O26 Top Five (and More), Because It’s Never Too Early

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 7th, 2014

Don’t look now, but college basketball season is only seven months away! Sure, this one hasn’t technically ended yet, but with Dayton respectably bowing out in the Elite Eight and only one game left to play between two power conference teams, O26 folks need something to look forward to. So let’s examine a few teams sure to make some noise in 2014-15.

Top Five

Players like Mo Alie-Cox will have increased roles for VCU in 2014-2015. (vcuramnation.com)

Players like Mo Alie-Cox will have increased roles for VCU in 2014-2015. (vcuramnation.com)

  1. VCU. The Rams lose Juvonte Reddic – the team’s leading rebounder, second-leading scorer and an unquestioned leader – along with Rob Brandenberg, who’s been a reliable offensive weapon for the past four years. Still, contrary to what folks in Milwaukee had us recently believing, it does not appear they will lose Shaka Smart to another program. And that’s a victory in itself. The coveted head coach will remain in Richmond to lead a group that could be even better than this year’s unit, which grabbed a #5 seed in the NCAA Tournament and ranked sixth overall in adjusted defensive efficiency. Dynamic weapon Treveon Graham returns along with quick-handed guard Briante Weber and a cast of other players capable of wreaking HAVOC in 2014-15. To boot, Smart welcomes his best recruiting class yet, led by top-50 forward Terry Larrier, who should see significant playing time right away.
  2. Wichita State. Star forward Cleanthony Early graduates along with role player Nick Wiggins and forwards Chadrack Lufile and Kadeem Coleby, so Wichita State will miss some big-time pieces next year. But the Shockers still return a solid core from this season’s 35-1 squad, including point guard and Missouri Valley Player of the Year Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton and Darius Carter. The frontcourt might be a bit thin – redshirt freshman Shaq Morris and incoming seven-foot transfer Bush Wamukota need to contribute alongside Carter – and Early (a likely NBA first-rounder) is probably irreplaceable, but Gregg Marshall has always relied more on balance and depth than he has on individual talent. Another conference title and single-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament should be doable for next season’s bunch.
  3. San Diego State. Can the Aztecs contend for the Mountain West title next year without Xavier Thames? Why yes, yes they can. Sure, the conference Player of the Year was their only reliable offensive threat for much of this past season, and yeah, rebounding maven Josh Davis also graduates. But Steve Fisher welcomes back a core of long-armed athletes, including NCAA Tournament stud Dwayne Polee and 6’10’’ shot-blocker Skylar Spencer, along with a top-notch recruiting class. Among the incoming freshmen are five-star forward Malik Pope, four-star forward Zylan Cheatham and four-star point guard Trey Kell, each good enough to find minutes right away. Oh, and Arizona transfer Angelo Chol, an athletic 6’9’’ power forward, will also be eligible after sitting out this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Virginia Tech Earns Instant Credibility With Hire of Buzz Williams

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 25th, 2014

When Virginia Tech announced on Friday that it had poached head coach Buzz Williams from Marquette to replace the recently-fired James Johnson, the immediate reaction was that of general astonishment. Why on Earth would Williams leave a team he’d taken to the postseason in five out of six years on the bench to a program that had only reached the Big Dance once since 1996 and has finished last in the ACC three years running? While the reasons, thoroughly outlined here, became more apparent in the ensuing days, the real story is the amazing acquisition made by new Virginia Tech athletic director, Whit Babcock. The hiring of Williams and the way it managed to circle all of the major media outlets during the opening weekend of NCAA Tournament play, gave the Hokies basketball program something it hasn’t experienced in years: instant credibility.

Buzz Williams Virginia Tech PR campaign included a TNT appearance during the NCAA's (cbssports.com)

Buzz Williams’ Virginia Tech PR campaign included a TNT appearance during the NCAA Tournament (cbssports.com)

Williams oversaw a very successful Marquette program in the Big East, going an impressive 139-69 in his six years at the helm and taking the school to two Sweet Sixteen appearances and an Elite Eight run. No doubt his ability to navigate a difficult conference schedule (prior to realignment) and enjoy postseason success was extremely attractive to a Hokies program just trying to get noticed. Williams obviously looked around the ravaged Big East — a conference that the ACC raided to bring in Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh — and saw a chance to jump to the premier basketball conference in the land to match wits with four Hall of Fame coaches in Roy Williams, Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim, and Mike Krzyzewski. Some may have originally seen the move as a bizarre one (especially Williams’ pay cut from $3 million to $2.3 million annually) , but coupling the chance to compete in the new-look ACC with the uncertainty in the Marquette administration as well as the state of the weakened Big East, the decision began to make more sense.

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Rushed Reactions: #12 Stephen F.Austin 77, #5 VCU 75 (OT)

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 21st, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion. Three Key Takeaways.

SFA Celebrates an Historic Win For Its Program

SFA Celebrates an Historic Win For Its Program

  1. Madness. With four minutes left, Stephen F. Austin was down 10 points, was having little success navigating VCU’s press, and looked to be wrapping up a nice but otherwise unmemorable season. And then a hard-earned late-clock layup from Thomas Walkup, followed by a forced turnover and a Jacob Parker three started a run. They still remained down four with 10 seconds left, sending VCU to the line for a pair of free throws, and all but left for dead. Two missed free throws later, a Desmond Haymon three dropped and he helped sucker an official into calling a foul on the shot. Following a timeout, he came back out and knocked in one of the most cold-blooded free throws you’ll ever see to force overtime. At that point, the Lumberjacks had the crowd fully on its side, dodged a last-second three from JeQuan Lewis that seemed to be dying to go through the rim, and improbably advanced to the round of 32. Oh, and like 10 other things that my disheveled brain can’t begin to process yet happened in the middle there too. Phenomenal.
  2. Who’s Stephen F. Austin? If you’ve looked for it, you’ve heard analysts from all over the college basketball world tell you since Sunday about the chances that Stephen F. Austin would have against VCU today. And you know what? Most of it was nonsense. How many people saw them play more than once or twice all season long? A handful? Well, we got to know this team quickly as a scrappy, undersized, hard-working bunch that features plenty of solid ball-handlers and good decision-makers — the type of team that could withstand VCU’s havoc and keep things close. In the first half, they quickly won over the Viejas Arena crowd and earned themselves a lot of fans, those same people who turned into assets late in regulation and in overtime. As we saw late in the game, this is also a team that has a little bit of magic on its side.
  3. Havoc. In the first half, Stephen F. Austin handled the VCU press about as well as could be hoped, turning it over just five times in 31 possessions. But things changed drastically in the second half as the Lumberjacks wilted under the Rams’ havoc.  They turned it over nine times on their first 17 possessions and a 10-point lead early in the second half turned into an 11-point deficit after a 24-3 VCU run between the 18:42 and 8:23 marks of the second half. SFA’s nine turnovers turned into seven layups, two dunks and a three for VCU, but in the final 8:23 of regulation plus the five-minute overtime, the ‘Jacks only turned it over three more times.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.21.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 21st, 2014

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

South Region

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In #5 vs. #12 Games, Avoid the Chic Picks

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 19th, 2014

They are extremely tempting. They are the most difficult picks on your bracket to make, and history says you should pull the trigger on at least one each year. I’m talking, of course, about #5-#12 matchups. Merely seeing the number 12 next to the name of one team, a centimeter or two below the number 5, next to the name of another team, gives you pause. This is natural. Picking #12-#5 games isn’t supposed to be easy. There’s often a gap in quality between the teams placed on the #4 and #5 lines. The latter quartet is usually decent, but a clear notch below the four teams seeded one line above them. Teams seeded on the #12 line usually fall into one of two categories: 1) the quality mid-major that piles up a lot of wins against so-so competition; 2) talented major conference team with major holes in its resumé. In some instances, the #5 will overwhelm the #12. But the #12 shocks the #5 more often than you might think — it’s happened 25 times since 1999. How many #12-#5 shockers will we see this season? That’s what I’m here to help you figure out. Below you’ll find some analysis on this year’s four compelling match-ups, with an emphasis on explaining whether each #12 seed is worth picking.

West 

With Braun leading the way, don't be shocked if NDSU ousts Oklahoma (AP).

With Braun leading the way, don’t be shocked if NDSU ousts Oklahoma (AP).

#5 Oklahoma vs. #12 North Dakota State. The Bison won’t be overwhelmed by a team from a major conference, as they won at Notre Dame earlier this season (when Jerian Grant was available, mind you). NDSU ranks in the nation’s top 20 in offensive efficiency and posted Summit League-highs in offensive and defensive efficiency during conference play. The Bison are shooting 56 percent from inside the arc, good for fourth in the country, and only have five percent of their shots blocked (first). Senior guard Taylor Braun (18.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 3.9 APG) is the Bison’s engine, and by the end of this game, you’ll definitely remember his name. To pull big upsets, smaller programs often need one guy to take over – to drop at least 20 points and hit a few big shots in crunch time — Braun’s that guy. NDSU also has one of the most efficient frontcourt players in the nation in Marshall Bjorklund, who is shooting 62 percent on his twos. Oklahoma can really score – it ranks 13th in offensive efficiency this seaon – but the Sooners haven’t been nearly as good on the defensive end. Whether NDSU pulls the upset, this game promises to be a fun watch. Don’t miss it.

Verdict: Neither NDSU nor Oklahoma play great defense. This sets up as a shootout, one I think the Bison will win.

South

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O26 Bracketbusting: South and Midwest Regions

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 18th, 2014

Sing it with me: It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The Big Dance is finally upon us. After a terrific regular season, we finally have the bracket in our hands. Before the inexorable slide into ripping them up in exasperation, we are left with hope for a couple more days — hope that we can pick the right Final Four and National Champion. Hope that we can suss out the nearly impossible task of selecting which upsets will actually come to fruition. Will there be another Dunk City-esque run in 2014? Which Other 26 conference team will become America’s next darling? Well, we here at the O26 microsite will try to help you out. Let’s take a look at the O26 teams — starting with the Midwest and South Regions — and discuss the likelihood that each has to advance this week.

MIDWEST

Regional Threats. These are the teams that could be second- and third-weekend squads.

Wichita State's run to perfection was historic. (Peter Aiken)

Wichita State, despite a tough road, could make another Final Four. (AP/Peter Aiken)

  • Wichita State (#1 seed) — The Shockers might be the most polarizing team in the nation. Some people love ‘em and want to see a repeat Final Four run, and others want to see them fall flat on their faces, validating their loud group of detractors. The fact is Wichita State is 34-0 and the first team since UNLV in 1991 to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated. Well, if the Wheatshockers can return to the Final Four, they’ll shut those detractors up. They have arguably the toughest path to the Final Four out of all the #1 seeds. Preseason #1 Kentucky in the round of 32, a criminally underseeded #4 Louisville team in the Sweet Sixteen, and then either #2 seed Michigan or #3 seed Duke in the Elite Eight. Woof. This is Wichita State’s opportunity to show the nation just how good it is. And the Shockers are plenty good. They boast a top-10 ranking in both offensive and defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy. Star power forward Cleanthony Early also ranked seventh in KenPom’s player of the year rankings. With additional prospects in guard Ron Baker and point guard Fred VanVleet, the Shockers could find themselves in Arlington, Texas, in early April.

One and Done. These teams have a solid shot at winning their round of 64 game, but are unlikely to reach the second weekend.

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James Johnson’s Dismissal Highlights the Other Unpleasant Side of March

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 17th, 2014

The month of March is one that brings joy to many college basketball programs across the country, as they now have the chance to chase a national championship via the NCAA Tournament (or to a lesser extent, an NIT title that at least yields a banner). But as many know, March is often a time of despondency across the college basketball landscape. It starts with the teams that had their hopes dashed on Selection Sunday when their names weren’t called, but it also extends to the programs whose seasons are completely over. That’s where the dark days in March occur, and Virginia Tech’s James Johnson experienced such a day today as he was relieved of his duties as head coach of the Hokies after a mere two seasons on the bench.

James Johnson's uninspiring term at Virginia Tech ended after only two years (newsleader.com)

James Johnson’s uninspiring term at Virginia Tech ended after only two years (newsleader.com)

Johnson was considered something of a surprise hire when he replaced the ousted Seth Greenberg two years ago. In fact, he had never been a head coach at all, having recently left Blacksburg to take on a similar assistant coaching role at Clemson. Instead, Greenberg’s messy exit coupled with resounding support from the holdover players convinced the administration to hire Johnson to take over the program, citing in particular his recruiting ability for some of the better teams of the Greenberg era. He inherited a bad team in his first season that only produced 13 wins, even with ACC Player of the Year and eventual pro Erick Green on the roster. His follow-up nine-win campaign, which resulted in a dead-last performance in a 15-team ACC, was due to an extremely underwhelming roster. In the preseason, Johnson made the bizarre decision to name an incoming freshman team captain despite the presence of seniors Jarell Eddie and Cadarian Raines returning. And it wasn’t a superstar talent like Jabari Parker who was named the leader, either; it was two- or three-star guard Ben Emelogu. Emelogu had a decent start to his first college campaign, but he was far from a star.

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Bracket Prep: South Region Analysis

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on March 17th, 2014

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Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), Midwest (11:00 AM), South (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).

You should also check out our upcoming RTC Podblast with Bennet breaking down the South Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

South Region

Favorite: #1 Florida (32-2, 21-0 SEC). The Gators are the clear front-runner to win the South region, and after winning their last 26 games, should also be the presumptive favorite to cut down the nets in Dallas. Winning four games in a row to reach the Final Four is never an easy chore, but the field’s #1 overall seed has all the necessary ingredients to make a fourth final four run under Billy Donovan.

Billy Donovan And Scottie Wilbekin Are Both Huge Reasons Why Florida Enters The NCAA Tournament As The #1 Overall Seed

Billy Donovan And Scottie Wilbekin Are Both Huge Reasons Why Florida Enters The NCAA Tournament As The #1 Overall Seed

Should They Falter: #2 Kansas (24-9, 15-5 Big 12). The Jayhawks’ case is a tricky one. With Joel Embiid, Kansas is easily the scariest #2 seed in the field and a serious threat to win it all; but the Jayhawks are far more difficult to quantify without their gifted freshman big man. Nothing is definite with Embiid’s prognosis, but if healthy and able to play, Kansas would only be the slightest of underdogs in an Elite Eight rematch with Florida. The outlook gets a little gloomier if the future trumps the present for the potential #1 overall pick in April’s NBA Draft (the one named Joel), but Andrew Wiggins’ recent offensive explosions still make Kansas a threat to run deep in this Tournament. Don’t forget that they will have a nice home court advantage in St. Louis for rounds two and three, and that crutch could help the Jayhawks advance to the second weekend without too much fuss – with or without Embiid. It’s still Bill Self and KU; don’t make the mistake of believing Joel Embiid’s health will be the sole determinant of the Jayhawk’s fate.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Colorado (23-11, 12-9 Pac-12). There are no egregious examples of overseeding in this region, but Colorado stands out as the South’s most overvalued team. #3 Syracuse and #5 VCU may also have been generously awarded an extra seed line, but as currently constructed, the Buffs deserved to be closer to the cut-line than their #8 seed would suggest they actually were. Since Spencer Dinwiddie went down on January 12, Colorado managed only a .500 record in the Pac-12 and rarely looked competitive in outings against the upper echelon of the league. They are just 64th in KenPom’s rankings (only NC State is worse among at-large selections), and each of their three wins since February 19 was earned by the narrowest of margins (quirky note: all had final scores of 59-56). Askia Booker has remade himself in Dinwiddie’s absence and Tad Boyle deserves a ton of credit for navigating CU through the storm and into this field, but Colorado is just not one of the 32 best teams in college basketball.

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Bracket Prep: Saint Joseph’s, Louisiana-Lafayette

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 17th, 2014

With Championship Week officially over and a fresh bracket ready for filling, here’s what you need to know about the most recent automatic bid winners. 

Saint Joseph’s

Saint Joseph's returns to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008. (Associated Press)

Saint Joseph’s returns to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008. (AP)

  • Atlantic 10 Champion (24-9, 14-5)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #37/#49/#56
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +6.3
  • NCAA Seed: #10

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Saint Joseph’s started the week on the bubble and ended it with an Atlantic 10 tournament championship. The Hawks now head to the Dance with lots of confidence – having just beaten VCU and its vaunted defense for the second time this season – and lots of experience: three of the team’s most prominent players are seniors. Still, this is just the second time Phil Martelli has taken his program to the NCAA Tournament since it entered as a one-seed in 2004, and the first appearance since 2008. It was an important, much needed accomplishment for the veteran head coach. And perhaps he couldn’t have done it without the help of his pint-sized assistant coach on Sunday.
  2. This is probably Martelli’s most balanced team in several years, ranking 68th and 55th overall in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively. The Hawks take a lot of threes – often kick-outs or dribble-screen hand-offs – and make a high percentage of them. Especially senior shooting guard and leading scorer Langston Galloway, who knocks down 44 percent of his triples and is capable of taking games over. The team is also efficient in the paint, thanks to a versatile front court featuring 6’8’’ Ronald Roberts, Jr., a superior athlete with the ability to make game-changing (and momentum changing) plays on both ends of the court, and Halil Kanacevic, who provides a tough, workman-like interior presence on defense and a surprisingly multi-skilled offensive game. They are the team’s top two rebounders and shot-blockers, and Kanacevic actually leads the way in assists due to his Arvydas Sabonis-like passing skills. The Hawks do have a pair of glaring weaknesses on each end, however: they are awful from the free throw line, and they rarely force turnovers. At 64.4 percent, only a handful of schools are worse from the stripe, and Saint Joe’s turnover rate was dead last in the conference. Read the rest of this entry »
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Assessing the Atlantic 10’s NCAA Tournament Chances

Posted by Joe Dzuback on March 16th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

The chances for six bids, a record high for the Atlantic 10, are strong. The source for the seeds is the Bracket Matrix (a consensus of approximately 100 bloggers/bracketologists).

St. Joe's Made Quite the Run This Weekend (credit: Mid-Majority)

St. Joe’s Made Quite the Run This Weekend (credit: Mid-Majority)

Virginia Commonwealth (#6 seed)  — For the Rams, who have had problems generating offense from the half-court all season, turnovers leading to fast breaks and transition threes are especially important. Virginia Commonwealth’s HAVOC approach to defense is designed to generate turnovers through aggressive pressure and quick traps. HAVOC defense values turnovers and the scoring opportunities they create over shot defense. The key to negating the Rams’ strategy is to grow old and patient. Lineups that feature upperclassmen, especially in the ball-handling positions, can break the press on most possessions and make the Rams pay with easy baskets. A turnover or two should not rattle the backcourt and cause hasty, turnover-inducing decisions like the ones that plagued George Washington in the Atlantic 10 semifinals on Saturday. thrives in a hurry-up offense and defense that values turnovers over shot defense. Break the Rams’ press and avoid the half-court traps, unlike George Washington’s guard Joe McDonald Saturday, and the opponent should have a clean look at the basket. He and freshman point guard Miguel Cartagena threw two passes away with under four minutes to play and the Colonials down nine. “You can see it in their eyes… in their body language… when they are rattled,” a scout observed. Smart’s squad is the A-10’s best bet for a deep run this NCAA Tournament. While they have their flaws, they also have an experienced coach who will get them ready to play.

Saint Louis (#6 seed) – VCU may get most of the “defense” ink, but St. Louis has compiled the most impressive defensive resume in the conference… up until two weeks ago, holding opponents to 0.93 points per possession, good for #8 in Division I, according to Ken Pomeroy. The defense is vintage Rick Majerus — stifling shot defense (especially out to the three-point line) that values defensive rebounds, limited fouls and a hand in the face over turnovers. Their late February/early March slump could be anticipated because the Bills’ had a string of small point margins through much of their 12-0 start to conference play. Their 1-3 close has hurt their projected seeding and possibly their confidence. While Austin McBroom and Mike McCall are decent from beyond the arc, they are specialists. Opposing defenses know if McBroom or McCall (or forward Rob Loe) has the ball, the shot will come from the outside and anyone else will drive the lane or pass into the low post. Jordair Jett, the A-10 Player of the Year, has proven to be able to create his own shot, but everyone else needs a setup or set play to score. The Bills will have to find a third/fourth option on offense to take a deep run.

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O26 Storylines: Regular Season Champs and Potential Cinderellas

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 11th, 2014

Championship Week is in full swing. For the O26 conferences, it’s more than halfway over. Eight automatic bids have already been handed out as of Monday night. Let’s take a look at this week’s storylines before Sunday’s Selection Show.

Belmont is just one of many regular-season champions that will miss out on the NCAA Tournament. (GASTON GAZETTE)

Belmont is just one of many regular-season champions that will miss out on the NCAA Tournament. (GASTON GAZETTE)

Should one-bid leagues send their regular-season champion to the NCAA Tournament?

It’s in the best interest of one-bid leagues to send their best team to the Big Dance. That increases the likelihood of an upset, and thus more exposure for the school. We’ve already seen seven teams that won their respective conference’s regular-season title fall in the conference tournament. Enjoy the NIT, fellas. Belmont (Ohio Valley), Davidson (Southern), Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun), Green Bay (Horizon), High Point (Big South), Iona (Metro Atlantic) and Vermont (America East) all were #1 seeds in their conference tournaments, and all probably were legitimate threats to win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament. Instead, those leagues will be represented by weaker teams that don’t have much upset potential. Those top seeds aren’t rewarded for season-long excellence. Instead, they’re being punished for one slip-up. It won’t change because there’s no way any league’s going to want to lose the exposure that comes along with their tournament title game being broadcast on ESPN. It’s just a shame we won’t get to see those teams dancing, and as a result, we have a watered down NCAA Tournament field. Matt Norlander made an interesting argument here.

Which one-bid leagues boast NCAA Tournament representatives that could pull upsets?

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RTC Top 25: Regular Season FINAL Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on March 10th, 2014

With apologies to Penn and Princeton, the college basketball regular season came to a satisfying end on Sunday. This regular season was defined by unexpected results and uncertainty near the top of the rankings, but #1 Florida, #2 Wichita State, and #3 Arizona end the regular season as the consensus top three teams in America among our pollsters. The Gators capped off their 29-2 overall and 18-0 conference record with blowout wins over South Carolina and Kentucky. Will they or won’t they? That has been the question all season long about the second-ranked Shockers and their pursuit of perfection entering the NCAA Tournament. Gregg Marshall’s squad confidently answered that question over the weekend with a fairly easy stroll to the Missouri Valley Tournament title and a perfect 34-0 record. While Florida and Wichita State used the final week of the season to showcase their excellence, Arizona experienced its third setback of the season in a loss at Oregon on Saturday. However, the Wildcats still possess a sterling 28-3 overall record, which our pollsters fully agreed was good enough for the third spot in our final regular season poll. The quick n’ dirty analysis of this week’s poll is after the jump.

rtc25 reg season FINAL

Quick n’ Dirty Analysis.

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