Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 20th, 2010

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC Correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

A Look Back

  • Finals week for most schools and that means a slow week in the Big 12.  For the most part, the conference sat idle from Sunday to Friday with a few non-conference cupcake tune-ups played here and there.
  • Saturday however, signaled a return to basketball with ten games and several intriguing matchups throughout the league.  Kansas State played in the only battle between ranked teams as the Wildcats took on Florida as part of the Orange Bowl Classic in Frank Martin’s hometown of Miami.  Unfortunately, the homecoming didn’t turn out the way Martin would have hoped with both teams playing an ugly brand of basketball and the Wildcats never put things together, scoring just 44 points in a 13-point loss to Billy Donovan’s Gators.
  • Another Big 12 contender, the Baylor Bears, struggled as well in their first game against any form of true competition.  The Bears took on the Gonzaga Bulldogs as part of The Showcase in Dallas.  The Bulldogs sit 6-5 with four losses to top 25 opponents, but were able to pull away from the #9 Bears  behind a 7-9 free throw shooting effort down the stretch.  The loss was the first on the season for the Bears and exposed some of the vulnerabilities that were expected for a new look Baylor squad with plenty of talent but an assortment of new faces.
  • The Texas Longhorns further solidified their top 25 ranking by heading on the road to a neutral site game that was hardly neutral when they played the North Carolina Tar Heels in Greensboro.  In a great game from start to finish, the Longhorns would receive a boost from freshman Cory Joseph, who stepped up and knocked down the game-winning basket with just 1.4 seconds left on the clock.  The game is another notch on the belt of a young Longhorn squad that has looked solid against good competition throughout the non-conference schedule.
  • Another true freshman stole the show in Lawrence with the much-anticipated debut of Josh Selby in a Kansas Jayhawk uniform.  The Jayhawks squared off against a USC team fresh off a win over fellow Big 12 team Texas.  The Trojans added a guard to their lineup themselves, as transfer Jio Fontan entered the lineup for the first time all year and helped the Trojans take the game down to the wire.  In the end, it was Selby knocking down a three pointer with just 26 seconds on the clock to go ahead by one and secure the Jayhawks’ 65th straight win in Allen Fieldhouse.
  • Another team emerging in the contender category would be the Texas A&M Aggies.  The Aggies took on the Arkansas Razorbacks as part of the The Showcase in Dallas and in a game that would feature a bench clearing brawl and extra five minutes of overtime, sophomore forward Khris Middleton would score 31 points and lead the Aggies to a nine-point win.  Mark Turgeon has the Aggies playing a tough brand of basketball and A&M more and more looks to have the weapons to compete with anyone in the league.
  • Elsewhere, Missouri would win a pair of games in impressive fashion against a pair of tune-up opponents.  Oklahoma State continues to position themselves as a middle-tier team with a very real shot at being the fifth, sixth or even seventh tournament team in the Big 12.  This is the role that many thought Colorado might fill, but the Cowboys seem to be better than expected.
  • Speaking of Colorado, the Buffaloes would improve their record with two easy wins as the group in Boulder continues to improve and find themselves as a team.  Iowa State would continue their run through the preseason extending their overall record to 10-2 as Scott Christopherson continues to fire at will.  While the troubles in Lubbock and Norman show no sign of letting up.
  • The news in Lincoln was good on the court with a win over Eastern Washington on Saturday, however Doc Sadler continues to struggle in keeping the talent happy, as Christian Standhardinger is the fourth player from the 2009 recruiting class to leave the Cornuskers.
  • At this point the Big 12 is what it always seems to be in mid December.  The contenders are separating themselves with big wins and marquee games against better competition.  The pretenders and bottom half of the conference is padding the win loss column in hopes that they can hang on for a bubble birth come March.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas (10-0) – The Jayhawks moved to 10-0 in a nailbiter against the USC Trojans.  The good news is the Jayhawks were not the only team in the conference to look sluggish after a long break and Josh Selby at face value looks like a player that can help some of the Jayhawk offensive weaknesses in a hurry.
  2. Texas A&M (10-1) – A&M has gone from a team that was surprising to a team that has some serious talent developing.   Khris Middleton, Nathan Walkup and David Loubeau are a trio of forwards that are physical, talented and leading the way from a scoring standpoint for Mark Turgeon.  This may prove to be too high for the Aggies as the season goes on, but in the world of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately power rankings, they look as good as anyone in the South.
  3. Missouri Tigers (10-1) – The Tigers weren’t tested in two fairly sizeable wins, but they are disposing teams in the manner you’d expect from a good team.  Mike Anderson’s team set a school record with a 116-point output on Saturday and they look like a group beginning to hit their stride.  This week’s Bragging Rights game against Illinois will be a great measuring stick to gauge improvement since the early loss to Georgetown.
  4. Texas (9-2) – Rick Barnes and Texas have an argument for a higher spot without question.  They’ve played a challenging schedule, for the most part they’ve played well, and they have a real opportunity to be a very difficult matchup as the players become comfortable in their roles.  A big opportunity this week for Texas comes in the form of a game against Tom Izzo and Michigan State.
  5. Kansas State (9-2) – Something just doesn’t seem right in Manhattan right now.  The Wildcats are still one of the toughest defensive teams in the conference and they’re going to make you earn every point, but on the offensive end, it isn’t clicking.  Curtis Kelly hasn’t stepped up to the level expected and Jacob Pullen is doing well, but it’s difficult for him to completely carry the team when he’s the focus of every opposing defense.  It’s hard to believe Frank Martin won’t get things going, but for now the Wildcats haven’t played to the level expected.
  6. Oklahoma State (10-1) – The Cowboys moved to 10-1 this week but they still lack a statement win.  The good news for Cowboy fans is that different players are stepping up at different times and they‘re beating teams in different ways.  They’re likely the seventh-best team in the conference in terms of talent, but they could cause some trouble in a wide open South.
  7. Baylor (7-1) – Everyone has been waiting for the Bears to play someone and in the first attempt to do that, they fell to Gonzaga in what was basically a home game.  Gonzaga was due for a win, but they still don’t look like the top 15 Bulldog squad that was expected this season and they managed to handle the Bears even with Steven Gray hobbled from back spasms.
  8. Iowa State (10-2) – Scott Christopherson continues to have a green light and the Cyclones continue to win.  Still there isn’t much in the way of competition against which to truly judge Iowa State.   With three relatively soft games remaining in the non-conference docket, it’s possible Iowa State could enter conference play with 13 wins already under their belt, yet still sit ill-prepared for the gauntlet that awaits in Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri in the North.
  9. Colorado (7-3) – Two games, two easy opponents, two comfortable wins.  Colorado was a team with high expectations early, but they fell flat and haven’t done enough to restore hope.  A solid opponent awaits this week in New Mexico and a chance for Tad Boyle to restore some of the lost faith.
  10. Nebraska (9-2) – Nebraska sits at 9-2, which is a good record.  Typically, they don’t do much to test themselves early, but the win over USC looks better and better every day.  This is still a team that doesn’t jump off the page, but they very well could battle Colorado and Iowa State for fourth in the North.  Still, at this point, it’s hard to see much that justifies the nod.
  11. Oklahoma (5-6) – After a two-game uptick, the Sooners fell to a decent Big East team in Cincinnati.  It’s enough to give them the edge over Tech for now, but it’s still not pretty in Norman.  Statistically speaking, they do very little that could be considered a strength, unless of course you want to give them credit for mediocre shooting.
  12. Texas Tech (5-6) – Texas Tech is on a three-game skid with the last two coming against mid-major talent.  Tech had the offensive talent returning, but they needed to improve defensively and on the boards.  Neither of those things have happened.

A Look Ahead

  • This week’s Big 12 slate takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday before a long holiday weekend.  All 12 teams play between the two nights with Kansas State kicking things off in a tough contest taking place at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.  In the Wildcats’ third game in Kansas City this year, K-State will play host to another ranked opponent in the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.  Coming off the loss in Miami, the Wildcats and their fans will be anxious to see if the offense can get back on track.
  • Another game to watch in the conference on Tuesday will pit the Oklahoma State Cowboys against Stanford in Stillwater.  The Cardinal hasn’t been particularly impressive, but it is a name opponent from a name conference and a chance to learn a little more about the Cowboys.
  • Wednesday night is a big night if you’re a Big 12 basketball fan.  The highlight of the night will likely take place in St. Louis, as the Missouri Tigers square off against the Illinois Fighting Illini in a matchup of two top 25 teams.  The game lost a little luster when the Illini fell flat against Illinois-Chicago this weekend, a loss that will drop them from top 15 status, but it’s a big game and a heated rivalry nonetheless.
  • The game just prior to Missouri and Illinois on ESPN2 will be another big opportunity for the Big 12, as Texas heads back out on the road for a big game against Michigan State.  The game is another example of the bold scheduling approach taken by Rick Barnes and a big time opportunity for the Longhorns to reassert themselves on the national stage.
  • Rounding out the night will be Kansas heading to Berkeley for a road game against a Pac-10 opponent.  The Jayhawks have had their struggles against the Pac-10 conference this year but have managed to slip by every challenger.
  • Another good one to keep an eye on will be New Mexico in Boulder against the Buffaloes. This is a game that Tad Boyle needs to start rebuilding some of the confidence and excitement that was lost after the stumble out of the gates in the early season.

Stats, Quotes and other Notables

  • 21 Points on 5-8 Shooting from three – Debut line for Kansas freshman Josh Selby.
  • 11 points in 11 minutes – The offensive drought that ultimately doomed the Kansas State Wildcats against the Florida Gators.
  • 4-22 from three – Just one example of the mediocrity taking place on the offensive end for the Oklahoma Sooners.
  • 7 Players Scoring in Double Figures - The Missouri Tigers are balanced, they showed that against Central Arkansas with this impressive stat.
  • “We were sleepwalking, [The scuffle] seemed like it really changed the game for us.” – Texas A&M head coach Mark Turgeon talks about his team coming to life after a rare bench-clearing scuffle at mid court against Arkansas.

Player of the Year Watch (No Specific Order)

  • Jacob Pullen – (16.3 PPG, 3.8 APG, 40% FG) Even: Pullen is doing everything he can, but the loss of Denis Clemente is clearly being felt.  From a numbers standpoint, Pullen is maintaining pace, but the Wildcats are looking like a team slightly lost offensively.
  • Marcus Morris – (16.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 62% FG) Even: Morris wasn’t great against USC, but he got a lift with the addition of Josh Selby. Morris still looks like a player that can sometimes score at will, it’s just a matter of getting the team chemistry back where it needs to be.
  • Alec Burks – (20.3 PPG, 51% FG) Even: Burks is slowly becoming a smarter player on the offensive end and his efforts on the defensive end aren’t going unnoticed.  Statistically it’s pretty much the same player, but he’s improving day to day.
  • Jordan Hamilton – (19.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG) Even: Texas could be turning a corner.  The players around him are doing more, but Hamilton is still the most explosive option for the Longhorns.
  • LaceDarius Dunn – (21.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.6, 2.2 SPG, 48% FG) Trending Up: Baylor loses to Gonzaga, but Dunn is looking like one of the more complete and impactful players for his team.
  • Marcus Denmon – (16.8 PPG, 1.9 SPG, 51% 3P%) Trending Up: He continues to be the best player on a VERY deep team.  Denmon is turning into the leader for the Tigers and he seems like a player that has even more to give.
  • Scott Christopherson – (16.5 PPG, 55% 3P%) New**: Christopherson’s chances are probably slim unless he can somehow lead the Cyclones to a surprisingly successful season and a top 3 finish in the North.  Still, he’s a player whose early-season efforts deserve a mention and he’ll be a thorn in everyone’s side in conference play.
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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 15th, 2010

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

A Look Back

  • It was a slow, after-finals week for most WCC teams, but the pace picks up considerably this weekend. Early-season top dogs Saint Mary’s and Portland cruised to expected wins – the Gaels by a score of 75-56 over UC Riverside at home and the Pilots in a closer-than-expected 71-64 win at Denver – and Gonzaga continued its slide against Top 25 teams, losing to Notre Dame in South Bend to fall to 4-5 for the first time in many people’s memory.
  • Loyola-Marymount and San Francisco scored home wins, Santa Clara lost on the road to Pacific, Pepperdine fell in Fresno and San Diego snapped an eight-game losing streak with a 82-57 thrashing of Laverne.
  • Player of the Week: Rob Jones, Saint Mary’s - Gaels coach Randy Bennett has said his goal with transfer forward Rob Jones is to turn him into a scoring leader, and Jones may have gotten the message this week with lines of 24 and 11 against UC Riverside following a 17 and 11 outing against Denver. Jones, who was a solid but unspectacular force in his first two years at San Diego, took on more responsibility for the Gaels in its need to replace the frontcourt scoring and rebounding punch of Omar Samhan and Ben Allen. He has shown signs of being able to surpass Allen’s production, lessening the pressure on Kenton Walker, Tim Williams and Mitchell Young to collectively fill Samhan’s shoes. Standing out in the UC Riverside stat sheet: Jones’ 6-9 mark from the three-point line.

Power Rankings

  1. Saint Mary’s (8-2): One of the knocks on Saint Mary’s so far this season is a lack of true road wins, with a 69-55 loss at San Diego State its only foray into an opponent’s gym. That could change before Christmas, as the Gaels travel to Las Cruces to face the New Mexico State Aggies next Thursday, following a December 18 matchup with Long Beach State in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim. New Mexico State (3-7) is a far cry from the NCAA team of last year, but the Aggies are still smarting from the 100-68 loss suffered in Moraga last November. They will do all they can to repay the Gaels’ rude hospitality.
  2. Portland (8-3): While they picked up their third true road win on Saturday, a 71-64 victory over Denver, the Pioneers (2-8) made the Portland Pilots work for it. Denver led by one at halftime before the Pilots’ three-point-shooting duo of Nemanja Mitrovic and Jared Stohl, aided by rebounding machine Luke Sikma, powered the Pilots down the stretch. Mitrovic, the game’s leading scorer with 18 points, made three three-pointers in a row to spark an 11-2 run in the game’s final minutes that sealed the win. Mitrovic and Stohl combined for 9-15 shooting from beyond the arc, while Sikma notched his fifth double-double of the year with 11 and ten.
  3. Loyola Marymount (6-5): The Lions are nursing a three-game home win streak, the latest victory being a 72-67 come-from-behind effort over South Dakota on December 11. The wins have come over lowly competition, including Cal Poly and Sacramento State, but the fun ends this coming Saturday, when the considerably tougher Florida State Seminoles roll into Gersten Pavilion. Some of Florida State’s wins in a 7-2 season have come over suspect teams like Mid-Continent and North Florida, but the ‘Noles recently topped Clemson 75-69 and have lost only to in-state rival Florida (55-51) and Big Ten power Ohio State and its dynamic freshman Jared Sullinger (58-48). You could say the bar will be raised considerably higher for Max Good’s revamped Lions, who have been improvising with the loss of stars Jarred DuBois and Ashley Hamilton and the slow rehabilitation of Edgar Garibay. New names such as freshmen Anthony Ireland, Godwin Akonji and Ayodeji Egbeyimi (call him “Deji”), have been finding their way alongside veterans Vernon Teel, Drew Viney and Larry Davis.
  4. Santa Clara (5-5): SC looked to be steadying itself with a 67-63 road win over cross-town rival San Jose State on Friday, but the wheels fell off when the Broncos went a little farther afield against Pacific in Stockton on Tuesday. Starting the unconventional lineup featuring Chris Cunningham in place of Marc Trasolini for the second straight game, the Broncos fell behind by as many as 21 points (60-39) late in the second half and lost by ten, 69-59. Pacific (6-4) has no signature wins this year and lost to Pepperdine last week, but handled Santa Clara easily. Kerry Keating has a chance to continue experimenting with his lineup on Friday, when the Broncos host Houston Baptist, but had better settle on his best troops before they face Washington State on Sunday.
  5. Gonzaga (4-5): The Zags found some balance in its not-as-close-as-it-looks 83-79 loss to Notre Dame on Saturday, but they’re still struggling to find a floor leader (did I hear the name “Bouldin” whispered in the wind?). Elias Harris had 19 points, Steven Gray 18 and Robert Sacre 16 for the Zags against Notre Dame, and those numbers are what the world was expecting this year. But even with strong production from its core players, the Zags found themselves trailing the Irish by 14 in the second half, with another rout seemingly in the works. Only a lethargic effort by Notre Dame down the stretch prevented that, and the Zags are struggling to find a steadying force in the backcourt to supplement their power players. Transfer Marquise Carter doesn’t look like the answer so far, and veteran Meech Goodson has not put a strong stamp on the team. With a breather Thursday against Lewis Clark State in Spokane, the Zags are thrust right back into the fire on Saturday with a game against Baylor in Arlington.
  6. San Francisco (4-5): A light week was good news for a team struggling to find healthy bodies, and the Dons rewarded themselves with a 50-48 overtime win over rugged Montana. Guard Cody Doolin, who went down in the Dons’ loss at Louisville last week, returned to help his teammates hold off the Grizzlies, but it was his backcourt mate Michael Williams who stole the show. Williams accounted for 23 points and 13 rebounds in the low-scoring affair, and was joined by Perris Blackwell with 12 and ten. The Dons will need efforts like those and much more as it travels to Seattle on Saturday to face streaking Washington.
  7. Pepperdine (4-8): The Waves racked up 27 turnovers in its 64-51 road loss to Fresno State. Conference POY candidate Keion Bell had eight of them. Pepperdine will hope to get back on track Saturday when it hosts UC-Irvine.
  8. San Diego (2-8): USD had something to celebrate with Monday’s 82-57 pasting of Laverne, and could overlook the fact that its first victory in nine tries came at the expense of a 3-4 NCAA Division-III squad that doesn’t grant athletic scholarships. Why quibble? Bill Grier may have found some answers with the second straight strong games from burly 6’11 center Chris Gabriel and transfer guard Darian Norris. Adding fuel to a small glow of hope for the Toreros was the play of freshman forward Trevor Fuller, who elicited some excitement as a star for Episcopal School of Dallas, but has mainly sat the bench for San Diego. Gabriel, Norris and sophomore Ken Rancifer scored 14 points each, while Fuller contributed six points in 17 minutes. Things might not be so cheery next week in Honolulu when the Toreros take on the likes of Baylor, Washington State or Mississippi State in the Diamond Head Classic.

A Look Ahead

This Saturday will be the broadest showcase for WCC teams in the current season. Some of the marquee matchups include Saint Mary’s vs. Long Beach State in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim; Gonzaga vs. Baylor in Arlington; Loyola vs. Florida State in Los Angeles; San Francisco vs. Washington in Seattle; and Portland vs. Portland State in – where else? – Portland (Portland State is the home team).

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Set Your Tivo: 12.04-12.05

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 4th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

The biggest hoops weekend of the year thus far features a blueblood clash, a national championship rematch, a good mid-major battle, a key top 25 Battle in Seattle and a bunch of other quality matchups. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#14 Kentucky @ North Carolina – 12:30 pm Saturday on CBS (****)

The UNC-Kentucky Game Is Always Special

Two of the three members of the 2,000 win club meet in Chapel Hill with the Tar Heels holding a 21-11 edge in this series. Even better, Gus Johnson is calling this game for CBS in its first nationally televised game of the season. North Carolina has won five of the last six meetings and could really use a quality win after starting the year 0-3 against major conference opponents. The story for North Carolina will be turnovers. Roy Williams must be going crazy over his backcourt, which committed 14 of UNC’s 18 turnovers in a loss to Illinois on Tuesday. Carolina ranks #217 in turnover percentage but Kentucky, surprisingly is just #305 in forcing turnovers. That could help North Carolina’s confidence in a home game where the place will be sold out and the fans really fired up. If Harrison Barnes can break out of his slump, North Carolina has a really good chance to win this game. Tyler Zeller and John Henson have been the only reason UNC has been competitive. With everyone else on the team having a hard time, Zeller and Henson have combined to average 26 points and 18 rebounds per game. They’ll face a different kind of challenge against Kentucky star freshman Terrence Jones. The 6’8 Jones has been on a tear to start the season, averaging 21/10 while blocking over two shots a game and stretching his game to the perimeter as well. It’ll be interesting to see whether Roy Williams puts Henson or Barnes on Jones defensively as neither comes close to Jones’ strength and athleticism for his size. A better strategy might be to let Jones get his points and focus the defense elsewhere, specifically on getting turnovers from Brandon Knight. The freshman point guard has played well for John Calipari, but his 4.5 turnovers can be a major problem against an up-tempo team like North Carolina. UNC ranks #19 in tempo which is the quickest pace Kentucky has seen since Washington in Maui. Against the Huskies, Knight had eight turnovers and no assists, though he did score 24 points. North Carolina’s guards must be ready defensively against a Kentucky team that shoots 41% from long range, good for #25 in the nation. The Tar Heels have not been good defending the trey, ranking #185. This matchup could tip the balance of this game towards UK if UNC doesn’t defend well. North Carolina gets 61% of its points from inside the arc, something to watch against Kentucky’s tough interior defense which ranks #8 in block percentage. Expect a fun to watch game with a lot of talent on the floor and intensity on the sidelines and in the stands. It’s hard to predict a winner here because UK has the edge overall but UNC is at home where they enjoy a nice advantage. Best to call this one a toss-up.

#1 Duke vs. Butler (IZOD Center, East Rutherford, NJ) – 3:15 pm Saturday on ESPN (***)

The rematch of last year’s epic title game doesn’t have nearly the same feel. Duke is better than last year while Butler has had a rough start to the season with point guard Ronald Nored suffering a concussion against Siena. He’s day-to-day according to Brad Stevens and may miss this game. Butler’s do-everything star from last year’s team, Gordon Hayward, is gone too, averaging just two points a game in less than ten minutes for the Utah Jazz. The Bulldogs were shredded by Louisville and upset by Evansville at home last week, two disappointing losses for a team that came in with high expectations again this year. Look for Duke’s shooters to dominate this game as Butler really struggles on offense and is mediocre defensively inside the three-point line. Butler ranks #171 in two point defense and is one of the worst teams at blocking shots, #312. Duke’s opponents get most of their points inside the arc but Butler is just #246 in two point percentage. Leading scorer and rebounder Matt Howard is making 55% of his shots but as a whole the team is just at 43.5%. Shelvin Mack is back too and has done a nice job distributing the ball, especially with Nored out. Howard’s foul problems are still there but he has yet to foul out of a game this season. Going up against the athletic Mason Plumlee and company inside, it would be naïve to think Howard won’t have foul problems in this game given his history. Duke is the top ranked team in offensive efficiency and should be able to pile up the points against Butler. Kyrie Irving, coming off his spectacular 31-point performance against Michigan State, makes his return to his home state of New Jersey and will surely be ready to play well in front of the home folks. Duke simply has too much for Butler this time around. While it’s sure to be nostalgic for most college basketball fans, don’t expect this game to be close especially if Nored is still out.

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Checking in on… the MWC

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 24th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the MWC and Pac-10 conferences.

A Look Back

The start of the 2010-11 season has been just about everything the Mountain West commissioner’s office could hope for after a tumultuous offseason. After almost two weeks of play, five MWC teams remain undefeated and the nine conference teams have posted a combined 25-6 record with the four biggest contenders for postseason berths a combined 13-1, a New Mexico loss at Cal the only blemish.

Team of the Week

San Diego State – The Aztecs have been busy thus far, posting an early 5-0 record including four wins in the CBE Classic. The highest profile win for Steve Fisher’s squad was a road victory over Gonzaga during the ESPN College Hoops Tipoff Marathon, when SDSU showed the rest of the college basketball world what MWC followers already knew: this team is pretty darn good. Perhaps even more impressive for the Aztecs is that their 5-0 record has come entirely on the road thus far, with their first home game scheduled for this Friday when they host San Diego Christian of the NAIA.

Player of the Week

Kawhi Leonard (Sophomore), San Diego State – It’s very likely that you’ll be seeing either Leonard or Jimmer Fredette’s name in this space most weeks this season. While Fredette’s 25.7 point per game average thus far has certainly left him deserving of this honor this time around, and while Leonard’s Aztec teammate Billy White may have had the biggest single performance of the young season, the nod goes to Kawhi here. He’s led his team in rebounding every night out, never failing to grab double digit boards thus far, he’s averaged 18.8 points per contest, and has even displayed his versatility and ever-improving skill set, pairing three steals with four three-pointers in SDSU’s win over IUPUI on Sunday.

Newcomer of the Week

Will Clyburn (Junior), Utah – Last year about this time, it was New Mexico’s junior college transfer Darington Hobson who was making a name for himself as a force to be reckoned with in the MWC. A year later, Utah has its own juco transfer making waves around the Rockies. On a Ute roster featuring eight new faces, it is Clyburn’s who has shone most brightly, leading Utah in scoring in each of their three games, averaging 20.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, while knocking down five of his 12 attempts behind the arc along the way. Last year’s Lobos were picked to be a middle-of-the-pack team last year before Hobson’s emergence catapulted them to a conference title. For the Utes to entertain similar aspirations, Clyburn will need to keep up his early pace.

Game of the Week

San Diego State 79, Gonzaga 76 – For only the fifth time in the 82 games in the history of Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center, a visiting team came in and defeated the Bulldogs on their home court. Behind a career-high 30 points from Aztec senior forward Billy White (on 14-18 shooting and paired with nine rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end), San Diego State built up a lead as high as ten before hanging on down the stretch and withstanding a similarly outstanding 35-point effort by Zag senior guard Steven Gray to wrap up a big win that will be a feather in the Aztec cap come Selection Sunday.

Game of the Upcoming Week

Utah at Utah State – The Aggies of Utah State have already given a MWC team all they could handle this season, when they went into BYU’s Marriott Center and fought the Cougars to the bitter end in an entertaining game, but this time around they get to welcome the Utes into the Smith Spectrum in Logan for another in-state battle. Utah is looking to prove that they are on the way back from last year’s disastrous collapse, but with a bevy of young and relatively untested newcomers, the trip to Logan could be daunting

Power Rankings

  1. San Diego State (5-0): Aside from the heroics of Billy White and Kawhi Leonard detailed above, the Aztecs have also gotten a big boost from a Santa Clara transfer, sophomore guard James Rahon. Rahon lived up to his reputation as a deadly three-point shooter early in his career in red and black, knocking down three straight threes in the middle of the second half of a tightly contested battle at Long Beach State to break the game open and put the Aztecs on their way to their first win of the season. On the season he is averaging a shade under ten points per night and converting three-point attempts at a sparkling 52.9% clip. Likewise, senior point guard D.J. Gay has shown his leadership abilities, time and again making big plays to spark game-deciding runs for the Aztecs. While Rahon has lived up to his rep as a three-point bomber, Gay has added his own deadly three-point shot to an already strong arsenal, having knocked down 11 of his 22 attempts thus far. If those two can maintain anywhere near that kind of pace, the Aztecs will be looking at a very favorable seed come March, as their imposing frontline has been all that was previously advertised.
  2. BYU (3-0): Coming into the season, the Cougars pretty much knew what they were going to get from their backcourt tandem of Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery. So far, Emery has been off to a slow start, averaging just nine points per game and struggling to find his shooting touch, to the tune of 34.6% from the field and 27.8% from behind the arc. But head coach Dave Rose has no worries about Emery’s game coming around in due time. His concerns prior to the season were with an eye towards the rest of the team, specifically in the front court. In the early going, junior Noah Hartsock and sophomore Chris Collinsworth have done a lot to ease Rose’s mind. Hartsock stepped up immediately, exploding out of his reserve role in the opener to post a career-high 21 points, then backing that up with 15 points and four blocks against Utah State. Collinsworth, for his part, has been rock-solid, averaging seven rebounds per game and throwing in 8.3 points per game, with a high of 15 points in the Cougars blowout of Chicago State. While BYU still has some work to do figuring out all their roles, Hartsock and Collinsworth have already shown that the talent is there.
  3. UNLV (3-0): It was a rocky offseason in Sin City, with dismissals, suspensions and injuries scarring the landscape, but three games in, all those rough patches are in the past, with the Rebels having just posted one of the more impressive MWC victories in the early season, a 68-65 victory over visiting Wisconsin. Last year’s leading scorer, senior guard Tre’Von Willis, sat out the first two games of the season (easy wins over second-rate competition) as a result of offseason legal difficulties, before returning in a reserve role against Wisconsin, but it was juniors Chace Stanback and Oscar Bellfield who provided the biggest performances for head coach Lon Kruger in the win over the Badgers. Each player knocked down four threes, with Stanback totaling 25 points and Bellfield notching 18. UNLV’s ability to knock down the three had been a question mark in the lead up to the season, but both players have done their best to answer that query, with Bellfield having hit seven of his 12 attempts (58.3%) and Stanback six of his 15 (40%). While Willis was not a major factor in his return to action, he did hand out five assists in his 23 minutes of play.
  4. New Mexico (2-1): The Lobos have faced probably the most consistently tough lineup of games of any MWC in the young season, and perhaps not surprisingly for a young team, have looked pretty strong at home and downright awful in their one road trip. Given that the New Mexico roster is missing junior guard Phillip McDonald due to a partially torn elbow ligament (he is currently day-to-day), is waiting on the services of incoming transfer Drew Gordon (eligible December 17) and is breaking in four new freshmen (including two freshmen starters) and a sophomore transfer, Emmanuel Negedu who, you know, basically died a year ago, I’m not going to ding the Lobos too hard for their 25-point loss at Berkeley, especially considering they looked good in defeating Arizona State at The Pit a few days before  that, but Steve Alford and company are definitely having some growing pains in adjusting to life without Darington Hobson and Ramon Martinez. While some difficulty in the non-conference schedule is understandable, the Lobos have a relatively light schedule between now and the end of December when they play in the Las Vegas Classic (a matchup against Colorado and then the winner of Indiana/Northern Iowa), then travel to Texas Tech and Dayton prior to conference play. New Mexico will need to have things straightened out by then, lest they get out of non-conference play with only the Arizona State victory to point to.
  5. Colorado State (2-0): For now I’ll stick with the Rams at the number five spot, if only because their season still seems to be a week away. Thus far, the Rams have hosted Arkansas-Pine Bluff and traveled to Denver, posting workmanlike wins each time, with seniors Andy Ogide and Travis Franklin leading the way with almost identical numbers: 17 points, 6.5 rebounds, one assist, and 1.5 steals each in their first two games. The Rams host Sam Houston State on Saturday before their first big test of the season next Wednesday when they host Drake. The soft early schedule has allowed head coach Tim Miles to get a look at plenty of his roster, with 12 players having averaged at least eight minutes per game. In the early season, such a rotation is working out, but the Rams will have to prune the minutes of several players as the year progresses.
  6. Utah (3-0): With all the turnover on the Ute roster in the offseason (six players left the program with eligibility remaining, while eight newcomers joined the squad), there were bound to be plenty of questions about this team’s ability to win. Three games in, Jim Boylen’s squad has at least proven itself capable of winning games at home against teams it is supposed to beat. Along the way, Boylen has had some of his fresh blood step up and announce that they are ready to play, with Will Clyburn, our newcomer of the week, leading the way. Elsewhere, junior college transfer Josh Watkins has taken over the point guard position without skipping a beat, averaging 15.7 points and five assists per game, while holdovers Jay Watkins and Jason Washburn have been solid in the frontcourt. While it remains to be seen if this year’s cast has the talent that last year’s underachievers did, it seems clear that this will be a more consistent and hard-working bunch than last season’s neurotic cast-offs.
  7. TCU (3-2): This year’s early MWC candidate for team most in need of psychiatric treatment is the Horned Frogs. Five games in, this looks like a team capable of wild mood swings, capable of wrapping a 20-point victory over cross-town rival SMU and a six-point neutral-site win over a good Bradley team around a stinker of a 15-point loss against Rider. The Frogs are going to be exciting at times, with their mighty-mite backcourt of 6’2 Ronnie Moss and 5’9 Hank Thorns. Thorns, a transfer from Virginia Tech in his first year of eligibility in Fort Worth, has led the team in assists in four of their first five games, and in three of those four games, he dropped ten dimes. Moss, for his part, has looked excellent playing off the ball, scoring in double figures in all five TCU games, while hitting 45% from the field and 41% from deep. The frontcourt is undersized, but 6’6 wing Garlon Green and a pair of junior college transfers, 6’5 J.R. Cadot and 6’4 Sammy Yeager, have all shown a willingness to help out on the glass. They’ll need to keep that up and get some help from more traditional frontcourt players for the Frogs to contend in a tough conference.
  8. Wyoming (2-2): There had been some talk that last year’s underachieving season for the Cowboys was as much a reflection of some bad luck with injuries as it was with some inherent problems with the makeup of the team. Four games into the season, and with a pair of one-game suspensions for primary offensive weapons Afam Muojeke and Desmar Jackson already in the rearview mirror, with a starting lineup that remains in a state of flux, with a team that consistently racks up more turnovers than it does assists, and with the resultant losses to North Florida and Northern Colorado (the first time in 21 games since 1937 that Northern Colorado has beaten Wyoming) in the record books, it’s time to face the facts that this team just isn’t very good, that head coach Heath Schroyer is just not working out and that the Wyoming basketball program is in need of a reboot. Unfortunately, that reboot is still probably four months away.
  9. Air Force (2-1): As bad as the state of the Wyoming program is, they haven’t lost to a D-III school yet. The same cannot be said of the Falcons, who dropped an overtime affair with Colorado College last Wednesday. They were able to take care of Tennessee State and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, but there is simply not enough talent on this roster for this team to be competitive. Players like versatile senior Evan Washington, senior forward Tom Fow and sophomore guard Michael Lyons are good hardworking kids, but this year’s edition of the Falcons are more suited to the Big Sky level of talent than the Mountain West. Head coach Jeff Reynolds will get the most out of this roster, but for him to be comfortable as the head coach at the Academy, he’ll need to recruit a higher level of talent.

A Look Ahead

While the battle in the Beehive State may be the game of the week, Utah will follow that up with another interesting game when they host Oral Roberts on Saturday. There are also plenty of other interesting events around the conference as three other MWC teams compete in early season tournaments. UNLV plays in the most high-profile of the three when they compete in the 76 Classic (opening round game against Tulsa, either Murray State or Stanford in the next round and a potential matchup with Virginia Tech in the final), but BYU will play in the South Padre Island Invitational (against South Florida and then either St. Mary’s or Texas Tech) and Wyoming will get beat down by Missouri in the Cancun Challenge before advancing to likely lose to either Providence or La Salle.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.23.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 23rd, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Two good games from both Kansas City and Maui involving six ranked teams lead tonight’s slate. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

Maui Invitational Semifinal: #3 Michigan State vs. Connecticut — 7 pm on ESPN (***)

It's Been Two Years Since These Teams Met in the F4

Each team played relatively close games yesterday. One was expected to, one was not. Connecticut got by Wichita State behind a 29-point second half from Kemba Walker. On the other hand, Michigan State actually trailed against Division II Chaminade for most of the first half and traded baskets with the Silverswords in the early part of the second half before pulling away with a 20-3 run and hanging on for an eight point win. Kalin Lucas was the star for the Spartans, scoring 28 points on 11-20 shooting. Lucas against Walker will be one of the better matchups of point guards you’ll see all season and it occurs here in late November. Walker is averaging 30 points in three games this year and is clearly Jim Calhoun’s go-to guy. Neither team played well defensively in their opening game in Maui but we don’t know if that can be attributed to the setting or maybe a lack of focus. Michigan State in particular, known for its tough defense and rebounding, had been playing well defensively coming into the game but gave up 46% shooting to Chaminade. This game will be a war on the boards as both coaches pride themselves on interior defense and rebounding. For Michigan State, the key could be shutting down Alex Oriakhi. Walker is going to get his share so if Tom Izzo’s big men can lock up the Connecticut sophomore big man, the Huskies will need someone else to step up because Walker won’t be able to do it all himself against a team as good as MSU. UConn is going to have to shoot the three ball very well in order to win, something Walker has struggled with throughout his career (35.3% this year however). Averaging 17 turnovers per game, the Spartans have to protect the ball against a Connecticut team that would like to get out in transition in order to prevent Michigan State from settling in on defense. Anything can happen in an early season tournament on a neutral floor but Michigan State should win this game.

CBE Classic Consolation: #23 Gonzaga vs. Marquette – 7:45 pm on ESPNU (****)

These two teams get together tonight heading in opposite directions. Gonzaga was flat out exposed, but not just by Kansas State last night. San Diego State also took care of the Bulldogs in the Kennel last week. Gonzaga has no clear point guard and that’s forcing Steven Gray to handle the ball much more than he should, often resulting in turnovers. Gray turned it over six times last night and as a team the Zags had 16 turnovers. Gonzaga also was dominated on the glass, not a good combination when you can’t stop anybody either. That was just the case as Kansas State shot 51% for the game. They now face a Marquette team brimming with confidence after a competitive loss to #1 Duke last night, a game we told you would be closer than you thought in this very feature 24 hours ago. MU was led by Jimmy Butler’s 22/6. We don’t know why people always underestimate Buzz Williams and his team as they have an awful lot of talent and looked like a top 25 team yesterday. Marquette may not actually be a top 25 team yet but they’re knocking on the door. A win tonight against Gonzaga should earn them some votes next week, if not actually make it in. The Golden Eagles turned Duke over 19 times, something that probably kept Mark Few tossing and turning in bed last night. Marquette needs a better outing from Darius Johnson-Odom and they should get it against the suspect Bulldog defense. The junior guard was just 1-6 from three and 4-15 overall. As a team, MU shot a dreadful 4-20 from deep, often leading to long rebounds and transition opportunities for Duke. One thing going for Gonzaga is their front court going up against Marquette’s interior. While they have defended fairly well in terms of two point FG% against, Mason Plumlee went off in the second half against the weaker Marquette bigs. Gonzaga has guys such as Robert Sacre who can score in the post and that will pose a problem for Buzz Williams. That said, we expect Marquette to turn Gonzaga over enough to win by getting more field goal opportunities. Gonzaga is not going to win many games against top competition until their point guard situation is under control.

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RTC Live: CBE Finals

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 23rd, 2010

Games #29-#30.  Another night of outstanding games at the CBE Classic tips off with a ridiculous top five matchup.

We’re set for a pair of outstanding matchups in the final day of the CBE Classic in Kansas City here on RTC Live. The top-five tilt that has fans licking their chops features #4 Kansas State taking on #1 Duke, though a feisty Marquette team will square off against reeling Gonzaga in the undercard. The Golden Eagles gave Duke a few scares, tying the game in the second half before a decisive Blue Devils run sealed the win. Unfortunately for Buzz Williams’ team, they missed several opportunities to move ahead and pull the upset. There was a lid on the basket as Marquette misfired time after time in the opening half. For Gonzaga, Elias Harris struggled to get going with his heel giving him trouble all evening, and it’s hard to see him being a major contributor Tuesday based on what we saw Monday. With two losses already in the young season, Mark Few needs to find a way to make his remaining pieces, including Steven Gray, fit together in a hurry. As for the championship combatants, the Blue Devils propelled themselves to victory behind a career night from Mason Plumlee, who chipped in 25 points and 12 boards. Despite the win, ballhandling was an issue for Duke as they itched to get ahead in the transition game. The Wildcats will look to combat Duke’s uptempo attack with a swarming defense that forced 17 Bulldog turnovers. After Kansas State’s big night from the perimeter against Gonzaga (46% from deep in a surprisingly collective effort) Monday, it’ll be interesting to see how much they have left in the tank with a one-day turnaround. Join us live Tuesday night for a Thanksgiving-sized helping of hoops!

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles

Posted by zhayes9 on November 23rd, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Pitt has a team capable of reaching that elusive Final Four

1. I had an opportunity to attend the consolation and championship games of the 2K Sports Classic last Friday and learned a great deal about the four teams participating- Pittsburgh, Texas, Illinois and Maryland. The Panthers were one of my preseason Final Four teams and did nothing to give me second thoughts on that prediction. Ashton Gibbs is a true playmaker at the end of the shot clock, Jamie Dixon has an incredibly deep frontcourt and the Panthers play heady, smart, hard-nosed basketball for 40 minutes. It’s possible we overrated Illinois a bit coming into the year. They lack a bruiser down low that can post up on the block and demand the basketball. Mike Tisdale’s the same player he’s been his entire career at Illinois, a capable mid-range jump shooter that lacks any sort of physicality and is often mired in foul trouble because opposing power forwards constantly out-muscle him. Maryland looks like a middle-of-the-pack ACC team that should sneak into the NCAA Tournament because Gary Williams always receives max effort from his teams and Jordan Williams is a force in the post, although he needs to avoid silly fouls and demand the basketball more often. The team that needed to convince me they were a contender after last season’s disaster is Texas. The Longhorns are a top-20 team with a duo of physical, lockdown defenders on the perimeter in Dogus Balbay and Cory Joseph, an athletic low-post presence in Tristan Thompson and an explosive scorer in Jordan Hamilton. A shortened rotation and accepted roles has helped Rick Barnes develop improved chemistry, as well.

2. The story of the first two weeks of college basketball might just be Minnesota. The Big Ten was the best conference coming into the season with Michigan State and Ohio State shaping up to be Final Four frontrunners, Purdue and Illinois mainstays in the polls and Wisconsin as solid as ever. Minnesota was a team that nobody could quite get a handle on, especially considering it was impossible to predict just how much the additions of Trevor Mbakwe and Al Nolen would help Tubby Smith.  After three statements wins in Puerto Rico over Western Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia, the Gophers appear to be yet another contender primed for a deep March run out of the absolutely loaded Big Ten. Al Nolen was superb in the championship game against West Virginia locking down the Mountaineer’s point guard duo of Joe Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant on defense and splitting the West Virginia defense with dribble penetration that either resulted in free throws (11-12 on the night) or open looks for sharpshooting teammate Blake Hoffarber. Where the Gophers have forged their identity, though, is inside with a plethora of size and length. Ralph Sampson, Colton Iverson, Mbakwe and big bodied Mo Walker provide Smith a frontline that can go toe-to-toe with any in the nation. Just wait till they get Devoe Joseph back.

3. The most crippling defeat for any team with NCAA Tournament aspirations could have come Monday afternoon at the Maui Invitational for Wichita State. The Shockers inability to contain Kemba Walker (29 second half points) cost them a chance to pick up a quality win over a Big East opponent and a shot at potential #1-seed Michigan State in the semifinals. Why is this so devastating? One, Wichita just blew their best chance for an RPI/SOS booster. The only other challenging non-conference game on the slate is a road trip to San Diego State, where it’s extremely unlikely the Shockers leave with a victory. Merely the addition of the Spartans on their schedule would improve Wichita’s power rating dramatically. Instead, it’s increasingly likely Gregg Marshall’s team will have to win the MVC Tournament. This task is very possible; after all, the Shockers are the prohibitive favorite, a senior-laden squad with talents like Toure Murry, David Kyles and J.T. Durley. Marshall’s goal in Maui was to pick up two quality wins for the resume in March. That chance has gone by the wayside.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.22.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 22nd, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

All of these games are from tournaments played on a neutral floor. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

Maui Invitational Opening Round: Connecticut vs. Wichita State — 3 pm on ESPN2 (***)

The best game of Maui’s first day features a matchup of teams with contrasting styles. Wichita State is a very deliberate, low scoring team that will sit back and play half court defense. Connecticut, without a dominant big man such as Emeka Okafor or Hasheem Thabeet, prefers to run with its guards and wings led by Kemba Walker. The junior point guard had a good offseason and is tearing it up so far. He had 42/8/3 in a game against Vermont last week, an 89-73 Husky win. Alex Oriakhi has been great for Jim Calhoun in the first two games of the season averaging 11/13 and 3.5 blocks, a Calhoun trademark. As a team, Connecticut pulled down an astounding 52 rebounds per contest in their first two games. Wichita State does a good job on the defensive glass but they will encounter a tough test against Connecticut. The Shockers are fairly efficient on offense despite their slow pace. One thing they have going for them is their three point shooting versus the Huskies’ defense. Wichita shoots it well while UConn ranks 288th in defending the three. To win, the Shockers need to take advantage of this behind 6’4 guards Toure’ Murry and Graham Hatch. Forward J.T. Durley can also step out and stroke it from three so Wichita clearly has the perimeter threats to make this a close game. The Shockers need a strong defensive effort on Walker as well as wing Roscoe Smith. They don’t create a lot of turnovers because of their pace so holding their own on the boards becomes paramount. If Connecticut wins the rebounding battle handily, it’ll be very difficult for Wichita State to win this game.

CBE Classic Semifinal: #1 Duke vs. Marquette – 7:30 pm on ESPN2 (****)

This game is interesting because it’s Duke’s first test against a good team. Marquette has been vastly underrated by many in the crowded Big East but the Golden Eagles have a solid roster full of young talent and experienced players, always a good combination. Everybody knows about Duke and their stars Kyrie Irving, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler so let’s shine a little light on Buzz Williams’ crew from the Brew City and see what they have to do to win. Marquette is led by senior swing Jimmy Butler, a candidate for first team all-Big East. Butler broke out last season and is the focal point of Williams’ offense this year. He is surrounded by dynamic guard Darius Johnson-Odom, promising freshman Vander Blue and senior Dwight Buycks. Marquette’s strength is in the backcourt and on the wing, as is Duke’s. If there’s one thing these two teams don’t do all that well it is defend the three, especially Marquette. Williams needs a great defensive effort from his guards if they hope to contain their explosive opponent. The Golden Eagles defend the paint well, ranking fairly high in defensive two point percentage. They must limit the interior players for Duke and force all the action on the guards where a strong effort can possibly contain them. Duke is even deeper off the bench with Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins, both deep threats. Duke is a heavy favorite in this game for good reason but Marquette is going to give them a run. We think Buzz can motivate his team enough and parlay that with their talent to be in this game deep into the second half. Marquette needs everything to go right in this game but that’s not as far-fetched as you may think. MU can run but they don’t want to get caught in a track meet with the Blue Devils where transition opportunities will favor Duke. To knock off #1, Marquette has to hold Duke around 40% shooting and get a huge game out of a Butler, Johnson-Odom and someone off the bench like Jae Crowder. We’re not picking Marquette to win the game but don’t be surprised if this one is closer than you may have originally thought.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.16.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 16th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Tonight’s slate is loaded with quality games, mostly from the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

#21 Virginia Tech @ #3 Kansas State – 4 pm on ESPN (*****)

Seth Greenberg decided to beef up his non-conference schedule this year after being left out of the last few NCAA Tournaments and this may be his team’s toughest test. The Hokies enter the Octagon of Doom looking to make a statement and ease any NCAA bubble worries, at least temporarily. Most prognosticators say Virginia Tech will be a lot better than the bubble but that thought has to creep into the back of some fans’ minds at times. Led by Malcolm Delaney, four seniors return and all are starters. Kansas State has had some problems early on as coach Frank Martin benched senior Curtis Kelly against James Madison on Friday for not practicing with energy and needing to be a better teammate. His status for today’s game is unknown. Point guard is also a question for the Wildcats as Denis Clemente has moved on. All-American candidate Jacob Pullen can play the point but is better off the ball. K-State seemed to play point guard by committee in their first game as Pullen, Nick Russell, Rodney McGruder and Martavious Irving combined for all 14 of the team’s assists. Kansas State shot only 53% from the free throw line, a problem that plagued them all of last season. Both teams like to play fast but also can get after it defensively as each finished in the top 20 in defensive efficiency last season. Virginia Tech is not a particularly good shooting team so that could play right into the hands of an active Wildcat defense encouraged by their energized crowd. The Hokies may have an issue with depth, especially early in the season when they’re trying to establish a rotation. With J.T. Thompson lost for the season and Cadarian Raines still out with a foot injury, Greenberg is down to seven major contributors. He’ll need freshman Jarell Eddie and Erick Green to step up and become threats off the bench. Kansas State needs to protect the ball and defend well in order to win. Va Tech was fifth nationally in steals and 36th in turnover percentage last year so they’ll be ready to exploit the uncertain K-State point guard situation. Virginia Tech may not have enough shooting to win this one but if Kelly is out, the door will be open for the Hokies to grab an important road victory.

#3 Ohio State @ #8 Florida – 6 pm on ESPN (*****)

ESPN wants to open Louisville’s new arena in prime time but this is really the marquee game of the Tip-Off Marathon. It features a Florida team that returns all five starters and is the trendy pick to win the SEC East and possibly make the final four. Ohio State, a final four favorite, returns four starters of its own and adds super impact freshman Jared Sullinger in the paint. Thad Matta’s Buckeyes have a good blend of youth and experience and are incredibly deep as a result of their terrific recruiting class. If you like three pointers then this is your game. Florida loves to shoot the three and so does the Ohio State backcourt led by Jon Diebler. The Gators struggled a bit in their opening win over UNC-Wilmington as they allowed the Seahawks to shoot 48% from the floor. Florida only shot 32% from behind the arc and they’ll need to do better than that if they hope to beat Ohio State. They’re also going to need players to contribute off the bench because as good as their starters are, you can’t rely on five players to carry your team. Erik Murphy should be the best bet, though a talented group of freshman should see their minutes increase as they settle into their roles in Billy Donovan’s system. Donovan, a Rick Pitino disciple, plays an up-tempo system that emphasizes pressing and three point shooting. For Florida to execute the press properly, they need a fresh stream of bodies coming in and out of the game. While that’s not as important in a single game, depth issues will take their toll as the season moves along. Ohio State is absolutely loaded with a powerful backcourt, frontcourt and bench. Diebler can flat out stroke it from deep and guys like Dallas Lauderdale and David Lighty add toughness and experience to their rotation. Florida needs a good game from senior leader Chandler Parsons and they just can’t afford to have Kenny Boynton go without a three again as he did against UNCW. The Buckeyes throttled North Carolina A&T in their opener behind 24/8 from freshman DeShaun Thomas. Another solid game from him or another OSU freshman could push them to an impressive road victory in the hostile O-Dome. This will be an unbelievably competitive and hard fought game but Ohio State’s depth and talent advantage gives them a great shot to earn a road win that will help build their resume for a possible #1 seed.

#12 Butler @ Louisville – 8pm on ESPN (****)

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Northwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on November 4th, 2010

Welcome to our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

Northwest Region (UT, WY, MT, ID, AK, WA, OR, NorCal)

  • Isaiah Thomas – Jr, G – Washington. For the Pac-10 favorite Huskies, it is the smallest guy on the floor who will have the biggest impact. In each of Isaiah Thomas’ two previous collegiate seasons in Seattle, he has been at best a secondary option. Two years ago it was Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon who were the senior leaders (even though Thomas still led the team in scoring) and last year it was Quincy Pondexter. Nowadays, the 5’8 junior point guard is clearly the face of the program, a lightning-quick, high-flying, pint-sized lefty with a penchant for scoring, even over larger defenders. Thomas is a versatile offensive player, at his best with the ball in his hands and going to his left, but capable of being a scoring threat in all manner of situations.  He is not yet a great three-point shooter, but upped his average to a solid 33% as a sophomore and seems poised to push that number up a couple points again this season, a tool which could be deadly given his explosive first step and ability to finish with any number of acrobatic shots in and around the lane. Thomas also excels at drawing fouls and getting to the line, where he also upped his efficiency as a sophomore to 73%, a number upon which he should improve yet again. One offensive area where Thomas is still finding himself is in terms of getting the rest of his team involved. For instance, there was a stretch of three games at the start of the Pac-10 season last year where he handed out just one total assist. He picked things up in this area down the stretch and averaged two more assists per game in the last 14 games of the season than he did in the first 22, and not coincidentally, the Huskies were a better team over that span, posting an 11-3 record. With senior Venoy Overton and sophomore Abdul Gaddy also capable of running the point for the Huskies, Thomas does have the ability to play off the ball for head coach Lorenzo Romar, but Washington is just more dangerous when Thomas has the ball in his hands, and if he can continue to improve his playmaking skills while still maintaining his explosive scoring ability, everybody on the team will be better for it. Defensively, Thomas is excellent in the open court and away from the basket with his quick hands and feet, but, as is the case with anyone his size, he has been a defensive liability at times in the halfcourt game, a weakness somewhat mitigated by the Huskies’ use of aggressive pressure from Thomas and Overton to keep opponents from getting comfortable in a half-court set. And really, wherever Thomas is on the floor, his talent and ability make it difficult for any opponent to get too comfortable.

Thomas May be Small in Stature, But Not Talent

  • Jeremy Green – Jr, G – Stanford. Last season the Stanford Cardinal were, by and large, a two-man gang. Green and Landry Fields were the only two players to score in double figures and between the two they accounted for almost 39 of Stanford’s average of 69 points per night. With Fields now plying his trade at the next level, the onus for the Stanford offense falls squarely on Green. Green came into last season with the reputation as a designated shooter, after knocking down over 45% of his threes as a freshman on his way to 6.4 points per game, and although he showed an increased proficiency off the bounce as a sophomore, it is still his shooting that opponents need to fear. With his minutes doubled last season, his production more than doubled as his scoring average jumped to 16.6 PPG nightly. In the process, he set a new school record for threes in a season with his 93 makes, and more than half of all his attempts, and makes, were from behind the arc. Green will be called on again to be a big scorer for Johnny Dawkins’ club, and he’ll need to show that he is capable of wearing a target on his back on a nightly basis and still succeeding. Despite Green’s increase in scoring as a sophomore, he did see his three-point percentage dip seven points to 38% last season, and minus Fields’ ability to create opportunities for teammates, Green could find matching last season’s efficiency more difficult. However, expect the Cardinal to run plenty of plays for him, running him off screens both with the ball and away from the ball, allowing him to find shots in both catch-and-shoot situations or even off the dribble. While Green is not an explosive athlete and isn’t often a threat to take the ball all the way to the rim, he is effective at using his dribble to find a spot from which to hit his jumper, although it would be nice to see him attack defenders more with an eye towards getting to the line; he only attempted 92 free throws last season, a shame for an 80-plus-percent shooter. Also, with the ball in his hands, Green doesn’t present much of the threat to the rest of the defenders on the court, as Green is ineffective at finding his teammates for open looks, notching just 25 assists all of last season. Green is a pretty good rebounder for a guard, grabbing 3.8 rebounds per game last season, while defensively, he is merely competent. With his running mate from last season now departed, Green is clearly the go-to guy on the Stanford offense, and he’ll need to show that he is capable of handling those duties, but the next step for the proven shooter is to find ways to get his teammates involved more often, and find ways to get himself to the charity stripe on a more regular basis.

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RTC Conference Primers: #12 – West Coast Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 25th, 2010

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

Predicted Order of Finish

  • 1. Gonzaga (11-3)
  • 1. Saint Mary’s (11-3)
  • 3. Loyola Marymount (9-5)
  • 4. Portland (8-6)
  • 5. Santa Clara (7-7)
  • 6. San Francisco (6-8)
  • 7. San Diego (2-12)
  • 7. Pepperdine (2-12)

All-Conference Team

  • G: Mickey McConnell, Saint Mary’s
  • G: Steven Gray, Gonzaga
  • F: Elias Harris, Gonzaga
  • F: Drew Viney, Loyola
  • C: Luke Sikma, Portland

6th Man

Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary’s

Impact Newcomers

  • G: Steven Holt, Saint Mary’s (12.7 ppg, 6.0 apg in senior year at Jesuit High School, Portland)
  • G: Ben Vozzola, San Diego (21 ppg, 6.0 apg in senior year at Centennial High School, Las Vegas)
  • F: Charles Standifer, San Francisco (24.8 ppg, 10.5 rpg in senior year at Capital Christian High School in Sacramento)
  • F: Yannick Atanga, Santa Clara (15.2 ppg, 14.8 rpg in senior year at Besant Hill, Ojai, CA)
  • C: Kenton Walker, Saint Mary’s (5.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg as sophomore at Creighton University in 08-09)

Just imagine the smile on Mark Few's face if he knocks off some of Gonzaga's top-flight nonconference opponents. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

What You Need to Know

The WCC sent 10-time regular-season champion Gonzaga and conference tournament champion Saint Mary’s to the NCAA Tournament last year, with the Gaels advancing to the Sweet Sixteen after victories over Richmond and Villanova and the Zags winning their first-round game against Florida State. Loyola Marymount and Portland also played in the CollegeInsider.com Post-Season Tournament (CIT), with the Lions losing to Pacific in the first round and Portland losing to Northern Colorado, also in the first round. The conference is hopeful to return to its high-water mark of 2007 when Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and San Diego made the NCAA Tourney. LMU is bidding for the third NCAA invite in 2010-11, counting on a strong performance from its veteran core (four of five starters return) that produced an 18-16 record last year. Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga will be favored to fight for the automatic NCAA bid or an at-large berth.

Predicted Champion

  • Saint Mary’s (NCAA: #10) and Gonzaga (NCAA: #6) will tie atop the WCC regular-season standings at 11-3 each, with Saint Mary’s receiving the automatic bid with a victory over Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament Championship. The Gaels will match their #10-seed of last year, while the Zags, on the strength of a monster out-of-conference schedule, (San Diego State, Kansas State, Duke/Marquette, Illinois, Xavier, Wake Forest and Memphis) receive a #6-seed.
  • The situation regarding Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga was best exemplified by SI.com’s preseason pick of the Gaels as the 15th-best college backcourt and the Zags as the 13th-best frontcourt. Will the Gaels’ wily veteran Mickey McConnell, he of the gaudy 51% three-point average, and Energizer Bunny Matthew Dellavedova, with his ill-fitting jersey and oversized mouthpiece, edge out the Zags’ fearsome frontcourt of 7’0 center Robert Sacre, 6’7 forward Elias Harris and either 7’0 Kelly Olynyk or 6’6 swingman Manny Arop? This face-off will headline the WCC race and might not be decided until the Feb. 24 showdown between the two in Moraga.
  • In the postseason, Saint Mary’s will be hopeful of crossing the Sweet Sixteen divide in 2011, erasing the memory of its collapse against Baylor (72-49) in the 2010 tournament. Gonzaga, which lost in the first round in ’07 and ’08, the Sweet Sixteen in ’09 and the second round in ’10, looks to revive the glory days of deep tournament runs.

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Boom Goes The Dynamite: Midnight Madness 2010 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on October 15th, 2010

And here it is.

Look at that beautiful clock in the top right corner. We’ve been watching that thing tick and tick for almost 200 days, and now…such beautiful stillness. All zeroes.

The only thing that can match this feeling is the beginning of the NCAA Tournament, and even though that’s five months away, the days between this moment and that one will pass like a dream. So let’s enjoy this one tonight. Gyms and arenas are packed across the nation tonight to celebrate the First Official Day of Practice. We’re already checking out some local broadcasts, live streams, Twitter feeds, and live blogs, and the ESPN-U broadcast with their (we like this term) “whip-around” coverage is mere minutes away. Every one of the RTC Compounds (Western, Southern, and Eastern) are locked in and rocking. We have our satellite feeds. We have our Blue Ribbon Yearbooks beside us. We’re ready.

Join us here at 8:45 pm ET (about 15 minutes from now) and start hitting that refresh button for updated comments, and, as always, we encourage you to give us your thoughts via the comments section and Twitter. WELCOME!

8:45 PM — So many programs kicked off their festivities at 7 pm or 8 pm ET, so the first order of business is to try and get you some links up to some of the various happenings:

Dan Wolken, columnist for the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, is live blogging Memphis Madness on his live blog (we actually love the “Wolken In Memphis” title).

Kentucky’s official site is streaming live here at UKAthletics.com.

More on the way…

8:51 — Kentucky’s Enes Kanter, a big wrestling fan, entered to the music formerly used to introduce The Undertaker. He cannot practice tonight, unfortunately for all of us, since just about everyone wants to get a look at this guy. But that was one heck of an entrance.

9:01 — ESPN-U’s broadcast is underway. That aurora borealis background is kind of cool, eh? By the way, if you have such access, Maryland Madness is also live on TV on Comcast MidAtlantic.

9:08 — Wow. From Duke, Jay Williams and Lou Canellis are covered in sweat. Not surprising, considering it’s Cameron Indoor, but it can’t be fun sitting there under hot lights in a sweltering building while wearing a suit. Actually, it’s the Madness, so it’s fun no matter what. But hopefully they have designated toweler-offers (read: interns) standing just out of the shot.

9:12 — Evidently Duke’s Seth Curry took a nasty elbow to the eye and was pretty much spurting blood. This is awful, but hopefully it’s not as bad as the initial shock, and we’ll provide more details as available.

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