Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 21st, 2014
With New Mexico taking a home loss to UNLV this week and Nevada slipping back to reality a bit, San Diego State is all alone in the driver’s seat, the last remaining undefeated team in conference play. Now with a 15-game winning streak, the Aztecs have earned their way into the #11 spot in the latest RTC Top 25. Beyond Steve Fisher’s club, however, there are a lot of question marks. The Lobos are the clear #2 team in the conference, but questions remain about their long-term NCAA Tournament aspirations. Our resident bracketologist has them firmly in the field, but future home losses to middling teams are not recommended.
Team of the Week
Boise State Got Back On Track This Week, In Part Due With A Home Win Over Utah State. (Devin Ferrell, The Arbiter)
Boise State – The Broncos bounced back from a pair of losses with a very good week. They went on the road and handed Nevada its first loss of the season, and anytime you can get a road win in conference play – no matter what conference you’re in, but especially in this one – you’re doing something right. Then on Saturday they handled Utah State and have seemingly righted the ship, at least for now. Derrick Marks led the way with 20 points per game this week, but it was a full-team affair, with Ryan Watkins helping the Broncos control the paint and Anthony Drmic being his usual solid self. And there was even one more Bronco who made a big and surprising contribution this week, who we’ll get to shortly.
Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #3 New Mexico and #14 Harvard in Salt Lake City.
Three Key Takeaways.
The Great Equalizer. For a program with no NCAA Tournament wins in their history, you need a special performance to get your first. And if you ain’t got great size and athleticism, there’s one thing you can do make up for your weaknesses: knock down threes. And Harvard did that in abundance tonight, getting five threes from Laurent Rivard and three from Christian Webster, mostly all on drive-and-kick opportunities. But eight threes isn’t enough to pull off an upset of this size and the Crimson did plenty of other things to get themselves over the top. Perhaps it was in part due to the fact that some early threes opened things up inside for them, but as it turns out, Harvard wound up shooting 14-of-24 from inside the three-point arc, getting scoring from Wesley Saunders, Kenyatta Smith and Siyani Chambers inside. The three-point shooting will get the pub, but the Crimson played a complete game.
Harvard players run off the bench and celebrate after beating New Mexico during a second round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Salt Lake City Thursday. (AP)
Inconsistent Scoring From Guards. I’ve harped on it all season long, but these New Mexico guards are awful hard to trust. When things are going good for them, the trio of Kendall Williams, Tony Snell and Hugh Greenwood are about as fine of a trio as you’ll find in college basketball. But when things aren’t going well, they can get hard to notice. Take Williams for example. You probably remember Williams going for 46, or maybe you remember him sending in a 360 dunk to seal the Lobos Mountain West tournament title game against UNLV. Or even an inexplicable MW Player of the Year award. Tonight he was nearly invisible en route to just eight points, along with no assists. And Snell? He was much better than Williams, but after the Mountain West tournament he was the toast of the town. Tonight just 4-of-12 shooting and 1-of-6 from deep for nine points. All told, the three New Mexico guards combined for 17 points on 21 field goal attempts with just four assists.
Mountain West Gone South. We’ve heard all about how the Mountain West is one of the best conference’s in the country, second in the RPI, deep and talented and with several teams capable of making runs in March. Well, to put it nicely, today was not a good day for the conference. The teams with arguably the best chances of making deep runs – New Mexico and UNLV – bowed out. Coupled with Boise State’s loss last night, the conference’s only bit of good news was Colorado State’s win over Missouri today. San Diego State plays tomorrow, but for a conference with an abysmal record in NCAA Tournament play, this has been a terribly depressing couple of days for the conference.
Star of the Game. Kenyatta Smith, Harvard. On a team built around a quick point guard and a bunch of three-point shooters, you need someone to do the dirty work, especially against a team with as much size inside as New Mexico features. And tonight, Smith did that dirty work with pride, standing up to Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow time and time again as the Lobos repeatedly tried to take advantage of the undersized Crimson inside. Kirk and Bairstow got their points, although not often in the 19 minutes Smith played, and Smith made them work for it. And, despite picking up his fourth foul early in the second half, Smith stuck around long enough to make some key plays down the stretch.
I. Renko is an RTC columnist and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.
Oh, well. What’s a royal ball? After all, I suppose it would be frightfully dull, and-and-and boring, and-and completely… Completely wonderful. – Cinderella
It’s time for college basketball’s annual ball, which means it’s time for America to fall in love with Cinderella all over again. There are 36 teams from the 26 non-power-conferences who have been invited to this year’s Big Dance, and while the slipper no longer fits for some of the more prominent of these schools, for the bulk of them, this is a rare opportunity to make a name for themselves on the grandest of stages.
This is the first of a two-part series taking a look at the NCAA Tournament prospects for all 36 teams hailing from The Other 26. We focus today on the TO26 teams in the South and West regions, grouping them into five rough categories, and, within each category, ordering them by their likelihood of advancing.
These are the teams that have a credible chance of dancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.
Can Kelly Olynyk Lead the Zags to Their First Final Four?
Gonzaga (#1, West) — It’s been five years since a TO26 team reached the top seed line. In 2008, Memphis rode its #1 seed all the way to the brink of a national championship, and Zags fans are hoping for the same — and perhaps more — this year. Gonzaga has no glaring weaknesses. They are led by an athletic, skilled frontcourt, the centerpiece of which is NPOY candidate Kelly Olynyk. They get steady guard play from Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, and David Stockton. If they’re to run into any trouble, it will likely be against a team that (1) sports a strong, athletic interior defense that can contain Olynyk, Elias Harris, and Sam Dower and pound the glass, and (2) can hit the three-point shot consistently, as Illinois did in beating them (Gonzaga’s defense allows a lot of three-point attempts). There are a fair number of teams that meet the first criteria in the West bracket, but not many with a lot offensive firepower from the three-point line or otherwise. In short, this is as good a shot as Gonzaga has ever had to make the Final Four. The eyes of the nation will be watching to see if they can make good on their promise.
Virginia Commonwealth (#5, South) – VCU is a popular sleeper pick for the Final Four, and there’s some merit to that notion, but here is the most important thing you need to know about them: They are 25-2 on the year (and 14-0 in A-10 play) against teams with a turnover rate over 18 percent. And they are 1-6 (and 0-5 in A-10 play) against teams with a turnover rate under 18 percent. The Rams’ first-round opponent, Akron, falls squarely in the former camp (20.8 percent), a problem for the Zips that will be exacerbated by the absence of their legally-troubled starting point guard, Alex Abreu. After that, things get a bit trickier for the Rams. Their two potential Third Round opponents, Michigan and South Dakota State, rank in the top 10 in the country in turnover rate. Those stats are perhaps somewhat inflated by the fact that both teams play in conferences that don’t feature a lot of pressure defenses, but if you’re looking for a point guard to lead you against such a defense, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than Trey Burke or Nate Wolters. It’s true that Michigan has struggled lately in general, and that if you look ahead to a potential match-up with Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen, Havoc’s odds of success improve, but I’d caution against over-exuberance at the Rams’ chances given a potentially dicey Third Round contest.
Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), Midwest (11 AM), South (1 PM), West (3 PM). Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCwestregion).
You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Andrew breaking down the West Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.
Favorite:#2 Ohio State (26-7, 16-5 Big Ten). Not to take anything away from Gonzaga, a team and a program that should be very pleased with itself for the excellent season it has had, but the Buckeyes get the nod by an eyelash. While the Zags have been coasting through WCC play for the past couple months, Thad Matta’s club has dealt with the gauntlet of the Big Ten and emerged with an eight-game winning streak, boasting wins over teams like Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan State (twice). Aaron Craft, a veteran guard with plenty of great basketball in his past, is probably playing the best ball of his distinguished career. And guys like LaQuinton Ross, Sam Thompson and Lenzelle Smith are tossing in just enough offense to aid big-time scorer Deshaun Thomas. Throw in the nation’s sixth-best team in defensive efficiency and let’s make the battle-tested Buckeyes a slight favorite to repeat as a Final Four team.
Aaron Craft and The Buckeyes Have Been Through The Big Ten Gauntlet, Making Them The Slight West Regional Favorite
Should They Falter: #1 Gonzaga (31-2, 18-0 WCC). It would be easy to play the contrarian here and offer up plenty of backlash to the Bulldogs’ first-ever #1 seed and name New Mexico – a pretty darn good team in their own right – as the next best team in this region. But make no mistake, Gonzaga can ball. With Kelly Olynyk, a first-team All-American favorite, the Zags have the third-most efficient offense in the nation and Mark Few’s best offensive team in his time in Spokane. And while there are some concerns about the Zags’ ability to match up defensively with big and athletic guards, this is a team that is also Few’s most efficient defensive team ever – by far. While there are plenty of potential stumbling blocks (regardless of who they face in the Round of 32, that looks like a serious rumble, for instance), the Zags definitely have the ability to reach an Elite Eight. Or better. Read the rest of this entry »
Championship Week reached a crescendo on the eve of Selection Sunday, as thirteen automatic bids were handed out. As each of the 31 automatic qualifiers plays their way into the Dance over the next week, we’ll take some time to give you an analytical snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets this week.
How About A Court Storming On An Opponent’s Home Floor? Completely Legal, Especially If A Trip To The Big Dance Is On The Line. Congratulations Albany.
America East Champion (24-10, 12-7)
RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #143/#152/#172
Adjusted Scoring Margin = +2.0
Likely NCAA Seed: #16
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
It’s been a rollercoaster of a year for Albany, but Saturday’s ticket-punching win at Vermont means the ride will roll on to the Big Dance. The America East champs put together an impressive 11-3 non-conference campaign that included a win at Washington, but conference play proved trying for Will Brown’s team, as a 9-7 finish left them as the fourth seed in the America East tournament. Albany lived the familiar March mantra “survive and advance” to the fullest this week, winning three games by a total of eight points to earn the bid.
In a fashion quite typical for these Great Danes, Albany won games this week in which they scored 50, 61 and 53 points, respectively – not exactly “grab some popcorn and take in the show” territory here. The tempo is predictably slow (279th nationally), and with national ranks of 170th offensively and 144th defensively, Albany is very much middle of the road on both ends of the floor. Where the Great Danes do excel is on the glass. They are an above average offensive rebounding team and rank 40th nationally in collecting caroms on the defensive end, aided in part by a relatively big lineup, especially for the America East.
The Albany offensive blueprint is not especially refined, but they rely heavily on a small senior duo of three-point shooters. 6’0” Mike Black leads the Danes in scoring at 15 a contest and towers over his backcourt mate, 5’10” Jacob Iati, who chips in 12.2 PPG. The two have combined to make 139 threes this season, and they would be well served to keep chucking come next week, because unless Albany gets slotted for the First Four in Dayton, it will take a hot shooting night and then some (and then some more, and some more…) to keep the Danes surviving and advancing.
Rulers Of Conference USA For The Final Time, Memphis Is Dancing Again
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s Mountain West Championship game between New Mexico and UNLV in Las Vegas.
Three Key Takeaways.
America: Meet Tony Snell. Those of us that have been watching the Mountain West religiously for the past three years are quite familiar with the unique combination of talent that Snell possesses: a 6’7” wing with even better length, terrific defensive ability, the ability to run off screens at an elite level, and can knock down open looks at a great rate — not to mention the jump-out-of-the-gym hops and a decent handle as well. This afternoon, he put all of that on display for a national audience. The question about him has always been whether he is too nice to be a great competitor, but that was not in doubt today: 21 points, 8-of-11 shooting, five threes and a great blow-by in the closing moments as well.
Live By The Three, Die By The Three. The Rebels shot the ball 59 times on Saturday afternoon; 31 of those (a full 52.5%) came from deep. In the second half it was even worse with 17 of their 29 attempts (58.6%) coming from beyond the arc and another healthy chunk perimeter jumpers just inside it. For awhile, that worked out, as Bryce Dejean-Jones had a couple stretches where he caught fire and the Rebels were right in the game. But when that faucet got turned off, the Rebels faded. There are definitely good shooters on this team, with Dejean-Jones and Katin Reinhardt the best among them, but both of those guys have a tendency to take too many shots and, more disturbingly, to take bad shots. Then there’s Anthony Bennett, a physical specimen with a fantastic inside/out game who too often forgets about the inside half of that equation. For the Rebs to make noise in the NCAA Tournament, they need to find better balance offensively.
New Mexico’s NCAA Tournament Viability. I’ve been among the doubters of the Lobos of late, in part because I haven’t entirely trusted their ability to get consistent offensive production from their guards. Today, to understate things, that was not a concern. We’ve talked about Snell, but Kendall Williams was tremendous as well, handing out seven assists, running the team well, and scoring 12 points. Then there’s Hugh Greenwood who had three early three-pointers and then never scored again. But, Greenwood did so many other things well, grabbing seven boards, handing out five assists and limiting Anthony Marshall’s production. Despite the 29 wins to this point, it has been something of an up-and-down year offensively to this point, but heading into the NCAA Tournament, this team is playing its best ball.
Star of the Game. Tony Snell. Five minutes into the game, you would have figured Anthony Bennett was going to be the guy. He had his team’s first 11 points in often spectacular ways, but his star faded quickly. Snell, however, played his best after the break, logging all 20 minutes, making five of seven shots (including three threes) and coming up with the big offensive play whenever his team needed a bucket.
Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. He filed this report after the New Mexico-San Diego State game at the MW semifinals on Friday night.
Three Key Takeaways.
New Mexico Bigs. Prior to the season, the consensus was that the Lobos had great guards but would be vulnerable inside, considering Alex Kirk was coming off a season missed to injury and Cameron Bairstow had the reputation of being alarmingly unathletic. But that idea quickly went away and by the time they returned from the Virgin Islands it was pretty well established that both of those guys were solid. Tonight, they were the difference. Between the two of them they combined for 31 points, 18 boards and four blocks (all of those belonging to Kirk), dominating especially in the first 24 minutes as they built up a 21-point lead. Give credit to guards like Kendall Williams and Tony Snell for finding them in position to put in easy hoops, but the size of New Mexico’s bigs gave SDSU trouble all night long.
Cameron Bairstow And Adam Kirk Were Major Problems For The Aztecs (Eric Draper, AP Photo)
Tony Snell. Speaking of Snell, he’s been one of my favorite topics all season long and tonight we got the good Snell: 5-of-8 from three, 15 points, five boards, four assists and plenty of credit for helping to force Jamaal Franklin into a 3-of-12 night. He’s averaged 10 field goal attempts over the last 11 games, while never shooting less than eight times and never more than 13; in other words, he’s been consistent.
What the Hell, Aztecs? So, this is a team that went 10-8 against Mountain West competition this year. For some time we’ve written off some of their struggles as “oh, they’ve had injuries” or “well, they’re young.” But there are some other problems. While they’ve got some decent size on the wings, they don’t really have much size in the paint, something exploited by the Lobos tonight. They also are severely lacking in shooters; Chase Tapley is rock solid, Xavier Thames is decent, but beyond that there are question marks. James Rahon is supposed to be their designated shooter, but he’s been mired in a two-year slump and tonight airballed a three-footer badly, along with other ugly shots en route to a 3-of-10 performance. Franklin, for all his talents, is not a polished jump-shooter. And guys like Winston Shepard and J.J. O’Brien think much more highly of their shooting ability than they should. This is a team that can find itself some good shots in the half-court, but they’ve struggled mightily in knocking them down. They’ll likely be pegged somewhere in the #8-#10 range in the bracket against another flawed team in the round of 64, but don’t be expecting this flawed team to be able to knock off a #1 or a #2 in the round of 32.
Star of the Game. Tony Snell. The bigs were primarily responsible for helping the Lobos build their nine-point haltime lead, but it was Snell with back-to-back-to-back threes at the start of the second half that put the game away. And his defensive presence was a big part of holding the Aztecs to 0.83 points per possession. Read the rest of this entry »
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. He filed this report from The MW Tournament in Las Vegas Wednesday evening.
While other people around the country have been anointing New Mexico as a legitimate possibility for a #1 seed and a contender for a deep March run, I’ve been reluctant to buy in completely due to the inconsistent offensive production they get from their guards. Between Kendall Williams, Tony Snell and Hugh Greenwood, the Lobos get an average of 33.4 points per night, but from one night to the next, you never really know what you’re going to get. Williams dropped 46 against Colorado State to great acclaim, then followed that up with 15 points over the next two games. Greenwood (who, to be fair, is not meant to be a prolific scorer), followed up his season-high 17 points against USC with a pair of four-FGA games. And Snell? For all his immense talent (and make no mistake, the kid has the potential to be on the very short list of best players in this conference), you not only never know what you’re going to get from him offensively on a game-to-game basis, you can see wildly divergent performances within the same game – or even the same half. Tonight, we got the good Tony Snell early, as he knocked down his first four shots, including a couple threes, on the way to 11 points out of the gate. He then proceeded to miss his next seven shots from the field and scored just four more points the rest of the way – all from the free-throw line (although, to be fair, New Mexico makes scoring from the charity stripe a priority). But the good news, and the fact that will keep the Lobos in more games than not, is that all of these guys buy in defensively. Even when Snell either isn’t finding shots or isn’t knocking them down, he – and Williams, and Greenwood – are active and aware defenders. If the Lobos can find a way to get regular consistent production offensively out of these guards, they are a threat to play well into March, and possibly April. But there is also the possibility that Snell, Williams and Greenwood all turn in lackluster offensive performances in the same game and they get bounced early. They got the job done tonight, against a short-handed and over-matched team, but is this type of effort going to get the job done against NCAA Tournament-caliber teams.
New Mexico Is Undeniably A Strong Defensive Team, But They Need Tony Snell and Their Backcourt To Be Consistent Scorers (AP Photo)
While New Mexico is the national story, the story inside the gym was Wyoming’s hustle and determination in keeping the game as close as possible for as long as possible. While this game was never seriously in doubt, the Cowboys were playing for keeps tonight. I lost count of the number of times multiple players on their team got down on the court to get after loose balls, they were consistently selling out on the defensive end and just generally leaving it all out on the court. Their star forward and senior leader Leonard Washington was in foul trouble almost throughout, but recognizing that his team didn’t stand a chance without him, head coach Larry Shyatt kept bringing him back far before you would otherwise suspect; for instance, he was in the game for a long stretch in the first half with three fouls and was brought back into the game almost immediately after picking up his fourth just five minutes into the second half. Still, the grizzled veteran, playing through a back injury that clearly limited him, fouled out with more than seven minutes remaining, effectively sealing the game. Shyatt is still convinced that the Cowboys and their top-70 RPI will earn an invitation to some post-season tournament, otherwise college basketball has seen the last of Washington (and no, he is not, contrary to popular belief, an eighth-year senior), so let’s pause to salute one of the country’s hardest-working, most-versatile players in recent years. Here’s Larry Shyatt on his senior, playing through injury: “For seven games now, he has tried to give this school, this team, this state everything he’s had. He’s the first to admit, like yesterday, he just doesn’t have it right now. The back is just at a point where, the greatest gift he has is lift, and he doesn’t have lift right now. I tell you what, I owe him a lot of respect for the level of toughness he’s tried to show. I just wish he could have performed like Leonard these last six or seven games.” Check out these senior year stats for a minute: 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.4 steals per game, all while playing in one of the nation’s most down-tempo systems. And, somehow, I left him off of not just my All-Mountain West first team, but also off the second team. I was completely wrong on that one. And I have no idea how, or why I did that.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
For weeks and weeks the constant talk around the conference was of confusion; who is the best team, where is the separation? Now, all of a sudden we look up with still a full two weeks remaining in conference play and, barring a collapse, New Mexico is going to take home at least a piece of the conference title (and a #1 seed in the conference tournament) and is a strong favorite to earn the regular season title outright. Along the way, Steve Alford has probably sealed up the MW Coach of the Year award, while teams like Colorado State, UNLV and San Diego State look locked into NCAA Tournament bids. In other words, what was once a confusing mess (and I mean that word in a good way) of a conference is now pretty much crystal clear. Yeah, we still have to settle who exactly gets what seeds, both in Las Vegas and in the NCAA Tournament bracket, but New Mexico has clearly separated itself from the pack.
Team of the Week
New Mexico – While it is not yet sealed, the Lobos went a long way towards earning themselves a Mountain West regular season title this week when they went into Fort Collins, interrupted Colorado State’s 27-game home winning streak and came away with an impressive road win. We’ve spent a lot of time this year talking about what the Lobos can’t do and where their weaknesses may lie, but this far along this much is apparent: These Lobos are tough and they know how to win ballgames.
Kendall Williams’ Career Day Carried New Mexico To A Big Road Win
Player of the Week
Kendall Williams, Junior, New Mexico – For the second consecutive week, there is no serious debate about the winner here as Williams went for 46 points, knocking down 10 increasingly improbable three-pointers while doing a little bit of everything for the Lobos in one of the greatest individual performances anywhere in the nation this season. For a guy who hadn’t scored more than 20 since December 22, it was also one of the most unlikely performances, but it is a glimpse into the type of ceiling this ridiculously talented junior has.
Newcomer of the Week
Colton Iverson, Senior, Colorado State – While the Rams came up on the short end of the stick in both of their games this week, it wasn’t due to lack of production from their senior transfer. Iverson was his typical efficient self, averaging 20 points, 12.5 boards and 34.5 minutes per game of action this week.
Despite Colton Iverson’s Big Week, His Rams Went 0-2 (Craig F. Walker/The Denver Post)
Game of the Week
UNLV 61, Colorado State 59 – Both Colorado State games this week were wildly entertaining. But while the outcome of the New Mexico game was hardly in doubt in the final minute, this battle in Vegas went down to the wire. After getting outscored by 11 in the first half, the Rams came out of the halftime locker room on fire, scoring 19 of the first 27 points in the second half to get back to even with still more than 13 minutes to play. When Dorian Green knocked down a pair of free throws with just under two minutes in the game, the Rams were up two and looked to be in good position to earn a big road win. But the Rams would never score again, while allowing a Bryce Dejean-Jones offensive rebound and putback to tie the game. And then an Anthony Marshall jumper with a waning shot and game clock sealed the deal and sent the home crowd home happy.
Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
There are four games left in the regular season for most teams and the conference battles are still going strong. The last week and a half of the season should be exciting for everyone. Let’s not waste any time and get to the breakdowns.
#11 Syracuse at #19 Marquette - 7:00 PM EST, Monday on ESPN (****)
Can Michael Carter-Williams cause Marquette to turn the ball over?
Both of these teams are coming off losses that have dropped them one game behind Georgetown for the Big East lead. The final four games of the season are certainly no cakewalk for Syracuse as they have to play at Marquette, home against Louisville and DePaul, and then at Georgetown to close out the regular season. Marquette has it slightly easier as the will play at home against Syracuse and Notre Dame and then on the road against Rutgers and St. John’s. The Orange are 4-4 in their last eight games and have struggled offensively. They shot below 40% eFG in all four of the losses. Their three-point shooting has been particularly bad as they have gone 5-of-14, 3-of-14, 4-of-23, and 4-of-20 in those games. A road game at Marquette will not be easy since the Golden Eagles are 9-0 at home this year. Turnovers have been the problem for Marquette but mostly away from the Bradley Center — if Marquette can protect the basketball and the perimeter, they can win this game. Syracuse simply needs to knock down its open shots. If they are going to break out of their three-point shooting slump, Marquette is the team to do it against because Buzz Williams’ perimeter defense is suspect at best. Watch out for James Sutherland, as he has been hot and cold from deep since returning to the Orange lineup. If they can get a solid performance from him, SU will be in good shape. Also, keep an eye on the match-up between Michael Carter-Williams and Junior Cadougan. Cadougan is prone to turning the ball over, so if Carter-Williams can use his long arms to poke a few balls away and get the Orange out on the break, his team has a definite shot at a big road win against Marquette.
#7 Kansas at Iowa State - 9:00 PM EST, Monday on ESPN (****)
Iowa State took Kansas to the brink in their first contest in early January, only to cave in overtime at Allen Fieldhouse. With four games to play in the Big 12 season the Jayhawks are currently tied with Kansas State for the lead, which puts the Cyclones squarely in the spoiler role. In the first game, Iowa State shot the ball an absurd 38 times from three. Expect more of the same in this contest as Kansas possesses a significant size advantage down low. Given that advantage, look for them to pound the ball inside to Jeff Withey early and often. Iowa State has no answer for Withey inside. If he is able to establish himself in the paint, it opens the floor for Ben McLemore to take over. If Kansas can defend the three and utilize its advantage in the paint, they should have no problem knocking off the Cyclones. However, if you see that three-pointers are raining down from Fred Hoiberg’s squad early, it’s going to be another nailbiter.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
Another week down the drain and we’re now officially four weeks away from the start of the Mountain West Tournament (well, three weeks and six days by the time this gets published). And, as time passes, some things are becoming more clear and some things are just as confusing as they were weeks ago. For instance: quick, who’s the best team in the conference?
New Mexico’s got a claim on first place as of now, but they’re coming off a season-series-evening loss to UNLV and they’ve already put up a horrendous 34-point offensive (in more than one way) output against San Diego State. The Rebels, for their part, have looked really good in their home win against New Mexico and their road win at San Diego State, but this is a team that just this week lost at Fresno State, the worst team in the conference. The Aztecs? Their backcourt is beat up and their still facing road trips to Colorado State, UNLV, New Mexico and Boise State. Oh, and they’re entering that stretch already a game back of the Lobos and a half-game behind Colorado State. And as for the Rams, despite the fact that they made the AP Top 25 for the first time in just under 60 years, they’ve still got plenty to prove themselves, with a history of struggling away from home, especially against quality opponents. But, for now, I’m going to go out on a limb and put CSU at the top of the pack, based on a whim. But hey, give me credit at least for not taking the easy way out and declaring this a four-way tie for first atop my power rankings.
Who’s The Best Team In The Mountain West? I Dunno, But Colorado State’s As Good Of A Guess As Any (Dawn Madura/AP Photo)
So, that’s the clear as mud part. What parts of this conference are starting to round into understandable shape? Well, that pipe dream back a few weeks ago about six teams making the NCAA Tournament? Yeah, well, that’s not gonna happen. Wyoming and head coach Larry Shyatt have done great things over the past two seasons in Laramie, but they’re getting eaten alive in conference play (2-7 so far) and it would take a complete 180 for them to have a prayer of NCAA consideration come March. Meanwhile, Air Force, which had been so hot the last time we talked, just got done dropping a couple of road games, most damningly to Nevada on Saturday. They needed a lot of stuff to break their way, and while they’re certainly not completely dead yet, I’ve got to see them make some serious noise, especially on the road, in order to think they belong even on the periphery of the conversation. And that leaves Boise State as the potential fifth Mountain West team. There isn’t a lot of room for error for the Broncos, but I, for one, have a hard time believing they won’t be among the field of 68 when the brackets get announced.
Elsewhere, you can start engraving Anthony Bennett’s name on the Freshman of the Year trophy, if you want to get a head start. And the list of serious Player of the Year candidates are limited as well; right now Jamaal Franklin has to be the odds on favorite to defend his title, with Bennett maybe his strongest competitor. As for Coach of the Year, that one is still wide open and will likely be determined in part by how the race at the top of the conference shakes out.
Team of the Week
San Diego State – The Aztecs didn’t leave Viejas Arena this week, but they also didn’t lose, something that only one other Mountain West team (Colorado State, who played just one game) can say. The Aztecs dodged a bullet against Boise State, but then came out and put away Fresno State with a dominating second-half performance. While still not back to full-strength (Xavier Thames, for one, remains limited, although Chase Tapley nears 100%), the Aztecs find themselves just a game back of first place with a chance this week to take a couple huge steps towards a conference title. Of course, those huge steps include going on the road to Colorado State and UNLV, but let’s put it this way: if SDSU wins these games, they’re in very good shape.
Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
Bubble watching has officially begun, which means March is just around the corner. With less than a month to go in the season, everything is still up for grabs in what has been a truly unpredictable season in college hoops. The Big Ten and Big East lead a solid slate of games this weekend. With epic snow hitting the east coast, it looks like most people will have to sit at home and watch hoops. Sounds great to most of us, I’d assume. Let’s get to the breakdowns!
#1 Michigan at Wisconsin – 12:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN (****)
Can Tim Hardaway Jr. continue his hot shooting from the outside against a strong Wisconsin defense?
On a per possession basis, we will see the best offense (Michigan) in the Big Ten versus the best defense (Wisconsin) in the Big Ten in this game. Michigan’s poor two-point shooting against Ohio State was very out of character for John Beilein’s squad. Fortunately for the Wolverines, their three-point shooting was able to carry them to a victory. Michigan went 14-24 from deep against the Buckeyes. Don’t expect Michigan to have the same success from outside against Wisconsin, as the Badgers have the best three-point defense in the conference. Watch to see if UM can bounce back inside the arc. When Michigan’s Mitch McGary is in the game, the match-up between him and Jared Berggren should be fun to watch on the inside and a key factor in the outcome. McGary is coming into his own and will be needed down low for second chance points. Expect this game to be a slow, mistake free contest. Execution of the half-court offense will be critical for both sides. The Wolverines definitely have the advantage there. Wisconsin needs to force Michigan to make tough shots. If Michigan is able to get open looks in the half-court, it will be along afternoon for the Badgers.
#2 Kansas at Oklahoma – 4:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN (***)
Just when it looked like Kansas was going to run away and hide with the Big 12 title, Jayhawk Nation got shell shocked with two consecutive losses. Not only did they lose twice, but they lost at home and then against TCU, the only team in the conference without a win. Many are calling the TCU loss the worst in Kansas history. While that may be an overstatement, Bill Self certainly has to be concerned with his team’s effort as of late. The two losses are character tests for the Jayhawks, which is what makes this road game against Oklahoma so important. It’s not all roses for Lon Kruger and the Sooners, however. They are in the midst of their own two-game slide. Oklahoma has been up and down this season and could use a big win at home to boost their tourney chances. KU has been shooting awful in the past two games, particularly from three. They are 11-46 from downtown in that stretch. Look to see if the Jayhawks try to get in the lane more often with their big guards. Given Oklahoma’s mediocrity on offense and defense, this looks like it could be a bounce back game for KU. But given what we’ve seen so far in college hoops, nothing is for sure. Read the rest of this entry »