2013-14 Conference Preview: Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 7th, 2013

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and the Pac-12. You can find him on Twitter at @Amurawa.

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The Best of Times, The Worst of Times? In some way, the 2012-13 regular season was the peak for the Mountain West basketball. As a conference, the MW finished third in RPI, behind only the Big Ten and the Big East, with regular season champion New Mexico finishing third nationally in that admittedly flawed rating. Colorado State, UNLV and San Diego State all finished in the top 35 in RPI, while only two teams – Fresno State and Nevada – finished below 100 in that rating. And best of all, five of the nine conference teams earned invitations to the NCAA Tournament, and all five were either seed-line favorites or, in the case of Boise State, involved in a virtual coin-flip in a First Four game. But Selection Sunday was the last glimpse of glory for the conference, as only two of the conference teams made it even so far as the first weekend of the Tournament, and by the time the Sweet 16 rolled around, the MW was little more than a punchline. To put it plainly, this is a conference with a lot of doubters heading into the new season.

New Mexico's Regular Season Success Was A Distant Memory Following An Opening Round NCAA Tournament Loss (Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

New Mexico’s Regular Season Success Was A Distant Memory Following An Opening Round NCAA Tournament Loss (Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

Replacing Production. To make matters worse, all of the historic powers in this conference are faced with replacing major losses. UNLV saw freshman Anthony Bennett leave on his way to becoming the number one overall pick in June’s NBA Draft, but will also have to find ways to replace transfers Mike Moser and Katin Reinhardt, along with backcourt rock Anthony Marshall. New Mexico had head coach Steve Alford bail for the greener pastures of UCLA, not a week after agreeing to a big contract extension in Albuquerque, and will also have to find a replacement for breakout wing Tony Snell, who left for the NBA. Steve Fisher and San Diego State now find themselves without any remaining ties to the 2010 Sweet 16 team, as graduates Chase Tapley and James Rahon are joined on their way out the door by their own early entrant to the NBA Draft in Jamaal Franklin. And Colorado State? Geez, if you know anybody returning on the Ram basketball squad, you and I should sit down and have a beer sometime. While there is still plenty of talent around the conference, there are a lot of players who need to produce in order to make us believe.

The Final Effects of Realignment? Not too long ago, the Mountain West was a stable collection of nine teams who seemed more or less happy to be with each other, despite a flailing cable network and a mishmash of interests. Just three seasons ago, teams like Utah, BYU and TCU were cornerstones of the conference. Now, those three schools are gone. But, to be honest, the conference has to be thankful that they have who they still have. Even in the middle of last year’s basketball season, Boise State and San Diego State each had one foot out the door to the Big East (really? San Diego and Boise, east? This still bugs me after all this time) before cooler heads prevailed. Still, in an effort to replace those teams should their defection have completed, the MW snapped up Utah State and San Jose State from the WAC, and those two teams join the conference this season, marking the end to the changes in the membership of the Mountain West, at least for the foreseeable future. One significantly unfortunate side effect of all the running around – the balanced conference schedule where everybody plays everybody at home and away is a thing  of the past.

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Who Won the Week? MCW, Chicago State, Not Jerry Jones…

Posted by rtmsf on December 7th, 2012

wonweek

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), an Oregon-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Chicago State

The Cougars found themselves a home. Amid the constant turmoil found during this extended period of conference realignment, Chicago State has managed to go from the schedule conglomerate of the Great West to an actual conference in the WAC. (Let’s ignore the fact that the WAC would lose its automatic bid if the historically black university didn’t join its ranks.) Granted, the Cougars are 0-8 in Division I play this season, but their campus lies atop a recruiting hotbed, and they could easily snag many a player who falls through others’ cracks, especially now that they offer the same chance at an automatic NCAA Tournament bid that about 250 other schools promise every season. This move makes sense for both parties, but it should help save Chicago State from the fate of Winston-Salem State, another HBCU that tried to make the move to Division I but failed before retreating back to Division II.

(Related winners: The WAC. Related losers: None.)

LOSER: Florida State

Hamilton Hasn’t Been Smiling Much This Season (Photo Credit: Glenn Beil / Democrat).

The Seminoles have had an extended run of success in the Atlantic Coast Conference, one unseen for that program since the Hugh Durham era in Tallahassee, but that’s threatening to fall apart in Leonard Hamilton’s 11th season roaming the Florida State sidelines. FSU is currently riding a three-game losing streak, and last week’s losses to Mercer and Florida were both ugly in their own ways. Falling 61-56 to a team from the Atlantic Sun is ignominious in its own right, but especially so for a team riding a school-record four-year NCAA Tournament streak. Having only one player score more than seven points in the process is even worse. But the Seminoles actually managed to one-up that loss with an embarrassing 72-47 loss to rival Florida, this time where no Florida State player scored more than 10 points. Michael Snaer, the scoring guard who helped lead the team to three wins in the last two years in the NCAA Tournament, scored 17 points between the two games on 5-of-17 shooting while having five assists and seven turnovers. This is foreboding for a team many picked to finish in the top half of an ACC that has often looked lackluster during the start of the season.

(Related winners: Florida; Mercer, but more so had the Bears not gotten shelled by Denver later in the week. Related losers: The ACC, Snaer.)

WINNER: Greg Gantt

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Morning Five: 05.03.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 3rd, 2012

  1. Round and round and round we go… coming on the heels of Tuesday’s announcement that Butler will join the Atlantic 10 beginning in the 2013-14 season, the Mountain West leaked on Wednesday that Utah State and San Jose State are set to join its ranks on Friday of this week. While bolstering the MW in light of its pending losses of TCU, San Diego State and Boise State, this move may effectively finish off the WAC, a high-mid major conference with just shy of 50 years of history behind it. The league may be left with only two football-playing members (New Mexico State and Idaho) and it appears that the remaining schools are likewise off to greener pastures. Such is the natural consequence of every school acting in its own self-interest.
  2. While on the subject of conference realignment, everyone has had a little time to digest the Butler move to the Atlantic 10 by now, and Luke Winn writes that much of the media got it wrong in suggesting that the “Butler Way” will need to change in order for the Bulldogs to find success in their new conference. His argument makes total sense — while the Atlantic 10 as a whole is a clearly better league than the Horizon, it’s really only better at the top. Now, instead of having to rely on non-conference play to build its overall NCAA resume, the Bulldogs will have enough games against the likes of Xavier, Dayton, Richmond, St. Louis, et al, by which to impress the selection committee. As Winn notes, efficiency metrics suggest that Butler would have finished in one of the top two positions of the A-10 standings in five of the last six years, and while those metrics don’t actually play the games, there’s not a compelling piece of evidence we’ve yet seen that would suggest Brad Stevens or Butler will have trouble in their new league.
  3. The 2012 Jimmy V Classic matchups were announced on Wednesday and the event will have a decidedly nostalgic feel next season in Madison Square Garden. The school where Jim Valvano became famous, NC State, will headline with its strong squad heading to New York to face Connecticut, while Texas and Georgetown will play in the other game. It’s only been 31 days since we last saw a college basketball game tip off, but simply reading about these matchups has already caused a marked increase in our heart rate and blood pressure.
  4. The 2012-13 version of ESPN Gameday will have a decidedly lower pitch next season, as the hyena-like laughter of Hubert Davis will no longer be a regular part of the show. Davis has agreed to take Jerod Haase’s open assistant coaching spot at his alma mater, North Carolina, after Haase decided to accept the head job at UAB last month. Roy Williams noted in previous comments about the position that a number of his former players were interested in the spot on his bench, and although Davis never played for the Kansas/UNC coach, his claim that the new assistant would have Carolina ties was clearly a factual statement. At the ripe age of 41, Davis is getting into the collegiate coaching game a bit late, but he’s certainly well connected and could use his seven years as an ESPN personality to help with recruiting and name recognition.
  5. Stanford’s basketball program may not be among the elite, but we’re becoming increasingly convinced that the university through its deep connections with tech giants such as Google and Facebook is well on its way to taking over the world, one terabyte at a time. In the Moneyball world of sports analytics, a Stanford senior named Muthu Alagappan recently developed an entirely new (and award-winning) way of looking at positions in basketball, based on the actual production of NBA players regardless of size or favored spots on the floor. Using data visualization techniques, he came up with 13 basketball positions with such descriptive names like the “Defensive Ball-Handler,” the “Paint Protector,” and the “One-of-a-Kind.” By grouping players into similar buckets and showing how they interact in a visual way, the concept is that value between similarly situated players will be easier to discern and effective balance between players on a team will be more easily achieved. It’s really interesting stuff — if you want to see the entire presentation, click over here.
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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume III

Posted by jbaumgartner on December 5th, 2011

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish on Mondays throughout the season. In this weekly piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED….a game so good that you’re left wondering if you just saw the National Championship preview. There was plenty of hype involved with Kentucky-North Carolina, and it would have been easy to see the game devolve into a sloppy, up-and-down affair. But instead we got everything we asked for and more. Fans and scouts alike were able to salivate over matchups like John Henson-Terrence Jones, and while lightning fast, the pace was still in control. One point on a non-neutral court certainly doesn’t give us any lasting conclusions, other than we’d all be happy to see these two powers square off again in April.

I LOVED….seeing something new. Every year we witness moments that are absurdly unthinkable, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen one like this shot from Detroit’s Ray McCallum, Jr. When in doubt, use the bounce.

I LOVED….seeing a well-balanced attack this early in the year. It’s not shocking that I’m talking about Ohio State, with how much experience and chemistry they have on the court. But still, their dismantling of Duke last Tuesday was a clinic on offensive balance. They may have arguably the best player in the nation in Jared Sullinger, but the Buckeyes spread the ball around so well that it even overshadowed Sullinger’s brilliance on the block.

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After the Buzzer: A Wild and Wacky Wednesday Night to Close Out November…

Posted by rtmsf on December 1st, 2011

Tonight’s Lede. Big Ten Does It Again. Day two of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge finished in the same way as the first — with a Big Ten beatdown. The midwestern-based conference rode wins from Michigan State and Minnesota at home along with Penn State and Indiana on the road, to notch another 4-2 night and win the event convincingly, 8-4. Four of those eight victories this year came on ACC hardwood, showing that Big Ten teams can pick up victories in hostile environments regardless of location. It’s difficult to draw too much from late November events like these, but the eye and sniff test in watching pieces of the twelve games over the last two nights is highly suggestive that the Big Ten appears to go seven or eight teams deep this year for NCAA Tournament consideration, while the ACC looks to be in the neighborhood of five or six. As our columnist Evan Jacoby wrote in Night Line last night, the Big Ten has unquestionably earned the right to hold the mantle as the top conference in college basketball a few weeks into the season. The ACC appears to be in the mid-pack, perhaps as high as third but also maybe the worst of the five power conferences (the Pac-12 has some work to do to earn our good graces again).

Your Watercooler Moment. Double Overtime in the Thunderdome.

How Jacked Up Does the ThunderDome Look? (h/t @amurawa)

That’s right, we’re passing on the #4 North Carolina vs. #7 Wisconsin snoozer in favor of a high-intensity, mid-major game that went two overtimes and featured enough twists, turns and amazing plays to outdo the entire ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Luckily, our man Andrew Murawa was there for all 50 minutes of the action. Here’s his report (and some highlights from the UCSB side here).

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Considering the A&M to SEC Rumblings

Posted by rtmsf on August 13th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent and columnist.  He takes a look at the potential fallout from a Texas A&M move to the SEC, viewing it as still more fallout from 2010’s conference realignment maneuvering.  

It’s baa-aack.

A year after the Big 12 and Mountain West (among others) averted Armageddon in a nationwide game of conference realignment, it appears things are on the move again. Last year’s juggling of teams between conferences ended with the Big Ten adding Nebraska, the Pac-10 expanding to 12 with the addition of Colorado and Utah, and the Mountain West adding Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada, just as BYU went independent and TCU threw in with its most obvious natural rivals in the Big East (ahem). But, all things considered, the wildest potential moves from last year’s round of positioning failed to materialize. However, there were some hurt feelings then as a result not only of the shakeup, but also as a result of some of the new television contracts that were negotiated. And now, with Texas A&M seemingly locked on moving to the SEC in 2012, it appears that Texas’ decision to strike out on its own in creating the Longhorn Television network is the primary force generating what could be the second set of conference realignment waves.

Will This Become an SEC Road Trip in 2012?

As mentioned above, all signs point to an A&M move to the SEC; the only thing missing is an official announcement. A special  regents meeting will take place Monday afternoon, with one agenda item discussing the “Authorization for the President to Take All Actions Relating to Texas A&M University’s Athletic Conference Alignment.”  Aggie fans and administrators have long bristled at the uneven playing field in the Big 12 (heavily tilted in Texas’ favor), a sentiment that was only further fueled in recent months as the Longhorn Network and ESPN discussed the possibility of airing the high school games of potential Texas recruits, a possibility that has since been squashed by the NCAA. Nevertheless, it appears that A&M’s flirtations with the SEC, which date back to last year’s near destruction of the Big 12, are about to be consummated. The question is what happens next. An SEC invitation to Texas A&M is likely predicated on their ability to secure a 14th team for their conference with potential invitees including Clemson, Florida State, Missouri, and even potentially North Carolina, among others. However, with the SEC currently near the start of a 15-year/$209 million television contact with ESPN and CBS, the addition of one team, two teams or four teams likely means a reduced piece of the pie for each school. There may be room for renegotiating a bit based on the addition of new teams and new markets, but all indications are that as more teams are added to the conference, each individual member school pockets less, with the new invitees potentially getting an even thinner end of the stick. While the A&M move has been reported as a nearly done deal, there are still quite a few details that need to be worked out.

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Morning Five: 06.03.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 3rd, 2011

  1. Let’s play “who is Coach K bashing here,” shall we?  In comments made to the Raleigh News & Observer this week, Coach K stated that he doesn’t want to see the ACC go to an 18-game conference schedule as the Big East, Big Ten and Pac-10 have done in recent years.  If the primary objective is to increase the league’s overall strength of schedule for NCAA Tournament purposes, Krzyzewski wants the other schools in the league to “schedule stronger,” and he felt comfortable enough with the current group of ACC coaches to take a shot at some of the previous ones.  He said that he felt some coaches were guilty of being  “too territorial about individual programs” when it came to thinking about the league as a whole, which got us thinking about who he had in mind when he made that statement.  So who among the following list was Coach K referring to? Paul Hewitt (Georgia Tech), Oliver Purnell (Clemson), Frank Haith (Miami), Dino Gaudio (Wake Forest), Gary Williams (Maryland), Al Skinner (BC), Sidney Lowe (NC State), Dave Leitao (Virginia).  Our best guesses: Hewitt and Lowe.   
  2. We mentioned yesterday the story coming out of Syracuse about freshman center Fab Melo getting into some trouble for damaging a woman’s vehicle during a dispute of some sort.  More details came out Thursday, and if any of the allegations in the police report are true, Melo is really going to have to check himself before he wrecks himself.  Jealousy is a dangerous imp that has destroyed many men before him, so our hope here is that he gets his rage under control and releases it in more useful ways, like on the basketball court in the form of rebounding and blocking shots. 
  3. Tennessee fans are no doubt hopeful that new head coach Cuonzo Martin has as much initiative and creativity in his head as his wife, Roberta Martin, does.  A few years back, Mrs. Martin developed a website called marriedtothegame.net, a niche social networking site that caters to spouses of coaches through all college sports.  There are currently over 700 people signed up for the site, where spouses trade information on the endless moves that their families must endure throughout coaching careers, how to handle child-rearing in such environments, and many other issues specific to their often-volatile profession.  As social networking moves into the next generation of sub-specialization, this sort of thing will become standard across all walks of life.  Kudos to Martin for being ahead of the curve and providing a supportive platform for the forgotten side of sports — the families. 
  4. There’s a lot of sniping coming out of the friendly confines of the Beehive State recently.  Last week, Utah Valley State, angling to become a basketball-only member of the WAC, accused Utah State of backroom politicking to keep the school from getting enough support to join the conference.  This was met with a refrain of “B.S.” from the USU folks, and they weren’t talking about science degrees.   Then on Thursday it was released that former Utah forward Josh Sharp is transferring to BYU after spending the last two years on an LDS mission in Texas.  New Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak is none too pleased with this development, stating that “there is an unwritten rule that players cannot be recruited by other schools while they are serving missions. To do so is not only inappropriate, but it creates an atmosphere of ill will.”  Unwritten rule or not, there is a written NCAA rule that says players coming off of missions do not have to sit out a year as a transfer; he will therefore be eligible as a Cougar in BYU’s first year as a member of the WCC in 2011-12.  Can’t wait till next year’s games between these schools.   
  5. UNC’s Harrison Barnes is already pretty good at a lot of things, but he’s not known as a playmaker for others yet.  His assist-to-turnover ratio last season was a paltry 0.73 and even though his natural gifts are as a scorer, he will need to develop his ability to find open people as defenses focus on him.  The answer?  Well, naturally, point guard camp.  According to Mike DeCourcy, Barnes is one of 17 collegians invited to the CP3 Elite Guard Camp in Winston-Salem, NC, beginning on June 10.  The objective of the camp is to develop playmaking skills, and several other notable names including Jordan Taylor (Wisconsin), Peyton Siva (Louisville), Kendall Marshall (UNC), Will Barton (Memphis), and Kenny Boynton (Florida) will also be there.  We can’t imagine that this sort of thing could hurt Barnes, but the cynical side of us wonder just how much Nike might have to do with this particular exception.  Hmm…
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NCAA Second Round Game Analysis – Thursday

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2011

Now that the Play-In First Four games are finished, let’s get back to normalcy with the best weekend of the year beginning this afternoon.  Sixteen games, eight sites, four television channels, and several million brackets busted by roughly 3:30 PM eastern time.

#5 West Virginia vs. #11 Clemson – East Region Second Round (at Tampa, FL) – 12:15 pm ET on CBS

Expect a low-scoring, gritty and physical opener for Thursday’s NCAA Tournament action, and not just because the tip time is barely after noon and Clemson arrived in Tampa just before the sun came up on Wednesday. Both of these teams pride themselves in their toughness defensively and play extremely hard on every possession. Clemson specializes in limiting opposing offenses inside the arc behind senior forward Jerai Grant prowess in the paint, while West Virginia limits their competition to below 30% shooting from the three-point line. While both Brad Brownell and Bob Huggins have a history of trotting out stalwart defenses, the edge offensively has to side with the Mountaineers. Kevin Jones has been playing his best basketball of the season as of late, posting three double-doubles in his last four outings. Casey Mitchell is a 38% gunner from deep that is tremendous off screens in catch and shoot situations where he barely needs any room to fire. Deniz Kilicli and John Flowers have aided what has turned out to be the sixth best offensive rebounding team in the nation, no surprise coming from a Huggins-coached squad. Clemson is merely middle of the pack in Division I in allowing offensive rebounds, so the Mountaineer frontline may be able to churn out extra possessions for their perimeter weapons throughout this game. Limiting Grant is certainly a challenge, but the WV frontline should be up to the task. Combine tired legs with Mitchell feasting on a perimeter defense that just surrendered 12 threes to UAB and the edge in this 5/12 matchup has to side with the Mountaineers.

The RTC Certified Pick: West Virginia.

#8 Butler vs. #9 Old Dominion – Southeast Region Second Round (at Washington, D.C.) – 12:40 pm ET on truTV.

Both teams have won their past nine games en route to conference tournament championships. Defense has been the key for each club during their winning streaks with Butler giving up 58 PPG and ODU at 57.7 PPG against over their last nine games. Old Dominion is one of the best rebounding teams in the nation and that is where they have to take advantage of the Bulldogs. This game will be played almost exclusively in the half court with both teams preferring a slower pace. Butler ranks #11 in defensive rebounding percentage but the Monarchs are the best offensive rebounding team in the land. Blaine Taylor’s team must win this battle and protect the basketball in order to advance. They struggle at times with turnovers and lots of giveaways will negate their expected edge on the glass. Look for the Monarchs to work inside utilizing star big man Frank Hassell as well as Keyon Carter and Kent Bazemore. Butler allows 48.7% FG inside the arc and that could hurt them against the frontcourt-oriented Monarchs. Butler shoots almost 21 threes per game behind Shelvin Mack, Zach Hahn and even Matt Howard (44%). Add in the recent play of Shawn Vanzant and you have a team playing as well as they have all year. ODU is very poor against the three, their biggest vulnerability. Bazemore is a terrific defender and needs to come up big on that end against the Bulldog guards. Both teams are experienced and obviously did well in last year’s tournament so they won’t be intimidated by the big stage. While the focus will be on Howard vs. Hassell in the post, this game could be determined by guard play.

The RTC Certified Pick: Butler.

#4 Louisville vs. #13 Morehead State – Southwest Region Second Round (at Denver, CO) – 1:40 pm ET on TBS.

We’re quite sure that Louisville head coach Rick Pitino could only shake his head in disgust when he saw his team’s opening matchup on Thursday.  An in-state mid-major whose greatest strength — a dominant glass-eater by the name of Kenneth Faried — bears stark contrast with his Cards’ greatest weakness, interior play.  Over the years, Pitino has mastered the art of using team defensive principles to stymie players like Faried by throwing two and three bodies at him everywhere on the floor.  The Cards will need to again, because Faried’s nonstop motor and Rodman-esque knack for finding the ball is the best in the nation (he corrals 20% of offensive rebounds and 31% of defensive rebounds while he’s on the floor), something his players know all too well after facing Morehead State (and Faried) in the same round two seasons ago (Faried went for 14/11 in a 20-point loss).  He’s gotten better, and so has his team.  The good news for Pitino is that MSU is often sloppy with the ball, committing nearly fifteen turnovers a game, and the Eagles don’t defend the three very well (36.9%), which will allow ample opportunities for the Louisville shooters to get good looks from deep.  Two seasons ago a stronger Louisville team went into halftime only up two points on a weaker Morehead State team; expect a similar situation this year, as the relative strengths and weaknesses offset each other.  Ultimately, the Cards will find enough points through hustle and desire to fend off the school located two hours east, but we’ll forgive Pitino if he lambastes the committee for giving him this dangerous opponent for the second time in three years.

The RTC Certified Pick: Louisville.

#7 Temple vs. #10 Penn State – West Region Second Round (at Tucson, AZ) – 2:10 pm ET on TNT.

While the Owls are 25-7 and the higher seed here, this is not a team that is at full strength. They have played their last eight games without center Michael Eric, who will not return this year, and the last seven without swingman Scootie Randall, who is holding out hope that he will be able to go Thursday. The Nittany Lions, meanwhile, are at full strength, but their full strength means that their five starters are ready to play a whole lot of minutes, with only sporadic contributions from the bench, which averages less than eight total points per game. And given the pace at which Penn State plays (their games average just 60 possessions, in the bottom two percent of the nation), a pace which Temple will have little objection to, we’ll have a low-scoring, limited possession, defensive battle that will likely come down to seeing which of the two teams makes the most plays in the final few minutes. Because of that, the Lions may have the edge. Not only do they have four seniors amongst their five main players, but Talor Battle is an explosive scorer given the limited number of possessions he works with. And, among their five man rotation, only Andrew Jones is a poor free throw shooter. For Temple to counteract the experience of the Lions, they’ll need to get plenty of inside production from physical freak Lavoy Allen, while perimeter players like Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt and point guard Juan Fernandez will have to take advantage of a PSU defense that likes to pack it in and force their opponents to beat them with their jump shot. Unfortunately for the Owls, even if Randall does make it back for this game, their most efficient offensive player does not figure to have his legs back, and Temple may come up a bit short.

The RTC Certified Pick: Penn State

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Bracket Prep: Southeast Region

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2011


Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.
He will analyze the Southeast Region throughout the NCAA Tournament.

Throughout Monday, we’ll be releasing our Bracket Prep analyses of each of the four NCAA Tournament regions.  The order will be as follows — please check back throughout the day for all four (all times eastern).

  • West – 9 am
  • Southeast – 11 am
  • Southwest – 1 pm
  • East – 3 pm

Region: SOUTHEAST

Favorite: #1 Pittsburgh (27-5, 15-3 Big East). The Panthers won the Big East regular season title and now have their best chance to finally advance to the Final Four under Jamie Dixon. Pitt has made just one Final Four in their history (1941).

Should They Falter: #2 Florida (26-7, 13-3 SEC). Billy Donovan’s club racked up 11 top 50 wins this season and won 10 of their last 12 games. The two seed was surprising, but not unreasonable when you look deeper into their resume.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Butler (23-9, 13-5 Horizon). Could last year’s success have played a role in their seeding? The Bulldogs are a solid team and won the Diamond Head Classic in December but their best non-conference win was over Florida State, a team that could only manage a #10 seed in this tournament. Butler lost three times to sub-100 RPI opponents, including #289 Youngstown State. A #10 or #11 seed would have been more appropriate.

Grossly Underseeded: #9 Old Dominion (27-6, 14-4 CAA). ODU has won nine straight and 13 of their last 14 games. The Monarchs beat NCAA teams Xavier, Richmond, Clemson and St. Peter’s out of conference, split with George Mason and beat VCU twice on their way to the CAA tournament title. Blaine Taylor’s team arguably should have earned a #6 or #7 seed.

Sweet Sixteen Sleeper (#12 seed or lower): #12 Utah State (30-3, 15-1 WAC). The Aggies are actually ranked well ahead of their first round opponent, Kansas State, in the Pomeroy Ratings. Utah State plays at a slower tempo and can grind Kansas State to a halt. Stew Morrill’s team is also terrific on the defensive end, ranking sixth in efficiency and second in defensive rebounding percentage. If they can make K-State shoot jump shots all night, Utah State will have an excellent shot to pull the #12 over #5 upset. Should they get by the Wildcats, Utah State will face Wisconsin or Belmont. They’d be comfortable in the pace Wisconsin plays and can use their stellar defense to slow Belmont’s up-tempo pace and efficient offense.

Final Four Sleeper: #5 Kansas State (22-10, 10-6 Big 12). The Wildcats had won six in a row and eight of nine games before slipping up against Colorado for the third time this season in the Big 12 Quarterfinals. Kansas State has a talented senior in Jacob Pullen, a guy capable of willing this team all the way to Houston. This club can play with anyone when they’re hot and has the toughness to stand up to any team in this bracket, including Pittsburgh. A surprise trip to the Final Four would be sweet redemption for this team, one that was picked to advance there by many before the season started.

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Behind the Numbers: Cliches and Champions

Posted by KCarpenter on February 25th, 2011

I like cliches, because they give me something to do. The proverbs of the sporting world and the received aphoristic wisdom of our hallowed forefathers are well-known and often taken for granted. They are also, fortunately, not too hard to test or analyze. I’m a fairly agreeable guy, but I must say, few things give me as much joy as being contrary in the face of stupid cliches. It’s an easy thing to do in the blogosphere, equivalent to shooting fish in a barrel, and there are many out there who are better gunslingers than I. But, for now, let’s joyously take aim at the hoariest one of all: “Defense wins championships.”

Great Sign, But Does It Win Championships?

Obviously, playing some defense is necessary to win anything. No one is arguing with that. But what the phrase really seems to mean is that teams with excellent defenses are the ones that win the big one. More than that, the phrase implies that defense, above offense, is the thing that separates the great teams from the good ones. Like so many things, it seems like our little proverb has things half right. In college basketball, the national champions have all been excellent defensive teams. The worst defenses to have won the title since 2003 are Syracuse (in 2003), or arguably, North Carolina in 2009 and even then, both of these teams had defenses that ranked in the top twenty in terms of defensive efficiency. Teams with bad defenses don’t win championships. If we want to take our proverb only this far, we can be happy.

The suggestion that quality defense is more important than quality offense is where the trouble starts. While every title-winning team since 2003 has had a quality defense, they have also all had quality offenses. The worst offense of any of these teams also belonged to that 2003 Syracuse team and it was, by Ken Pomeroy’s reckoning, the eleventh best in the country. So, it seems that we could, if we wanted, reasonably compromise and say, “Offense and defense win championships,” but that is ridiculously banal, and reasonable compromise is kind of boring. If you want to pick only one, offense is what wins championships.

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ATB: A Messy Prez Day Weekend

Posted by rtmsf on February 22nd, 2011

The Lede.  What a wild, wild President’s Day weekend it was.  The second-, third-, and fourth-ranked teams all took a loss over the weekend to join #1 Kansas  from the previous Monday night, the first time that such a thing had happened in a little over seven years.  BracketBusters was in full effect across the land, and although there were some interesting games during the event, only a couple of teams actually helped themselves.  Over the three days, we saw RTCs ranging from relaxed ambivalence to firecracker intensity, another bizarre diatribe from Jim Boeheim, and a number of great games befitting the time of the season where so much is on the line.  Let’s jump in…

Note: For our BGTD coverage from Saturday, please see these three posts examining the early games, the late afternoon/evening games, and the BracketBuster games.

No, That's Not the Actual Ref Screaming Amidst the Mayhem... (AP/N. Harnik)

Your Watercooler Moment1, 2, 3, 4… The last time that the top four teams in the national polls lost in the same week of action, Barack Obama was an unknown state senator in Illinois and Saddam Hussein was hiding in a hole in somebody’s backyard.  It was November 2003, and the names Bieber, Gaga and Twitter had no meaning to anybody yet, but UConn, Duke, Michigan State and Arizona each dropped a game over Thanksgiving week that year and the result was a significant re-ordering of the poll.  The big difference this time around is that we’re two weeks from the end of the season as opposed to two weeks from the start, so the likelihood of four established teams dropping games over the same week was far more unlikely.  So what happened, exactly?

We already knew that #1 Kansas lost to K-State in rough-and-tumble fashion last Monday.  But the next three teams waited until the weekend to join the polling bloodbath. It began on Saturday with the first game of the day — Steve Lavin’s rejuvenated and tough-as-nails St. John’s program took down #4 Pittsburgh on the back of Dwight Hardy’s 19 points and his tap dance routine along the baseline to win the game.  It was the cherry on top of the sundae in a season of breakthroughs for the Red Storm program, and as you can see below, Madison Square Garden has become something more than just the place where Amare and (now) Melo play.

A little later Saturday afternoon, #2 Texas was in trouble at Nebraska late when its vaunted defense and some brain-farts on the part of the Huskers led to a ridiculous 12-1 in a span of thirty-four seconds to tie the game in the final minute, 65-all.  What appeared to be a major meltdown in Lincoln, though, turned to bedlam as Doc Sadler’s team regained its composure enough to hit their FTs down the stretch and notch possibly their biggest win in years.  UT is more than its individuals, but when Jordan Hamilton struggles as he did on Saturday (3-16 FG), the Horns have trouble putting enough points on the board against quality teams.  With the win, Nebraska has vaulted itself back onto the bubble — with a favorable schedule down the stretch, the Huskers could potentially get back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in thirteen seasons.  Nice RTC, fellas.

On Sunday it was Ohio State’s turn to again do battle with a Big Ten road crowd and team dead set on knocking off the much-hyped Buckeyes.  Purdue’s E’Twaun Moore ensured that the home crowd got what they paid for, as the senior guard went Kemba/Jimmer on the Big Ten leaders, scoring in just about every possible way en route to a superb 38/4/5 asst afternoon on 13-18 shooting.  His 13-point stretch over the last three-plus minutes of the first half was as impressive an offensive display as we’ve seen all season, punctuated by an acrobatic circus shot layup (see below) that told the viewers that this was going to be his game.  Talk has increased about Purdue as a legitimate Final Four contender after wins over OSU and Wisconsin last week, but the Boilermakers are an excellent home team.  We’re not as sold on Matt Painter’s team outside the friendly confines of Mackey Arena.

There you have it.  Three of the top four losing over the weekend, and nobody having a clue as to how to rank the top six today.  The AP Poll had six different teams receiving #1 votes, while the ESPN/Coaches had five.  Even the RTC poll, consisting of only six voters, had four different teams ranked at the top.  The takeaway from this weekend, and really, much of the season, is that there are a bunch of really good teams but certainly no great ones.  The NCAA Tournament could look a lot more like the 1997 (Arizona), 2003 (Syracuse), or 2006 (Florida) versions given this season’s continuing and obvious level of parity.

Your Watercooler Moment, Pt. IIAnother Diatribe From Jim Boeheim.  Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim must really be frustrated with his team this season.  The smiles and self-knowing mockery that he engaged with the media last season appears to have migrated south with the rest of the snowbirds.  After tonight’s win (note we said “win”) at Villanova, Boeheim again lashed out at the media for its stupid questions and representations about his team. Mike Miller at MSNBC has the goods here (via Soft Pretzel Logic), and we’re a little bit at a loss ourselves as to why Boeheim is acting like such a prima donna lately.  With respect to the questions about “toughening” up one’s team, he can choose to not believe in such a thing but we dare say that he probably does.  Most coaches who have been doing this for as long as he has would probably believe there’s real team-building value in gutting out close wins ten times even if you end up losing a similarly-situated game in the postseason.  We weren’t at the presser in Philadelphia tonight, but it sounded like someone arguing for the sake of being argumentative.  Lighten up, Jim — the university pays you a LOT of money to answer a few minutes of questions after each game, not to berate people and make them feel stupid for doing their jobs.

This Weekend’s Quick Hits

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BGTD: Late Afternoon/Evening Games Analysis

Posted by rtmsf on February 20th, 2011

Since we did a separate BracketBusters BGTD today, we’re combining the late afternoon and evening analyses into one post here.

  • Disappointing Weekend Coverage.  ESPN is excluded from this complaint, as the WWL’s wall-to-wall coverage of college basketball makes us very happy from November through March.  But folks, it’s three weeks from Selection Sunday — why aren’t there more networks showing games; and why aren’t there more marquee matchups on a weekend so close to the end of the season?  Granted, Michigan State-Illinois looked great on paper a few months ago, but the schedule today was by and large fairly weak.  If you’re looking for Exhibit A as to why the NFL wants to take over the entire month of February as well, this is it — CBS did a split-coverage game for two hours this afternoon, while none of the other broadcast networks showed anything (why did ABC completely give on hoops?).  Throw in a bunch of ranked teams playing unranked teams today, and you have a sports weekend where college hoops should dominate conversation, except that there’s not much left to discuss than the occasional upset.
  • It’s Not Just St. John’s.  It was an entertaining game in Syracuse this afternoon, with the Orange escaping against an increasingly gritty and tough Rutgers squad led by first-year coach Mike Rice.  With the recruiting Rice is doing in northern Jersey along with the renaissance going on across the Hudson River at St. John’s, New York City area basketball may have finally turned the corner after what seems like a million  years.  SJU is clearly leading the charge with its team of experienced players, but we love the hustle, heart and discipline exhibited by Rice’s players.  They utilized an 11-2 run in crunch time in the Dome to force the Orange back onto its heels, something that simply would not have happened in previous years.  After today’s overtime loss, the Scarlet Knights are only 4-10 in Big East play, but they’ve been competitive in nearly all of those Ls and the close win over Villanova along with today’s close defeat shows us that it’s only a matter of time before Rice’s troops figure it out and cause major problems for the rest of the Big East.
  • Sparty Can’t Be Killed.  As soon as you think the Spartans are dead, they give us another reason to think they still have life.  And life they have after tonight’s ugly yet important win over Illinois on ESPN Gameday.  They did it with an old Izzo standby, strong defense, holding the Illini backcourt to 12-37 shooting from the field.  This was pretty much a must-win for Michigan State, and with four games left (two home; two away), they’ll have more opportunities to improve their resume.  Games at Minnesota and home against Purdue will be tough, but the Gophers are reeling and two other games against Iowa and at Michigan will necessarily have to be victories.  Our gut still says that MSU will do enough to get into March Madness, but this season has been one surprise after another with these guys.
  • Utah State Legitimizes Itself. Much had been written about Utah State’s lack of quality wins this season, but the Aggies really only had one bad loss coming into tonight’s game at St. Mary’s (@ Idaho).  They made sure to leave with the one thing they didn’t have, though, thanks in large part to the forceful inside play of Tai Wesley and his 22/11 night.  During the first half of this game, it appeared that St. Mary’s was going to go on a patented three-point-fueled run led by Mickey McConnell and his thirty-footers, but USU came out in the second half with a clear strategy to a) pound the ball inside; and b) cut off McConnell’s looks.  In doing both, the Aggies went on a huge 27-7 run to start the half and effectively finished the game with ease.  They also put to rest any talk of the bubble for this team, now sitting at 25-3 with three WAC games remaining.  St. Mary’s has Gonzaga and Portland coming to town next week, and the truth is that the Gaels need to win these games.  Their quality wins consist of St. John’s (looking better and better) and Gonzaga.  That’s not much to hang your hat on if you crash and burn down the stretch.
  • Forget the Other Dunk Contest.  Speaking of the SMC-USS game, and then there was this…  say hello to Brady Jardine!

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