida looked like it was destined for a #1 seed and primed for a Final Four run to Atlanta. The Gators were dismantling SEC teams — albeit some very weak teams — and had their potent offense clicking on all cylinders. But then Florida lost at Missouri, and then at Tennessee, and then at Kentucky. Questions began to arise, and rightly so. A team of Florida’s talent and experience should not be losing to SEC teams that will not even make the NCAA Tournament. They seemed unbeatable in the 2012 portion of the schedule, but played down to their level of competition in the SEC. That being said, it would not be smart to pick against Billy Donovan. Donovan has led Florida to the Elite Eight the past two seasons, and done so with largely the same group he has this year. Two seasons ago it was a loss to Butler as a #2-seed and last year a loss to Louisville as a #7-seed. Of their eight impact players, seven are upperclassmen and have extensive experience in the NCAA Tournament. Veteran leadership and NCAA Tournament experience cannot be discounted, and Florida has both in spades. In the “for what it’s worth” department, Pomeroy has Florida ranked #1 overall in his season-long rankings (fifth in offensive efficiency and second in defensive efficiency).
Is the Third Time the Charm for Boynton and His Gators?
Should They Falter: #2 Georgetown (29-5, 15-5 Big East). Recent history is not on Georgetown’s side as John Thompson III has made a habit of exiting the NCAA Tournament too early. In fact, in the six NCAA Tournaments that JT3 has led the Hoyas to, they haven’t made it past the first weekend four times. The Hoyas won’t win any style points, but that doesn’t much matter. What they lack in flash they have in tough defense and methodical but effective offense. Not to mention that the Hoyas are also fortunate to have Otto Porter, the Big East Player of the Year, on their side. The emergence of Markel Starks as a second dependable scorer adds another dimension to the offense beyond him, though. Their adjusted tempo ranks 313th in the country — in other words, a snail’s pace — and inability to score in stretches on the offensive end doesn’t make them a sexy team to watch, but Georgetown is very comfortable playing grind-it-out kind of games making them an apt postseason team.
Grossly Overseeded:#7 San Diego State (22-10, 10-8 Mountain West). The Aztecs began the season with a 14-2 record and a 2-0 mark in Mountain West play, and appeared to be the class of the league alongside New Mexico. Since that blistering start, San Diego State is a pedestrian 8-8 and finished 9-7 in the MW. It is almost unfathomable that the Aztecs earned a much better seed than Pac-12 champion Oregon — prepare yourselves to hearing a lot about the Ducks’ seed in the coming days —and even a higher seed than fellow Mountain West member Colorado State. SDSU benefited from having a strong RPI (#28) and a challenging schedule which ranked in the top 20, but many prognosticators had them wearing road jerseys in their opening round game, not home whites.
Grossly Underseeded:#8 North Carolina (24-10, 14-7 ACC). After getting embarrassed by Miami and then suffering a tough road defeat to Duke, North Carolina looked like it was headed to the NIT; the Tar Heels had a 16-8 record and were just 6-5 in the ACC at the time. Roy Williams’ young group may have had unfair expectations placed on it in the preseason, but there is little doubt that they should be an NCAA Tournament team now. Their talent and maturation as a team began to show in the second half of ACC play by winning eight of their last 10 games including a narrow loss to Miami in the ACC Tournament Championship. North Carolina’s seed was hurt by having a 2-9 mark against the RPI top 50, but the way in which Carolina concluded the regular season shows that it was playing closer to the caliber of a #5 seed and shouldn’t be marred in the dreaded #8/#9 match-up with the top seed looming.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
New Mexico (26-5, 13-3)
Colorado State (24-7, 11-5)
UNLV (23-8, 10-6)
San Diego State (21-9, 9-7)
Boise State (21-9, 9-7)
Air Force (17-12, 8-8)
Fresno State (11-18, 5-11)
Wyoming (18-12, 4-12)
Nevada (12-18, 3-13)
Player of the Year. Jamaal Franklin, Junior, San Diego State. The fact that the Aztecs finished four games out of first place and just a game above .500 in conference play could rightfully give one pause in selecting the reigning MW Player of the Year to repeat, but with several teammates slowed by injury, Franklin stepped up his numbers almost across the board. With his minutes ticking up just slightly, his point total took a minor dip, while his rebound numbers jumped and, most impressively with point guard Xavier Thames dealing with injuries all year long, his assist averaged doubled. No, he’s nowhere near a finished product – he turns it over too much and actually got worse shooting from range – but in a conference with no dominant players, Franklin’s consistent production (he’s scored in double figures in all but one game) earns the nod. Kendall Williams and Colton Iverson were considered as well, in part due to their impact on their team’s successes, but both New Mexico and Colorado State earned their superior records on the strength of team efforts.
Coach of the Year. Steve Alford, New Mexico. At the start of the year, while the Lobos were considered one of three teams as favorites in the conference, they were largely seen as trailing UNLV and San Diego State. And when all is said and done, they come away with a conference title by two games. Behind a lock-down defense and a patchwork offense, the Lobos won 11 games by two possessions or less. He’s done a great job developing Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow along the frontline and got solid production out of his backcourt. And we can’t discount the job he and his staff did in putting together a schedule that earned New Mexico the fourth-ranked strength of schedule and an RPI of #2.
Once Again, Steve Alford Got Everything Possible Out Of His Lobo Team.
Freshman of the Year. Anthony Bennett, Freshman, UNLV. During non-conference play, Bennett was regularly a double-double threat and a constant presence on the highlight reels. His numbers dipped in conference play, in part due to a late injury (he only scored in double figures in conference play nine times in 16 games) and he still hasn’t figured out how to play effectively with Mike Moser, but despite those late dips, he’s still the runaway winner of our Freshman of the Year award.
Newcomer of the Year, Colton Iverson, Senior, Colorado State. Entering conference play, Bennett was the favorite for the conference’s best newcomer. But while Bennett’s performance dipped, Iverson’s never did. With 13 double-doubles to his name, not only is Iverson the clear choice here, he was a strong contender for Player of the Year.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
Another week down the drain and we’re now officially four weeks away from the start of the Mountain West Tournament (well, three weeks and six days by the time this gets published). And, as time passes, some things are becoming more clear and some things are just as confusing as they were weeks ago. For instance: quick, who’s the best team in the conference?
New Mexico’s got a claim on first place as of now, but they’re coming off a season-series-evening loss to UNLV and they’ve already put up a horrendous 34-point offensive (in more than one way) output against San Diego State. The Rebels, for their part, have looked really good in their home win against New Mexico and their road win at San Diego State, but this is a team that just this week lost at Fresno State, the worst team in the conference. The Aztecs? Their backcourt is beat up and their still facing road trips to Colorado State, UNLV, New Mexico and Boise State. Oh, and they’re entering that stretch already a game back of the Lobos and a half-game behind Colorado State. And as for the Rams, despite the fact that they made the AP Top 25 for the first time in just under 60 years, they’ve still got plenty to prove themselves, with a history of struggling away from home, especially against quality opponents. But, for now, I’m going to go out on a limb and put CSU at the top of the pack, based on a whim. But hey, give me credit at least for not taking the easy way out and declaring this a four-way tie for first atop my power rankings.
Who’s The Best Team In The Mountain West? I Dunno, But Colorado State’s As Good Of A Guess As Any (Dawn Madura/AP Photo)
So, that’s the clear as mud part. What parts of this conference are starting to round into understandable shape? Well, that pipe dream back a few weeks ago about six teams making the NCAA Tournament? Yeah, well, that’s not gonna happen. Wyoming and head coach Larry Shyatt have done great things over the past two seasons in Laramie, but they’re getting eaten alive in conference play (2-7 so far) and it would take a complete 180 for them to have a prayer of NCAA consideration come March. Meanwhile, Air Force, which had been so hot the last time we talked, just got done dropping a couple of road games, most damningly to Nevada on Saturday. They needed a lot of stuff to break their way, and while they’re certainly not completely dead yet, I’ve got to see them make some serious noise, especially on the road, in order to think they belong even on the periphery of the conversation. And that leaves Boise State as the potential fifth Mountain West team. There isn’t a lot of room for error for the Broncos, but I, for one, have a hard time believing they won’t be among the field of 68 when the brackets get announced.
Elsewhere, you can start engraving Anthony Bennett’s name on the Freshman of the Year trophy, if you want to get a head start. And the list of serious Player of the Year candidates are limited as well; right now Jamaal Franklin has to be the odds on favorite to defend his title, with Bennett maybe his strongest competitor. As for Coach of the Year, that one is still wide open and will likely be determined in part by how the race at the top of the conference shakes out.
Team of the Week
San Diego State – The Aztecs didn’t leave Viejas Arena this week, but they also didn’t lose, something that only one other Mountain West team (Colorado State, who played just one game) can say. The Aztecs dodged a bullet against Boise State, but then came out and put away Fresno State with a dominating second-half performance. While still not back to full-strength (Xavier Thames, for one, remains limited, although Chase Tapley nears 100%), the Aztecs find themselves just a game back of first place with a chance this week to take a couple huge steps towards a conference title. Of course, those huge steps include going on the road to Colorado State and UNLV, but let’s put it this way: if SDSU wins these games, they’re in very good shape.
Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.
Five Things I Loved This Week
I LOVED…. remembering just how bad of an announcer Bill Walton is during the Washington-Arizona game on ESPN, and coming to the incredible conclusion that he might be even worse at college than he was with the NBA. In a two-hour span Bill managed to explain what a disgrace UCLA basketball is, mention Reggie Miller Night at Pauley Pavilion 10 (10!!) times, called a Seattle high school coach in attendance one of the great human rights leaders (no qualifications needed!) and declared one 20-second stretch “the worst possession in the history of Washington basketball.” Other comments may or may not have included forays into the Grateful Dead and Google Earth, but it was hard to catch it all. God bless crazy old legends who can still go on TV and say whatever crosses their mind.
Bill Walton – So Bad, He’s Good?
I LOVED…. a prime time top-5 Big Tenmatch-up that didn’t disappoint. Be honest – if I told you two premier Big 10 teams were facing off, you’d predict a final score of 53-50 (OK fine, 59-56). The point is, in past years these games have tended to earn a 9.5 on the snoozer scale and reinforced the conference’s slow, methodical, offensively-challenged reputation. Thus, an 81-73 Indiana win was a refreshing foray into the 21st Century and a boost of confidence that one of these teams will be in my Final Four bracket come March.
I LOVED…. Miami backing up its Duke win with very legit road win against an N.C. State team that refuses to conform to society’s expectations and beat teams that it actually should. For Miami, they definitely keep their current label as a dangerous, well-coached team that could be a sleeper pick in March. For State? Well, at some point you might just have to stop convincing yourself that they’re going to change.
I LOVED…. the completely-terrible-idea-should-have-just-dribbled-out-the-clock-but-got-excited-and-gave-the-losing-team-motivation-for-revenge dunk by Indiana’s Victor Oladipo. Also, if you’re looking for this year’s most ridiculous athlete, he might just be it. Check out this almost alley-oop that would have gone down as one of the year’s best slams.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
The dream around the Mountain West is six conference teams making the NCAA Tournament. But, in order for that to realistically happen, the top six teams here need to separate from the bottom three, with the teams at the back end of that first six earning at least a win or two over the upper-echelon teams. This week, that plan did not come to fruition. Boise State took care of Fresno State at home (good!) but then lost to Nevada on the road (bad). Wyoming lost on the road to UNLV (not good, but not unexpected), but then went back home and lost to Air Force (bad). In fact, Air Force has now knocked off a pair of MW teams dreaming of sneaking through that NCAA bubble (they knocked off Boise State the previous week) and, crazy as it may seem, they have their own devious designs on sneaking into the bracket come Selection Sunday. We’re now exactly one-third of the way through the conference schedule and one game in the standings is the difference between first and fifth place. Just two games separate first and seventh. And that team that started 13-0 and was among the last undefeated teams in the nation? Yeah, um, Wyoming is in eighth place and in need of 50 cc’s of an offensive injection, stat!
Team of the Week
San Diego State – Two weeks ago, the Aztecs lost on their home court in convincing fashion to their biggest rival in the league, UNLV, then followed that up with a lackluster performance in a loss at Wyoming, sinking them back to .500 in the conference and causing some to reevaluate just how strong this team was. Well, Steve Fisher and company had an answer for those questions this week, first tearing through Nevada in Reno on Wednesday night, then coming home and absolutely locking up New Mexico in front of The Show. Their smothering defense held the previously unbeaten Lobos to a field goal percentage in the 20s and just 34 total points (UNM’s lowest total of the year), helping them to overcome their own relatively unimpressive offensive performance. With point guard Xavier Thames just starting to work his way back into playing shape after a back injury, and with freshman Skylar Spencer seemingly improving by the game, the Aztecs seem to be a team that has hit their nadir and is on its way to bouncing back up.
Player of the Week
Allen Huddleston, Junior, Fresno State – Handing out the POTW honors to a guy whose team just went 0-2 for the week is not a precedent I’m thrilled to set, but in a week without a bunch of great options, rewarding a guy for keeping a positive attitude and finding a way to help his team out seems like as good a way as any to go. You see, after transferring in from Pacific and starting the first 11 games of the season (while averaging a hair under 30 minutes a game), Huddleston lost his starting spot to freshman Aaron Anderson and saw his minutes slashed (down to about 12 minutes a game over the next six games). When he did get into the game, he seemed to force the action in an effort to regain his coaches’ trust, but the low point came in a couple of oh-fer performances in extremely limited minutes against Sonoma State and Nevada. But rather than pout or quit on his team or transfer again (although, certainly, he did have some low moments in the interim), Huddleston kept working and was rewarded by head coach Rodney Terry with 55 total minutes of run this week. And he responded with his best two back-to-back performances of the year, averaging 17.5 points, three assists and two steals while knocking down seven three-pointers over the course of the week (and shooting a 64.6% eFG). While his play didn’t wind up earning his team a win, you can be sure he did his best to give his team chances to win those two games.
Despite Losing His Starting Job, Allen Huddleston Had A Big Week In A Losing Effort For Fresno State (Gary Kazanjian/Fresno Bee)
Newcomer of the Week
Skylar Spencer, Freshman, San Diego State – Yeah, Huddleston is a newcomer, so he could just as easily be here too, but Spencer deserves some pub too. You see, the freshman big man hasn’t missed a shot from the field since January 12 — four games ago. For the year he’s made better than 76% of his shots. As you might expect, Spencer’s range is basically a dunk (or closer), but give credit to the guy for knowing his strengths, accepting his limits and doing the things his coaching staff wants him to do. Yeah, that basically comes down to stuffing home point-blank opportunities, grabbing rebounds and playing defense, but he’s done all of that well. He blocks nearly 10 percent of his opponents’ two-point field goal attempts, has quick enough hands to dislodge a ball on the floor and is a beast on the offensive glass. While the SDSU rotation is crowded, Spencer has carved out a nice 20-minute-per-game spot for himself. Oh yeah, and the “of-the-week” part of this: try on 5-of-5 from the field, 10 points, five boards, three blocks and four steals.
Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
Many of the power conference teams hit the road for the very first time this weekend, so we should start to get a real sense of where teams stand early in the season. With a little less college football going on this weekend, you should make some time to catch a few games. Let’s get to the breakdowns.
Tennessee at #16 Georgetown – 6:30 PM EST, Friday on ESPN (****)
John Thompson III Has His Hoyas Exceeding Expectations (Getty)
Tennessee heads to Georgetown for its first true road game of the season. Like many of the games this past week in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and now the Big East/SEC Challenge, we are going to get a true indication of where a lot of teams stand. While the Vols are 4-1, they lost their toughest test against Oklahoma State. They face a Geogetown team that is extremely long. The Hoyas start four players who are at least 6’8”, while the “shortest” player, 6’2” guard Michael Starks, is their leading scorer. Look for the Hoyas to take advantage of their size and shoot a lot within the paint. Georgetown currently shoots 56% from inside the arc while the Vols rank 106th in the country in two-point defense. Also, keep a close eye on free throws. With this game looking like it’s going to take place inside the arc, free throws will be a key to victory. The Hoyas are struggling to get to the line and it caught up with them in their recent overtime loss to Indiana. On the other hand, Tennessee is ranked in the top 25 nationally in free throw rate. The team that gets to the line more and sinks its free throws should be the winner in this contest.
Baylor at #8 Kentucky - 12:30 PM EST, Saturday on CBS (****)
Kentucky and Baylor are two teams in desperate need of a good win. Kentucky is coming off a beating on the road at the hands of Notre Dame. As coach John Calipari discussed in many of his preseason press conferences, the Wildcats are not consistent on offense or defense. As soon as you think they are coming together, they lay an egg and shoot 40% against ND. Baylor is also struggling to find an identity outside of “The Pierre Jackson Show.” While Jackson’s play has been mostly excellent, it does not seem to be working particularly well with recent losses to Colorado and College of Charleston. Kentucky will be tough to beat at home but they need better consistency on both ends of the court. They should be able to shoot the ball against a struggling Baylor defense, particularly from downtown. If the Wildcats can get back in the long-ball groove, they should win at home for the 56th straight time under Calipari.
#18 Oklahoma State at Virginia Tech - 2:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN3 (****)
While Oklahoma State lost to Virginia Tech last year in a close contest and will play a true road game for the first time this year, the Cowboys have not been tested so far this season. More importantly, they have responded with drubbings of Tennessee and North Carolina State. For the Hokies, OSU is by far their toughest opponent to date. The Cowboys have been winning with solid defense. Opponents have been held to 36.3% from two and an overall eFG% of 39.8%. Typically, you may take these stats with a grain of salt given the competition, but Travis Ford’s team has played a strong schedule thus far. The match-up you should keep a close eye on is the Cowboy defense versus Virginia Tech guard Erick Green. The 6’3” Green is averaging 24.3 points per game thus far, and Ford will counter with a trio of big guards in 6’7” LeBryan Nash, 6’4” Marcus Smart, and 6’3” Markel Brown. Do not expect Green to hit for two dozen against the Pokes. If he does, Virginia Tech will be in good shape. Finally, watch the Hokies on the offensive glass. They currently rank 314th in the country in offensive rebounding rate against a fairly soft schedule. It’s not going to be easy for coach James Johnson’s squad to hit their shots, so he needs them to grab offensive boards desperately. If they don’t, look for the Cowboys to win in Blacksburg.
Danny Spewak is an RTC correspondent. He filed this following San Diego State’s 60-44 victory over Missouri State in Springfield on Saturday.
Trotting up and down the floor like he owned the place, Jamaal Franklin’s mouth just kept moving. “I guess that’s what they do out on the West Coast,” Missouri State guard Anthony Downing said. Sometimes, the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year would flash a wry smile at nobody in particular. Other times, he’d stare blankly at the first row of fans at JQH Arena, where hecklers hollered at him and accused him of playing like a “thug” after referees called him for a flagrant foul on Keith Pickens.
Jamaal Franklin Impressed at Missouri State (Christopher Hanewinckel/US Presswire)
By the time San Diego State put the finishing touches on a 60-44 victory over Missouri State on Saturday, all 7,272 fans at the “Q” booed Franklin every time he touched the ball. “West Coast snobs!” said one woman behind press row. The others exited the building silently — with vengeance, of course. They can hate Jamaal Franklin all they want in Springfield, but it won’t change the box score. Twenty-two points. Twelve rebounds. Three blocks. Three steals. All part of another victory for his 25th-ranked Aztecs. “It was an eye-opening experience,” Bears’ coach Paul Lusk said. But for anybody who has seen Franklin play before, it wasn’t eye-opening in the least. Like the rest of his team, which missed its first 10 three-point attempts and shot 32 percent from the field, the versatile 6’5’’ wing wasn’t perfect. He turned the ball over seven times, misfired on six of seven three-point attempts and never exactly found his stroke offensively. Yet Franklin still managed to tally a double-double and turn in a stellar defensive performance.
Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
The college basketball season is finally here! This season Set Your DVR (ed. note: sadly, nobody has TiVos anymore) will be a twice-weekly column outlining the must-see games for the upcoming week and weekend. This column will lay out the key factors in each game to focus on and how those factors could affect the outcome. It’s a military-themed weekend of hoops with three games taking place on aircraft carriers and one game taking place at a military base located across the Atlantic Ocean. Let’s get to the breakdowns.
Game of the Weekend
#16 San Diego State vs. #5 Syracuse – 4:00 PM EST, 11/11/12 on FSN HD (*****)
Jim Boeheim takes the Orange to the USS Midway to take on San Diego State
The USS Midway provides the backdrop for an exciting opener between Syracuse and San Diego State. SDSU returns four starters including Mountain West Conference Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin as well as Chase Tapley, James Rahon, and Xavier Thomas. Keep a close eye on the match-up between the Aztec guards and Syracuse point guard Brandon Triche. Triche is taking over for Scoop Jardine and faces a tough test against this crew. Steve Fisher’s squad will have to improve in two areas if they are going to start beating top-tier programs like Syracuse – shooting and offensive rebounding. The Aztecs grabbed only 30.8% of their offensive rebound opportunities last season, so if they are only going to hit 33% of their three-point attempts and 49.8% of their two-point attempts like they did in 2011-12, it’s going to be difficult to beat the best teams in the country. Watch to see if transfers Dwayne Polee II and J.J. O’Brien can help the Aztecs grab more of those missed shots.
After losing four starters to graduation and the NBA Draft, Syracuse is in a much different place than SDSU. Jim Boeheim’s ability to fill the talent void will be a key factor in determining if this Orange team can beat an experienced Aztec team. The ‘Cuse returns two significant contributors from last year’s team – C.J. Fair and Triche. Both players need to improve their sub-50% eFG in order to prevent the team from taking a step backwards. The key to the Orange’s success in this game and in the future, however, may be 6’8” senior forward James Southerland. In a somewhat limited role last year, Southerland put up some impressive shooting numbers from inside the arc. Keep a close eye on Southerland’s ability to take advantage of his size inside the three-point line. Syracuse will also be able to throw additional size at the Aztecs with 6’9” sophomore Rakeem Christmas, 6’10” junior Baye Keita, and 6’7” 275 lb. wide-body freshman, DaJuan Coleman. Read the rest of this entry »
While Big East basketball is always a spectacle, this conference season has even more added juice with the impending departures of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and (eventually) Notre Dame. However, before we get to conference games, the Big East is involved in some really intriguing non-conference games this season. Big East teams will be playing all over the United States, Germany, and on a few aircraft carriers. Let’s take a look at the best that the Big East has to offer in the non-conference slate this season.
Syracuse and San Diego State tip off the season on the deck of the USS Midway this Sunday (AP)
25. Pittsburgh v. Oakland, November 17, 7 PM
The Panthers have a rather light non-conference slate this season, but don’t expect them to look past the Golden Grizzlies. Oakland has a history of playing tough schedules, and won’t be intimidated by the Zoo. Oakland is coming off of a bit of a down year in 2011-12 when they finished 20-16 (11-7), but made the NCAA Tournament in both 2009-10, when they were knocked out in the first round by Pittsburgh, and 2010-11.
24. DePaul @ Auburn, November 30, 9 PM
Look for DePaul to try to do the conference proud when they head down to take on the Auburn Tigers as part of the SEC-Big East Challenge. This DePaul squad should be better than it has been in years past, returning dynamic forward Cleveland Melvin and dangerous guard Brandon Young. Auburn is coming off of a poor 15-16 season, and could be ripe for a big non-conference road win for the Blue Demons.
23. Rutgers v. Iona, Madison Square Garden, December 8, 9:30 PM
One of these New York metropolitan-area teams is coming off of a great season that ended in a heartbreaking NCAA tournament loss to BYU. The other is continually striving to build its program, and aspires to have such success. It almost seems backwards that Iona is the more accomplished team at the moment, but isn’t that what makes college basketball so great? A big performance by the Scarlet Knights at the Garden could go a long way in setting the tone for a run at a tournament berth in the Big East.
22. St. John’s v. Detroit, November 13, 2 PM
The Johnnies tip off their season against a very dangerous Detroit squad led by superstar Ray McCallum. St. John’s has a number of impressive young players themselves, and head coach Steve Lavin will return to the sideline after battling cancer last season. While many look forward to what should be a fun match-up between McCallum and D’Angelo Harrison, the St. John’s star was recently benched in the team’s final exhibition for disciplinary reasons. If Lavin continues to have issues with his top guard, it could prove very problematic for the Red Storm next week.