Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 24th, 2013

Last year, the Mountain West Conference earned, and received, five bids to the NCAA Tournament. Once there, things did not go as planned, but regardless, it was a good regular season for the conference, with non-conference neutral-site wins over UCLA and Connecticut along with road wins against California, Washington, Creighton, and Cincinnati, plenty of home wins and bad losses being kept to an absolute minimum except for the very bottom of the conference. This year, with some talented players leaving the conference, there was little doubt that a step back was due. But with just four teams currently in the top 100 of the RPI, a couple of teams sitting below 270, and the overall conference RPI ninth in the nation, any prayer of getting five teams dancing again can be forgotten. Now the question is, can they get three?

Team of the Week

Utah State – Slim pickings this week, as it seems like every team that played a halfway decent opponent came away with at least one loss. But the Aggies took care of business at the Basketball Travelers Classic on its own campus. While the bookend wins over Western Illinois and Troy don’t do much for anyone, the middle game, a six-point overtime win over a good UC Santa Barbara team, is a nice accomplishment. Especially considering the fact that the Aggies fought back from an eight-point deficit at the under-four timeout, and did so without center Jarred Shaw, who is suspended indefinitely. More on Shaw below.

Spencer Butterfield Had A Career-High In Helping Utah State Knock Off UC Santa Barbara In Overtime (John Zsiray, AP Photo)

Spencer Butterfield Had A Career-High In Helping Utah State Knock Off UC Santa Barbara In Overtime (John Zsiray, AP Photo)

Player of the Week

Larry Nance, Jr, Junior, Wyoming – The Cowboys have taken two losses in a span of three games since we last did this, but that isn’t Nance’s fault. Against Denver last weekend, Nance broke out for a career-high 38 points on 15/21 shooting, adding 12 boards for good measure. Then on Friday, against Southern Methodist, he backed that up with 16 points, 13 boards and three blocks. And last night he had 29 points on 14 field goal attempts, while grabbing 13 boards and blocking three shots against Northern Colorado. All told, that’s 27.7 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 2 BPG, and a 72.8 eFG% in those three games.

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The Best In The West: Ranking the Top 20 Teams West Of The Rockies

Posted by AMurawa on December 16th, 2013

Roughly a quarter of the way through the year, we’re going to unveil something a little new here, something we’ll check back in on once a month or so. We’re going to take all the schools west of the Rockies (and we’re going to be a bit generous with our geography – basically we’re looking at schools from the Pac-12, Mountain West, West Coast, and Big West and then some of the schools from the Big Sky and Western Athletic Conferences) and give you the top 20 teams. But, rather than just ranking schools 1 though 20, we’re going to divide all these teams up into tiers, in part because calling Arizona #1 and then naming another school #2 just seems wrong, because the Wildcats are just so far ahead of everyone else. Below, you’ll see our Top 20 teams in the West (their overall rank will be in parentheses), with descriptions of what we think the teams in each tier have in common, plus brief comments on the teams in our list.

Arizona Is The Undisputed Leader In The West (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

Arizona Is The Undisputed Leader In The West (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

The Best of the BestIn a league of their own.

Arizona (#1 overall, Pac-12 #1) – The Wildcats are in a class by themselves out West. Even when putting together my national top 25, I wanted to put Arizona at #1, leave spots 2-5 empty, and then have a four-way tie at #6. What they’ve accomplished thus far is unassailable, especially considering how young this team is. Expect somebody (maybe multiple somebodies) in the Pac-12 to put up a serious challenge, but at this point in the season, Sean Miller’s squad is not only the best in the West, but they’re the best by a long shot.

Contenders to the Throne – And all top 25 teams.

Oregon (#2 overall, Pac-12 #2) – The Ducks are the team closest to joining the Wildcats up top, but while they’ve got an undefeated record and some quality scalps, they’re missing the quality of wins that the Wildcats have. But, as good as Dana Altman’s squad has been, they’re not even at full strength yet – Dominic Artis and Ben Carter are due back this week.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 11th, 2013

We’ve talked about it a lot around these parts this year, since before the season even began — so many Mountain West teams putting all their eggs in a very small scheduling basket. For instance, Utah State’s only really quality non-conference game was its rivalry game with BYU. After losing that one, it was assured that their best win prior to the calendar flipping over to conference play would be at UC Santa Barbara – a good victory for sure, but not one to pin your NCAA Tournament hopes on. To make matters worse, Utah State backed up that BYU loss with a home loss to Pacific. So now the Aggies sit at 5-2; they’re lucky to have an RPI in the low 40s; and they face the prospect of needing a very strong run through the Mountain West on their first go-round in order to get themselves in the NCAA Tournament talk later this year.

Preston Medlin And Utah State Don't Have A Lot To Cheer About After Dropping A Home Game to Pacific (Rick Egan, Salt Lake Tribune)

Preston Medlin And Utah State Don’t Have A Lot To Cheer About After Dropping A Home Game to Pacific (Rick Egan/Salt Lake Tribune)

Likewise, Boise State went out and put together a schedule not befitting for a squad with borderline Top 25 talent and arguably the best team in school history. Certainly, they’re in the midst of the toughest stretch of their non-conference schedule, what with a trip to Kentucky on Tuesday night followed by a visit from an undefeated Saint Mary’s team on Saturday. But, as could have been expected, the Broncos struck out against the talented Wildcats, getting killed on the glass and at the rim and not being able to find enough good clean looks from deep against their long and athletic guards. Now all their hopes for a quality non-conference win get pinned on Saturday’s game against the Gaels. Again, on the basis of six wins in seven games, the Broncos are fortunate to have an RPI of #40, but with no resume wins in the non-conference, those four conference games against New Mexico and San Diego State in conference will loom large.

You see, it is only the Aztecs and the Lobos who have succeeded in coming away with some quality wins in the non-conference. SDSU has scalps from Creighton and Marquette, while New Mexico’s got UAB and Cincinnati on the wall already, with Kansas in Kansas City looming on Saturday and Marquette up the following Saturday. None of the victims of the Lobos or Aztecs are elite teams, but they’ve at least helped their teams to RPIs of #11 and #17, respectively. At the quarter-pole of the year, those two squads are alone among Mountain West teams on the good side of the resume ledger.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 3rd, 2013

Hooray! The Mountain West has its hero. November is in the books and the conference finally has a victory worth crowing about under its collective belt. In fact, San Diego State scored a couple really meaningful wins this week at the Wooden Legacy, knocking off both Creighton and Marquette to earn the tournament title. Still, I for one have yet to put a MW team in my weekly national Top 25. I’ve considered New Mexico previously and have kept them just on the outside looking in. Boise State also remains in the back of my mind, where they’ll stay until they play anybody of note. And the Aztecs were among my final cuts this week. So what leaves SDSU still needing to prove itself? I know they’re going to defend like nuts all year long and stay in games that way, but I just don’t believe that Xavier Thames is going to be able to knock down shots at his current rate forever, and aside from him, there aren’t a whole lot of polished offensive players on this team. Still, there is no denying that the Aztecs have looked awfully good so far this year and are beginning to earn the benefit of my doubt.

Xavier Thames and A Boisterous Crowd Helped San Diego State Capture The Wooden Legacy Title (USA Today Sports)

Xavier Thames and A Boisterous Crowd Helped San Diego State Capture The Wooden Legacy Title (USA Today Sports)

Team of the Week

San Diego State – We’ll get to Thames shortly, but there have been a lot of guys stepping up for this squad who deserve attention. J.J. O’Brien has been the most regular second option for the Aztecs, averaging nearly 14 points per game before a hand injury limited his production on Sunday. Matt Shrigley has emerged from his redshirt year to display not only a nice shooting touch but a good game off the bounce. Winston Shepard has clearly worked on his body and his game in the offseason, and he’s well on his way to becoming a great college player. And true freshman Dakarai Allen is out of the gates with a strong start to his college career. Even if Thames does slow down a bit, there are some options here who could pick up the slack.

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: USC in the Battle 4 Atlantis

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on November 28th, 2013

With Feast Week tipping off over the weekend, we’re outlining the roads ahead for prominent Pac-12 teams involved in neutral site events this week. 

What They’ve Done So FarUSC opened its season with one if its toughest non-conference games, a road trip to Logan to face Utah State. Things didn’t go in head coach Andy Enfield‘s debut as the Aggies blitzed the Trojans from the start and got the 78-65 win. Since then, however, USC has won four in a row, including a 14-point victory against regional rival Cal State Fullerton. Junior guard Byron Wesley has shined the brightest in Enfield’s up-tempo offense, averaging 19.8 PPG and grabbing a cool 8.8 RPG.

Enfield And Wesley Are Off To A 4-1 Start In 2013-14 (Los Angeles Times)
Enfield And Wesley Are Off To A 4-1 Start In 2013-14 (Los Angeles Times)

First Round PreviewUSC meets 4-0 Villanova in the first round Thursday morning. The Wildcats have not had an opportunity to get a signature win, but they did dispatch a good Towson squad, 78-44. Five days later, however, they struggled to pull away from a mediocre Delaware team and barely held on for a four-point win. They are led by junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston, who is averaging over 20 PPG. For the Cats to escape the tournament opener, defending the endless list of USC bigs will be key. If they are able to limit their looks inside, Nova should definitely win this one.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on November 26th, 2013

We’re a little more than two weeks into the season and the best win among all 11 Mountain West conference teams is: what? New Mexico in a double-overtime miracle over a UAB team that was under .500 last season? Utah State over UC Santa Barbara without its best player? Colorado State over Weber State? Meanwhile, among the dregs of the conference, you’ve got losses to luminaries like Pacific (twice no less), Cal State Bakersfield, Morehead State, Santa Clara, Milwaukee, Northern Illinois, James Madison, VMI and Jackson State. Not exactly painting a pretty picture, am I? While the Lobos will have plenty of chances over the next three weeks to score some pretty nice non-conference victories, the other best hopes in this conference have pretty slim pickings on their non-conference slates. Outside of this weekend in Orange County at the Wooden Legacy, San Diego State will have to win at Kansas in order to garner a really solid non-conference win; good luck with that. Boise State has a road trip to Rupp Arena in a couple weeks to face Kentucky’s freshmen, otherwise its only “up” game non-conference game prior to the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas is a home game against Saint Mary’s. And Utah State’s only non-conference game of consequence is against BYU on Saturday. In other words, you can not only completely forget about any possibility of five bids to the NCAA Tournament come March, three may be significantly stretching the matter.

Team of the Week

Anthony Drmic And Boise State Are Off To An Impressive Offensive Start, But Haven't Played Anybody

Anthony Drmic And Boise State Are Off To An Impressive Offensive Start, But Haven’t Played Anybody.

Boise State – It is slim pickings out there, so we’ll go with the Broncos for their home win over Seattle and road win over New Orleans. Told you it was grim out there.

Player of the Week

Alex Kirk, Jr, New Mexico – Another week, another New Mexico big man. This time it is Kirk for his three double-doubles in the Charleston Classic. For the week, the native New Mexican averaged 21.3 points, 12 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game, and even threw in five three-pointers for good measure. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 19th, 2013

Last year about this time, the Mountain West’s record as a collective was 27-3. Sure, there wasn’t a large number of top shelf wins among those 27, but they were wins. This year the teams are a combined 19-12. UNLV lost by 21 at home to UC Santa Barbara. Colorado State got drilled by 32 at Gonzaga. Nevada lost at home to Pacific. Fresno State lost by 21 at Pitt. Air Force has lost to Jackson State and VMI. And newcomer San Jose State has lost to everybody it has faced, and that certainly hasn’t been a murderer’s row. Last year, the conference as a whole rode its strong RPI numbers, built up by a collection of a mostly good teams, to a best-ever five NCAA Tournament bids. This year, it remains to be seen just how good teams the teams at the top are, while the middle of the conference seems significantly weaker than it was last year, and the bottom of the conference even worse. Too long, didn’t read? The takeaway is there isn’t a chance in a million that the Mountain West sends five teams dancing this year.

Team of the Week

Utah State – The Aggies are one of the newcomers in the conference, but they’re off to a fine start, having won all three of their games including one over USC and another over that UCSB team that beat up on MW heavyweight UNLV. Behind veteran trio Spencer Butterfield, Preston Medlin and Jarred Shaw, Utah State looks like it will have an easy transition to its new conference.

Cameron Bairstow Has Been On Fire Out Of The Gate For the Lobos (Eric Draper, AP Photo)

Bairstow Has Been On Fire Out Of The Gate For the Lobos (Eric Draper, AP Photo)

Player of the Week

Cameron Bairstow, Sr, New Mexico – There may not be a player in the country who has improved as much as Bairstow in his four years in Albuquerque. As a freshman, he was notable only for his below-the-rim, scrappy style, as he averaged fewer than 10 minutes per game and fewer than three points per outing. But thus far this season, the 6’9” Aussie has been almost unstoppable, averaging 25.5 points, eight rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game, all while shooting 78.3 percent from the field. Oh, and not to be outdone, his frontcourt mate Alex Kirk has double-doubled in both his games on the way to 20 points and 12 rebounds per game averages.

Newcomer of the Week

Paul Watson, Fr, Fresno State – The 6’6” freshman out of Phoenix doesn’t have the type of body yet to lead you to believe he would succeed playing up front in major college basketball. But out of necessity, Watson has been forced to play the role of a big man for the Bulldogs. And, so far so good, as he’s averaged five rebounds a night, has scored both around the basket and from deep, and has eaten up minutes. There’s a big future for this Dog.

Power Rankings

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Not-So-Rushed Reaction: Utah State 71, UC Santa Barbara 64

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 1st, 2013

Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Utah State vs. UC Santa Barbara game Saturday night.

Here are four quick thoughts on Utah State’s seven-point win at UC Santa Barbara on Saturday night:

  1. It was a big disappointment that UCSB big man Alan Williams was a late scratch for Saturday night’s game following a bout of back spasms suffered in pregame warm-ups. Having averaged 24 points and 13 boards in his first two games this year, including a 21-point win over UNLV, Williams had six NBA scouts in attendance to see him go up against Utah State’s own big-time center in the long and athletic Jarred Shaw. Minus Williams the Gauchos got hammered on the boards, but still played well enough to keep it a game throughout. And, the good news is that UCSB will get another crack at the Aggies, next time hopefully with Williams, as the two schools will play again on December 20 in Logan as part of the Basketball Travelers Classic.

    Alan Williams Sat Out Saturday Night's Game Following An Ill-Timed Bout With Back Spasms (Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

    Alan Williams Sat Out Saturday Night’s Game Following An Ill-Timed Bout With Back Spasms (Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

  2. The Aggies got eight threes and a combined 34 points from senior wings Preston Medlin and Spencer Butterfield, and they certainly impressed with their versatility. Both are able to handle the ball well, defend on the perimeter, help out on the glass, and, of course, score. But despite a roster deep with passable ballhandlers, the UCSB press gave the Aggies trouble down the stretch. While there are a lot of skilled perimeter guys on this team, there remain questions about the point guard duo of TeNale Roland and Marcel Davis. Read the rest of this entry »
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20 Questions: Who Are the Winners and Losers of Conference Realignment This Season?

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on October 29th, 2013

seasonpreview-11

While it appears that the realignment carousel in Division I collegiate athletics has come to a halt — at least for now — plenty of college basketball programs will be getting used to new surroundings this season. In all, over 50 schools were affected in the 2013-14 round of realignment, an upheaval that has radically changed the athletic landscape over the past three years. As power conference schools chased the football dollar, the domino effect reverberated throughout the NCAA. Many schools in lower and mid-level leagues changed their associations as the news from president’s and athletic director’s offices cascaded down throughout almost all of the conferences. Realignment has been widely panned by college basketball fans and pundits alike who lament the extinction of great, historic rivalries such as Kansas-Missouri and Syracuse-Georgetown. While that is absolutely true, realignment is not all bad. New, interesting rivalries will now be created such as Duke-Syracuse, Memphis-Louisville (an old rivalry resurrected for at least one year) and Xavier-Butler (a continuation from last year’s Atlantic 10). Undoubtedly, many more new rivalries will emerge over the long term.

realignment europe

Realignment Felt Like This at Times, But It Seems to Have Finally Settled Down

Let’s take a look at the winners and losers of this year’s round of conference realignment.

Winners

The ACC: When word first leaked that Syracuse and Pittsburgh were discussing an exit from the Big East, some people may have thought it was a joke. Alas, it was real and it happened very quickly. ACC commissioner John Swofford successfully raided the Big East yet again, pulling off a 48-hour coup that effectively drove the final nail into the coffin of what we all knew as the Big East. Now the ACC has effectively become the old Big East, a 15-team behemoth that is absolutely loaded at the top. Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame join legendary programs Duke and North Carolina, along with a collection of schools that have been historically solid. This year’s ACC will be great, but in the long run the battles at the top of this league will be second to none with the powerhouses sure to be involved. What we saw in the Big East over the last decade should become commonplace in the new-look ACC. It will get even better next season when Louisville replaces ACC founding member Maryland, which will depart for the Big Ten.

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Three More Thoughts: Digging Deeper With the NCAA Annual Attendance Report

Posted by BHayes on August 16th, 2013

Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler.

The NCAA released attendance information from the 2012-13 season this week, with findings ranging from the very interesting — how about those Creighton Bluejays! — to the entirely irrelevant – I don’t think anyone was wondering how many fans came out to watch Fairmont State last season. But amid all the triviality were a few important nuggets.  Yahoo.com came up with a few interesting tidbits from the data earlier in the week, but here are three more observations worth noting.

NIT Be Damned, Big Blue Nation Packed, On Average, 23,009 Strong Into Rupp Arena Last Season, Most In The Nation

NIT Be Damned, Big Blue Nation Packed, On Average, 23,009 Strong Into Rupp Arena Last Season — Once Again Good For Most In The Nation

  1. Who said the SEC only paid attention to football? The 23,000 that packed Rupp Arena on a nightly basis last season certainly helped the conference’s cause, but six other SEC programs ranked in the top 40 nationally in average attendance – a total that only the Big Ten (12 teams) could top. Furthermore, the conference placed third nationally in overall average attendance — and this despite seeing that number drop over 900 fans a game from its 2011-12 level. Only the WAC, decimated by the departures of Nevada, Hawaii and Fresno State, saw a sharper drop in ticket sales last year. The SEC may be more guilty of the “there are 10,000 fans here but the arena is still only half full” phenomenon than any other league – a trick that isn’t exactly an atmosphere-maker – but in what was a far cry from a banner year for the conference, the overall attendance figures both surprise and impress. There is sport after January down south after all!
  2. Let’s be careful not to make a direct correlation between average attendance figures and overall program success, or even fan interest. The easiest way to prove this point is to take a look at the program that finished 47th nationally in average attendance. Duke may be behind 46 teams on this list, but a consecutive home sellout streak dating back to 1990 should be enough to ease any concern with that metric. On the flip side, there are a number of teams with pretty solid average attendance figures, but also with half-empty arenas and relatively disinterested fan bases. Among teams in the top 40 that fit this bill are Tennessee (#8), Arkansas (#20), Texas (#32) and Nebraska (#38). It’s always better to have more fans than less, but program expectations, arena size, and athletic department budget (gasp!) should all be considered in conjunction with this raw data. Read the rest of this entry »
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Utah State and Idaho: A WAC Rivalry Shuts Its Doors

Posted by CNguon on February 1st, 2013

Kenny Ocker is a Northwest-based journalist who filed this report after Utah State played Idaho at the Cowan Spectrum in Moscow.

No conference has been more drastically affected by the conference-realignment carousel than the WAC. It has been gutted over the years, first losing Arizona and Arizona State in the late 1970s, then the entire Mountain West in the mid-1990s. Each time, the WAC managed to find new members and persevere, but each time that took a little more of the conference’s luster. But this most recent time may be what takes the WAC down to the also-ran level of the Big West or Big Sky, instead of the mid-sized conference it once was.

And each time, it was tied to football.

Idaho looks to be the biggest victim of this maneuvering, and their current conference rival, Utah State, is partially to blame by taking the void in the Mountain West left by Beehive State brethren BYU and Utah. That move, among others, has left the WAC canceling football and Idaho as an independent. In basketball, it works out much better for the Aggies as well; coach Stew Morrill has long been hesitant to schedule games against teams that won’t play return games in Logan, but that won’t crush his team’s at-large chances anymore now that he will play in a league where top-50 RPI wins can be had regularly. And for the Vandals, it again works out terribly, as they lose the one team they’ve had a consistent geographic rivalry against for more than a decade, especially given the states’ cultural similarities and the school’s similar agriculture roots. (Sure, Seattle may be physically closer to Moscow than Logan, Utah, but the only similarity between the schools is a time zone.)

Utah State big man Jarred Shaw was just a little too much to handle for the Vandals' defense (hjnews.com)

Utah State big man Jarred Shaw was just a little too much to handle for the Vandals’ defense (hjnews.com)

But for one night, anyway, when Utah State ran away, Idaho did something about it. Read the rest of this entry »

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ATB: Bruins Win On The Road, Richmond Gets VCU, and Marshall Henderson is Awesome…

Posted by Chris Johnson on January 25th, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Tonight’s Lede. Good Hoops, But Not Like Wednesday Night. There were so many good games last night, so many wacky outcomes and thrilling finishes, asking for a repeat performance was as unreasonable as it was delusional. Nights like Wednesday don’t come around on a weekly, monthly, perhaps even yearly basis – the number of stunning upsets, in the time frame in which they went down, was not something me, you, nor any obsessed college hoops observer was ready for. If March Madness exists in January, it was Wednesday night. By necessity, the clock ticked, the calendar flipped and Wednesday became Thursday, where – you got it – more games were played in campus gyms across the country. I’ll be honest right off the bat: Thursday night’s slate has nothing on what you witnessed Wednesday. Even so, it was still college hoops, and it was still Gonzaga-BYU and Ole Miss-Tennessee and VCU-Richmond and UCLA-Arizona. It was still a good night. Here’s what stuck out.

Your Watercooler Moment. Bruins Defense Overlooked. 

Defense has helped UCLA solve its early season chemistry issues (Photo credit: AP Photo).

Defense has helped UCLA solve its early season chemistry issues (Photo credit: AP Photo).

The key to UCLA’s December revival, when the Bruins ripped off 10 straight wins, five of which came in Pac-12 play, was widely diagnosed as a product of offensive firepower and a correspondingly poor attention to defensive detail. It was all about Shabazz Muhammad’s offensive explosion and Jordan Adams’ continued development and Larry Drew’s stewardship at the point – or some fuzzy mixture of positive offensive growth. Ben Howland was eschewing tradition, it was widely and casually assumed, as if the Bruins were a fundamentally flawed, offense-only team that couldn’t defend a lick. Tempo-free enthusiasts knew better; UCLA, in fact, ranked first in the Pac-12 in adjusted defensive efficiency heading into Thursday night’s crucial road test at Arizona. The Bruins have been giving up 0.94 points per trip in conference play, compared to Arizona’s 0.98, good for fifth among league counterparts. So when the Wildcats got off to a ghastly 1-of-10 shooting start, and UCLA blew open a 17-3 lead in the first half, the Wildcats couldn’t find a way back. It was smooth sailing in the second half, despite Arizona’s and a super-geeked fan base’s best efforts to rally for a comeback push. UCLA wouldn’t be here without its offense – without the natural talents of Muhammad, the Wear Twins’ old-school finesse and Kyle Anderson’s instinctive play-making. The Bruins are and will continue to be identified by what they do on that end of the floor. But their improved defense brings UCLA to a whole different level. Without it, they are a high-flying, explosive, fun team to watch – something like the college analog to the Los Angeles Clippers (yes, the Clippers defend; I’m speaking strictly in terms of offensive visuals). Now that Howland has gotten his team up to par defensively, the Bruins are able to do some pretty good things – things like beating the No. 6 team in the country on the road in the biggest regular season game UCLA has played in the last five years.

Also Worth Chatting About. Another A-10 Newcomer Goes Down.

In the rugged A-10, road losses are par for the course, even for teams as strong as VCU (Photo credit:  AP Photo).

In the rugged A-10, road losses are par for the course, even for teams as strong as VCU (Photo credit: AP Photo).

On Wednesday, Butler had its undefeated conference record ruined on a full-court drive and finish at the buzzer from La Salle guard Ramon Galloway. It was karmic justice for the Bulldogs, who just days earlier rushed the court after knocking off Gonzaga at Hinkle Fieldhouse thanks to Roosevelt Jones’ last-second runner. The road to VCU’s downfall followed a similar narrative. One week ago, the Rams fended off a feisty St. Joes’ team in overtime. The Hawks played Shaka Smart’s team down to the final possession, but they fizzled out in the extra period, overcome by the Rams’ high-paced style. Then came Thursday night’s rivalry game at Richmond. A win at the Robins Center would have sealed the Rams’ temporary spot atop the A-10 standings. Instead, the Spiders coughed up a modest 11 turnovers, dealt with VCU’s HAVOC full-court pressure and smothering half-court D, and after 40 minutes of hanging tough and keeping within striking distance, Richmond leveled the score in the final seconds to send the game to overtime. VCU was not as fortunate in the extra period this time around. It’s a great win for the Spiders. For VCU? Sigh. Beyond the coincidence of the league’s two best teams falling on back-to-back days, the Rams won’t come away from this loss doubting its ability to compete for a league title. Teams lose road games in conference play, and even more so against bitter city rivals. This is a tough, tough league, and the Rams – like every team at some point or another – hit a wall they couldn’t break through.

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