Set Your TiVo: 01.20 – 01.22

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 21st, 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.

Cincinnati and Vanderbilt will look to keep rolling but a Big 12 clash highlights Saturday’s slate.

#5 Missouri @ #3 Baylor – 2:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (*****)

This Clash Between Big 12 Powers Offers a Contrast in Strengths

  • This game could really come down to which team imposes its will. For Missouri, it would love nothing more than to speed the game up, force turnovers and not let Baylor get set in its half court defense. Missouri’s strength is its guard play. Frank Haith employs a four-guard lineup and it has worked wonders this season. The Tigers have shot the ball very well this season and that’s going to have to continue on the road in Waco. Missouri has struggled against teams with bigger front lines so its guards must shoot well if penetration is cut off and Ricardo Ratliffe is limited inside by Baylor’s trees. Kim English, Michael Dixon and Marcus Denmon can flat out shoot the basketball and Haith will need all three contributing in order to beat Baylor. It will be a bonus if Ratliffe can get anything going inside but Mizzou’s guards must continue to make shots in a tough environment.
  • Baylor is the stronger team inside and Scott Drew knows it. Getting Perry Jones III to assert himself in the paint along with Quincy Acy could be the key for the Bears in this game. Baylor will have the home crowd and energy behind itself and capitalizing on that is going to be very important against a team that loves to speed you up and force turnovers. In order for Jones and Acy to get the ball, Baylor’s guard play must be up to the task. Missouri will pressure Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton all game because the Tigers need to run up the turnovers and transition points in order to offset what should be a significant Baylor edge on the glass. If Baylor can slow the game down a bit, limit turnovers and get the ball inside, it should be on its way to a win. If Jones III and Acy are hot in the paint, that will open up Brady Heslip and Jackson from deep. Jackson does so much for this team with penetration, passing and shooting ability but Heslip is great spotting up or coming off a screen. Baylor has multiple weapons of varying height, something Missouri may have a very hard time dealing with.
  • As we said, Missouri must speed the game up and create turnovers against the turnover-prone Bears. Ratliffe is a very good post player but we’re not sure if he’s going to be able to score consistently as the only Mizzou big man against Baylor’s immense height in the paint. If Missouri can’t get anything inside it must knock down deep shots and get to the free throw line. The Tigers shoot 77.6% from the charity stripe and that could end up being their most efficient way of scoring against Baylor aside from the three ball. Baylor didn’t defend well against Kansas but Missouri was exposed in a tough environment at Kansas State. If Baylor is physical and sticks to the game plan of good half court offense, the Bears should win. Missouri should play better in its second time on the road against a very good team but you have to favor Baylor at home given the size mismatch.

Cincinnati @ West Virginia – 3:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPNU (****)

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Set Your TiVo: 01.09.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 9th, 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.

While Monday night isn’t an “official” ESPN Big Monday, we might as well call it that. Sean McDonough, Bill Raftery and Jay Bilas will be on the call in Hartford as the Big East takes center stage this evening.

West Virginia at #14 Connecticut – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (****)

  • It was a rough last week for Connecticut as the Huskies fell twice in the state of New Jersey, first at Seton Hall and then at Rutgers on Saturday. Returning to the XL Center in Hartford should give the team some confidence. Turnovers have been the big problem for UConn of late, especially on the most recent road trip. The Huskies committed 33 turnovers in their last two games with eight of those by Andre Drummond in the low post. The Connecticut offense can run smoothly with players like Drummond, Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, and Ryan Boatright, but the Huskies must limit turnovers against a West Virginia defense that can be taken advantage of in the paint. Jim Calhoun’s team usually plays well when it makes threes but tonight the focus should be inside. West Virginia allows opponents to shoot 48.3% inside the arc and you would think this is the perfect game to get Alex Oriakhiback on track. Using Boatright’s quickness, Napier’s passing ability, and Lamb’s versatility, the Huskies should be able to penetrate the West Virginia defense. Turnovers, of course, would limit that success. 

    Will This Be The Game That Alex Oriakhi Reasserts Himself?

  • Aside from a loss at Seton Hall on December 30, West Virginia has been rolling. The Mountaineers beat Georgetown on Saturday and a win tonight would vault them into position for a run at the second spot in the Big East. The Mountaineers are also struggling with turnover issues as Bob Huggins has freshmen playing key roles. West Virginia plays so much better when it makes shots, but not necessarily from the outside. West Virginia’s biggest strength is Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant doing the bulk of the scoring with others chipping in from time to time. Jones had 22 and 16 against Georgetown while Bryant is averaging 27 PPG over his last two outings since a 3-16 shooting performance in the Seton Hall game. Not coincidentally, West Virginia won both teams with relative ease. West Virginia has to get Jones many touches but he’ll be facing his toughest test to date. Connecticut’s interior defense is solid as always, ranked #3 (37.6% against). If West Virginia can’t score inside, it won’t win this game. The Mountaineers have done a tremendous job getting to the foul line in Big East play but UConn historically doesn’t foul a lot with Calhoun at the helm. His big men are adept at blocking shots without breaking the plane of verticality and fouling. However, the Huskies have put opponents on the stripe at a higher than average clip in conference play.
  • This game will be a war with two physical and talented teams going at it. You would expect nothing less in a Huggins-Calhoun match-up. Both teams will crash the offensive boards with incredible energy and whoever wins that battle may end up taking the game. West Virginia has better numbers when it comes to defensive rebounding but the Huskies have a great knack for getting second chance opportunities. Should this game come down to the wire, Connecticut has the advantage being at home with better free throw shooters (though not by much). Staying on that theme, look for Napier to try to get to the line often. When he does, Connecticut usually has success. When he doesn’t, it’s tougher for UConn to score in the half court. Based on the recent trends and statistics, some people may think West Virginia has the edge here. That wouldn’t be surprising but we’ll go with the home team in a close one.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East Morning Five: 01.09.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 9th, 2012

  1. Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun was back on the sideline Saturday but it didn’t make a difference as the Huskies played uninspired basketball and lost to Rutgers, 67-60. Apparently eager to make up for lost time, Calhoun made his displeasure clear to the media and at practice the next dayShabazz Napier played well, but backcourt mate Ryan Boatright did not and center Alex Oriakhi has practically disappeared from the team’s offensive plans entirely. Aside from a good showing against St. John’s last week, UConn’s offense has been in a funk lately as they shot worse than 40% for the second straight game. They better hope they can get it together quickly because they play West Virginia Monday and Notre Dame next Saturday, both of whom are coming off big upset wins.
  2. There was some good news for UConn fans this weekend as uber-freshman Andre Drummond told reporters he planned to return for his sophomore season. This news is less surprising given the number of high-profile players who have opted to stay in school in the past two seasons, but let’s not forget, this season is far from over and Drummond will have plenty of time to change his mind. Despite risking injury and his cemented spot in the NBA Lottery, the move makes sense from a developmental standpoint. Remember that Drummond reclassified and is still very young and inexperienced. He has shown flashes this season, but he has also been very inconsistent and rarely dominant. Another year to gain some seasoning and some polish could help make him even more appealing and NBA-ready.
  3. Saturday provided a number of upsets and perhaps none was uglier and yet still impressive than Notre Dame’s gutsy double-overtime road win against Louisville. Point guard Eric Atkins went just 4-16 from the field, but he played 50 minutes. The Fighting Irish shot just 31.7% from the field but they forced 18 turnovers and outlasted an offensively challenged Cardinals team. This season has been full of obstacles for the Fighting Irish and Mike Brey deserves a lot of credit for holding this team together and keeping them competitive, but they are still not a finished product. They have the look of a bubble team and they don’t have enough veteran leadership or scorers to be more consistent, but none of that should take away from what must have been a very gratifying win for Brey and the Irish fans.
  4. Former Pittsburgh prized freshman Khem Birch was supposed to decide between UNLV and Florida sometime last tonight according to the Las Vegas Sun. But as I type this, Birch’s Twitter account has been silent and I can’t find any evidence he has picked a school as of yet. No one seems to have a read on which way he is leaning either, but landing Birch would be a major coup for both programs as long as his decision remains permanent this time around. The Panthers have been struggling in his absence and a year away from the court is stunting Birch’s development — or at least postponing it. Stay tuned tomorrow to find out where he ends up.
  5. The other big upset of Saturday was West Virginia’s dismantling of No. 9 Georgetown in Morgantown. The Hoyas were due for a loss and didn’t play particularly well, but let’s give credit where credit is due. Mountaineers forward Kevin Jones is an absolute stud and possibly the best player in the conference if not the country and guard Truck Bryant has been on fire in the team’s past two games. Bob Huggins will have to make sure they don’t dwell on the win for too long because they are in Hartford tonight to battle UConn and will need to come out ready to play because Jim Calhoun is going to have his squad fired up.
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 3rd, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Ed. Note – This post was written prior to Tuesday’s action, and was mistakenly removed briefly Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Rick Pitino’s Interesting Announcement: I was one of the folks who questioned why Rick Pitino would announce he plans to retire five years from now when his contract with the University of Louisville runs out. You would figure this will hurt recruiting, but Pitino seemed relieved and at peace with his decision. Of course, many things can change over a five-year time frame, but I’ll take Pitino at his word. As ESPN.com’s Andy Katz writes, he will leave quite the influential mark on the college game once he exits the stage.
  • Conference Play Begins: At long last, Big East play is finally here. 13 conference games were played this past week and some storylines are already beginning to emerge. Pittsburgh is 0-2 for the first time under Jamie Dixon while Villanova is also 0-2 for the first time since the 2006-07 season. Syracuse has continued to steamroll through its schedule and is among the select few teams capable of winning a national championship. Slowly but surely, Connecticut seems to be finding its identity. Once the Huskies establish a leader on the floor, they may begin to take off. Georgetown and Seton Hall have surprised the conference this season, filling the void vacated by the Panthers and Wildcats in the top half of the league. While the conference is down a bit, this is sure to be another terrific Big East basketball season. Enjoy the ride over the next two months.

Is Fab Melo College Basketball's Most Improved Player? (Dennis Nett/Syracuse Post-Standard)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (15-0, 2-0): Simply put, this team is rolling. Syracuse blasted its two opponents this past week, obliterating Seton Hall by 26 points and winning by 19 at DePaul. Most impressive was the game against the Pirates, one in which Fab Melo recorded 12 points, seven boards, and a school record 10 blocked shots as Syracuse avenged last season’s home loss to Seton Hall. Even more amazing is that Syracuse won by 26 without Kris Joseph scoring a single point. How’s that for depth? The Orange forced 23 Pirate turnovers and held them to 31.7% shooting, including an 0-11 FG line for Fuquan Edwin. Against DePaul, Syracuse held Brandon Young to 0-8 shooting. That’s 0-19 FG against Syracuse for two guys averaging a combined 31 points. Syracuse still needs to improve its rebounding (Seton Hall was +2 on the glass) but this team is scary good and some are saying it hasn’t even reached its full potential yet. This week: 1/4 @ Providence, 1/7 vs. #13 Marquette.
  2. Connecticut (12-1, 2-0): The Huskies struggled for most of the game at South Florida, but managed to pull away late behind Jeremy Lamb’s 23 points on 8-11 FG. In the St. John’s game, the Huskies shot a scorching 60.4% and assisted on 21 of their 29 made field goals. Andre Drummond helped out in a big way, going for 16/11. Connecticut won both games without Jim Calhoun but the final one without their headman will be the toughest. UConn visits Seton Hall on Tuesday and won’t have their energetic coach to fire them up against a much stronger opponent than either USF or St. John’s. On the road and without its coach, Connecticut is somewhat vulnerable. This team lacks a true leader like Kemba Walker, but it slowly moving up the Big East power rankings. This week: 1/3 @ Seton Hall, 1/7 @ Rutgers. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: New Year’s Weekend Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 30th, 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.

A quality Friday night Big East game leads us into a Saturday full of terrific matchups. There are a couple good games on Sunday, but if you’re going to watch any basketball around the New Year’s holiday, make sure you are in front of a television on Saturday.

West Virginia @ Seton Hall – 9:00 PM EST Friday on ESPN2 (***)

Kevin Jones Has His Mountaineers Surging

  • Since losing at Mississippi State four weeks ago, West Virginia has reeled off six wins in seven tries with the only loss coming in overtime to a top 10 Baylor squad. The Mountaineers have an imposing trio of Kevin Jones, Truck Bryant and Deniz Kilicli but the timely contributions of freshmen such as Jabarie Hinds, Gary Browne, and Aaron Brown have pushed West Virginia over the top in a few of these close games. Bob Huggins runs the vast majority of his offensive sets through Bryant and Jones with Kilicli chipping in as well. West Virginia is not a good outside shooting team but it should be able to take advantage of Seton Hall’s interior defense, rated #258 in two-point percentage.
  • Seton Hall ran out to a hot 11-1 start but the reality check came at the hands of Fab Melo and top-ranked Syracuse on Wednesday night. Melo blocked 10 Pirate shots in the blowout win, a game that got out of hand shortly after the opening tip for Seton Hall. Kevin Willard’s team needs to rebound in a big way tonight, the second of three difficult games to open their Big East schedule. Going up against Jones, Herb Pope has to stay on the floor and play a strong game. After a strong start to his season, Pope has averaged only 8.7 PPG over his last three outings. If he doesn’t get well into double figures, Seton Hall will have a hard time winning. Jordan Theodore needs to be a pass-first point guard in this game rather than a guy who shoots 15+ times. Getting Pope, Fuquan Edwin and three point specialist Aaron Cosby involved will be important for the senior Pirate point guard.
  • It’s likely that Pope/Jones and Bryant/Theodore cancel each other out meaning the game will be decided by the supporting casts. Kilicli could be that guy for West Virginia while Seton Hall will look to Edwin and/or Cosby to make a winning impact. Edwin had an awful game against Syracuse but he should rebound nicely in front of the home folks and a less imposing front line. These teams have played five overtime games between them and another could be in the offing here. West Virginia is probably the better team but the Hall playing at home evens this contest up. Neither team shoots the ball well from the charity stripe but it’s something that just may decide this game.

#10 Louisville @ #3 Kentucky – 12:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (*****)

Jones and Company Invite Louisville to Rupp Saturday Afternoon

  • Kentucky has blasted every inferior team it has played this season but the Wildcats have played closer games against Kansas, North Carolina and Indiana. Louisville is the fourth good team Kentucky will see so far, and given the passion in this rivalry, another relatively close game should be expected. The Wildcats are the better team but you can throw rankings and records out in rivalries as bitter as this one. Kentucky must use its superior offensive talent to its advantage, namely Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. Louisville is highly vulnerable to the deep shot making Lamb a key player. Jones is the best player on the floor and needs to use his versatility to rack up fouls on Louisville’s interior players or step out and knock down a deep ball. Six Kentucky players average double figures and Louisville just can’t match the Wildcats offensively.
  • Where Rick Pitino’s team can match Kentucky is on the defensive end. Louisville’s game plan has to be intense full court defense, making Marquis Teague work for every dribble and every pass. Teague averages 3.2 turnovers per game and Louisville is one of the better teams in the nation at forcing turnovers. Offensively, this is not a typical Pitino team. Louisville doesn’t shoot the three-ball well but Gorgui Dieng, Russ Smith and Kyle Kuric can put the ball in the basket. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they don’t do it consistently enough to be an offensive force as a team. Peyton Siva has to be the catalyst in this game. The quick Louisville point guard has good vision but must cut down on turnovers. If Kentucky is getting runouts, it’s lights out for Louisville.
  • It’ll be hard for Louisville to score points on the road against the elite Kentucky defense but the Cardinals can force turnovers and get easy buckets. Both coaches don’t mind speeding up the game but that would favor John Calipari in this particular matchup. Pitino has to design a game plan that adeptly probes the Kentucky defense and gets quality shots. Siva is the key to execute that, plus the Cardinals must crash the boards and get second chance opportunities. That’s easier said than done against Jones and Anthony Davis. Davis has the potential to neutralize Dieng and anyone else who dares enter the paint for Louisville. The Cardinals will defend but they simply lack the offensive firepower needed to win this game at Rupp. We would be surprised if Kentucky loses at home for the first time under Calipari but this will be a fun game to watch regardless.
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Big East Morning Five: Inaugural Edition

Posted by mlemaire on November 16th, 2011

  1. The 24-hour hoops marathon was not very kind to some Big East teams, especially West Virginia, which broke a 36-game non-conference home winning streak when they lost to a very good Kent State team, 70-60. Point guard Truck Bryant, who the Mountaineers are hoping will help bridge the gap until some of the young players mature, turned the ball over six times to go with just one assist and he finished just 4-13 from the field. After the game, Bryant admitted he didn’t play very well. Meanwhile coach Bob Huggins readily admitted that his team struggled, especially his freshmen, and he challenged them to step it up. The Mountaineers played all six of their freshmen with mixed results and the team turned the ball over 17 times and missed a dozen free throws. These are the growing pains a young team will inevitably face, and the pain might be sharper when West Virginia starts their conference schedule. On the bright side, we might get a number of excellent Huggins rants out of this season. The anticipation is killing me!
  2. Speaking of lack of experience, Rutgers was the second team to lose yesterday as they spotted Miami a ten-point lead at halftime and never really made it close at any point. Reserve forward Austin Carroll led the team with eleven points, but he was the only one playing with any passion, at least according to coach Mike Rice who alluded to what we can only assume are memories of third grade when he said, “Austin is the only one I would like to walk to the bus with me.” The story also quotes Rice criticizing his freshman guards such as Myles Mack and Jerome Seagears, something he will likely do a lot simply because he doesn’t have the luxury of a veteran backcourt. After barely nipping Dartmouth in RU’s first game, Mike Rice’s team has the look of a squad that will struggle a lot this year. Rice is an excellent coach, and because of that they will play tough and competitively, but there is simply not enough veteran talent on the roster to succeed in the face of such a demanding schedule.
  3. The Mikan Drill had yet another excellent in-depth post about the importance of Pittsburgh forward Nasir Robinson to his team’s zone offense. They used advanced stats to show Robinson was wildly more efficient than any of the other players Jamie Dixon tried in the middle of the zone offense, and also noted that when Robinson is not in the game the guards are more hesitant to attack the rim and prone to tossing up contested three-pointers. Ashton Gibbs may be the team’s best player, and Tray Woodall has gotten plenty of attention for his improved range and overall offensive skill set. But I am convinced Robinson is the team’s unsung hero and one of its most important players. He is versatile enough both offensively and defensively to play big or small, and he has an underrated offensive game to go with his rebounding prowess and defensive energy. Pitt is always considered one of the toughest teams in the country and this year is no exception, and that is primarily because of the presence of Robinson in the middle of that lineup.
  4. Syracuse routed Albany last night as expected, but the game’s MVP might have been just as unexpected. As The Daily Orange rightly called out junior James Southerland for his 6-9 shooting performance in the first half that helped the Orange overcome a sluggish start. It was pats on the back and glowing quotes all around for Southerland in the story, but if he can become an offensive weapon too, that would make Jim Boeheim‘s team that much more dangerous. I can’t be too sure about this because I have never done it, but it must not be easy guarding an athletic 6’8” man who can shoot from long-range and also attack the rim.
  5. Okay so this article was originally published more than two weeks ago, but its our first day so I get to call attention to it anyway. ESPN’s Jason King penned a column about the rise in junior college players playing key roles on good teams. He just so happens to use Marquette and their litany of JuCo players to illustrate his point. There was also an accompanying blog post that highlighted St. John’s Nurideen Lindsey and Cincinnati’s Cheikh Mbodj as two junior college transfers to watch in the Big East. The point is a salient one if slightly outdated. Teams like Marquette and Cincinnati and St. John’s and even South Florida and Seton Hall have been using junior college transfers to remain competitive for years, although it should be noted that this year’s crop seems to be exceptionally important to their teams’ success. Of course for all of their benefits, junior college players can still be a gamble and they also mean more recruiting because they have fewer possible years of eligibility. But if it helps a team win, I seriously doubt any Big East coach is worried about logging some extra frequent flier miles while recruiting.
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Morning Five: 11.07.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 7th, 2011

  1. It’s finally here. It has been a little more than 7 months since Connecticut defeated Butler to give Jim Calhoun his third national championship. In the interim, we have been forced to talk about the NBA Draft, a ridiculous amount of conference realignment, an even more ridiculous amount of NCAA violations, and some recent exhibition games (we will get to the latter three in a bit). Tonight, the actual games start with three games on the docket: William & Mary at St. John’s (the first game of the season and also the first RTC Live of the year), Eastern Kentucky at Mississippi State, and Valparaiso at Arizona. We are hoping with the season starting we can get back to focusing on the sport we all love. Just remember your team is still undefeated right now.
  2. Connecticut freshman Ryan Boatright continues to be in limbo with the NCAA during its ongoing investigation into his eligibility regarding a plane ticket purchased for him by Reggie Rose, his AAU coach who happens to be Derrick Rose‘s brother. According to a NCAA source, Boatright could miss between three and six games depending on the value of the ticket. [Ed. Note: How do they figure this out? Use the highest possible price like it was purchased day of or do they see what you could get on Priceline?] For his part, Reggie Rose is declining comment “out of the respect to the Boatright family” while a source close to him calls the entire thing a “witch hunt”. While the Huskies will miss Boatright in November because of their lack of depth at point guard given the relatively short length of the potential punishment we doubt that this will affect UConn in the long run unless the NCAA drags its feet in announcing the punishment because Boatright will have to sit out during that period too.
  3. We have known it was coming for weeks, but on Sunday the SEC made it official–Missouri will join the SEC for the 2012-13 season. We have already discussed in depth the impact this and other moves will have on the landscape of college sports so we will spare you all the details and moralizing. For the SEC fans who may not be familiar with Missouri and its sports teams, Alabama Live has provided a nice primer on the school and its athletic department. Our personal favorite part is the ranking schools by number of major NCAA infractions.
  4. Bob Huggins would probably like to forget West Virginia‘s last second 77-74 loss to Division II Northern Kentucky on Saturday night when Eshaunte Jones hit a three with one second left. As we have said before these games aren’t particularly helpful although some people will make a big deal out of Northern Kentucky winning its first exhibition game against a Division I opponent in 19 tries. The reality is that the Norse shot lights out going 13 of 25 from beyond the arc and shooting 54% from the field overall while the Mountaineers came out flat falling behind 42-29 at half after trailing by as many as 17 points in the first half. After the game Truck Bryant, who led the Mountaineers with 24 points, said, “I didn’t see this coming. I mean losing to a D-II school, not to take anything away from them, that’s embarrassing.” We are assuming that Huggins and Bryant will use this as motivation for the regular season opener against Oral Roberts on Friday night.
  5. Chuck Klosterman put out a list of his 50 favorite college basketball players of all-time and it created a brief controversy on Twitter on Friday afternoon as people harangued him for his selections. As we mentioned at the time the list should not be taken as a top 50 list despite its title. Klosterman lays out his criteria at the top, which is fine since it is his list, but makes some questionable interpretations of those criteria when ranking players. Overall, we sort of like his list with its mixture of players that everybody remembers as being great along with a few that only serious basketball fans would know unless they had some special connection (fans of that school, etc) and have already admitted that it is much better than what we could probably do off the top of our head for indie rock bands, Klosterman’s area of expertise.
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The RTC 2011 College Football All-Americans (with a Hoops Twist)

Posted by rtmsf on August 30th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC Pac-12 and Mountain West correspondent and a frequent columnist. 

It’s that time of year again. Off in the distance, it could be a mirage, or it could be the start of college basketball season. It’s probably a mirage, but the Great Sports Desert (you know, that time of year between the end of the NBA Finals and the start of college football when normal American males actually have time to get stuff done) ends Thursday, as college football kicks off its 142nd season. And given the offseason that college football has had, it couldn’t come any sooner. Unfortunately, given all the scandals and arrests and the like, according to my source at the NCAA, it appears that literally every college football player will be ineligible for the coming year (at least I assume that is true – it’s not a very good source). As a result, football programs across this great nation have been scrambling for some last minute replacements. And, since we here at RTC are nothing if not diligent, we’ve spent the last few weeks scouring college football camps across the country while other lesser outlets have been reporting on things like a little scuffle in Baton Rouge and something-or-other about Miami (I’ll admit, I never got through that whole article, but I think I got the gist of it – Miami is a nice place to go to school, right?). Anyway, since we’re the only ones who seem to be on top of this sea change in college football, we’ll let you all in on some of our wisdom as we preview college basketball’s richer, more-spoiled sibling, with RTC’s official 2011 College Football All-American team.

Offense

High School Star Aaron Craft Will Fill In Nicely for Terrelle Pryor at OSU

  • QB: Aaron Craft (6’2″, 190 lbs), Ohio State: In light of the Buckeye football program’s recent troubles, new head coach Luke Stickell turns the reins over to the sophomore Craft. He’s not the quickest or fleetest of foot, but he is accurate, he’s tough and he’s a leader. There has been plenty of talk about the Heisman Trophy campaign of North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall, but until he takes better care of the ball (last year, he turned the ball over on almost 30% of all possessions), we’ll give the nod to Craft, who at least has the advantage of having played QB for three years in high school.
  • RB: Jordan Taylor (6’1″, 195 lbs), Wisconsin: The newest Badger tailback may not have the size of former greats like Ron Dayne and John Clay, but Taylor is a tough and smart runner who excels at finding a crease and finishing through contact.
  • Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Summer Updates: Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 11th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our Big East update comes from frequent RTC contributor Brian Otskey, co-author of Get to the Point.

Readers’ Take

Summer Storylines

  • Connecticut Revels In National Championship Glory: Connecticut’s storybook year continued on into the offseason as the Huskies were invited to the White House for an event with President Obama on May 16. The team presented the president with a #1 UConn jersey and posed for photographs after being lauded for their remarkable accomplishment. Connecticut made one of the most improbable runs ever en route to the third national championship in school history, all coming since 1999, going 23-0 outside of Big East regular season play. Nobody could have predicted the way last season unfolded and the NCAA Tournament as a whole was a microcosm of that. Connecticut’s national title made up for a lackluster performance by many of the record 11 Big East teams participating in the tournament. Only one other Big East team (Marquette) managed to make it to the second weekend’s Sweet 16. Life without Kemba Walker has begun in Storrs and while the Huskies will be among the 2011-12 Big East favorites, it’ll be very interesting to see who steps up and how the team performs without its warrior. Jeremy Lamb appears to be ready to take over but the way Shabazz Napier and Alex Oriakhi handle their larger roles will be the difference between a team contending for a Big East title and one that finishes fourth or fifth.

Kemba & Co. Celebrated in Style (H-C/B.Hansen)

  • The Ed Cooley Era Begins In Friartown: After Keno Davis stumbled to an 18-36 Big East record over three seasons in Providence, the Friars desperately needed someone to revive their moribund program. Providence has made only two NCAA Tournaments since its 1997 appearance and the last one was eight seasons ago in 2003-04. Enter Ed Cooley, a Providence-born 41-year-old with the fire in his belly needed to succeed in arguably the toughest job in the Big East Conference. Cooley will instill a system of discipline and fundamentals with a special attention to defense, three attributes of successful programs that were sorely lacking under Davis. Cooley’s Fairfield team ranked #22 in the nation in defensive efficiency last season and he improved the Stags’ record each and every year he was there. Providence, a small Catholic school with hardly any recruiting base along with limited facilities and resources, is an incredibly difficult job even before you have to go up against bigger schools like Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh along with tradition-rich programs such as Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette. Cooley must spend his first season laying the foundation for longer term success. He won’t turn this program around overnight but more discipline on and off the court and hard work on the recruiting trail can turn Providence into a solid Big East competitor. We can’t think of many people better suited than Cooley to get the job done at Providence. While it will be a long and difficult process, brighter days are ahead for the Providence program with Ed Cooley at the helm.
  • Signs Of Life In The New York Area: New coach Steve Lavin and St. John’s brought the buzz back to the Big Apple last winter as the Red Storm earned its first NCAA bid in nine seasons. “Lavinwood” has moved east, but St. John’s now enters a year full of mixed feelings. Cautious optimism as well as uncertainty rules the day with nine new faces, part of the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class, making their way to Queens in 2011-12. Malik Stith is the only returnee of note after Dwayne Polee, II, decided to transfer closer to home at San Diego State. St. John’s may be the most unpredictable team in the Big East entering this season. The potential exists for a terrific year if Lavin can mold all this raw talent into a cohesive unit capable of playing with any team in the conference. However, issues with young players, commonly involving playing time and egos, are also very possible and it takes only one incident to destroy the locker room and wreck the season. The Johnnies have enough talent to make the NCAA Tournament again, but Lavin will have to totally adjust his approach to make that happen. With hardly any experience on the roster, he can’t simply roll the ball out and hope for the best. This season will be the biggest test of Lavin’s coaching career on the court, but he faced an even more difficult challenge last year, coaching the entire season with prostate cancer while keeping it a secret until this spring. Turning St. John’s around with that constantly in the back of his mind is an a commendable achievement and we obviously wish Coach Lavin the best of luck fighting this awful disease.
  • Across the Hudson River in New Jersey, Mike Rice and Rutgers appear to be building a program to be reckoned with down the road. The Scarlet Knights have been a dormant program for 20 years, never once enjoying a winning season in any of its 16 years as a Big East member. That may be about to change, although it appears unlikely that Rutgers will crack the .500 mark in league play this season. The fiery Rice reeled in a top 25 recruiting class and now must build on a season of close calls and what-ifs. Rutgers was competitive last year, but could only manage five Big East victories. It’ll take time for the new players to adjust to the collegiate level but bigger and better things should be expected from Rutgers in the years to come. Rutgers, a large state school, has the capability of becoming a pretty good program. All it needs is a commitment from the administration, facility upgrades and great recruiting. Rice is taking care of the latter, now it’s time for the Rutgers brass to provide him with the resources needed to build a top flight program. Rutgers needs major facility upgrades (a RAC renovation has been talked about for over a year), but fundraising has been a major problem. With New Jersey Governor Chris Christie trying to get the state’s financial house in order, there is going to be a lot of resistance to an ambitious project such as this one at the state’s flagship university.

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Conference Report Card: Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 19th, 2011

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • College basketball has never witnessed a season like this year’s Big East. The conference destroyed its own record of eight NCAA bids by placing 11 clubs in the Big Dance this year and also claimed the national champion with Connecticut, which spent most of the season in the middle of the pack in the Big East. The Huskies also gave the conference its first title since the Huskies last did the trick in 2004. While there was not a truly great team in the Big East (including Connecticut), the league was better than any other from top to bottom. Of the five teams that failed to make the NCAA Tournament, only South Florida and DePaul were truly uncompetitive. Rutgers showed signs of improvement while Seton Hall managed to win seven league games and gave some good teams a major scare in the process. Even Providence, which finished 4-14, knocked off Louisville and Villanova in consecutive games back in January. Despite the lackluster NCAA showing by most Big East members, it says here the conference boasted the best player in the nation (sorry, Jimmer) and a deserving national champion. Additionally, ten Big East teams were ranked in the AP Top 25 at some point this season. Say what you want about its postseason performance (it’s certainly fair to bash the league in that regard), but this was by far the best conference in the nation this year.

Jim Calhoun (left) and Kemba Walker will be inextricably linked to UConn's memorable NCAA Tournament run. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

Team-by-Team (teams are in order of finish, but grades are based on performance vs. expectations):

  1. Pittsburgh (28-6, 15-3): The regular season was terrific once again for Jamie Dixon and the Panthers but, as has become common over the years, they fell short of their goal–getting to the Final Four. Pittsburgh lost four of their final eight games after starting the season 24-2. A mid-season injury to Ashton Gibbs was thought to bring them down a peg, but Pitt responded with wins at West Virginia and Villanova without him to quiet any doubters. That turned out to be their peak. Dixon did not really test his team out of conference except for two games at Madison Square Garden against Maryland and Texas back in November as part of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer event and a “home” game (in Pittsburgh) against Tennessee, which they lost. Looking back, one theory could be that an average non-conference schedule did not adequately prepare this team for the NCAA Tournament which is all about match-ups and teams you haven’t seen before from other leagues. While Big East coaches love to use the strength of the league as a crutch when questioned about a lack of non-conference heft to their schedule, I think this is a theory that has to be taken into consideration. Big East play is obviously rough and tumble every night but that can actually be a detriment come tournament time when games are officiated tighter and you don’t have as much time to prepare for an opponent who you likely don’t know very well, if at all. Pitt will lose Gilbert Brown, Brad Wanamaker, and Gary McGhee to graduation while Gibbs tests the NBA waters. I expect Gibbs to come back to join a very good recruiting class led by five-star forward Khem Birch. Despite the loss of three senior leaders, look for Pitt to be in the thick of the Big East race yet again next season. Dixon has established a culture of winning and I have learned never to doubt him after witnessing the 2009-10 campaign, a season that certified Dixon as one of the best basketball minds in the country. While this year was a great success during the regular season, Pitt’s inability to get to the Sweet Sixteen and eventually the Final Four renders this year a disappointment. GRADE: B- Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your Tivo: 03.09.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 9th, 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.

Only two auto-bids go out tonight, but a couple of interesting games from the Big East are also on the slate. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

Big East Second Round (at New York, NY): #18 Connecticut vs. Georgetown – 12 pm on ESPN (***)

He and His Droogs Dispatched DePaul Last Night; Tonight, Alex Descends Into MSG For a Battle With the Hoyas

The Huskies drew a pretty good bracket by Big East standards, getting bottom feeder DePaul in the first round and a depleted Georgetown team this afternoon. Connecticut ended its winless drought in this tournament, blowing out DePaul yesterday for their first Big East Tournament win since 2005. Alex Oriakhi had 13 points and 19 rebounds, making his presence known at the start of the tournament after a regular season full of inconsistency. Kemba Walker added 26/7/5 as the Huskies cruised. Things get considerably tougher today against Georgetown, but the Hoyas are a reeling squad. They’ve lost four of their past five games, including a loss to UConn, and have not looked competitive since senior point guard Chris Wright went down with a broken hand. The Hoyas haven’t scored more than 51 points in three games without Wright and will have to play a strong defensive game if they want to knock off the Huskies.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.24.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 24th, 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.

This is one of the biggest Thursday nights we’ve had this year in terms of quality games with NCAA bids and conference titles on the line. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

West Virginia @ #3 Pittsburgh – 9 pm on ESPN (****)

Are Dixon and the Panthers #1? #6? Does It Matter, As Long As It's #4 Or Better?

The Backyard Brawl (Part II) takes place in Pittsburgh tonight. The Panthers won the first meeting in Morgantown on February 7, a game they played without their star Ashton Gibbs. Gibbs returned to the lineup with a bang, scoring 26 points, including 6-9 from deep, in the team’s loss to St. John’s last Saturday. Gibbs will play a central role in a matchup between the Big East’s best three-point shooting team (Pitt) and the best three point defense (WVU). The Panthers are shooting 40% from deep in conference play and 38.4% overall while the Mountaineers allow 28.4% shooting overall and 29.1% in league games.

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