Morning Five: 02.07.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 7th, 2012

  1. Alabama star forward Tony Mitchell was suspended indefinitely on Monday by head coach Anthony Grant, who did not elaborate on specific causes other than to say that it wasn’t the result of a specific action but a series of transgressions. The junior wing who averages 13/7 on the season picked a tough time to fail to come through for his team, as the Crimson Tide travels to Auburn tonight and LSU on Saturday. Sitting firmly on the early February bubble, Alabama cannot afford to lose either game against two lower-tier SEC teams without one of its two best players in the lineup.
  2. From a player forced to sit to a coach choosing to do so, College of Charleston head man Bobby Cremins opened up Monday about his recent leave of absence from the team. Citing doctor’s orders, the 64-year old coach said that he was running himself into the ground: “I got physically exhausted, fatigued and lacked the necessary energy to coach our team. My doctor advised me to take an immediate medical leave of absence, which I did.” Coaches are competitive and stressed-out people in general, so it probably didn’t help matters that Cremins’ team got off to a 9-1 start this season before dropping eight of their next 11 games. Reading between the lines a bit in Cremins’ statement to the media, he didn’t sound like someone ready to stop coaching — let’s hope he gets his energy back in time to lead CofC to a run in the Southern Conference Tournament next month.
  3. If you were like most of America, you didn’t know Duke had lost another home game until sometime yesterday given that Miami’s overtime victory over the Blue Devils finished as most people were either en route or settling into their Super Bowl parties. One man who knew it all too well and no doubt carried it with him into a sleepless night on Sunday was Mike Krzyzewski. Already having assailed his team in the postgame interview for a perceived lack of effort, the venerable coach on Monday took to the airwaves on 99.9 FM The Fan in Raleigh to further chastise his team for not “playing hard” during parts of the loss to Miami. As we all know, Duke’s ridiculous success has always been predicated on its tough man-to-man defense; and its defensive success has derived from equal parts talent and effort. This year’s defense, however, is one of the worst the Blue Devils have fielded since Chris Collins and Jeff Capel were hoisting shots at the rim rather than dry erasers at the white board. Coach K cannot change the talent part of his defensive problem overnight, but he can change the effort issue. We’d expect his players to come at North Carolina like a pack of starving jackals in Chapel Hill tomorrow night.
  4. We’re really not sure what to make of this, but if your goal is to figure out who has the best chance of finding the sunny side of the bubble on Selection Sunday, maybe this simple equation from Drew Cannon at Basketball Prospectus is really all you need. Could it really be that easy — perhaps so. Considering that the RPI is the metric favored by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, it makes sense that teams rated highly in that manner have a bit of a leg up. When you then add Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency-based metrics to the RPI, you’re essentially favoring teams that play the game of basketball (from a possession-by-possession standpoint) a little better than those who do not. Voila, the combination seems to result in a hybrid model that is a fairly accurate predictor of the field.
  5. Seth Davis was back in action Monday with a new Hoop Thoughts column, and although we disagree with him that the Kansas-Missouri rivalry will take very long to see back on the regular season schedule (five years, tops), we completely concur with his sentiment that the entire rabbit hole of conference realignment is a very, very bad thing for college athletics. And yet this is the tip of the iceberg, we’re afraid. The Pac-12 on Monday just rewarded its commissioner, Larry Scott, with an extension of his contract through 2016. How is this relevant, you ask? Recall that it was Scott’s maneuvering two summers ago in trying to lure several Big 12 schools to the Pac-10 that set into motion much of the ensuing hysteria and deal-making among schools and conferences looking out only for themselves. Without Scott’s overtures, would Missouri and Texas A&M be going to the SEC? Would Pittsburgh and Syracuse be ACC-bound? It appears that there’s no honor among the barbarians at the gate, though — say it with us now — Scott’s contract extension was approved… unanimously.
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SEC Morning Five: 01.25.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 25th, 2012

  1. Alabama forward Tony Mitchell is officially on a cold streak. After scoring nearly 14.5 points per game this season, Mitchell is averaging just three points per contest in the Crimson Tide’s last two games — both losses to Vanderbilt and Kentucky. “We have a couple of plays set up for Tony,” senior forward JaMychal Green said. “We just have to uncover him and get him moving so he can just play ball.” Mitchell’s frustrations showed on Saturday against Kentucky as the junior fouled out after only 20 minutes of play. The Crimson Tide are on a three-game losing streak in which Mitchell hasn’t scored more than eight points. Prior to the Tide’s loss to Mississippi State on January 14, Mitchell had scored in double figures in 10 straight games and in 15 of the Tide’s first 16.
  2. Renardo Sidney’s progress for Mississippi State is evident, especially on the defensive end. Sidney held Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli to four points in 25 minutes over the weekend and came up with a big block in what appeared to be an easy dunk for Ezeli. “The old Sid would have let him just dunk it,” freshman Rodney Hood said about the key block. “He went after it. That’s when I really realized he’s coming along – he’s back. Defensively, he’s being a presence out there.” While Sidney’s minutes are still somewhat limited, he has been effective for the Bulldogs. Sidney’s field goal percentage has improved from 51.7% last year to 55.5% in 2011-12.
  3. Artist renderings of a renovated Rupp Arena interior have been released. The 23,500 seat venue, opened in 1976, is home to the Kentucky Wildcats, and the Cats haven’t lost in Rupp since John Calipari took the helm in the 2009-10 season. Kentucky currently holds the nation’s longest home court winning streak with 46 straight victories, 45 of which came under Calipari. Pictures of the Rupp Arena concourse have also been released, complete with some interesting characters hanging out awaiting UK basketball. The recent push for a new and improved Rupp surely doesn’t have anything to do with the $238 million dollar KFC Yum! Center down the highway that opened in October 2010 to host the Wildcats’ in-state rivals, the Louisville Cardinals, right?
  4. Calipari says his newly crowned number one team might need a loss to fuel the Wildcats’ competitive juices. “We probably need a loss,” Calipari said. “So we’ll come together and say, ‘We’re not losing like this.’ The Kentucky head coach knows his Cats have taken a few “on the chin” in recent games, and need to develop a mentally tough attitude to continue winning games. The blueprint for defeating the Wildcats involves physical play in the post to push around Kentucky’s thin front line. This isn’t to say that Calipari isn’t happy with his team. “We’re young,” he said, “but we’re good, too.”
  5. Our own Rush the Court’s official bracketologist Zach Hayes has a couple of SEC teams on the bubble, with one surprise team on the positive end. While we have maintained that only five SEC teams will make it into the Big Dance, Hayes has six conference teams making it in. Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Alabama all seem to make a good case for inclusion, and Hayes has all five in comfortably. The Arkansas Razorbacks are one of his last four teams out. Mike Anderson’s Hogs have a 14-5 record with a recent quality win over Michigan. But RTC also includes Ole Miss as one of the last four teams in the Tournament. The Rebels are 13-6 with an RPI of #31, but lack a quality win on their resume. Ole Miss’ best win thus far was a 75-68 win over its in-state rival Mississippi State.
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Is Vanderbilt’s Turnaround Complete?

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 20th, 2012

Vanderbilt started out the season with the highest expectations in program history, but a disappointing 6-4 start including losses to Cleveland State and Indiana State labeled the Commodores as underachievers not able to overcome their defensive liabilities. Center Festus Ezeli returned, but doubts of Vanderbilt’s potential remained. Even an eight game winning streak hasn’t won over the Commodores’ critics, but a 69-59 win in Tuscaloosa was good enough to convince me. Vanderbilt still has a lot to prove because of a lack of recent NCAA Tournament success, but its defense against Alabama displayed just how high the ceiling is this year.

Vanderbilt is a completely different team mid-way into the season

The Commodores’ defense was the key to their win on Thursday night. Kevin Stallings’ club held Alabama to 32.9% shooting by putting the Crimson Tide’s stars on lockdown. Leading scorer Tony Mitchell, coming into the game averaging 13.7 points per game, scored zero points on 0-8 shooting. Alabama forward JaMychal Green managed only six points. Ezeli’s impact on the Commodores’ interior defense was on full display, as was the potential of Vanderbilt’s defense when the center is on the court.

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Checking in On… the Sun Belt Conference

Posted by dnspewak on January 13th, 2012

Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent for Sun Belt Conference. You can find him Twitter @dspewak.

Reader’s Take 

 

The Week That Was

  • It wasn’t Ken McDonald‘s fault this his team lost in overtime to Louisiana earlier this month. The Ragin’ Cajuns, after all, scored the winning bucket with six players on the floor. After more than three years of McDonald’s frustrating tenure, though, the Sixth Man loss must have been the final straw for athletic director Ross Bjork. McDonald lost his job after the game, departing with a 67-49 record. Now, interim head coach Ray Harper must mold this young team into a competitor this winter, which should be a tall task for a team mired in a 1-7 free-fall since December 7.
  • Tony Mitchell‘s debut in Sun Belt play did not exactly make any headlines, as he fought foul trouble and scored just six points in each of his first two games. The third SBC contest with South Alabama was a charm, however. Mitchell went for 34 points and 16 rebounds, scoring in every way imaginable. He attacked the glass, fired from three-point range and finished 11-14 from the field. And last night, Mitchell’s hot streak continued with a 21-point effort in front of several NBA scouts in Denton. We knew this would be the case, but it’s starting to look like Mitchell is a sure one-and-done.

The Dynamic Tony Mitchell Hasn't Disappointed So Far (North Texas)

Power Rankings
East
  1. Middle Tennessee (16-2, 5-0):  Here’s an easy formula to dominate a league: bully people on the glass and on the defensive end. That’s where MTSU makes its living. Averaging 11 offensive rebounds per game as a team, the frontcourt duo of LaRon Dendy and J.T. Sulton is simply unfair right now. Plus, with Bruce Massey playing well at the point and MTSU’s depth starting to round into shape, Kermit Davis doesn’t appear to have many weaknesses right now. Except, of course, for one big one: three-point shooting. Even though they do most of their damage in the paint, the Blue Raiders do not have an outside threat right now. Raymond Cintron is the only player really capable of getting hot from the perimeter, and even he shoots less than 40 percent from the field. Besides that, it’s hard to envision Davis’ team suffering a collapse after this 5-0 start. Saturday’s game at preseason favorite Florida Atlantic might be the most important game of the season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 01.13-01.15

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 13th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

A couple of Mountain West battles highlight Saturday’s action but the big one is late Sunday afternoon in the Big Ten.

#14 Connecticut @ Notre Dame – 11:00 AM EST Saturday on ESPN2 (***)

  • Led by Andre Drummond’s 20/11 on 9-11 FG, Connecticut got back on track by defeating West Virginia on Monday night. To win on the road, the Huskies will need quality efforts from most of their roster. That starts with Shabazz Napier protecting the basketball. Jim Calhoun’s sophomore point guard sets the tone for this team, good or bad. Napier (and UConn as a whole) has struggled with turnovers, especially in Big East play. On the road against a team looking to make its mark in the middle of the conference, the Huskies have to do a better job handing the ball if they are to win this one. The more possessions UConn can earn by using its strong rebounding advantage while minimizing turnovers, the more opportunities there will be for talented players such as Drummond, Jeremy Lamb (25 points vs. WVU) and Ryan Boatright to score.

    Can Napier Step Up To Lead The Huskies?

  • Believe it or not, Notre Dame actually has an outside shot at the NCAA Tournament. 37 at-large bids have to come from somewhere and the Fighting Irish are on the bubble according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. This will be a tall order for Notre Dame, even at home. The Irish have won 29 consecutive home games but that will be tested mightily against the Huskies. The emergence of Jack Cooley in the paint could be the biggest reason why Notre Dame has a chance to upset UConn. Cooley has averaged 16.5 PPG and 9.7 RPG over his last eight games, the latest Notre Dame big man to develop nicely under Mike Brey. However, Cooley will likely have a more difficult time against Connecticut’s stifling interior defense. The Huskies have always owned the paint under Calhoun and this year is no different. Notre Dame has to make outside shots in order to win because it can’t count on Cooley alone inside. Jerian Grant has turned into a consistent scorer but the Irish need a third option. Brey had hoped Scott Martin would be that guy but he has really struggled. However, Martin is impacting the game in other ways, rebounding well even when the shots aren’t falling. Notre Dame must try to get to the foul line as well. UConn historically doesn’t foul often so this could be difficult even at home.
  • If Drummond plays like he did against West Virginia, the Huskies will be a strong favorite. UConn must rebound aggressively to counteract any turnover problems it may have. The Irish have struggled shooting the three ball this year and Connecticut ranks second in interior defense. If those statistics hold true, Notre Dame will have an incredibly difficult time scoring. The good news for the Irish? They have been the best team defending the triple in Big East play (20.9%). For UConn, it’s simple. Protect the ball, rebound, and defend the paint. If the Huskies do that, they will snap ND’s 29-game home winning streak. Easier said than done, of course.
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Top Ten Diaper Dandies: Midseason Edition

Posted by zhayes9 on January 13th, 2012

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

Compiling a list of the nation’s top freshmen in mid-January is admittedly unfair. Whether they’re a high-profile athlete or a science lab dork, ask anyone to reminisce about their first semester at school and the phrase “learning experience” comes to mind. Over the next two months, the grind of conference play will quickly mold youthful freshmen into hardened veterans. As Jeremy Lamb can attest, there’s still plenty of time for collegiate rookies to become a household name.

With that important caveat in mind, let’s gauge where this year’s talented rookies rank in terms of production and instant impact. Not all of the inclusions were ballyhooed recruits and high school All-Americans, but instead I present to you the collection of players who possess the maturation, intelligence and skill level to succeed immediately during such a difficult transition both on and off the court.

Cody Zeller has lived up to the lofty billing

Honorable Mention

Thomas Gipson, Kansas State- Gipson has proven a tremendous frontcourt compliment to the more perimeter-oriented Jamar Samuels, bulldozing opponents with his sturdy 6’7” frame to the tune of 9.2 PPG and 6.3 RPG through his first half season at Manhattan. Gipson ranks in the top-60 in the country in both offensive rebounding percentage and fouls drawn per 40 minutes.

Tony Mitchell, North Texas- Since becoming eligible on December 18 after failing to qualify at Missouri, Mitchell immediately scored in double-figures his first four games at North Texas. His banner performance to date was a 34-point, 16-rebound effort against South Alabama. The former five-star recruit is shooting an efficient 65% from inside the arc.

Quincy Miller, Baylor- The jewel of Scott Drew’s recruiting class may not post the raw numbers of other rookies due to the abundance of talent on his roster, but Miller has shown flashes of a future lottery pick, including a smooth step-back three down the stretch in Baylor’s win over Kansas State this past week. Miller is a versatile matchup nightmare as a double-figure scorer that shoots 35% from three and also snatches over five rebounds per contest.

Eli Carter, Rutgers- Carter didn’t come to Piscataway with quite the sterling reputation of some of his fellow classmates, but he’s been the most productive freshman from day one. Carter uses the most shots and possessions on a per-minute basis on the Scarlet Knights, and as long as he’s scoring over 14 a game, shooting 43% and posting 31/7/7 efforts like he did in their upset over Florida, Mike Rice will keep the green light on.

Tony Wroten, Washington- The Seattle native has been a Jekyll and Hyde act early for an equally enigmatic Huskies team. The turnovers (4.1 per game), defensive lapses and shot selection are sometimes mind-numbing, but you’ll live with some faults when your 6’5” guard is shooting 55% from inside the arc and grabbing 4.6 rebounds per game. Wroten has scored 20+ points in three of his first five conference outings.

10. Rodney Hood, Mississippi State- Dee Bost, Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie receive the bulk of the attention, but Hood has provided a steady and efficient complimentary scoring option for Rick Stansbury. The southpaw is averaging 12.6 PPG on 53% from two and 44% from three and turns the ball over roughly once every 34 minutes. Improve from the charity stripe (59%) and Hood could be an all-SEC contender as soon as next season.

9. Austin Rivers, Duke- If you can filter out all of the unrealistic expectations, Rivers has completed a very respectable first semester serving as Duke’s primary dribble-drive threat and crunch-time scoring option. Rivers leads Duke in scoring, shoots 45% from two, 40% from three and put together 20+ point performances against top-15 Ohio State and Michigan. Look for Rivers to cut down on his turnovers as the game slows down and his decision-making improves.

8. Andre Drummond, Connecticut- Outside of #1 on this list, no player has as much room to grow from now until March as Drummond. Just as impressive as his highlight reel dunks during a 20-point, 11-rebound outing against West Virginia last Monday were two baseline jumpers he nailed during the second half. If Drummond can expand his offensive repertoire to include occasional mid-range/post scoring to compliment his explosiveness and pick-and-roll prowess, Connecticut may emerge as the second best team in the Big East by season’s close.

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SEC Morning Five: 01.13.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 13th, 2012

  1. Forward Murphy Holloway picked up right where he left off for the Ole Miss Rebels.  Ole Miss was on a downward spiral losing four of its last five games, but Holloway’s 19 points and 14 rebounds propelled the Rebels over Arkansas on Wednesday. “Sometimes you wonder, ‘Boy, you’ve lost four out of five. What’s wrong?'” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “He wasn’t playing. That’s what’s wrong. Good players make good coaches. With him back we dominate the glass, it’s the reason we win the game.” Holloway helped the Rebels control the rebounding advantage by a margin of 22.
  2. Transfer guard Mike Rosario is finally healthy, but he is still learning to adjust to a new role within the Florida offense. Rosario scored seven straight points for the Gators against Georgia on Wednesday, but coach Billy Donovan is still expecting to see some improvement from his top bench player. “Getting those seven points in the first half, that helps your team,” Donovan said. “It’s interesting because I feel like people look at us as being this great scoring team. When you talk about scoring — guys that can put the ball in their hands, guys that can score — we’re a really, really good shooting team, but what we’ve got to do is we’ve got to understand we have to utilize our shooting.” One of Donovan’s greatest challenges with this Florida backcourt will be quality shot selection. Rosario went 3-9 against the Bulldogs. There is no doubt Rosario can score, but can he eliminate mistakes and bad shots and still accumulate points?
  3. John Calipari wasn’t so sure his Kentucky Wildcats were going to pull off the win on Wednesday night over Auburn. “They wanted it worse than we did,” Calipari said. “They played with a desire that we didn’t have. I’m telling you, if we don’t understand going in we’ve got to go and just from start to finish play like a team that’s on a mission, then we’re going to lose games. Because every team is going to give us their best shot.” The Wildcats certainly didn’t give their best effort. Kentucky shot just 40.4% on the night, and were outrebounded 35-29 by the Tigers. The Cats were 2-6 on the road in the SEC last year, and they hit Thompson Boling Arena on Saturday for a showdown with the defensive minded Tennessee Volunteers.
  4. Rebounding played a major factor in Auburn’s near upset of Kentucky. The Tigers outrebounded the Cats 31-14 in the first 30 minutes of the game, but something clicked with the Wildcats in the last 10 minutes as they snagged 15 of the 19 available rebounds. UK scored 21 points in the last half of the second half as Auburn only managed to score six down the stretch. Kentucky was awakened just in time to win the game, but the Cats gave Calipari quite a scare. “At one point I looked at the staff and said, ‘this has nothing to do with X’s and O’s, boys. We could be going down,'” Calipari said. Whatever the reasoning for the Cats’ resurgence in the second half, UK couldn’t afford a collapse to Auburn, so kudos to the Cats for winning on the road despite their poor play.
  5. Alabama forward JaMychal Green started for the first time in five games after suffering from a shoulder injury earlier in the year. Green played 27 minutes against LSU, grabbing three rebounds and scoring nine points on 4-9 shooting. Through shuffling the lineup around in Green’s absence, coach Anthony Grant may have found the right combination of players going forward. The Birmingham News says that the combination of Green, Tony Mitchell, Trevor Releford, Trevor Lacey, and Levi Randolph should be the lineup that Grant sticks with moving forward. This was the first time this combination had started together.
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Checking in On… the Sun Belt Conference

Posted by dnspewak on December 31st, 2011

Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent for Sun Belt Conference. You can also find his musings online at Sun Belt Basketball or on Twitter @dspewak.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • There’s not much excitement to report from the Sun Belt’s first night of conference play on Thursday, but UALR looks like the big winner with a road win at North Texas. The Trojans, who have struggled on the road under Steve Shields in recent years, had lost all six away contests during non-conference play, but a double-double from forward Will Neighbour and stellar guard play helped grind out the victory over the Mean Green. That will probably be a theme this year in the wide open West Division, where only Denver has established itself as a power. The Pioneers, by the way, handled Troy at home in their opener. East leader Middle Tennessee also held off a pesky Florida International team in Murfreesboro, and Western Kentucky escaped in overtime at Louisiana-Monroe.
  • With the second semester underway, the much anticipated debut of Tony Mitchell at North Texas hasn’t disappointed anybody. Although Mitchell struggled with foul trouble in the loss to UALR on Thursday, he has already showcased his freakish athleticism by throwing down dunk after dunk during his first four games. In wins over Jackson State, Grambling and New Orleans, Mitchell averaged more than 13 points per game and looked more than comfortable on the court. Even in a loss to LSU, Mitchell scored 11 points in 27 minutes after earning the start for Johnny Jones. He’s still improving at this point, but Mitchell should be a different player by early March.

Kermit Davis Has His Middle Tennessee Squad In Mid-Season Form (AP)

Power Rankings

East

  1. Middle Tennessee (12-2, 1-0) — Congratulations, Kermit Davis: you are now the winningest coach in MTSU history. Davis won his 165th game against FIU on Thursday, but more importantly, his team looks like the runaway favorite in the East after completing an impressive non-conference run. Two months ago, suggesting another division champ besides Florida Atlantic would have seemed insane, but Davis finally may have turned the corner with this program. This team is physical, nasty and downright intimidating, especially on the defensive end with LaRon Dendy and Shawn Jones as the shot-blockers. These forwards rebound well and they don’t give an inch in the paint, and on the other end — Dendy in particular has emerged as a back-to-the-basket scorer. There was never a question that MTSU would defend this season, but Bruce Massey, Marcos Knight and the rest of the guards have also answered every offensive concern Davis had in the pre-season. Middle Tennessee looks like a machine on offense right now, and that’s because it shares the ball as well as anybody in the Sun Belt.
  2. Florida Atlantic (4-9, 0-0) — Don’t give up on the Owls. Sure, the record doesn’t look pretty, but Mike Jarvis challenged this team by taking his players to every city imaginable: Seattle, Washington D.C., Hempstead (N.Y.), Tampa, Lawrence, Starkville, Sunrise (Fla.) and Cambridge. That’s a lot of plane trips and bus rides, so it’s not surprising that the East Division favorite stumbled. It’s not encouraging that Jarvis’s squad could not pull even a single road upset over the likes of Kansas, Mississippi State, Miami or Harvard, but this team has not looked intimidated in any of those contests. It fought admirably in a double-overtime loss to the Hurricanes, using a frantic comeback late in regulation to shock UM. And the good news is, all-league point guard Ray Taylor is starting to play better after an early-season slump, and freshman Omari Grier has cracked into this loaded backcourt as the team’s best outside shooter. When FAU kicks off Sun Belt play on Saturday at Louisiana, don’t expect it to roll over and die. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 12.21.11

Posted by EJacoby on December 21st, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

After several consecutive slow weeknights, Wednesday night offers some very good games. All eyes should be tuned in, especially, to the ESPN2 early game.

Texas at #4 North Carolina – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (****)

UNC Will Attack Texas With Their Forwards, Tonite on ESPN2 (Getty Images/P. Williams)

  • Since their collapse against NC State on November 21, Texas has won seven straight games by double digits, including some nice wins over Temple and at UCLA. Their talented guard combo of J’Covan Brown and Myck Kabongo is starting to click, with Brown’s numbers up to 19.3 points and 4.3 assists per game and Kabongo at 10.8 points and 6.0 assists per contest. Four of the Longhorns’ five leading scorers are freshmen, including Kabongo and exciting reserve guard Sheldon McClennan. The Longhorns are ranked seventh nationally with 1.18 points per possession and eighth in overall offensive efficiency (117.5). For Texas to hang in this game, they’ll need their young guards to keep scoring at a high rate, and hope to contain UNC’s massive frontcourt from dominating the offensive boards.
  • North Carolina has a massive size, experience, home court, and overall talent advantage in this game, which is why they’re 10-point favorites. Look for the Tar Heels to feature Tyler Zeller and John Henson inside to feast on Texas’s smaller front line. The bigs should be able to control this game on the boards, where UNC ranks 16th nationally in offensive rebounds per game, and number one overall on the defensive glass. Even if Texas’s guards can score effectively, Carolina can counter with its wing scorers of Harrison Barnes, Dexter Strickland, and Reggie Bullock, lead by the nation’s top assist man in Kendall Marshall (10.2 APG).
  • Texas has won four straight games against Carolina since 1995. The Longhorns are playing well and will certainly be ready for this game. But it’s hard to envision UNC losing this one at home given their huge advantage in the paint and with just as many talented guards. Expect a super exciting, high scoring affair between two of the top programs in the country, with Roy Williams’ team coming out on top.

Seton Hall at Dayton – 7:00 PM EST, no TV (***)

  • This is a huge road test for 9-1 Seton Hall, whose only loss came in the finals of the Charleston Classic against Northwestern. Senior Herb Pope has been an absolute stud all year and he leads the Big East in scoring (22.1 PPG) AND rebounding (11.9 RPG). His fellow senior leader, point guard Jordan Theodore, leads the conference in assists with 7.1 per game. Sophomore guard Fuquan Edwin leads the Big East in steals per game with 3.4 per contest. He and Theodore each average about 14 points per game, as well. This dangerous trio will look to lead coach Kevin Willard’s team to a big road win and legitimize their strong start to the season.
  • Dayton is a talented but very inconsistent team. They have strong wins over Alabama, Wake Forest, and Minnesota on their resume, but they also have a shocking home loss to Buffalo by 29 (!) points. They lost road games to Miami (Ohio) and Murray State, as well. First year coach Archie Miller’s team has five players that average nine or more points per game, lead by junior lead guard Kevin Dillard. A transfer from Southern Illinois, Dillard leads the team in scoring (11.9 PPG), assists (5.1 APG), and steals (2.3 SPG).
  • This game is not televised nationally or on ESPN3.com, but be sure to follow along, or even watch if it’s being shown locally. Dayton is a four-point home favorite in this one, but this is anyone’s game. The Flyers have several big home wins and another awful home loss. Seton Hall will look to control the game with the dominant Pope inside, who will be a load to handle for Dayton’s short interior players. I’d take Seton Hall and their experienced leaders to come out with the road win, but this one could go either way.

Middle Tennessee State at Mississippi – 9:00 PM EST on ESPN3.com (***)

  • Middle Tennessee is coming off a big home win over Belmont to push its record to 10-2. They are the class of the Sun Belt Conference, and are only two-point underdogs in this game. When you factor in the three-point cushion given to home teams in Vegas lines, that means MTSU is considered the slightly better team. This is a fair assessment, as the Raiders have an impressive trio of upperclassmen in guard Marcos Knight and forwards LaRon Dendy and J.T. Sulton who all average at least 12 points and 6 rebounds per game. These three all shoot at least 53.6% from the field, as well, which powers the nation’s best field goal shooting team (53.2% as a team for the year).
  • Ole Miss also comes into this game with just two losses, the most recent of which came on Saturday at a pretty good Southern Miss team. Ole Miss features five players that average nine points or more, lead by junior Murphy Holloway’s 10.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Not included in their five leading scorers is new addition Jelan Kendrick, who is now eligible for Mississippi after transferring from Memphis when he was kicked off the team at the beginning of this year. Kendrick is a very talented freshman who could start to make his mark tonight. Andy Kennedy’s team will have the athleticism advantage in this game, such as their 6.2 blocks per game which ranks 13th in the country.
  • This game might be the best of the 9:00PM EST slate, so be sure to have ESPN3 ready on your computer even if you’re tuned in to the television for another game. We expect Ole Miss to take care of business at home, but MTSU will offer a great challenge and could come out with another impressive victory.

Oklahoma State at Alabama – 9:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (***)

  • Oklahoma State comes into this game at 6-4 having lost two straight games. The Cowboys have a collection of talented players but have not found the best way to utilize their pieces; nine different players have been in the starting lineup in the first 10 games. LeBryan Nash, the McDonald’s All-American freshman, is starting to play better of late, seeing his minutes increase in the past three games. He’s now up to 12.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game for the season. Markel Brown is a talented sophomore guard (9.7 PPG) and Cezar Guerrero is a freshman with a quick trigger that can fill it up in a hurry (7.7 PPG), though takes plenty of questionable shots per game. Upperclassmen Jean-Paul Olekemi (9.7 PPG) and, especially, Keiton Page (12.7 PPG) are the leaders of the team that will look to ignite the upset in this one.
  • Alabama was ranked in the top 15 to begin this month, but the Crimson Tide have suffered three disappointing losses in the past three weeks, albeit to some good teams. Anthony Grant’s team lost at home to Georgetown on a game-winning three from the Hoyas, and they followed that one with two road losses to Dayton and Kansas State. Bama has had trouble scoring in those games. They aren’t a very effective offensive team, with a 104.8 efficiency that ranks 120th nationally. The Tide get it done on the defensive end where they allow an eFG% of 40.6 that is seventh best in the country. Jamychal Green, Tony Mitchell, and Trevor Releford are big time athletes who all average double figure scoring and can lock down defensively.
  • This game is technically not a home game for Alabama, since it is being played in Birmingham as part of the 2011 Legacy Credit Union Holiday Classic. But for all intents and purposes, consider the Crimson Tide the home team as they will draw the much larger crowd in their home state. Bama has fallen victim to a few upsets this season, as they were the favored team in all three of their losses. But don’t expect a repeat in this one, as Oklahoma State is still a work in progress and the solid defense of Alabama should lead them to a victory.

***** – 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 201
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

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Set Your TiVo: 12.16.11 to 12.18.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 16th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

With Dead Week mercifully over, we finally have some good games to enjoy this Saturday despite Sunday being a very slow day in the hoops world.

#6 Baylor @ BYU – 2:00 PM EST Saturday on BYU TV (****)

Perry Jones Leads Baylor into Provo Saturday (AP)

  • The Bears have had difficulty on the road in past seasons but they already passed one important test, demolishing Northwestern in Chicago a couple weeks ago. This game, however, will be an even better measure to see where the highly-rated Bears are really at. The Marriott Center is a notoriously difficult place to play but Baylor has a clear talent edge in this game. BU welcomes Gary Franklin, now eligible after the first semester, to an already highly skilled roster. Franklin didn’t play all that well at California last season but he was a four star recruit out of high school. He should help the Bears out at the point guard position, a place where turnovers are still an issue. Baylor averages 16 turnovers a game and that will be dangerous playing on the road against a team like BYU that likes to push the pace. 5.8 of those 16 turnovers come from the point guard position so Scott Drew is hoping that Franklin can help handle the ball. How Franklin will fit in alongside Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton remains a question mark.
  • BYU’s top six scorers are all 6’5” or taller, an important factor against the length and athleticism of Baylor’s front line. Noah Hartsock, Brandon Davies and Charles Abouo do the bulk of the damage for Dave Rose, as those three are his top scorers and rebounders. Hartsock in particular has been outstanding, scoring in double figures in every game thus far. All three will have to play well in order for BYU to pull the upset because Baylor’s front court is strong, deep and talented. With Quincy Acy blocking 3.3 shots a game, BYU’s big men should find it more difficult to score inside on Saturday. The Cougars have to get their outside game going as well. Baylor’s defense is very average against the three and BYU has three big deep threats, Abouo, Stephen Rogers and Brock Zylstra. Going up against the top-ranked interior defense in the nation, BYU needs its outside shots to fall in order to win. However, the Cougars can’t afford to settle for threes if they aren’t falling. They must get something going in the paint, even against such a strong defense, in order to balance out their offense.
  • This is an important game for both clubs. Baylor has played only two teams of note so far while BYU’s best win is over a mediocre Oregon team. Baylor shoots well (49.1% FG) but the biggest difference this season has been its defense. The Bears allow only 33.3% shooting inside the arc and their defensive efficiency has been terrific. Both teams get most of their offense from their respective front courts but Baylor may have the ultimate edge with Cory Jefferson off the bench. He adds some scoring punch and, more importantly, rebounding and depth for the Bears. For the Cougars to win, they’ll have to force turnovers to get points in transition because it’ll be awfully tough to score inside in the half court. In addition to making its threes, BYU must rebound well and get to the line while putting the Baylor big men in foul trouble. However, BYU ranks #295 in free throw rate and Baylor doesn’t foul too often. Although BYU rarely loses at home, this is a game Baylor can win. There are some who still doubt the Bears but a win here would put them on their way towards legitimate national recognition.

Texas A&M vs. #10 Florida (at Sunrise, FL) – 2:30 PM EST Saturday on FSN (***)

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Checking In On… the Sun Belt Conference

Posted by dnspewak on December 16th, 2011

Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent for Sun Belt Conference. You can also find his musings online at Sun Belt Basketball or on Twitter @dspewak.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Middle Tennessee continues to roll. Despite a slip-up at UAB, the Blue Raiders got revenge on Belmont with a narrow three-point victory, offsetting a double-overtime loss earlier in the season to the Bruins. Behind a spirited home crowd at the Murphy Center, MTSU’s physicality and strength eventually wore down Belmont, who could not hold its own on the boards. With the victory, the Blue Raiders improved to 10-2, and they picked up what could prove to be the most important win of the season for coach Kermit Davis. 
  • Speaking of important wins, Florida Atlantic has wasted several opportunities to claim them recently. Mike Jarvis scheduled a difficult slate to test his defending Sun Belt champion squad, but so far, the Owls have fallen flat against the likes of Washington, Kansas, South Florida and Mississippi State. But don’t give up hope for an upset just yet: FAU travels to Miami and Harvard during the next week.
  • A week after shocking the nation with a road win at Utah State, the Denver Pioneers dropped an overtime heartbreaker to MAAC favorites Iona. There’s no shame in losing to a team that has the talent to win 25 games this year, and the Gaels might be an at-large contender if they do not win their conference tournament. Still, in the end, it was Iona’s up-tempo style that sped up DU and forced it into 20 turnovers. The Pioneers actually held their own on the boards and shot reasonably well from beyond the arc, and had they held on to the ball, they could have picked up another quality victory in the non-conference.

Mike Jarvis and Floirda Atlantic Have Faced a Rugged Non-Conference Schedule (AP)

Power Rankings

East

  1. Middle Tennessee (10-2, 0-0): Kermit Davis may finally have the team his fan base has been waiting for all these years. Gone are the days that MTSU finished with a middling .500 record — these Blue Raiders look like NCAA Tournament contenders. With LaRon Dendy (14.4 PPG/6.7 RPG) leading the way, Middle Tennessee has the sort of size you might find in a power conference. Davis’s team rebounds with authority and dominates its opponents in the paint. The Blue Raiders are the best defensive team in the conference, and though they won’t wow you with perimeter shooting and an explosive offense, this team plays as hard as anybody around. Florida Atlantic has the guards we all love to talk about, but you won’t find any team with more intimidating size than MTSU.
  2. Florida Atlantic (4-6, 0-0): It’s not time to panic yet, but we’re finding out early in this 2011-12 campaign that FAU is human. The consensus pick to repeat as East champs, the Owls’ undersized forwards have struggled against bigger post players. What’s more concerning, though, is the way FAU’s experienced guards have struggled. In particular, Ray Taylor (8.3 PPG/5.1 APG) hasn’t quite found his groove yet, and he’s even started coming off the bench. We’re talking about one of the league’s best players here, people — playing off the bench. He scored 20 points in a loss to Mississippi State, but coach Mike Jarvis even said he can still play better. He has to, or Florida Atlantic won’t go anywhere this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the SEC

Posted by Gerald Smith on December 14th, 2011

Gerald Smith (@fakegimel) is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference. 

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • That’s Why You’re Mad: Kentucky was seeing red on Saturday as they dropped a game to Indiana. Coaches across the country (especially in the SEC) had a good look at the blueprint to upset Big Blue: Hot outside shooting, strong post play, and good interior defensive positioning to take charges on driving Wildcats. Much has been made about Terrence Jones‘ malaise and Marquis Teague‘s resurgence. Although the Wildcats have plenty of time to lick their wounds the pride of being the last undefeated SEC team was trampled by the Hoosier faithful rushing their court.
  • Desperately Seeking 3-Goggles: Another SEC power-team also had its pride damaged last week. Dayton exploited Alabama’s weakness — awful three-point shooting — to pull off a 74-62 upset. Though the Crimson Tide’s next game yielded a better result (64-52 win over Detroit), the three-point shooting woes continued (2-15 vs. Detroit, 10-58 the last four games). Coach Anthony Grant was counting on one or more of his freshmen guards — Trevor Lacey, Rodney Cooper and Levi Randolph — to provide the outside shooting. None of them have risen to the challenge yet. Alabama will be particularly vulnerable to upsets from streaky-shooting teams until they find a solution to their outside shooting woes.

The Iron Has Been Unkind To Trevor Lacey's Three-point Shooting. (Credit: Marvin Gentry-US PRESSWIRE)

  • Big: A pleasant surprise in the SEC this season has been the play of Mississippi State’s Arnett Moultrie. The transfer from UTEP, averaging 17.1 PPG and 11.2 RPG, is exceeding the expectations set for him. Unfortunately the 6’11” forward is battling with knee tendinitis. He has missed three games for the Bulldogs, including yesterday’s 75-68 victory over FAU. Moultrie will hopefully be ready for Mississippi State’s next series of games which include two away games, including a tilt at #6 Baylor.
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