RTC Top 25: Week Nine

Posted by Walker Carey on January 19th, 2015

After nine weeks of the regular season there is probably not a conference that has more uncertainty in it than the Big 12. If the importance of home court advantage in that loaded league had not been clear before, this past week really made sure that everyone realizes it. From Tuesday through Saturday in conference games featuring at least one ranked team, the home team notched a sterling 7-0 record. No Big 12 win last week was more important, though, than #9 Iowa State knocking off #14 Kansas on Saturday night. The victory moved the Cyclones to a 3-1 league record, which helped them keep pace in the loss column following Wednesday’s narrow loss at #23 Baylor. The Big 12 has been so crazy this season that an unranked team (Kansas State) somehow holds sole possession of first place. There is a lot of basketball still to be played, of course, so it will be a good idea to keep an eye on this conference as Kansas State, Iowa State, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Baylor, and Oklahoma State figure to battle tooth-and-nail for the league crown all the way to the last weekend of the regular season.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump….

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 11.59.34 AM

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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RTC Rewind: Virginia Survives, Others Not So Lucky…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 5th, 2015

Last Tuesday, in the first Weekly Primer of conference play this season, I wrote the following: “The beginning of conference play is important, not just because attention ratchets up and the momentous games come in droves, but because these first few weeks are full of realizations. This is when we start to get a true feel for individual teams.” A little later on, I concluded the paragraph with this: “We’ll learn a lot these next few weeks. Or at the very least, we’ll think we have.” With one week in the books – for some, two games; for others, one game; for still others, none – it’s time to start making decisions. What do we think we know? Which 2-0 conference starts are flukes? Which upsets are signs of bigger and better things to come? Which conference races are starting to take shape? Which are still complete crapshoots? These are the types of questions to consider.

Headliner: Virginia 89, Miami 80 (2OT)

Virginia Got All It Wanted from Miami, But Had the Last Laugh on Saturday (USA Today Images)

Virginia Got All It Wanted from Miami, But Had the Last Laugh on Saturday (USA Today Images)

Virginia is still undefeated… but barely. After controlling much of Saturday’s contest at Miami, Virginia’s usually-stout defense was carved up late, and the Cavs eventually needed a clutch Justin Anderson three to stave off their first loss of the season. But while this was a game that should have been more comfortable for the defending ACC champions, this shouldn’t reflect negatively on them. In fact, it further drives home the point that Virginia isn’t just a defensive juggernaut. The Cavaliers can score, too, which is what makes them a top-five team in the country. But what originally looked like smooth sailing for Tony Bennett’s team turned into a perfect example of just how hard it is to go unbeaten in college basketball. Virginia escaped in Coral Gables, but the alarm bells that were sounding during overtime once again alerted the nation that anything can happen in conference play. Miami entered Saturday’s game having lost three of its last five contests by double figures, including a 28-point defeat to Eastern Kentucky. But when conference foes meet, they are generally in the same ballpark athletically. That means all it takes is an outstanding performance here, a subpar one there, sprinkled with a little underdog luck, and an upset is brewing. Louisville almost proved that point as well late Sunday at Wake Forest. Virginia and Duke are both really good teams, but neither will run the table. Kentucky might be a different story in the SEC, but the ACC is just too murderous this season.

And then there were three…

While Virginia scraped by Miami, Saturday wasn’t nearly as kind to three of the six remaining undefeated teams. For Colorado State and TCU, that’s probably no surprise. TCU had feasted on the nation’s weakest schedule, and the Horned Frogs are still a bubble outsider until they show they can win games in the Big 12. Colorado State had won an unsustainably high number of close games, and a trip to New Mexico proved to be its tipping point. The big name that fell over the weekend, though, was Villanova. The Wildcats traveled to Seton Hall on Saturday, but their lack of a true go-to scorer — the generally reliable Ryan Arcidiacono was dreadful — did them in. As a result, Villanova far too often settled for three-pointers outside of the natural flow of its offense, and, as other teams with similar makeups can attest – I’m looking at you, Iowa State – that is a recipe for an upset. Villanova can’t change the composition of its lineup, and that’s why the Wildcats will remain a step or two below the top tier of teams nationally.

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Unsung Hero: Villanova’s Rise Driven by Daniel Ochefu

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 2nd, 2015

Think back to the last time Villanova had a true post player. No, not face-up players like Dante Cunningham, Will Sheridan or Mouph Yarou. Rather, a true banger in the paint with a repertoire of post moves and a defensive presence felt by all five opposing players. Junior center Daniel Ochefu brings to Villanova what players of successful teams past have not: size and intimidation. And at 13-0 — the program’s best start since the 1937-38 season — the Wildcats have certainly looked the part, beating seven teams in Kenpom’s top 100 along the way.

Daniel Ochefu

Daniel Ochefu May be Villanova’s Most Key Contributor This Season (USA Today Images)

Coming into the season, many believed that it would be the Wildcats’ pair of seniors, Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston, who would assert themselves in order to compensate for the loss of last year’s leading scorer, James Bell. Their play, coupled with junior Ryan Arcidiacono and emerging guard Dylan Ennis, has come at an opportune time, providing Villanova with a remarkably balanced scoring attack. Yet while many fans have focused their attention and concern on the team’s dynamic offense, the play of sophomore wing Josh Hart and center Ochefu are a significant reason why Villanova remains undefeated into January.

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Will the Big East Have Six NCAA Teams? A Mid-Season Review

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 31st, 2014

With the arrival of conference play comes a critical juncture for teams looking to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. Those that have overperformed against their preseason expectations — teams like St. John’s and Seton Hall — will seek to establish an early footprint in the increasingly competitive Big East, whereas the likes of Marquette, Xavier and Creighton look to re-emerge after a handful of non-conference woes. Today we will examine the top Big East overperformers and underperformers to this point, followed by an early look at the NCAA Tournament bubble as it relates to each team. But before discussing team performance, my preseason Big East rankings were as follows:

Villanova Has Lived Up to Its Expectations This Season (USA Today Images)

Villanova Has Lived Up to Its Expectations This Season (USA Today Images)

  1. Villanova
  2. Georgetown
  3. Xavier
  4. St. John’s
  5. Providence
  6. Seton Hall
  7. Butler
  8. Marquette
  9. Creighton
  10. DePaul

Biggest Overperformers

  • St. John’s (11-1) has made a serious case as the second best team in the Big East. Sporting a defense that ranks fourth nationally in defensive efficiency and third in block percentage, the Red Storm have received a great deal of attention following wins at Syracuse and versus Minnesota. Sure, they were fourth in my preseason rankings, but the envisioned gap between the Johnnies and Xavier/Georgetown was large and has proven so far to be completely off base. Ranked #15 in the latest AP Poll, Steve Lavin has built a team featuring an incredibly talented group of quick, athletic guards with senior D’Angelo Harrison (19.0 PPG) shouldering the offensive load while do-it-all forward Sir’Dominic Pointer and shot-blocker Chris Obekpa wreak defensive havoc. At this point, St. John’s has looked superior to every other Big East team outside of Villanova, and although its inconsistent outside shooting (266th nationally) and offensive execution in the half-court leave much to be desired, the Red Storm have been the single biggest conference surprise this season.

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RTC Weekly Primer: The Wait is Over, Conference Season is Here…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 30th, 2014

The wait is over. The wait is finally over. For a month and a half now, college basketball has kept us intermittently engrossed. There have been glimpses of the beauty, sniffs of the joy. But beginning today, we get to dive in. We get the full dosage. We get to bask in all the glory. The beginning of conference play is important, not just because attention ratchets up and the momentous games come in droves, but because these first few weeks are full of realizations. This is when we start to get a true feel for individual teams. This is when preseason “underrated” statements are validated and gaudy records against weak competition are exposed. It’s too early to make sweeping judgments about conferences as wholes, but at last, the balance of power within those leagues will start to reveal itself. We’ll learn a lot these next few weeks. Or at the very least, we’ll think we have. And right now, that’s good enough.

Three for the Money

We’re actually going to bypass this section for now because there aren’t many single games that stand out this week. There are no clashes between conference heavyweights. In fact, there are only a couple of contests between two ranked teams. Instead, this week is about collections of games. It’s about the Big Ten tip-off event on Tuesday. It’s about the quintet of Big East games on Wednesday. It’s about the first full west coast Friday night in the Pac-12. And it’s about a jam-packed Saturday all across the nation.

A Juicy Big Ten Triple-header

Maryland Begins Its Opening Big Ten Season Today (USA Today Images)

Maryland Begins Its Opening Big Ten Season Today (USA Today Images)

The two worst teams in the league, Northwestern and Rutgers, actually get things started today at Noon, but we can pretend that game isn’t happening. The real curtain-raiser is the afternoon tripleheader on ESPN2. First, Iowa travels to Columbus to take on Ohio State in a rematch of last year’s upset of the then-No. 3 Buckeyes. Without Roy Devyn Marble in the lineup, though, the Hawkeyes aren’t the same team they were a year ago, more closely resembling the team that closed last season on a 1-7 slide. They lack consistent scoring punch in the backcourt, and that could mean trouble against an Ohio State team of which perimeter defense is a legitimate strength. KenPom only gives the Hawkeyes a 19 percent chance to enter Value City Arena and get a win.

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Despite Conference Realignment, Syracuse vs. Villanova Here to Stay

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 23rd, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

It’s Northeast basketball. It used to be what the Big East was, but it’s still Northeast basketball. It’s a great rivalry. The fans know each other… — Jay Wright, Villanova head coach, 12/20/2014.

Forget about conferences, it's always fun when these two coaches go to battle.

Forget about conferences, it’s always fun when these two coaches go to battle.

Syracuse has played basketball since 1899, but did not join a conference (the Big East) until 1979. Among the colleges and universities across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and the six New England states, stable conferences like the Ivy League (1902-present) were, before the late 1970s, the exception rather than the rule. Schools either remained stubbornly independent (Boston College, Duquesne, Holy Cross, Penn State, Providence, St. Bonaventure, and Villanova, for example) or, like Fordham — which belonged to the Metro NY Conference (1933-34, 1936-39, 1942-43, 1946-63), the NJNY7 (1977-79), the East Coast Athletic Metro Conference (1980-81), the MAAC (1982-90), and the Patriot (1991-95) before finally settling into the Atlantic 10 (1996-present) — flirted with conference affiliations like Taylor Swift dangles musicians and actors. Too many of these conferences — the Eastern Intercollegiate Conference (1933-39), the Middle Three Conference (1949-52), the Little Three Conference (1947-58) and the New Jersey-New York 7 Conference (1977-79) — modeled on Philadelphia’s Big 5 series and little more than commitments to schedule round-robin play — had little in the way of longevity. The NCAA, which began its postseason invitational tournament to crown a champion in 1939, paid little attention to the region’s conference comings and goings. The influence of Marquette’s Al McGuire and CBS Sports changed all of that. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. V

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 22nd, 2014

The Big East Weekend Wrap will cover news and notes from the weekend’s games.

What is basketball, or any sport for that matter, except for a continuous stream of results and changing expectations? We only know as much about a team as their body of work, and with that, we attempt to make judgments about their future performances and outcomes. With more data comes more information and hopefully, more informed opinions. The Big East got off to an incredibly hot start in its first six weeks, but the last few days of action have brought most of its teams back down to earth. Whether they recover remains to be seen.

The Good

  • Villanova posted an impressive rally. The Wildcats struggled to penetrate the Syracuse zone for the first 25 minutes of action and trailed for nearly the entire game before rallying to send it to overtime in the final 17 seconds. The offensive balance that propelled the team in past victories was gone, as three players scored over 20 and nobody else on the team scored more than six points. However ugly, Villanova found a way to win. It exemplified the team’s resiliency and also demonstrated a sense of senior leadership that was missing earlier this season. Darrun Hilliard posted 23 points, five rebounds and four steals while JayVaughn Pinkston scored 25 and added 10 rebounds of his own. With the Wildcats’ perimeter shooting nowhere to be found, both seniors found ways to score down the stretch by attacking the rim and creating for themselves. The gap between Villanova and the rest of the pack appears to be widening; the target on their back has never been bigger.
Despite some early struggles, Jay Wright's crew eventually cracked the Orange's zone and found a way to eek out an impressive victory. (Getty)

Despite some early struggles, Jay Wright’s crew eventually cracked the Orange’s zone and found a way to eek out an impressive victory. (Getty)

Other Big East teams were not so fortunate…

  • Butler went 0-for-2 in resume-building games. The Bulldogs have fallen in the past week about as quickly as they rose in November. Chris Holtmann’s squad had two good chances to build on their 8-1 start: the first was at Tennessee, a game in which they broke down in the final 10 minutes as discussed here. The second was Saturday on a neutral floor against a similarly athletic team in Indiana. Here, Butler again played well in the first half before crumbling, scoring just 12 points in the final 8:38. The game was close the entire way, but the Hoosiers’ second half adjustments worked to slow Kellen Dunham and no other Bulldog was able to put together an efficient shooting performance. The defense was effective (held leading scorer James Blackmon – 19.2 PPG prior – to 5 points), yet to the surprise of many, the rebounding was not. The Hoosiers grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and only gave up 11 turnovers, preventing the run outs that kick start Butler’s offense. The offensive struggles remain: Roosevelt Jones and Alex Barlow are defensive-minded players that have not proven to be consistent scorers, and the Bulldogs are in desperate need of one to complement Dunham. The hope is that freshman Kelan Martin will eventually emerge.

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RTC Rewind: Drubbings, Drama, and Misfortune in Michigan

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 22nd, 2014

If you’re a fan of the sport, you know the feeling: of the impossible-to-keep-up-with, full slate of games; of the constant twists and turns; of the incessant storylines. It’s the feeling of conference play. It’s the feeling of a mid-January Saturday. It’s the feeling of a day on which college basketball is king. In an awkward, premature way, that’s kind of what this past Saturday felt like. It didn’t have the same intensity. It didn’t have the same weight or meaning. But, if you were so inclined, you could have plopped yourself on a couch and let college basketball gloriously eat away your entire day. And given how the day and the games played out, you would’ve been happy with your decision.

It Was That Kind of Day For Steve Alford's UCLA Team (USA Today Images)

It Was That Kind of Day For Steve Alford’s UCLA Team (USA Today Images)

Or, at the very least, happier than Steve Alford.

Headliner: Insanity in Philly. They used to meet at the Garden on Fridays in mid-March. They used to battle on Big Mondays in February; on Saturdays in January. Rather unfortunately, they no longer do. But whereas for others, conference realignment has terminated great rivalries, Syracuse and Villanova play on. And even if they do so in mid-December, we should all be thankful that that is the case. Saturday showed us why.

Saturday also showed us why you NEVER, EVER LEAVE A BASKETBALL GAME EARLY unless the result is entirely out of question. Hundreds of spectators had already filed out of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia when undefeated Villanova trailed unranked Syracuse by five with 17 seconds to play. The Orange had led wire to wire, and it appeared as if the Wildcats’ valiant comeback attempt would fall just short. But then chaos ensued. Josh Hart hit a 3. Trevor Cooney fell down. A pass intended for Rakeem Christmas was broken up. Players scrambled. The ball found Ryan Arcidiacono. He found JayVaughn Pinkston. He found the basket. The place exploded. Villanova students jumped up and down, mobbing each other out of sheer joy. When overtime began, they hadn’t yet stopped. There were still five extra minutes to play, but, even though Jay Wright’s team still hadn’t held one lead all game, the result seemed inevitable. Villanova was going to stay unbeaten.

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RTC Weekly Primer: Don’t Sleep on Mid-December Games

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 16th, 2014

Every Monday (sometimes Tuesday), Henry Bushnell will provide a look ahead at the week to come. He’ll discuss the week’s top storylines, preview the three most prominent and compelling games, put a giant or two on upset alert, and decide which teams are in desperate need of a big week.

It’s a cold, dark Monday night in December. The holiday scent is in the air. Subpar football unwillingly seeps out of a TV. Winter threatens to envelop us – if it hasn’t already done so. On this cold, dark Monday night in December, college basketball doesn’t really matter. Or at least it seems like it doesn’t. The Monday evening slate is tinged with irrelevance. Duke sleepwalks over Elon, and not many take note. The sport still lurks in the distance. Lenses are still out of focus.

Exam Weeks Around the Nation Building Young Minds

Exam Weeks Around the Nation Building Young Minds

But this, my friends, is a time as important as any in college basketball. When the final weekend of February rolls around, we’ll be scrutinizing teams inside and out, but December matters too. Just ask a team like Cal, which barely missed out on the NCAA Tournament a year ago. Analysts rued their March losses to Arizona State and Utah, but how about that December loss to UC Santa Barbara? That hurt too. Or ask Southern Miss, which built up a solid résumé, but was left to wonder what might have been if it hadn’t slipped up against Western Kentucky during the week before Christmas. On that same day, December 18, 2013, NC State toppled Tennessee. The Wolfpack made the field as one of the last four teams in. That’s not a coincidence.

Don’t ignore this week. Even with those lenses somewhat out of focus, the results will come into plain sight soon enough. It doesn’t matter how you win; your performance doesn’t have to be aesthetic. Just get the job done. Statements can be made. They will not be forgotten.

Three for the Money

North Carolina vs. Ohio State | Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS

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Has Villanova Outgrown the Big 5?

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on December 15th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

“…a loveless marriage… [that] began out of a desire that was neither pure nor innocent. They were just trying to make a buck”

— Rich Hofmann (The Big 5-0)

Has Villanova outgrown the Big 5? Like the question about the health of a terminally ill relative, it goes unasked after another big Villanova win over the weekend, but it was always the question behind the question. After Villanova beat his Hawks 74-46 (which followed the 93-63 beating the Wildcats delivered in 2013), Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli couched his answer as a “talent gap” problem. After his Explorers lost 73-52 to Villanova (they were beaten again this season, 84-70) La Salle head coach Dr. John Gianinni challenged his players with (to paraphrase), “Villanova won the game in June, not on the court but in the training room.” It was, he contended, a “dedication gap” problem.

Jay Wright and the Wildcats should be excited about their chances

So far this season, it’s business as usual for Jay Wright and crew. (Getty)

After losing 85-63 on Sunday, that universal question, “Why’d you lose?” was posed to Temple‘s senior guard, Will Cummings. He replied, “[Villanova’s] got a lot of weapons. So we really have to be conscious of every player on the court. You can’t leave somebody or they’re going to step up and make a play. That really tested our defense. We had some lapses and that was the tale.” When Temple head coach Fran Dunphy was handed the “talent/dedication/effort” question, he gave a nod to his players’ sense of responsibility but did not take the bait, “Well, [Villanova] has a very talented team. And I thought they played hard, We can play harder, we can do a better job. I appreciate those guys (Will Cummings and Obi Enechionyia) saying that [they lacked effort]. Maybe it was a loose ball here and there that we needed to get to. We didn’t. They did. They are a talented group, a really good basketball team.” That far and no further. Talent, effort or commitment gaps aside, the evidence suggests something is going on in the Big 5. In the 13 seasons Jay Wright has coached on the Main Line, Villanova has shared (two) or won outright (five) the Big 5 title seven times. Historically, Villanova has won or shared 22 Big 5 titles, second only to Temple (28) and gaining fast. Read the rest of this entry »

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VCU’s Win Over Northern Iowa Does Little to Mask Defensive Deficiencies

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 14th, 2014

Sometimes a team, if it has enough overall talent and a few breaks, can win a game in which its major flaws are exposed by an opponent. That’s exactly what happened in VCU’s thrilling double-overtime 93-87 win over an excellent Northern Iowa team on Saturday night in Richmond. Coming in, VCU’s detractors were wondering how the team dubbed Shaka Smart’s best since he took over the Rams program in 2009 could be a mere 5-3 and out of the national rankings already. The answer(s) to that question surfaced early and often against the Panthers; luckily the Rams’, buoyed by an always boisterous home crowd, overcame their nagging issues on the defensive end to win.

Shaka Smart's Rams got a much-needed resume-builder, but defensive issues remain (vcuramnation.com)

Shaka Smart’s Rams got a much-needed resume-builder, but defensive issues remain (vcuramnation.com)

VCU’s HAVOC defense is now a nationwide buzzword, and their pressing style can be utterly infuriating for opponents. But what has caused this Rams team to struggle in the non-conference schedule is the fact that once that press is broken or has been rendered impossible to set up, they’re a subpar half-court defensive team. Coming into the Northern Iowa matchup, the Rams were allowing opponents to shoot nearly 41% from three-point range. For a team that loves to chuck from long-range themselves, that can negate any good three-point shooting night they have. They’re not a whole lot better inside the arc, either, mostly because they take chances with their guard-heavy lineup and don’t have any true rim-protectors on the roster.

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And Then There Were 10: A Look at the Remaining Unbeatens

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 12th, 2014

We are exactly four weeks – four eventful and enthralling weeks – into the 2014-15 college basketball season. And while at times the non-conference season can get a bit monotonous, this time around it’s been anything but. Most of the top teams have challenged themselves, and we’ve already had several marquee match-ups that gave us a telling look at some squads that we assume will be contenders come March. As far as the hunt for a perfect season goes, there have already been significant casualties. Wichita State’s 35-game regular season winning streak was shot down in overtime by Utah. Top 10 teams Wisconsin and Kansas fell to Duke and Kentucky, respectively, in two titanic clashes. A strong Gonzaga team also came up just short against Arizona, which is easily the best team the Zags will play all season.

Ten teams now retain unblemished résumés through the first 28 days of action. And whereas in many seasons there are multiple mid-majors who feast on weak teams and get through the first month without a loss, that’s not the case this year. Two of the 10 come from non-power conferences, but neither is a fluke – both are decent bets for an at-large bid come March (if they don’t win their conference tournaments, of course). And only one of the 10 might be considered a total fluke. Let’s now take a look at these 10 teams, their remaining schedules, the biggest threats to their unbeaten records, and their chances to progress into January, February and beyond, unscathed.

Note: teams listed in order of KenPom probability of an undefeated regular season as of December 11, 2014.

Given Kentucky's Talent, Coaching and Conference, the Wildcats Easily Have the Best Shot to go Unbeaten (credit: USA Today)

Given Kentucky’s Talent, Coaching and Conference, the Wildcats Easily Have the Best Shot to Go Unbeaten (credit: USA Today)

  1. Kentucky (10-0) | Probability of perfect regular season: 4.6%

“Kentucky” and “undefeated” have been appearing in the same sentence a lot ever since the Wildcats demolished Kansas in Indianapolis in mid-November, and the Wildcats are by far the most likely team to accomplish the feat. KenPom’s model in fact probably undersells their chances. The biggest potential impediment to the notion might actually be the three-game stretch that begins this weekend in Lexington with a visit from North Carolina. Kentucky then plays UCLA in Chicago next weekend followed by a true road game at Louisville. The third of those three games is particularly tough, but John Calipari will have a week ahead of time to prepare for his team’s biggest rivalry game. And with the SEC down this year – like, waaaaay down – if Kentucky can get through these next three, the possibility of an unbeaten regular season is quite real. A February 7 trip to Florida could present a challenge if the Gators correct some of their current issues, but other than that, the toughest other conference games are either at Georgia, at LSU or at South Carolina. I’d put Kentucky’s chances to run the table somewhere around 15 percent.

  1. Duke (8-0) | Probability of perfect regular season: 1.1%

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