Set Your Tivo 02.18.10

Posted by THager on February 18th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2012
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

#5 Syracuse @ #10 Georgetown – 7 pm on ESPN (*****)

Wes Johnson Looks to Go 2-0 vs. the Hoyas (D. Nett)

We mentioned last week that Syracuse’s matchup against Louisville could be a trap game with Georgetown on the horizon, and the Orange responded with a 60-point performance in a home loss.  Now Syracuse will get their chance to play the Hoyas who are coming off an equally embarrassing defeat.  Although Georgetown had won three of their previous four games (with wins against Duke and Villanova), they then gave up an easy game at Rutgers who sits at just 4-8 in the Big East.  Both teams are safely in the NCAA Tournament, but a win here could help a team improve their tournament status as well as help build their confidence back up.  This game could be high scoring, as the Orange rank #1 in the country in field goal percentage, while Georgetown ranks third.  However, the last time these teams met at the Carrier Dome, the Orange scored just 73 points despite 53% shooting, while the Hoyas failed to score 30 points in either half.  Syracuse has a tall lineup, but they rank second in assists per game and can run the court with almost any team.  The biggest hindrance to the Orange is the lingering effect of Wesley Johnson’s injury to his back/hip.  He is now just 13-33 since the Providence game on February 2 when he flipped in mid-air and landed hard on the court.  To get a feel for how effective Johnson was before the injury, he was 33-61 in his previous five games.  The Hoyas have shown the ability to light up great teams at home this season, so they certainly have a great opportunity to end Syracuse’s undefeated road streak.

#16 Wisconsin @ Minnesota – 9 pm on ESPN (***)

Minnesota is now certainly on the outside looking in after a recent loss to Northwestern, and will need to go nearly 6-0 in the remaining games if they want to dance in a few weeks.  The Gophers are just 3-7 since January 5, and are eighth in the conference behind other probable NIT teams like Michigan.  Wisconsin missed a golden opportunity to jump atop the Big Ten standings with a loss against Illinois last week, but they are still just 1.5 games behind Michigan State for the conference lead.  Minnesota is going to have to play one of their best games of the season tonight, because the Badgers won’t beat themselves.  They are the best team in America in turnovers per game, and are in the top five in opponents’ points per game.  Thanks to solid efficiency on both ends of the court, the Badgers actually rank third in Ken Pomeroy’s overall standings.  Minnesota, on the other hand, ranks just #64 in offensive efficiency, and they have just three reliable threats on offense.  Although UM’s Lawrence Westbrook averages 13.4 points per game, he shoots over 42% from the three-point line and shoots 50% from all distances.  Look for him to get plenty of touches, especially when he is coming off a solid performance against the Wildcats.  Wisconsin is not the best road team, but leading scorer Jon Leuer will be playing for the first time since January 9 against Purdue.  He could be the spark the Badgers need to make a late-season run in the Big Ten and NCAA tournament.

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Evan Turner Favored in NPOY Straw Poll

Posted by rtmsf on February 17th, 2010

For the third week in a row, Michael Rothstein at AnnArbor.com has taken a straw poll of nearly fifty journalists from around the nation who have a vote in one of the major national Player of the Year awards (presumably the AP, Wooden, and Naismith).  Like the annual Heisman Trophy analyses that pop up every November, the straw poll gives us a sense as to who the top NPOY candidates are heading into the final few weeks of the season as well as any trends for better or worse that are occuring.  This week’s list, released Wednesday prior to tonight’s games, is below.

Right now it appears to be a two-horse race between Ohio State’s Evan Turner and Kentucky’s John Wall, but for the first time in the three weeks of the straw poll, The Villain received more votes.  It’s unclear whether these votes were tallied before Wall’s near-triple double on Tuesday night, but Turner more than held his own tonight against Purdue with 29/7/5 assts himself (although OSU lost the game).  If DeMarcus Cousins keeps putting in the work for John Calipari’s Wildcats, he could begin shaving off even more of Wall’s supporters, as murmurs of an anti-Wall hype backlash are already surfacing in some circles.

Evan Turner is #1, For Now...

It’s somewhat interesting to us that Scottie Reynolds outpolled Syracuse’s Wesley Johnson in the Big East, even though Johnson has been the more celebrated player throughout the season — their relative placement on this list could literally come down to one game in Syracuse on February 27.  If Kansas keeps winning, expect to see Sherron Collins rise up this list fairly quickly, especially if he has another big game where he leads his team to a close victory.  We wouldn’t think Cole Aldrich will have a similar track, though, simply because his overall numbers are so pedestrian compared to the other names above him on the list (note: we recognize his substantial impact, but NPOY winners have better numbers than Aldrich will have this year).

With nearly four weeks until Selection Sunday, keep in mind that college basketball writers are a fickle bunch.  At this time of year, one particularly inspiring nationally-televised game can seal it for a player near the top of this list.  For example, who could ever forget the dominating Kenyon Martin performance against DePaul that sealed his NPOY award in 2000, or the 30/16 game that a baby-faced freshman Kevin Durant dropped in a double-overtime win against rival Texas A&M in 2007?  There may not seem like there’s a lot of basketball to be played, but writers fairly or unfairly place much more emphasis on the games near the end of the season when making their selections.  It’ll be worth keeping an eye on this straw poll the final few weeks to see how it ends up.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.14.10

Posted by rtmsf on February 14th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2012
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

#16 Ohio State @ Illinois – 1 pm on CBS (*****)


There are only a handful of teams that have a winning streak of at least five games, and two of them will meet in this clash that has huge Big Ten title implications.  The Buckeyes will want to keep pace with the Spartans (and several other contenders) in order to claim at least a share of the conference championship.  Both of these teams stand at 9-3 in the conference, but only Ohio State is ranked (#16).  Illinois, if they win a third consecutive game over a ranked Big Ten team, will not only appear in next week’s top 25, they will also likely be considered the front-runner for the Big Ten title.  In order to top Ohio State, Illinois is going to have to get past defensive standout David Lighty and a Buckeye defense that only gives up 60.5 points per game.  Demetri McCamey has exploded for the Illini when they have needed him the most, shooting a combined 19-29 against Michigan State and Wisconsin.  Although Illinois does not rank in the top 40 in either offensive or defensive efficiency, if McCamey can carry the team on his back again, they will certainly keep this game close.  Ohio State’s offensive game is solid as well, as they are third in the nation in field goal percentage, and they rank eighth in offensive efficiency with four players averaging in double figures.   Although the Buckeyes are hot, their wins have come against the basement of the conference, while Illinois has asserted itself as one of the most overachieving teams in the country, so look for the Illini to get the win to move one step closer to a Big Ten title.

Louisville @ #3 Syracuse – 1 pm on ESPN (***)

Although people are well aware of the struggles of North Carolina and Connecticut, Louisville has been just as big of a disappointment this season.  Last year’s Big East winner and #1 NCAA tournament seed, the Cardinals are currently on Joe Lunardi’s first four out.  UL is an acceptable seventh in the Big East, but if they continue to perform on the road like they have so far this season (1-6) they will not have to wait on Selection Sunday to know what their plans are for mid-late March.  The main reason for Louisville’s disappointment is their inability to play defense, with an efficiency rating of #82 in the country.  Syracuse not only ranks better on defense at seventh in the country (they rank in the top ten in steals and blocks per game), they are also among the nation’s best offensive teams.  Syracuse averages 81.6 points per game, and ranks #11 in offensive efficiency with the best field goal percentage in the country.  Louisville’s offense has struggled as of late, especially second-leading scorer Edgar Sosa, who is coming off a zero-point effort against St. John’s in which he went 0-6 from the field with five turnovers.  To make matters worse for UL, Syracuse is heading in the opposite direction, as the Orange are third in the nation with eleven consecutive wins.  Despite all the evidence to show why this game will not be close, the one thing the Cardinals have going for them is that there could potentially be a trap game for Syracuse.  Their next game is on the road against Georgetown, while Louisville knows they need to win almost every game to make the tournament.  Also, Wesley Johnson still does not appear to be 100 % back from his leg injury, as he is just 8-23 from the field in his last three games.   Nevertheless, Syracuse is too talented not to win this game.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.10.10

Posted by THager on February 10th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2012
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Connecticut @ #3 Syracuse — 7 pm on ESPN (***)

Most fans in basketball circles have the Huskies out of the tournament right now, but UConn has plenty of chances to make up for their recent three-game losing streak.  In addition to tonight’s game against Syracuse, they have upcoming games against powerhouses Villanova and West Virginia, as well as three other bubble teams (and Rutgers).  If the Huskies can win five or six of those games, they can play themselves back into the tournament.  Their first task may be the toughest of all the remaining games.  Syracuse is currently a #1 seed, and they have won ten consecutive games.  The Orangemen rank in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency, while UConn ranks 76th in offensive efficiency.    Led by Wesley Johnson, SU ranks first in the country in field goal percentage, second in assists per game, and average 82 points per game.  Johnson played through a leg injury against Cincinnati, but only scored five points and was ineffective.  With Johnson at less than 100 %, Andy Rautins stepped up and scored 20 points to lift Syracuse to the win.  Unless Syracuse wants another 6OT game like they had the last time they played Connecticut, they will need major contributions from both their second and third options, meaning Rautins and forward Kris Joseph.

#7 Duke @ North Carolina — 9 pm on ESPN (****)

These teams could be winless on the year and this would still be a great game.  This version means much more to UNC than it does to Duke.  Coach K has lost six of the last seven matchups against Roy Williams, but UNC could use a win to get them back in the discussion of those “last four teams in.”  They are 2-7 in their last nine games, but a win over Duke would help their poor record against the RPI top 50.  Both squads average over 80 points per game, but UNC’s statistics may be deceiving.  While the Blue Devils are the top team in offensive efficiency, the Tar Heels rank outside the top 60 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.  North Carolina gives up nearly 74 points per game, a number that will likely jump when the Blue Devils come to Chapel Hill.  One of the most surprising statistics about UNC is their home record, as they have four losses at the Dean Dome.  In their last six losses, the Tar Heels have not scored more than 75 points in any of those games, and will need to find a way to break down a Duke team that allows only 63 points per game.  Duke, a team usually known for their three point shooting, has shot below 40 % from beyond the arc this year, but if Kyle Singler can get a hot hand like he had against Georgia Tech, Duke will send UNC to another loss.

#19 New Mexico @ #25 UNLV — 11 pm on CBS College Sports (*****)

It is a shame more people won’t be able to see this game between two of the best mid-majors this season.  The Mountain West Conference now has three teams in the top 25 after UNLV beat BYU by 14 points.  Perhaps more than any team in the country, the Rebels had the most impressive win over the weekend when they never allowed BYU to take a lead, much less keep the game close.  New Mexico also enjoyed a recent win over BYU in a game that was close throughout.  Both of these teams are enjoying win streaks; UNLV has won five games in a row, while UNM has not lost since a January 9 meeting with UNLV.  In that game, the Lobos shot just 22% from three point range and ended a 19-game win streak at the Pitt.  With all three MWC powerhouses sitting at 7-2, this game has huge conference standing implications.  Tre’Von Willis outshined Jimmer Fredette in the UNLV vs BYU game with 33 points, and if he scores over 25, it will be hard for UNLV to lose.  Although the Rebels have more of a go to player in Willis, he has only one other teammate averaging in double figures, while the Lobos have four players averaging over 10 points per game.  Fortunately for the Rebels, even if they lose this game, they still get to host the conference tournament.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.07.10

Posted by THager on February 7th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2012
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

South Florida @ Notre Dame – 12 pm on ESPN 360 (***)

If somebody told you two weeks ago that USF was a tournament team, you would be shaking your head and laughing.  Now, with four straight wins, including victories against Pitt and Georgetown in their last two games, the Bulls are looking to dance in March.  Today’s game will be in South Bend, but considering South Florida held the Hoyas to 64 points in Washington, D.C., they may in fact be ready for this game.  While USF continues to impress, the Fighting Irish are disappointing fans again with four losses in their last six games, including defeats to Cincinnati and Rutgers.  Luke Harangody has held up his end of the bargain, with at least 37 minutes and 19 points in each of the last five games.  What is killing ND is how one-sided they are.  They rank fourth in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive efficiency rankings, but are an astounding 239th in defensive efficiency.  Statistically, Notre Dame can still play smart basketball, as they are third in the nation in assists per game and are in the top team in assists/turnover ratio.  However, given play of the most underrated player in the country in Dominique Jones (he has scored 20 + points in every game since December) I expect the Bulls to put another dagger in Notre Dame’s at-large chances.

North Carolina @ Maryland – 2 pm on FSN (***)

The debate is now over: UNC is out of the tournament as things stand now.  For Maryland, however, questions arise if this team is a serious threat to do some damage in March.  After having the four-game win streak ended by Clemson, they responded in a big way with a road win against Florida State.  The Terrapins rank in the top ten in Ken Pomeroy’s standings, thanks to top ten rankings in both offensive and defensive efficiency.  North Carolina, with losses in six of the last eight games, is sniffing the bottom of the ACC with a 2-5 record.  Neither their offense nor defense rank in the top 60 in Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings, so their chances in College Park do not look promising.  Maryland’s has not lost all year at the Comcast Center, but the Terps have shot around 20 % from beyond the arc in their last two games, a trend they will not be able to keep up if UNC scores near their 80.4 season average.  The difference between these two teams is that North Carolina is finding ways to lose and Maryland is finding ways to win, as shown by their late comeback against FSU.  Look for North Carolina to fall even further with another L in ACC play.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles… (With a Wednesday Twist)

Posted by zhayes9 on February 3rd, 2010

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every week as the season progresses.

This week’s Scribbles column will look ahead to a couple months down the road in Indianapolis, where 65 deserving teams will be whittled down to just four, and to that blissful Monday night in April when one lucky group will be dancing at mid-court to the tune of One Shining Moment. In my estimation, there are ten squads with a promising-to-slight chance of hoisting a 2010 National Champions banner during their home opener next season. I’m here to tell you those ten teams, why they have hopes of winning a national title, what’s holding them back, and the most realistic scenario as I see it come late March or beginning of April. These teams are ranked in reverse order from 10-1 with the #1 school holding the best cards in their deck.

10. Duke

Why they can win it all: Their floor leader and senior stalwart Jon Scheyer is the steadiest distributor in all of college basketball, evident from his incredibly stellar 3.28 A/T ratio and a 5.6 APG mark that ranks third in the ACC and 23d in the nation. Scheyer is also a deadly shooter coming off screens when he has time to square his body to the basket, nailing a career-high 39% from deep to go along with 44% from the floor overall. Duke is also a tremendous free-throw shooting team as a whole and Coach K has the ability to play a group of Scheyer-Kyle Singler-Nolan Smith-Mason Plumlee-Lance Thomas that doesn’t feature one player under 70% from the charity stripe. Duke also features a ton more size in the paint than during previous flameouts in the NCAA Tournament. When Singler plays small forward, Coach K can rotate Miles and Mason Plumlee, the glue guy Thomas, rebounding force Brian Zoubek and even Ryan Kelly at two positions with no player under 6’8. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more efficient backcourt in the nation than Scheyer and Smith. And it’s widely known that exceptional guard play is the ultimate key to winning in March.

What Makes Duke 2010 Different than Duke 2006-09?

Why they won’t win it all: Depth could certainly be an issue for the Blue Devils’ chances of raising their first banner since 2001. Andre Dawkins has fallen almost entirely out of the rotation and Coach K has started to limit Mason Plumlee’s minutes during important games. Also, Brian Zoubek’s tendency to immediately step into foul trouble limits his availability. It wouldn’t shock me to see Duke play Scheyer, Smith and Singler 40 minutes per game during their time in the NCAA Tournament. That could cause those key players, who rely primarily on their jump shot, to lose their legs and start throwing up bricks. Kyle Singler isn’t quite the superstar he was last season, either. Singler’s numbers are down across the board — scoring, rebounding, FG%, 3pt% — and he’s been dealing with a nagging wrist injury that may not improve in the weeks and months ahead. Duke also lacks the athleticism of teams like Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse and Texas. They could struggle with quicker guards like John Wall and athletic rebounders of the Damion James mold.

Likely scenario: I see Duke reaching the Sweet 16 as a #2 seed where they fall to a more athletic, quick group of guards that can explode to the rim and draw fouls. Duke may have height, but most of that height just isn’t a threat offensively by any stretch of the imagination. Eventually getting into a jump shooting contest could be the Blue Devils’ downfall if two of Smith, Scheyer and Singler go cold.

9. West Virginia

Why they can win it all: Da’Sean Butler is one of the best players in the nation when the chips are on the table. If the Mountaineers need a big shot to keep their season alive, Butler will demand the basketball and more than likely deliver. He’s downed Marquette and Louisville on game-deciding jumpers and led the second half charge against Ohio State. West Virginia is also supremely athletic and Bob Huggins’ teams always crash the boards with a tremendous ferocity. No contender can match the height across the board that West Virginia touts other than Kentucky. Huggins has experimented with lineups in which all of his players are 6’6 or taller, including 6’9 Devin Ebanks acting as a point-forward and 6’7 Da’Sean Butler capable of posting up smaller two-guards. Sophomore Kevin Jones is an incredible talent and a rebounding machine (7.7 RPG) that hits 55% of his shots from the floor and 44% from deep. West Virginia has the luxury of any of their forwards being able to step out and drain a mid-range jumper, from Ebanks to Jones to Wellington Smith to John Flowers every once in a full moon.

Ebanks is the X-factor for West Virginia

Why they won’t win it all: Let’s face it: Bob Huggins doesn’t have exactly the best track record when it comes to NCAA Tournament success. Huggins hasn’t reached the Elite 8 since 1995-96 with Cincinnati and only one Sweet 16 in the last ten years. In 2000 and 2002, his Bearcats lost just four games all season and yet didn’t reach the second weekend of March both times. Most also question whether the Mountaineers can hit outside shots on a consistent basis. They’ve struggled mightily in the first half of Big East games and can’t afford to fall behind against elite competition in March like they did against Dayton last season. Point guard play is a prudent question for West Virginia, as well. Joe Mazzulla is a quality perimeter defender and a capable distributor, but he’ll never be the offensive threat he was two seasons ago due to that shoulder injury. Darryl Bryant can certainly catch a hot streak shooting-wise, but in all honestly he’s more suited as an undersized two-guard. Bryant is averaging just 3.6 APG in 25+ MPG of action.

Likely scenario: I’m still fairly high on this team. I love Butler at the end of games and Ebanks can do anything for Huggins — from score to rebound to run the point — and Kevin Jones is one of the most underappreciated players in the Big East. In the end, I see a clankfest from outside ultimately costing West Virginia their season. And for all their rebounding history, the Mountaineers are in the mid-60s in the nation. The Elite Eight seems like a proper place for their season to conclude.

8. Texas

Why they can win it all: No team boasts better perimeter defenders than Texas. Anyone that watched Dogus Balbay completely shut down James Anderson in the second half Monday night knows he’s the best perimeter defender in the nation, even stronger than Purdue’s Chris Kramer. Avery Bradley came in with the reputation as an elite defender and he’s certainly lived up to that billing. Even J’Covan Brown off the bench is a capable defensive player and Justin Mason is a plus defender. When Dexter Pittman stays out of foul trouble, Texas boasts a legitimate shot-blocking presence that can negate quick guards on the rare occasion they slip past Balbay or Bradley. Texas is also the deepest team in the nation and Rick Barnes has the capability of playing 10 or 11 men on any night if he feels the need. The preserved minutes could pay dividends in the form of fresh players come March. Damion James should also be on a mission come March as a senior. He’s never reached a Final Four during his Longhorns career and came back for a fourth year in Austin to accomplish that very feat.

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Dunk of the Day: Wesley Johnson

Posted by nvr1983 on January 30th, 2010

In one of the most surprising games of the day (not counting San Francisco‘s shocking win over Gonzaga), Syracuse overcame an 18-point first half deficit at DePaul to keep their chances of being the #1 team in the country alive. The Orange used a 16-0 run late in the first half to cut that lead to 2 before going into half trailing by 4. From that point forward, the two teams engaged in a back-and-forth battle with the Blue Demons leading by 2 with 4:15 when Wesley Johnson happened.

Even though the dunk wasn’t exactly a momentum changer (Syracuse only won by 2), it is about as good of an in-game dunk as you will see. If you don’t believe us, listen to the announcer’s reaction. Even Gus Johnson would be proud of that call.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles…

Posted by zhayes9 on January 19th, 2010

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every Tuesday as the season progresses.

I’m taking a bit of a detour from our normal Ten Tuesday Scribbles format this time around. Rather than list and discuss ten players/teams/developments in college basketball that caught my eye this past week, I figure this would be an opportune time to properly gauge the debate-friendly National Player of the Year race. Here’s my top ten ranking of the players I feel are most deserving of capturing this esteemed award when the season comes to a close.

10.  Jacob Pullen (Kansas State)- The 2-15 FG, 0-6 3pt stinkbomb last night against Avery Bradley and Texas puts a bit of a damper on this ranking, but dropping him out of this list would be remiss given his phenomenal junior campaign to date. Pullen has put together some spectacular performances against quality opponents, including 26/5/4 against Dayton in Puerto Rico, 28/6 on 10-16 FG against UNLV in Vegas and one of the best shooting efforts of the season in a win at Alabama: 30 points on 10-15 FG, 4-4 FT and 6-9 3pt. While Pullen has encountered a bit of a shooting slump since, he’s still one of the quickest guards in the nation with one of the smoothest jump shots. Jamar Samuels and Curtis Kelly led the way last night, and backcourt mate Denis Clemente is also potent, but coach Frank Martin knows how Pullen plays will determine how far the streaking Wildcats can go this season.

9. Jimmer Fredette (BYU)- A bout with mild mononucleosis has slowed down the explosive Fredette in recent weeks, but the complimentary pieces on a super-talented BYU team have certainly picked up the slack en route to a glamorous 18-1 record. Fredette is the catalyst and offensive machine that makes Dave Rose’s offense work, utilizing 31% of BYU’s offensive possessions and scoring at a clip below 20 per contest. Fredette shoots a stellar 44% from deep, 50% from two-point range and a remarkable 91% from the charity stripe. The junior guard isn’t just an explosive scorer, though, ranking 58th in the nation in assist rate. He’s best known for one of the best individual performances of the season at Arizona on December 28. Fredette scored 49 points on 16/23 FG and 9/13 from three to go along with nine assists and seven rebounds. Mono doesn’t seem to be slowing down Fredette too dramatically, either. This past Saturday against Colorado State, Fredette scored 21 points in just 24 minutes.

8. Quincy Pondexter (Washington)- Always a player blessed with tremendous length and talent, Pondexter had been a bit of an enigma during his career at Washington, showing glimpses of stardom but unable to maintain any sort of consistency. This year, the 6’6 senior has molded into a bona fide superstar. The last five Pac-10 games are a perfect example of how important Pondexter is to the fortunes of the Huskies, even more so than sophomore point guard Isaiah Thomas. After defeating Oregon State, Washington lost their next three games in conference and Pondexter totaled just 32 points in those three contests while battling foul trouble. Washington has rebounded nicely with two blowout wins on their rocking home floor in which the lanky forward has scored 52 points on 19/31 FG and 12/12 FT. Overall though, Pondexter’s senior season has been of the consistent variety, scoring 20.3 PPG and grabbing nearly eight boards per game while shooting 56% from the floor.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles…

Posted by zhayes9 on December 29th, 2009

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every Tuesday as the season progresses.

1. The most competitive conference in the land this season should spark the most competitive Player of the Year race come March. Top-seeded Kansas boasts three potential candidates once center Cole Aldrich starts to play with a more aggressive mentality on the offensive end. Senior point guard Sherron Collins has the skill set to explode come conference play and should provide the Jayhawks with more than one clutch play the season wears on. Freshman Xavier Henry has surpassed everyone’s expectations early in Lawrence as the Jayhawks early scoring leader. Nipping at the heels of #1 Kansas is #2 Texas and their all-time rebounder Damion James. James has exploded onto the scene the last week-plus with two masterful performances against North Carolina (25/15/4 stl on 8-22 FG) and Michigan State (23/13 on 10-18 FG). You’d be hard-pressed to find someone that argues James isn’t the current frontrunner for Big 12 POY and deserves definite consideration for first team All-America honors. Kansas State has been one of the bigger surprises in college basketball through the first month and a half behind sharp-shooting guard Jacob Pullen. The junior went on a tear recently scoring 28 in a big road win at UNLV then topping himself with 30 points at Alabama. In his last three games, Pullen has nailed an incredible 16 of his last 25 threes. Lurking in the shadows is Oklahoma State’s James Anderson (21.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG) and Iowa State forward Craig Brackins (17.5 PPG, 8.1 RPG) with Baylor’s Ekpe Ugoh and Oklahoma’s Willie Warren also making large impacts on their respective squads.

2. It’s fairly clear the top two teams in a weaker Pac-10 conference will be Washington behind Isaiah Thomas and Quincy Pondexter and California behind their big three of Jerome Randle, Theo Robertson and Patrick Christopher. While both teams have encountered their early season struggles, Washington knocking off an emotionally scarred Texas A&M squad at home Tuesday and California hanging in with Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse should convince most critics that those two will compete for the Pac-10 title. Prior to the season, many believed UCLA would be that third team in the Pac-10 to cause some damage and sneak into the NCAA field. But with a week that included wins over Tennessee, St. Mary’s and UNLV, it’s becoming quite evident that USC might very well be that team. Even with early season home defeats at the hands of Loyola Marymount and Nebraska and blowout losses at Texas and Georgia Tech, the Trojans are coming together behind newly-entrenched point guard Mike Gerrity and coach Kevin O’Neill. The two-time transfer Gerrity is already the Trojans leading scorer and far and away their best assist man. He won’t blow anyone away with flash and speed, but he knows how to run an offense and play the position with efficiency. A starting five of Gerrity, Nikola Vucevic, Alex Stepheson, Dwight Lewis and Marcus Johnson all of a sudden doesn’t look too shabby, does it?

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 17th, 2009

checkinginon

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

You all were waiting for it.  And it finally happened.

You may not have noticed due to the beer and football induced stupor you were in on Sunday, but the Big East had a pretty rough weekend. Louisville, Providence, DePaul, Notre Dame, Villanova, Cincinnati and Marquette all lost as the Big East went 7-7 over the course of Saturday and Sunday. That’s seven losses in two days from a league that had 20 losses over the first month of the season.  Throw in the losses that UConn and Pitt suffered in the Garden during the week, and nine different teams from the league lost this week.  The question now becomes, is this simply the Big East coming back down to earth – hey, they had to lose at some point, didn’t they – or is it a sign that the league is not quite as powerful as some of us speculated in the last few weeks?

Last season, the consensus was that the Big East was one of the strongest in the history of college basketball, but most of that strength was at the top of the league. Less than half of the teams in the Big East made the NCAA Tournament, but of the seven that did, five reached the Sweet 16, four made the Elite 8, and two reached the Final Four.  Can a league be one of the best even when 9 of the 16 teams don’t even qualify for the Big Dance?  Part of the reason there was so much hype regarding the Big East was that they started off so strong. At one point early in the year, nine teams were ranked in the top 25. Two teams that spent time in the top 10, Notre Dame and Georgetown, ended up missing the dance completely.

So, as any reasonable blogger would do, I’ll compare.  Last year on December 16th, the Big East was 116-28 as a league. This year? 119-29. That’s a one game difference in the loss column.  Crazy, right?  Now take into account the disastrous weekend the league just had, and it is pretty obvious that as of last Friday, the Big East was well beyond where they were at this same point last season, and last season the conference was considered one of the best ever.

There’s more.  Seven teams that got out to great starts last season fell way off as the year went along:

  • Seton Hall and St. John’s both started the season 8-1 before hitting a mid-year swoon and finishing 17-16 and 16-18, respectively. Both the Pirates and the Johnnies are much improved this season, and despite neither playing at full strength right now, St. John’s is 8-1 while Seton Hall is 8-0.
  • Notre Dame (7-2) and Georgetown (7-1 on Dec. 16th, 10-1 to start the season) both shot up the polls early in the season, but for a variety of reasons collapsed during the rigors of Big East play, finishing 21-15 and 16-15, respectively. Georgetown is 8-0 this season and once again approaching the top 10, while Notre Dame is 9-2.
  • Cincinnati started the year 7-2 and looked like a team that could compete for a bubble spot, but struggled during conference play as a result of their lack of balance offensively and finished 18-14. They are 6-2 this year and have much more help for Deonta Vaughn.
  • Providence looked like they could also compete for an at-large bid as they started the season 6-3. They are 7-4 this year, but don’t look like they will be a factor come March.

What does all this mean?  Could the Big East actually be better this season than it was last season?  Depends on what you mean by better.

No, they don’t have the same powerhouses at the top of the league. Sure, Syracuse, West Virginia and even Villanova and possibly Georgetown may compete for #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, but will three of those teams be #1 seeds? Not with Kansas, Kentucky, and Texas around.  But the Big East is deeper this season. Teams like Marquette, Louisville, Pitt and UConn, traditional Big East powers, are going to occupy the middle of the league standings. Seton Hall, South Florida, St. John’s, Cincinnati and DePaul, teams that have been consistently at the bottom of the league, also look to be middle of the pack teams.  Does that make it a better league?

Player of the Week: Greg Monroe, Georgetown. Monroe carried the Hoyas to a 2-0 week against top 25 teams. On Tuesday against Butler, he went for 24 points and grabbed 15 boards while dominating in the paint. On Saturday against Washington, Monroe was much more of a distributor, as he went for 15 points, 8 boards, and 6 assists while orchestrating the Hoya offense. The most impressive part of his week was that he was seamlessly able to move between the roles of being a dominant post presence and being a a guy that the Hoyas can run their intricate offense through. While I still believe he needs to be assertive in the post for Georgetown to reach their potential, his versatility makes you realize just how good of a basketball player he actually is.

Honor Roll

  • Jamel Jackson, Seton Hall – Jackson scored 40 points and hit 12 threes off the bench in a 134-107 win over VMI.
  • Kevin Jones, West Virginia – Keep an eye on this kid. He averaged 19 ppg and 10 rpg in a 2-0 week for the Mountaineers, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds.
  • Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame – Fresh off of a 31 point performance, Abromaitis averaged 20.5 ppg in a 1-1 week for the Irish. His ability to shoot, score, and take prressure off of Harangody will be a huge factor in the Irish success this season. Full disclosure – I’m biased, Abro is a product of the same AAU program as me.

Team of the Week: Syracuse Orange.

Syracuse gets the nod thanks to their win over Florida in the SEC/Big East challenge in a game played in Tampa. What can I say about the Orange that hasn’t already been said too many times? Their ability to create points off of turnovers is astounding for a zone team, they can shoot, they are big, and they have a star in Wes Johnson. The Orange are arguably the best team in the East.

POWER RANKINGS

1. Syracuse

Last Week: 12/10 vs. Florida 85-73; 12/13 vs. St. Francis NY 75-51

Next Week: 12/19 vs. St. Bonaventure

See above.

2. West Virginia

Last Week: 12/9 vs. Duquesne 68-39; 12/12 vs. Coppin State 69-43

Next Week: 12/19 @ Cleveland State

The Mountaineers just keep rolling along, as they have been playing suffocating defense, overwhelming smaller, less physical teams. If there has been a knock on WVU this year, it is that they are not the most efficient offensive team. That could change once Devin Ebanks starts playing better. As I mentioned above, Kevin Jones might be the most pleasant surprise in the league this side of Abromaitis.

3. Georgetown

Last Week: 12/8 vs. Butler 73-65; 12/12 vs. Washington 74-66

Next Week: 12/19 vs. Old Dominion

I’m not completely sold on the Hoyas yet, but you can’t argue with their performance thus far. In depth analysis here.

4. Villanova

Last Week: 12/9 @ St. Joe’s 97-89; 12/13 @ Temple 65-75

Next Week: 12/19 @ Fordham

While you never want to lose a game, dropping a game on the road against a Big 5 rival is not the worst loss in the world. As you should know, you can throw the records out when rivals play, and it also serves to note that Temple is not a terrible team this season. They were a Greg Monroe layup away from winning at Georgetown. Two things to be concerned about: Nova allowed 53 combined points from Juan Fernandez and Ryan Brooks, and Antonio Pena was out played (especially on the glass) by Lavoy Allen, who had 17 rebounds.

5. UConn

Last Week: 12/9 vs. Kentucky 61-64

Next Week: 12/20 vs. Central Florida; 12/22 vs. Maine

Tough to knock the Huskies after their loss to Kentucky. UConn is going to be up and down all season. Their success is going to be a result of their effort. When this team is hustling defensively, crashing the boards, and attacking in transition, they are going to be able to compete with anyone in the league. But when they get pushed around inside like they did against Duke, UConn will look like a NIT team.

6. Cincinnati

Last Week: 12/10 vs. Miami OH 63-59; 12/13 @ Xavier 79-83; 12/16 vs. UAB 64-47

Next Week: 12/19 vs. Lipscomb; 12/22 vs. Winthrop

Like Villanova, take the loss at Xavier with a grain of salt. Losing a double overtime dogfight on the road against your rival isn’t a bad loss. The bigger worry should be the Bearcats offensively. Cincy can bang inside with anyone in the country, and they really have embodied their coach by playing intense defense, but until they become a more efficient offensive team and figure out how to utilize talents like Lance Stephenson, Deonta Vaughn and Yancy Gates, they are going to suffer some losses like this.

7. Seton Hall

Last Week: 12/12 vs. VMI 134-107

Next Week: 12/19 vs. Temple; 12/22 vs. Navy

Its pretty obvious that the Pirates are going to be able to score with just about anyone, but how well they defend this year is going to be the determining factor in where they end up this season. This team has so much talent. You should know about guys like Eugene Harvey and Jeremy Hazell and Herb Pope, but how many teams in the country have a guy like Jamel Jackson on the bench, capable of scoring 40 in a game? Seton Hall will finally play at full strength when Keon Lawrence returns Dec. 19th.

8. St. John’s

Last Week: 12/9 vs. Georgia 66-56; 12/13 vs. Fordham 73-56

Next Week: 12/20 vs. Hofstra

DJ Kennedy is one of the most underrated players in the league, and have quite a few talented role players. When SJU finally gets Anthony Mason back (and that could be a few more weeks), this may be a team that can make the tournament.

9. Louisville

Last Week: 12/12 vs. Western Carolina 83-91; 12/16 vs. Oral Roberts 94-57

Next Week: 12/19 vs. Western Kentucky

Simply put, Louisville just isn’t playing well. Jerry Smith isn’t hitting threes, Terrence Jennings isn’t playing defense, and Samardo Samuels isn’t rebounding. Typical early season swoon for Louisville?

10. Pitt

Last Week: 12/12 vs. Kent State 71-59

Next Week: 12/19 vs. Mt. St. Mary’s

This isn’t your typical Pitt team, but getting Jermaine Dixon healthy and Gilbert Brown eligible will help this team get better offensively.

11. Marquette

Last Week: 12/12 @ Wisconsin 63-72

Next Week: 12/19 vs. North Florida

Marquette has now lost three of four before losing Jeronne Maymon, who left the team. Could that cost them Vander Blue as well? I’m not sure that the mismatches on the offensive end for Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler outweigh their ovewhelming lack of interior size.

12. Notre Dame

Last Week: 12/9 vs. IUPUI 93-70; 12/12 vs. Loyola D 85-87

Next Week: 12/19 vs. UCLA, 12/22 vs. Bucknell

Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough have been nice complimentary players for the Irish, but this group still needs to get better defensively on in the paint.

13. South Florida

Last Week: 12/12 vs. Central Michigan 56-59; 12/16 vs. Central Florida 69-65

Next Week: 12/19 vs. San Francisco; 12/20 vs. San Diego

I wonder how much the NCAA investigation (if there actually is one) will effect this team, that could get a boost from the return of PG Anthony Crater.

14. DePaul

Last Week: 12/10 vs. Mississippi State 45-76; 12/13 vs. Illinois Chicago 77-56; 12/16 vs. American 57-62

Next Week: 12/19 vs. Texas State

DePaul came back to earth when they played MSU. They really need to get Mac Kowshal back.

15. Rutgers

Last Week: 12/9 vs. Monmouth 66-52; 12/15 vs. Rider 80-70 OT

Next Week: 12/19 vs. NJIT; 12/22 vs. St. Peter’s

The Scarlet Knights may end up dropping down these rankings in the coming weeks as second leading scorer Gregory Echinique is out for eight weeks with an eye injury.

16. Providence

Last Week: 12/9 @ George Washington 110-97; 12/12 vs. Iona 73-82

Next Week: 12/21 vs. Yale

With guys like Greedy Peterson, Marshon Brooks and Sharaud Curry, the Friars can put up points. But defense and depth is going to be an issue all season long.

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ATB: Is Syracuse the Best Team in America?

Posted by rtmsf on December 11th, 2009

atb

Light Night. We’re more or less heading into Finals Week across the nation, and aside from a few interesting games here and there around the country, ATBs are going to be fairly light for a while.  There’s no exams at RTC, though, so we’ll continue to keep you updated even as you head to the eggnog bowl for the third time this evening… but we’re not counting.

syracuse florida

Is Syracuse the Best Team in America? Syracuse 85, Florida 73. It’s a fair question.  Of the top 6-8 teams, all of whom are unbeaten so far this season, does any team have as impressive of a resume as double-digit wins over Cal, UNC and now Florida?  Doubtful.  And so long as the Cuse is getting unbelievable efficiency at the offensive end (#1 in eFG% and two-point FG%), it’s unlikely that they’re going to lose many games this year.  We talked about it back at the CvC, but there seems to be something about this Orange team — that little something extra — that makes them special, and maybe that’s why we continue to see Jim Boeheim smiling so much these days.  Tonight Syracuse had two players with dub-dubs in Rick Jackson (21/11) and Wesley Johnson (17/10) to withstand the Florida runs keyed by some deep three-point shooting in timely spots (12-30).  Kenny Boynton (20/7 assts) and Erving Walker (14/6 assts) had nice games for the Gators, but the starting UF frontcourt was virtually nonexistent on offense (18 pts) and downright bad on defense (outrebounded by twelve), which is something Billy Donovan’s team is going to face as a problem all season.  Syracuse moves on to another trio of easy home games, but a date at rising Seton Hall on 12/29 looms as another big test for Jim Boeheim’s team, who we believe may just be the best team in America right now.

SEC/Big East Invitational.  The Invitational ended at 2-2, with two good games and two terrible games over the two nights.  If this thing ever wants to be taken seriously, the organizers really need to sack up and get a 10-12 team event over two or three nights.  What’s the problem with that format?

  • Mississippi State 76, DePaul 54. This was a terrible mismatching of teams, and we’re wondering what was going through the heads of the people who chose this game as a featured matchup between conferences, but MSU dominated DePaul from the opening tip tonight and never let up throughout.  The Blue Demons were held to 28% shooting by the staunch MSU defense, and in a weird coincidence, all three of DePaul’s losses have come at the hands of SEC teams so far this year (ed. note: there will be more).   Jarvis Varnado had 12/14, while four other Bulldogs reached double figures in the blowout win.

Other Games of National Interest.

  • #14 Michigan State 88, Oakland 57. Here’s all you need to know about this game. MSU held Oakland’s Johnathan Jones to a mere two assists.  JJ was only the nation’s leading assist leader last season at 8.1 per game (and coming into tonight at 6.0 APG this year), and the MSU defense completely shut him down.  The Spartans got 19/12 from Draymond Green, and Kalin Lucas chipped in with 19/4 assts in an effort that Tom Izzo had to be pleased with tonight.  Oakland’s Keith Benson had 21/11 in the losing effort.
  • #19 Cincinnati 63, Miami (OH) 59. Someone explain how Miami can take Kentucky and Cincy to the wire, yet lose to Towson and Louisiana Tech?  The interesting thing about this game is that UC’s Lance Stephenson had his best game of his young career with 17/8/3 assts/3 stls.  Stephenson is exhibiting a well-rounded game during his last couple, and that means nothing good for the rest of the Big East if he starts to take off.
  • Colorado State 77, Colorado 62.  Cory Higgins had a miserable evening, shooting 1-10 and 0-4 from deep, finishing with 11 points, a full ten points under his average.  CSU got a key Mountain West victory over a Big 12 team for the first time this season, as Travis Franklin had 22/10 in the victory.
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Checking In On… The Big East

Posted by jstevrtc on December 2nd, 2009

checkinginon

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

Despite the holiday, loyal readers of RTC may have noticed something missing last week.

Where was Checking in on the Big East?  Without BIAH waxing poetic about the happenings within the nation’s biggest conference, how were you able function?

For that, I must apologize.  But, you see, it wasn’t all my fault.  For starters, the editors at RTC are ruthless.  Not only did they have me traveling up and down the eastern seaboard during the busiest travel weekend of the year, they forced me to cover the semifinals and finals of the Preseason NIT for RTC Live.

Brutal, those guys.  I guess that’s why they pay me the big bucks.

Anyway, I probably could have found the time to put together a recap for you, but apparently grandmas don’t realize that having dial-up isn’t the same as having the internet.  Old folks, you gotta love ‘em.  She made me a mean Thanksgiving leftover sandwich as a peace offering.  She’s not all bad, that one.  I forgave her, just like I hope you all will forgive me.

Back to the point, since we have a lot to go over, and seeing as the first few weeks of the college hoops season are a bit hectic, the structure of this post is going to be a bit different than future posts.  But never fear, as your trusty Big East expert is here to guide you through it.  So tuck the children in, strap on your seat belts, and, well, you tell them, B.B…

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