The Other 26: Week 12

Posted by KDoyle on February 4th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor


Parity is a great thing in sports. Not many enjoy watching a league where one team consistently dominates the competition and all the others are simply happy to compete with the top team. In the West Coast Conference this was the case for years. Gonzaga would roll right on through league play, win the conference championship, and then head onto the NCAA Tournament. Sure the ‘Zags would be upset on occasions, but those occasions were few and far between. This year, that is hardly the case in the WCC. St. Mary’s is the current leader, but there are a few other teams that are capable of knocking off the Gaels—Portland already has. The WCC is not the only conference where there is parity. How about the wacky Conference USA? It seems that every team in that conference has a shot to win it. The Atlantic 10 and CAA both have a couple teams at the top, but there are several others right below them that are just waiting for the right time to pounce on the top dogs. The MAC is the perfect instance of parity this year. You may call it mediocrity, but you cannot say that 11 teams with records ranging from 3-5 to 6-2 is not parity.

One can argue that parity is essentially synonymous with hope. Fans of every team that is right in the thick of things within their conference have legitimate hope that their guys will pull through and be the last one standing come the conclusion of their conference tournament.


The Other 26 Rankings

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The 10 BracketBuster Games You Don’t Want to Miss

Posted by KDoyle on February 1st, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC Contributor.  His weekly column, The Other 26, explores the minutiae of the twenty-six Division I conferences outside the BCS sextet. 

One of the best weekends of the year prior to Championship Week and, of course, the NCAA Tournament, is when the BracketBusters are played. It provides a nice break from conference play, and some of the top mid-major teams in the country have an opportunity to strut their stuff, build up that all-important resume, and have a last opportunity of picking up a quality non-conference victory. Because many of the top games are televised, it is also a great chance for all you guys out there that solely pay attention to the BCS teams around the country to gain some insight of who may have a shot at upsetting a higher seed and advancing a round or two when filling out your Tournament bracket next month. Here are my top 10 BracketBuster game, from tenth to first:

10.   Kent State at Drexel—February 18, 9PM (ESPNU)

Neither team is in the running for an at-large bid, but obtaining additional confidence heading into their respective conference tournaments is what both will play for. Drexel is just a step below the top teams in the CAA, while Kent State is right in the mix for the MAC crown as there has not been one team that has truly distinguished themselves. The Flashes, led by Justin Greene’s 16 points and 7.5 boards a night, are one of the more balanced teams in the MAC as five players average nine points or more. Chris Fouch, arguably Drexel’s top player, will really test Kent State’s backcourt.

9.   Austin Peay at Fairfield—February 19, 1PM (ESPNU)

Fairfield has been flying under the radar playing in the MAAC this year—not as much attention has been given to the league due to Siena’s return to mediocrity after a great run under Fran McCaffery—and they are one of the hottest teams in the nation. Aside from a tough one point loss at Loyola (MD) in mid-January, Fairfield has not lost since November 23 against St. Joseph’s. They are currently the favorite to win the MAAC, but there are a host of teams nipping at their heels. The Stags will take on an Austin Peay squad that sits atop their league—the Ohio Valley Conference—as well. The game will feature two of the better point guards in the land of mid-majors as Derek Needham for Fairfield averages 14 points and 5 assists, and Caleb Brown for Austin Peay is second in the OVC in assists.

8.   Hofstra at Wright State—February 19, 11AM (ESPNU)

Hofstra and Wright State are both teetering on the edge of becoming legitimate contenders in their respective leagues. The Pride got out to a quick 5-0 start in the CAA, but have gone 3-3 in their last six to fall behind Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason. In the crazy Horizon League this year, it is anyone’s best guess who will be the last one standing. Cleveland State with Norris Cole looks to be the current favorite, but Wright State is not far behind. The storyline for this game will undoubtedly revolve around Charles Jenkins who has a legitimate shot of hearing his name called by David Stern on NBA Draft night, but don’t be surprised if Vaughn Duggins for Wright State steals the show. The fifth-year senior has scored in double figures in every game save two, and is the fourth leading scorer in the Horizon League.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.13.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 13th, 2011

***** – 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.

Last night’s games didn’t disappoint as #1 Duke went down and a host of other competitive games made Wednesday a night to savor. The schedule is lighter tonight but a few important conference matchups are on tap. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#8 Purdue @ #21 Minnesota – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

Purdue Obviously Misses Hummel, But Johnson and the Boilermakers Have Proven They Can Hang Without Him

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 12th, 2011

Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

A Look Back

In the first stretch of the WAC play (Wednesday-Monday) the home teams went 8-1, with New Mexico State picking up the only road win. In the second weekend of WAC play (Thursday-Saturday) the road teams went 6-1 with New Mexico State picking up the only home win.  The game of the week and certainly the early frontrunner for the game of the year in the league was Boise State‘s 102-101 quadruple overtime victory at San Jose State.  For most of the season we have believed that the WAC will be a one-bid conference come March, however, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi projected Boise State to win the WAC Tournament and Utah State to earn an at-large bid in this week’s Bracketology.

Player of the Week:

Boise State’s La’Shard Anderson was named Player of the Week after leading Boise State to a pair of WAC road wins at San Jose State (102-101, 4OT) and Hawai‘i (79-55).  Anderson scored a career-high 31 points in Boise State’s quadruple overtime win at San Jose State. He scored 17 of his 31 points during the four overtime periods and scored all four of the Broncos’ points in the final overtime.  Anderson followed that up with 20 points in BSU’s win at Hawai‘i and hit five of six shots from three-point range.  For the week, Anderson averaged 25.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game while shooting 55.2 percent (16-29) from the field and 75.0 percent (6-8) from three-point range. He also hit 72.2 percent (13-18) of his shots at the free throw line.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (14-2, 3-0)

Up Next: 01/13 at Boise State, 01/15 at Fresno State

Utah State picked up one of the six road wins by WAC teams as they overcame a ten-point deficit in the second half to win by 14 at Nevada.  Utah State torched the Wolf Pack defense in the second half, shooting 69.2 percent from the field.  Surprisingly enough, the UtAgs only hit two three pointers in the second half during the comeback. Tai Wesley went for 21 points and eight rebounds, Brockeith Pane added 17 points and Brady Jardine scored 14.  The trio combined to shoot 20-27 from the floor (74 percent).  The Aggies continue their road journey as they travel to Boise for a first place showdown between the league’s only remaining unbeatens.  They’ll then wrap up the road trip at Fresno State against the second-place Bulldogs.

2. Boise State (11-5, 4-0)

Up Next: 01/13 vs. Utah State, 01/15 vs. Nevada (ESPN Full Court)

Boise State continued to impress as they notched their first road conference sweep since prior to joining the WAC as they survived a 102-101 quadruple overtime battle with San Jose State and then easily dispatched of Hawai’i, 79-55.  The biggest test of the season comes on Thursday night, as they host Utah State in a battle for first place in the WAC.  A win by Boise State would send a strong message to the rest of the league that the path to the title could go through Boise in their final season in the WAC.  The Broncos are hoping to start 5-0 in conference play for the first time since the 1987-88 season when they won seven in a row to start Big Sky play. Following their showdown with Utah State, they’ll host Nevada.

3. Idaho (9-6, 3-1)

Up Next: 01/12 vs. Nevada (ESPN2), 01/15 at CS-Bakersfield, 01/17 at Fresno State

Like their in-state brethren, the Vandals also swept the Hawai’i/San Jose trip to improve to 3-1 in league play.  After struggling through an up-and-down (mostly down) non-conference schedule, the Vandals have found whatever it was they were missing in the first semester.  After a solid defensive performance against Hawai’i, holding the Warriors to just 44 points, the Vandals overcame an eight-point halftime deficit to surge past San Jose State.  Idaho shot 66.7 percent in the second half and finished with five players scoring in double figures.  Idaho hosts Nevada in a nationally televised game on ESPN2 then heads to the state of California for a pair of road games as they’ll face Cal State-Bakersfield on Saturday night and Fresno State on Monday night.

4. Fresno State (7-7, 3-1)

Up Next: 01/15 vs. Utah State, 01/17 vs. Idaho

After newcomer Tim Steed injured an ankle in the Bulldogs’ win against Nevada, he sat out both road games against Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State.  Though Steed-less, coach Steve Cleveland‘s squad took a 63-56 win. The momentum was slowed next game though as New Mexico State is tough to top in Las Cruces and that’s exactly how it played out in an 80-68 loss to the Aggies.   Next up are two toughies: Utah State plays in Fresno on the 15th and Idaho the same on the 17th.  A home sweep would be huge for the Bulldogs, but even a split would be acceptable and would keep them in the top half of the conference standings.  It’s unknown when Steed will be able to return, which is a blow when considering he’s averaging 18 points per game in conference play.  Greg Smith has edged into a team leader, averaging 10.9 points per game, and freshman Kevin Olekaibe is still right there at 10.2. In WAC play, Smith is tied for fifth in rebounding at 7.7 a contest. Steve Shepp ranks second in the league with 4.5 assists per game.

5. New Mexico State (8-9, 2-1)

Up Next: 01/13 vs. Hawai’i (ESPN Full Court), 01/15 vs. San Jose State (ESPN Full Court)

The Aggies knocked off Fresno State 80-68 to improve to 2-1 in league play and more importantly, hold serve at home, something the rest of the league’s home teams were unable to do over the weekend.  The Aggies were a hot 57.9  percent in the first half and an even better 58.3 percent in the second half.  They also went to the free throw line a whopping 37 times and were able to convert 26 of those attempts (70.3 percent).  The Aggies have shot 472 free throws this season, which is nearly 100 more than their opponents.  Up next for the Aggies are a pair of dangerous winless WAC foes in Hawai’i and San Jose State.

6. Nevada (4-12, 1-2)

Up Next: 01/12 at Idaho (ESPN2), 01/5 at Boise State

The learning experiences continue for the Wolf Pack as they dropped their showdown against Utah State 81-67 after leading by as many as ten in the second half.  Duke transfer Olek Czyz continues to dominate WAC defenses as he scored 25 against Utah State in the loss and he leads the league in scoring in conference play at 24.7 points per game.  A pair of tough road tests await the young Nevada squad as they’ll travel to Moscow to take on Idaho in a nationally televised game, and then will face league-leading Boise State.  Earning at least a road sweep is critical for the Wolf Pack if they want to keep a top four seed in the WAC tournament in their grasp.

8. San Jose State (8-7, 0-4)

Up Next: 01/13 at Louisiana Tech, 01/15 at New Mexico State (ESPN Full Court)

Opening WAC play with road losses to Utah State and then Fresno weren’t all that unusual. But those were followed by home defeats at the hands of Boise State (102-101 in four overtimes) and then Idaho 75-67.  Heading to Louisiana Tech on the 13th followed by New Mexico State on the 15th are critical games for the Spartans and earning at least a split is a must.   Fifth-year seniors Adrian Oliver and Justin Graham have generally been consistent but no third (or fourth) player has stepped each game day. Sophomore junior college transfer Brylle Kamen has moved into the SJSU lineup, replacing Matt Ballard in the middle. Oliver is currently fifth in scoring in the WAC at 19.8 points per game. Graham ranks second with 5.8 assists a contest.

8. Hawai’i (9-7, 0-3)

Up Next: 01/13 at New Mexico State, 01/15 at Hawai’i

Who are the Rainbow Warriors? The team that roared out of the chute with a sparkling early record or the one that currently is winless in the WAC (losses to Utah State and Nevada on the road, losses to Idaho and Boise State at home)? The respective 44 and 55-point outputs against the Vandals and Broncos are of concern as Gib Arnold‘s team isn’t showing the ability to penetrate nor a talent for dropping in the outside shot of late.  Next is tripping to New Mexico State, followed by a detour to Louisiana Tech.  The Warriors are 0-3 on the road this season and winning on the road is a must in this league.  Senior center Bill Amis is rusty having missed a bevy of games due to injury so Hiram Thompson and Zane Johnson, the veritable team elders, need to step up and produce. Dominick Brumfield, a junior college newcomer upfront, is also getting back into playing shape so UH has the possibility of being a better team further down the road simply based on the return of Amis to his previous level and Brumfield adjusting to D-I play. Center Vander Joaquim is seventh in the conference in rebounding at 7.8 a game and is shooting 63%, sixth in the WAC.

9. Louisiana Tech (9-7, 0-3)

Up Next: 01/13 vs. San Jose State, 01/15 vs. Hawai’i

Is it time to hit the panic button in Ruston? It very well may be if they are unable to pick up at least one win this weekend against fellow winless conference mates San Jose State and Hawai’i.  The Bulldogs lost Round I of the Battle of the Bone as Fresno State won 63-56 despite playing without one of their top players.  The news doesn’t get any better for Louisiana Tech either as they will be without sophomore starter Brandon Gibson the remainder of the season as he underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL suffered against Boise State on December 29th.  Gibson was fourth on the team in steals (13), third on the team in scoring (9.2 PPG), second in rebounds (5.1 RPG) and first in blocked shots (14).  It’s not good news, as the Bulldogs are dead least in offensive output (54.3 PPG).  Winning at home is crucial this weekend as the next pair of conference games will be at Utah State and at Nevada.

A Look Ahead

All eyes will be on Boise on Thursday night as Boise State and Utah State battle for first place and on Saturday fans will be watching with great interest as Fresno State hosts Utah State.  Also this weekend at least one of the WAC’s winless teams will get off the mat as SJSU (0-4) and Hawai’i (0-3) both visit Louisiana Tech (0-3).

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 6th, 2011

Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

A Look Back

The WAC opened up conference play, and after two games, there are three teams atop the leaderboard with 2-0 records.  Utah State opened 2-0 as expected, however, Boise State and an even bigger surprise, Fresno State, are also 2-0.  New Mexico State has the league’s only road conference victory, winning at Idaho, 74-69.  Off to disappointing 0-2 starts are San Jose State and Louisiana Tech, both of whom opened conference play on the road.  No team had a worse first week than Louisiana Tech, which was blown out by both Boise State and Idaho, 71-60 (the Bulldogs trailed Boise State 36-14 at half) and 77-47, respectively.

Player of the Week:

Utah State’s Tai Wesley was named the Player of the Week for the week of Dec. 27-Jan. 2 as he led Utah State to a pair of WAC home wins against Hawai’i (74-66) and San Jose State (80-71). Against the Warriors, Wesley posted his fourth double-double of the season tying a career-high with 27 points to go along with 13 rebounds. Wesley was 8-12 from the field and a perfect 11-11 at the free throw line in 38 minutes of action. Against the Spartans, Wesley scored 16 points, grabbed eight rebounds, dished out four assists and blocked three shots. In a spectacular outing from the floor, he shot 5-6 from the field and 6-8 at the charity stripe.  For the week, Wesley averaged 21.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 blocks per game. He shot 72.2 percent (13-18) from the field and 89.5 percent (17-19) from the free throw line.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (11-2, 2-0)

Up Next: 01/08 at Nevada (ESPNU)

Yes, the UtAgs are 2-0 in conference play, however, they were pushed to the brink by Hawai’i and to a lesser extent, San Jose State.  USU needed a career night from Tai Wesley (27 points, 13 rebounds) to get by Hawai’i as the Warriors  trailed Utah State by just three with 42 seconds left in the game.  Utah State’s defense was suspect, allowing Hawai’i to shoot 63.2 percent for the game, but a 32-13 rebounding advantage (including 18 offensive boards) allowed the Aggies to escape.  Rebounding again played a key role in their victory over the Spartans as they held a 40-26 advantage.  The Aggies’ defense in the first half allowed 48 percent shooting by the visiting Spartans, but they clamped down in the second half allowing just 38.7 percent shooting by the visitors.  USU hits the road for a single game as they head to Reno to take on the Wolf Pack.

2. Boise State (9-5, 2-0)

Up Next: 01/06 at San Jose State, 01/08 at Hawai’i

The Broncos made a statement that they will be a team to contend with in their final season in the WAC.  Boise State stifled Louisiana Tech in the first half, allowing just 14 first half points en route to a 71-60 victory.  Against New Mexico State, it was a stellar second half defensive effort that propelled them to an 81-78 come-from-behind victory as they held the Aggies to just 37.5 percent shooting after allowing NM State to hit 69.6 percent of their shots in the first half including eight three pointers.  Boise State forced three straight Aggie turnovers late to turn a tie into a five-point advantage and held on for the victory, hitting seven of nine free throws down the stretch.  The Broncos take to the road, where they’re just 3-4 this season.  They’ll face two teams in San Jose State and Hawai’i that are desperate for conference victories.

3. Fresno State (6-6, 2-0)

Up Next: 01/06 at Louisiana Tech, 01/08 at New Mexico State (ESPN Full Court)

Are the youthful Bulldogs stabilizing and moving forward? After spending the bulk of the non-conference at the bottom of the WAC standings Fresno State’s 2-0 start has to be a surprise to even the most loyal of Bulldog fans.  Fresh off a solid 75-62 home win over San Jose State — with Greg Smith finally as the leading Bulldog scorer — Fresno State entertained Nevada and notched another conference victory, 80-74.  Smith and newcomer Tim Steed have individually highlighted these past two games.  Smith finished with 15 points and nine boards against the Wolf Pack plus 16/8 in the SJSU matchup and Steed posted 20/6 against the Wolf Pack and 16 and six against the Spartans. Newly returned to eligibility, point guard Steve Shepp has a marvelous 12/1 assist-to-turnover ratio.  Next, it’s hitting the road to Ruston to play Louisiana Tech and then moving over to Las Cruces and New Mexico State.  An unrequested memo to the Bulldog perimeter players: If the team wishes to have a chance on the road, KEEP GETTING SMITH THE BALL. Steve Cleveland‘s squad is 5-2 at home but just 1-4 on the road although falling to Colorado State, Utah, UC-Santa Barbara and BYU falls short of venial sin qualifications.  Injuries are a definite concern for the Bulldogs, as Steed could miss both games of the road trip after suffering an ankle sprain against the Wolf Pack.

4. New Mexico State (7-9, 1-1)

Up Next: 01/08 vs. Fresno State (ESPN Full Court)

The Aggies came this close to notching a road sweep, but after coming from behind to defeat Idaho by five, the Aggies could not overcome three late turnovers at Boise State and lost, 81-78.  The Aggie offense has been uneven in the first two conference games.  They shot a dismal 29 percent in the first half at Idaho, but then strung together two white-hot halves shooting 63 percent in the second half against Idaho and 69.6 percent in the first half against Boise State. The roller coaster continued, as the Aggies cooled off considerably, shooting just 37.5 percent in the second half against the Broncos.  Troy Gillenwater’s return to the lineup had an immediate impact, as he scored 22 and 24 points respectively on the trip.  Also returning from injury, though having less of a scoring impact, was center Hamidu Rahman.  One Aggie who will not be returning to action this season is preseason First Team All-WAC selection Wendell McKines.  It was announced this week that McKines will redshirt this season and return for his senior season in 2011-2012.  McKines suffered a foot injury in preseason practice and has not seen action on the court this season.  The Aggies host Fresno State on Saturday night where they’ll try to “hold serve” at home in the league race.

5. Idaho (7-6, 1-1)

Up Next: 01/06 at Hawai’i, 01/08 at San Jose State

The Vandals split a pair at home, losing to New Mexico State 74-69 then clobbering Louisiana Tech, 77-47, two nights later.  Despite shooting 53.6 percent in the second half against the Aggies, the Vandals could not hang on to a two-point halftime lead falling behind by as many as eight points late in the second half.  The Vandals did cut the Aggie lead to two points with 1:33 left and again with 14 seconds left but a missed layup by Landon Tatum with four seconds left sealed their fate.  Idaho took out their frustrations on Louisiana Tech putting together an impressive defensive performance as they held the Bulldogs to 28.8 percent shooting for the game and just five buckets in the second half.  Idaho got 20 points from Jeff Ledbetter on 6-7 shooting (3-4 from three point distance).  Up next for the Vandals is a road trip to Hawai’i and San Jose State where like Boise State, they’ll be facing a pair of teams desperate for a conference victory.

6. Nevada (4-11, 1-1)

Up Next: 01/08 vs. Utah State (ESPNU)

Just two nights after Utah State struggled with Hawai’i, the Wolf Pack easily dispatched of the visiting Warriors, 86-69.  Olek Czyz and Dario Hunt each scored 23 (both on 9-13 shooting) while Malik Story added 18 all on three pointers (6-11).  The 86 points was a season-high for Nevada.  The Wolf Pack’s first road trip in conference play resulted in an 80-74 loss despite 26 points from Czyz and 50 percent shooting from the team in both halves.  The Wolf Pack trailed by five at the break but took a 58-56 lead with just under eight minutes remaining in the game, however, the Bulldogs would pull away slowly sending the Pack to defeat.  The Wolf Pack hit just 2-11 three point attempts in the second half.


7. Hawai’i (9-5, 0-2)

Up Next: 10/6 vs. Idaho, 10/8 vs. Boise State

UH played Utah State tough (74-66) in The Spectrum, a veritable death chamber for opposing teams, but fell apart later on in Reno, allowing a young Nevada team to put up 86 points while scoring 69. Now it’s Idaho, followed by Boise State coming to the islands and momentum needs to be regenerated by the young Rainbow Warriors.  Leading scorer Zane Johnson has been en fuego of late with his shooting touch (10-16, 6-9 from three the past two games) but fellow perimeter player Hiram Thompson needs to shake off his back woes.  The world isn’t awaiting the return of forward Bill Amis (foot injury) but head coach Gib Arnold and the Hawaii hoops fans sure are. Having the solid frontcourt scorer and rebounder available will only open up more outside opportunities for Arnold’s guards and wings but Amis’ latest problem is strep. At least it’s not strep foot, if such a malady is possible.  Amis returned to practice on Tuesday, a welcome sight for Arnold and an unwelcome sight for the eight other coaches in the WAC.

8. San Jose State (8-5, 0-2)

Up Next: 12/29 at Fresno State, 12/31 at Utah State

A loss on the road to Fresno State (75-62), followed by another to Utah State  (80-71) have the Spartans at a critical juncture. Boise State comes to town followed by Idaho this week and San Jose State needs to even up its conference record.  The flu slowed down Adrian Oliver last week scoring a pedestrian (by Oliver standards) 15 and 18 points respectively but he should be free and clear of symptoms from here on out.  Newcomer Brylle Kamen is the best-shooting frontcourter to date on the squad this season but the Spartan Big Three (Kamen, Will Clark and Matt Ballard) all remain below 40% at 38%, 37% and 25% respectively.

9. Louisiana Tech (9-7, 0-2)

Up Next: 01/06 vs. Fresno State

Louisiana Tech’s dismal showing on the road cannot be understated.  After getting pummeled in the first half by Boise State (36-14), the Bulldogs had to have felt a little better about themselves as they headed to Moscow after shooting 55.6 percent in the second half against the Broncos and making a blowout look a bit more competitive.  However, that was not the case as the Bulldogs were shellacked by the Vandals, 77-47.  LA Tech hit just 15 buckets for the game and hit just five in the second half (5-22), a fate they suffered in the first half against Boise State (5-25).  DeAndre Brown had 24 points against Boise State and 13 against Idaho and Olu Ashaolu finished with 15/10 and 9/8 respectively but there wasn’t much help for those two from their teammates.  The Bulldogs have just one game this week, The Battle for the Bone (Part I) as they host Fresno State who comes in riding high after opening league play 2-0.

A Look Ahead

Week Two in the WAC provides some interesting matchups and some desperation games for some (San Jose State, Louisiana Tech and Hawai’i) while the home teams try to hold serve (just one home loss through the first nine conference games).  Fresno State at New Mexico State, Boise State at Hawai’i and Utah State at Nevada highlight this week’s games.

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The Other 26: Week 7

Posted by KDoyle on January 4th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.


I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the college basketball season is nearly half over. It is not all bad though, with conference play beginning we are just another step closer to Championship Week, Selection Sunday, and, of course, the NCAA Tournament. During this time of the year, the Other 26 and BCS largely go their separate ways, only to be reunited just two months later on the biggest stage of them all. As it is every year, the non-conference is nothing more than a tease of what is to come later. What are five major things that we learned during the first half of the year?

  • The top three teams in the Mountain West (SDSU, UNLV, BYU) will all be a force in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Gonzaga and Butler are not as dominant as they have been in past years, but both seem poised to perform well in their conference play as they drastically improved in the latter half of the non-conference schedule.
  • Temple and Richmond can go toe-to-toe with the big boys. In one week, the Owls defeated Maryland and then Georgetown, and then just weeks later they were points away from beating Villanova. As for the Spiders, they have beaten four of five BCS teams they played against.
  • Don’t sleep on Conference USA. Although the league probably will receive only two bids—maybe three—Central Florida, Memphis, Southern Mississippi, UAB and UTEP are pretty darn good.
  • The Mountain West and Atlantic 10 will combine to have more teams in the NCAA Tournament than the ACC and SEC. Okay that is a bit of a reach, but don’t be surprised if this is close to happening. Right now, the only lock in the ACC is Duke, obviously. As for the SEC, it is only Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The MWC will almost certainly have SDSU, BYU, and UNLV, and the Atlantic 10 is a bit of a crapshoot at the top. Over the last three years, however, the A10 has sent three years to the Dance in each year—food for thought.

The Other 26 Rankings

Tidbits from the Rankings

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 30th, 2010

Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

A Look Back

The WAC finished up non-conference play and no team did better than the Hawai’i in closing out its non-conference season.  Playing shorthanded, the Warriors hung tough with the ACC’s Florida State and then picked up wins over Utah (just its tenth in 57 tries) and a short-handed Mississippi State team from the SEC (playing without Renardo Sidney and Elgin Bailey).  New Mexico State lost by 20 to St. Mary’s and Nevada lost by 30 at Washington and by four at Portland while Boise State also lost by nine at Portland.

Player of the Week: San Jose State’s Adrian Oliver was named the Player of the Week for the week of Dec. 20-26.  Oliver scored a career-high 42 points in just 25 minutes of play in a 95-62 win over Puget Sound. The 42 points broke the 30-year old San Jose State single-game scoring record of 40 points. Oliver also broke the SJSU single-game mark for the most points in a half with 30, besting his own mark of 25 which he set last season. He also set a San Jose State record for most consecutive three-point baskets made in a game with seven and tied the school record for most threes made in a single game.  Oliver out-scored Puget Sound by himself in the first half of the contest, 30-29.  In the game, Oliver tallied 42 points on 12-of-15 (80 percent) shooting from the field. He hit 7-of-9 (77.8 percent) shots from three-point range and was 11-of-13 (84.6 percent) from the free throw line. He also recorded three rebounds, four assists, one block and one steal.

Top 10 Scorers Heading Into Conference Play:

  1. Adrian Oliver (SJSU) – 25.8 PPG
  2. Robert Arnold (BSU) – 16.2 PPG
  3. DeAndre Brown (LTU) – 16.1 PPG
  4. Justin Graham (SJSU) – 16.1 PPG
  5. Olu Ashaolu (LTU) – 15.4 PPG
  6. Zane Johnson (UH) – 14.4 PPG
  7. Tai Wesley (USU) – 13.8 PPG
  8. La’Shard Anderson (BSU) – 13.5 PPG
  9. Malik Story (NEV) – 13.3 PPG
  10. Dario Hunt (NEV) – 13.1 PPG

Top 10 Rebounders Heading Into Conference Play:

  1. Dario Hunt (NEV) – 10.2 RPG
  2. Olu Ashaolu (LTU) – 9.1
  3. Brady Jardine (USU) – 8.6
  4. Tai Wesley (USU) – 8.3
  5. Wil Carter (SJSU) – 7.9
  6. Joaquim Vander (UH) – 7.1
  7. Shawn Henderson (UI) – 6.4
  8. Matt Ballard (SJSU) – 6.2
  9. Brandon Wiley (UI) – 6.0
  10. Greg Smith (FSU) – 6.0

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (11-2)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. Hawai’i, 12/31 vs. San Jose State

Utah State heads into conference play as the only WAC team in the RPI Top 100 (56th) but has dropped over 20 spots in the last two weeks despite not losing any games.  Utah State sports the league’s best record at 11-2, however, they haven’t exactly played a murderer’s row schedule-wise.  Believe it or not, their best win (based on RPI) is a win over 4-8 Long Beach State and four of their last five victories have come against teams with RPIs higher than 230 including last week’s pastings of Western Michigan and Troy.  The UtAgs open up conference play at home versus a resurgent Hawai’i squad on Wednesday night and then host San Jose State, also a team playing well, on Friday night.  Tai Wesley is one of just three WAC players currently in the Top 10 in both scoring and rebounding in the league.

2. Hawai’i (7-2)

Up Next: 12/29 at Utah State, 12/31 at Nevada

Home cooking has aided the sparkling record (8-1 in games in the islands) but regardless, nobody expected such a record, especially early on with a mostly brand new team.  The Warriors head into conference play as one of the hotter teams in the league with solid wins over Utah and Mississippi State in the very competitive Diamond Head Classic (won by Butler).  Forward Bill Amis remains sidelined but seemingly should be back soon and guard Hiram Thompson is also hurting but still playing major minutes and performing effectively. Counting Amis, Gib Arnold‘s squad has five players scoring in double figures and boasting a 45% overall shooting percentage, plus 40% on three-pointers — this is not last year’s UH roster. Hawaii is also holding opponents to 37% shooting. But 213 turnovers in 12 games needs roundball liposuction.  UH opens up at Utah State and at Nevada so we’ll know very quickly how much momentum they generated from their 5th place showing at the Diamond Head Classic.

3. Louisiana Tech (9-5)

Up Next: 12/29 at Boise State, 12/31 at Idaho

Louisiana Tech, 8-5 against Division I teams, their best win is against 6-5 Houston (RPI 216).  They’ve played one game against a team with an RPI in the Top 100 and that was against Texas (10-2, RPI 26) to start the season.  The Bulldogs have two players in the Top 10 in the league in scoring, DeAndre Brown (3rd) and Olu Ashaolu (5th) and two of the Top 12 rebounders in the league, Olu Ashaolu (2nd) and Brandon Gibson (12th).  The Bulldogs are 3rd in the league in scoring averaging 71.3 points per game and they are third in the league in field goal percentage defense with opponents hitting 41.4 percent of their shots.  The Bulldogs open up conference play at Boise State and at Idaho.

4. San Jose State (8-3)

Up Next: 12/29 at Fresno State, 12/31 at Utah State

The split for the Spartans is 4-1 at home and 4-2 roadin’ it, the best away record in the league so far.  SJSU leads the conference in scoring offense (yes, pick yourself up off the floor) at 75.9 points per game and star backcourter Adrian Oliver is coming off a 42 point performance. It a backcourt-led team with Justin Graham averaging 16.1 points a game on 51% overall shooting and 58% with his 33 trey attempts. But frontcourters Wil Carter and Matt Ballard must do better than 37% and 24% shooting respectively or such deficiencies may prove harmful especially when matched up against the bigs of Utah State and New Mexico State.  SJSU meets Fresno State in Fresno on Wednesday and then heads to Logan for a New Year’s Eve matchup with Utah State on Friday.

5. Boise State (7-5)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. Louisiana Tech, 12/31 vs. New Mexico State

The Broncos dropped their final non-conference game of the season at Portland but head into conference play with a chance to make an early statement with home games versus Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State.  The Broncos are one of the four surprise teams in the league thus far.  While their record is just 6-5 and they’ve lost five of their last six games, first year head coach Leon Rice has them playing competitive ball.  They lost by just three against UNLV (11-2, RPI 13) in Vegas and by nine at Portland (10-3, RPI 36).  The Broncos are the league’s second best scoring team (74.9 PPG) and the third best scoring defense team (64.0 PPG).

6. Idaho (6-5)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. New Mexico State, 12/31 vs. Louisiana Tech

Idaho looks to get off to a good start in conference play against the outpost schools, New Mexico State and LA Tech.  Idaho head into league play as the lowest scoring team in the league averaging just 64.4 points per game but are second in the league in assists per game (13.4) and are the second best three point shooting team in the league (38.5 percent).  The Vandals are allowing just 66.0 points per game.  Not surprisingly the Vandals do not have a player in the Top 15 in scoring, however, they have three of the top 15 rebounders in the league in Shawn Henderson (7th), Brandon Wiley (9th) and Luiz Toldeo (15th).

7. New Mexico State (6-8)

Up Next: 12/29 at Idaho, 12/31 at Boise State

The Aggies’ struggles have come because of a spate of injuries that at one point had wiped out four of their five projected starters, Troy Gillenwater, Hamidu Rahman, Gordo Castillo and Wendell McKines.  Castillo is back on the court but McKines has not played all season due to the broken foot, Gillenwater has not played since the first half of the New Mexico game in Albuquerque on December 11th and Rahman has not played since the December 13th game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.  The Aggies have played eight games against teams in the Top 125 RPI but have lost all eight.  The four wins have come against Louisiana twice (1-8, RPI 309), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-11, RPI 279) and Pacific (5-5, RPI 126).  Head Coach Marvin Menzies believes that two of the remaining three players who are out with injury could see action in the next couple of games.  Under Menzies, the Aggies have tied for the regular season title (’07/’08), reached the conference tournament semifinals (’08/’09) and won the conference tournament (’09/’10) in his first three seasons and has led the Aggies to a 32-16 record in conference play.  The Aggies have just one player in the Top 15 in scoring, Christian Kabongo (11.5 PPG, 13th) and just one Top 15 rebounder, Tyrone Watson (5.6 RPG, 11th).  The Aggies open up on the road making the Idaho swing first in Moscow then to Boise.

8. Fresno State (4-6)

Up Next: 12/29 vs. San Jose State, 01/03 vs. Nevada

The Bulldogs are actually in the positive at home with a 3-2 record but the road hasn’t been so hospitable at 1-4. Taking heed of the admonition that a child shall lead them, frosh backcourter Kevin Olekaibe tops the squad in scoring at 10.7 a contest. The Greg Smith Funk remains ongoing as he is mired at 9.7 points per game along with 6.3 boards each time out. Point guard Steven Shepp just returned from academic exile and should help with the assist-to-turnover ratio. Believe it or not, Steve Cleveland‘s team lacks a familiar name in the top 15 point producers in the WAC, indicating just how much Paul George and to a lesser extent Sylvester Seay are missed offensively.  League play commences with San Jose State coming to town on Wednesday, followed by Nevada on Monday.

9. Nevada (3-10)

Up Next: 12/31 vs. Hawai’i, 01/03 at Fresno State

Nevada’s struggles have come because they lost 83 percent of their scoring through the NBA Draft and graduation.  They have really struggled to find consistency and their two Division I wins have come against Montana (6-4, RPI 140) and Portland State (6-5, RPI 247).  Nevada opens up conference play versus resurgent Hawai’i and then heads to Fresno to take on Fresno State.

A Look Ahead

The league did not look good in non-conference play so the WAC will revert back to a one-bid league.  It’s the swan song for Boise State as it completes its farewell tour in the WAC before jumping to the Mountain West next season.  Everyone is 0-0 starting tonight and with the change in format to the conference tournament, finishing in the top four in the league assures playing no more than three games in three days (just two games if you’re the first or second place finisher) whereas a bottom four finish means a trip to the Big Dance will require winning a four-game in four days gauntlet.

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 15th, 2010

Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

A Look Back

Heading into the final week and a half of non-conference play the WAC has an RPI ranking of 19 out of 32 teams, and worse yet, has the weakest strength of schedule among the 31 conferences and independents, according to RealTimeRPI.  The league has no victories over Top-100 RPI opponents and just four victories over opponents with RPIs in the Top 150.  Utah State is the only league member in the RPI Top 100 (#29) and just one of two schools along with Louisiana Tech (#130) in the Top 150.  To further illustrate the tough times the league is encountering this season, the longest current winning streak in the league is two, by Fresno State and Utah State. Nevada and New Mexico State recently ended seven-game losing streaks by defeating San Francisco State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, respectively.

Player of the Week: Tai Wesley, Utah State – Wesley takes the honors after leading Utah State to a pair of home wins last week against Long Beach State (81-53) and Cal State Bakersfield (77-58). Against the 49ers, Wesley posted his first double-double of the season with 16 points and a career-high 14 rebounds to go along with a season-high six assists. Against the Roadrunners, he recorded another double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds, to go along with three assists. For the two games, Wesley averaged 16.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.0 steals. He also shot 63.2 percent (12-19) from the field and 61.5 percent (8-13) from the free throw line.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (7-2)

Up Next: 12/18 at Utah Valley, 12/21 vs. Idaho State, 12/22 vs. Western Michigan, 12/23 vs. Troy

The UtAgs rolled past visiting Cal State-Bakersfield 77-58 getting a double-double from Tai Wesley.  The Aggies led 37-16 at halftime while holding UCSB to just 23.1 percent shooting (6-26).  The Aggies did, however, allow Bakersfield to shoot 51.4 percent in the second half (18-of-35).  Utah State got a game-high 18 points from Tyler Newbold in the victory.  Up next for Utah State is another in-state rival in Utah Valley on Saturday and the following week the Aggies host the Basketball Travelers Invitational.

2. Hawai’i (6-2)

Up Next: 12/17 vs. Chicago State, 12/22 vs. Florida State, 12/23-12/24 vs. TBA

Hawai’i bounced back from a pounding at BYU with a pounding of Division-II Hawai’i-Pacific, winning 72-50.  Hawai’i got 18 points and nine rebounds from former Arizona Wildcat Zane Johnson in the victory.  The Warriors made more news off the court than on the court this past week, losing a pair of players to transfers. Guards Anthony Salter (6.2 minutes per game in five appearances) and Jordan Coleman (0 points and just eight minutes played in two games), bolted, while UH football player Miah Ostrowski joined the roster. Topping off the eventful week, Hawai’I announced that they’re joining the Big West Conference in 2012-2013 for all sports other than football, which will be joining the Mountain West.  The Warriors also got good news when it was announced that senior center Bill Amis could return to action against Chicago State.  Amis has been out with an injury since just prior to Thanksgiving and he had been their leading scorer, averaging 15.8 points in addition to being their leading rebounder at 6.8 rebounds per game.  The return of Amis is also just in time for the Warriors’ toughest stretch of non-conference games as they host the Diamond Head Classic during Christmas week.  The hosts will play Florida State first and then a pair of opponents, which are TBA pending the outcome of the games. And they said finals week is slow.

3. Louisiana Tech (8-4)

Up Next: 12/18 vs. UT-Arlington, 12/21 at Iowa

The Bulldogs dropped a tough one at McNeese State, falling 80-70 as McNeese hit 62.5 percent of their shots (10-16), 83.3 percent of their three pointers (5-6) and 76.9 percent of their free throws (20-26) in the second half.  Lonnie Smith led the Bulldogs with 19 points.  Louisiana Tech bounced back with an 80-57 drubbing of Houston Baptist and got 21 points and 13 rebounds from Olu Ashaolu.  They held the Huskies to just 31.6 percent shooting in the game and just 26.7 (8-30) in the second half, a far cry from the lights-out shooting the Bulldogs allowed in the second half against McNeese State.  The Bulldogs host UT-Arlington and then travel to Iowa City to take on the Big Ten’s Hawkeyes, a chance for the WAC to pick up a rare win against a Power Six school.

4. San Jose State (6-3)

Up Next: 12/18 at Seattle, 12/22 vs. University of Puget Sound

The Spartans split a pair, losing 67-63 to cross-town rival Santa Clara.  The Spartans held a two-point lead with 2:40 left and were tied with 42 seconds but could not come away with the victory.  Adrian Oliver led the Spartans with 25 points in the losing effort.  SJSU bounced back with a one-point victory over Eastern Washington in the teams’ second meeting of the season.  Oliver poured in 29 points and Justin Graham buried a jumper with seven seconds let for the one-point win.  The Spartans head north to take on Seattle, who has already defeated a team from the WAC this season (Idaho).  The Spartans then return home to take on the University of Puget Sound.

5. Boise State (6-3)

Up Next: 12/17 at Utah, 12/19 vs. Texas-Pan American, 12/22 at Portland

Three is an unlucky number for Boise State.  Their football team saw its BCS hopes dashed by a pair of missed field goals, and now the basketball team has lost three in a row, each by three points.  The Broncos fell behind 15-0 against UNLV and trailed by 20 in the second half before rallying late from an 11-point deficit with under two minutes to play.  The Broncos got to within two points with 23 seconds left before running out of time.  Prior to UNLV’s loss to Louisville this past Saturday, the Broncos’ three-point margin was the closest game the Rebels had played all season.  Boise State then traveled to Des Moines, Iowa to take on Drake where they once again lost by three points.  Paul Noonan led the Broncos with 20 points but 72.7 percent shooting in the second half (16-22) by Drake was too much to overcome.  The Broncos travel to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Utes before returning home to host Texas-Pan American.  A game at wraps up the non-con schedule.

6. Idaho (5-4)

Up Next: 12/18 vs. Montana, 12/21 at Oregon.

The Vandals had their four-game win streak snapped at the hands of Seattle this week.  Idaho trailed by eight at halftime, but took a 51-50 lead with 7:40 left to play but would score just five points the rest of the way.  Shawn Henderson scored 17 points in the loss.  The Vandals wrap up conference play as they host Montana, where they’ll try to extract revenge for an ugly 75-33 loss to the Grizzlies in Missoula.  They’ll then travel to Eugene to take on the Oregon Ducks.

7. Fresno State (3-5)

Up Next: 12/18 vs. North Dakota State, 12/21 vs. Pacific

The Bulldogs have won two in a row thanks to a return to the west coast.  Fresno State defeated Pepperdine 64-51 behind 17 points from Tim Steed.  The Bulldogs trailed by one point with 13:10 left to play, but took the lead with 12:47 left to play and never looked back.  The Bulldogs have just one player, Greg Smith, averaging double-digits in points.  Smith is averaging 10.5 points per game while Garrett Johnson at 9.9 PPG and Kevin Olekaibe at 9.3 PPG are closing in on double-digit averages.  The Bulldogs host North Dakota State and Pacific to wrap up non-conference play.

8. New Mexico State (3-7)

Up Next: 12/16 vs. Oklahoma Panhandle State, 12/18 vs. Pacific, 12/21 vs. Louisiana, 12/23 vs. St. Mary’s

The good news for New Mexico State is that they are no longer on a losing streak.  The bad news for New Mexico State is that players are dropping like flies.  The biggest loss is that of leading scorer Troy Gillenwater (18.4 PPG) who suffered an ankle injury in a loss at in-state rival New Mexico.  Gillenwater played just eight minutes in the first half of the Aggies’ loss.  Also suffering an ankle injury in that game was senior guard Gordo Castillo (7.7 PPG).  The Aggies’ junior center Hamidu Rahman (9.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG) returned to action from a calf injury that caused him to miss the three previous games.  He scored 14 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in the loss.  The Aggies snapped their seven-game losing streak against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, winning easily, 83-49. However, Rahman re-injured his calf in the first half and did not return.  The Aggies will be without the trio of Rahman, Gillenwater and Castillo for at least this week’s games and possibly longer.  Also in limbo is the return of forward Wendell McKines, who has been out all season after suffering an ankle injury of his own prior to the start of the season.  The Aggies have four non-conference games remaining, with the two toughest games figuring to be against Pacific and St. Mary’s.

9. Nevada (2-7)

Up Next: 12/17 vs. Arizona State, 12/22 at Washington, 12/27 at Portland

The Wolf Pack likewise ended a seven-game skid with a 78-64 win over San Francisco State. Dario Hunt scored a game-high 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked five shots in the win.  The victory did not come easy for the Wolf Pack, as SFSU trailed by just one at halftime.  However, a quick spurt out of the gates in the second half put San Francisco State into a double-digit hole from which they would not climb.  The Wolf Pack also have a tough non-conference finish, playing a pair of Pac-10 teams and Portland.  The Wolf Pack will welcome the addition of Duke transfer Olek Czyz who becomes eligible now that the first semester has completed.

A Look Ahead

All nine teams wrap up non-conference play over the next week and a half and the WAC has a chance to notch some much-needed quality wins and up the aforementioned poor conference RPI.  There will be opportunities as opponents include Iowa (9-1, RPI 4), Arizona State (6-2, RPI 28), Washington (4-3, RPI 165), Oregon (5-2, RPI 101), St. Mary’s (5-6, RPI 115), and Florida State (8-1, RPI 34).  Conference play is right around the corner and no team has really established themselves as the dominant team to watch for once conference play begins.

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ATB: Syracuse Keeps Winning… MSU Keeps Losing…

Posted by rtmsf on December 8th, 2010

The Lede.  It was another great year at the Jimmy V Classic, and RTC Live was privileged to have been there.  On nights like these, when the Garden is sold out, rockin’ n’ rollin’, a little tipsy and ready to party, it is truly one of the great venues in the entire sport.  Unfortunately, there have been far too many of the half-full, sleepwalking variety in recent years there, including the final rounds of the CvC and PNIT last month.  New York has always been a town that comes out to see the stars, and we don’t expect that’ll ever change; but, there are bona fide collegiate stars on teams other than Syracuse and Connecticut, so it’d be nice if those games were supported there at least half as well.

Syracuse Was Clearly Better Than MSU Tonight (P-S/R. Nett)

Your Watercooler MomentLet’s Stop Making Excuses.  There comes a time where all the statistical number-crunching and subjective analysis of matchups do not amount to anything once two teams actually take the court and play the game (another reason why we’re happy that computers don’t determine our championship round).  So it was with tonight’s Syracuse-Michigan State contest in the nightcap of the Jimmy V Classic.  For most of the season we’ve heard that Syracuse is overrated, a product of one mediocre performance after another en route to a deceiving 8-0 record.  We’ve also heard that Michigan State is a top five team despite losing to UConn and Duke over the past several weeks, a product of playing well in those “good” losses and the unquestioned pedigree of Mr. Final Four, Tom Izzo.  Shouldn’t we take a step back at this point and question those assessments?  Here’s what we saw:

  • Against by far the toughest opponent Syracuse has faced this season, it was the Orange, not MSU, who set the tone early with its aggressiveness and unobstructed forays to the rim for crowd-energizing dunks.
  • Despite having a lineup of predominantly juniors and seniors, Michigan State looked dazed, confused, befuddled and even at times bamboozled by the Syracuse 2-3 zone.  We know that they’ve seen such a thing before, yet it appeared as if they hadn’t.  They took too many threes (44% of their shots), hit too few (29%) of those attempts, and clearly failed to remember that a zone provides offensive board opportunities (only six all night).
  • The pregame news that Kalin Lucas is still not at 100% recovering from his Achilles injury last spring fits with what we saw tonight.  Eight points on 3-9 shooting with only two assists but six turnovers isn’t the Lucas who was Big Ten POY.  As he did last year, Korie Lucious was serviceable in picking up the slack, but for the Spartans to become a top seeded team in March, Lucas has to make it happen.
  • Senior Rick Jackson showed a tenacity on the glass (16 rebounds) that he’ll need to have as Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine grow into leadership roles.
  • Fab Melo was well on his way to Yinka Dare-esque assist totals before dropping two shocking dimes tonight.  He’d had one previous assist in his entire 108 minutes of action so far this season.  Well, it’s good to see that he can do something else other than foul people (0 pts, 0 rebs, 4 fouls).
  • Sometimes it’s just your night, as in when you throw an off-balance and probably ill-advised alley-oop, only to have the alley count for a bucket…

Certainly Syracuse will win a whole bunch of supporters after this game, and many people will hop off the Spartan bandwagon.  But it’s a long season, we all know that.  Right now the Orange are the better team and they’re playing better basketball.  But by March this could be a totally different story.  Syracuse didn’t need to hit threes tonight because they were defending so well and getting easy buckets inside, but they won’t have the same luxury of “surprise” with the 2-3 zone in the Big East that they had here.  Who will be able to knock down those shots when they need them?  The jury is still out on that question.  Similarly, Michigan State has yet to prove that they’re really a better team than the #5 seed that crashed Indianapolis last March.  They certainly appear to have the pieces in place, but all too often the Spartan offense seems to abandon the defense and they dig holes that they can’t quite climb out of.  Obviously, you can’t win a national championship without consistent scoring threats — who will that be for Tom Izzo if Kalin Lucas cannot get all the way back this year?  All we can definitively say is that Syracuse has earned their top ten ranking, while Michigan State has not.  It’s time to stop making excuses for both teams and rank them accordingly now.

Tonight’s Quick Hits…

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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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