Morning Five: 02.28.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 28th, 2014


  1. With the season winding down, UCLA appears to be looking at a fairly high seed (we have seen anywhere from 4-7 in brackets), but we have to wonder about them going forward after Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, the team’s two best players were suspended for last night’s game against Oregon. The outcome of last night’s game isn’t nearly as important as the suspensions–one game each for “violating team rules”. That could certainly mean a lot of things, but it has to make you wonder about the mindset of Anderson (14.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game) and Adams (17.2 points per game) heading into March.
  2. It has been a few weeks since we had heard much about the North Carolina academic scandal so we were a bit surprised to see that Business Week had decided to make it this week’s cover story. For those who have followed this story there is not anything particularly shocking in the story, but it will only serve to further damage the school’s reputation. At this point it seems unlikely that either the NCAA or any governing body will take significant action against the school and you can argue that print media is dying, but having that cover on newsstands across the world certainly won’t help North Carolina’s brand.
  3. For the Tar Heel fans who might be feeling a little down after yet another mainstream media source took a shot at the school for their handle of the academic scandal, Grantland has a feature on a topic–the 2005 title team–that should serve as a way to perk you up. Except that it is about how the key players on that team failed to live up to expectations. We don’t mind to pile on Tar Heel fans today, but it is an interesting topic particularly when you consider that you can make a strong case for that team being one of the top teams since 2000. Oh, and if you want to know if Illinois fans are still upset about losing that title game check out the comment section.
  4. Bill Self might not want to play Wichita State, but that does not mean he does not appreciate what they are doing. When asked about the Shockers, Self reiterated his stance that he would continue to schedule games to help his program not others. This certainly won’t endear him to Wichita State fans, but Self did come out in support of the Shockers as a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they are undefeated when Selection Sunday rolls around. Honestly, we don’t understand how anybody could believe that the Selection Committee would pass on an undefeated team much less one that made it to the Final Four last year (yes, we know the last part shouldn’t matter).
  5. By now you should know that we basically link Luke Winn’s Power Rankings almost every week. It’s not that Luke pays us (that would be a nice gift though), but it is because it is one of the few columns that we learn something new from every week. This week the two things that jump out at us are the block matrix that Luke created and how Xavier Thames‘ usage and production has decreased recently. The part of the block matrix that jumped out at us is how underrated Chris Obekpa is as a defender. He won’t generate the headlines that Joel Embiid does mainly because of Obekpa’s limited offensive repertoire, but these numbers suggest that he might be able to find his way onto a NBA roster some day. As for Thames, being on the East Coast we do not get to see as much of him as we would like, but the graph showing his drop in usage and production is instructive if you are trying to figure out what is wrong with San Diego State.
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O26 Game of the Week: SDSU at The Pit, Gonzaga-BYU, Others…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 19th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

San Diego State (22-2) at New Mexico (19-5) – 10:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday

This game — this week — is a huge one for New Mexico. If it can avenge an early loss to UNLV tonight in Las Vegas, Craig Neal’s team will return home on Saturday with a chance to pull even with San Diego State atop the Mountain West standings and solidify itself as an NCAA Tournament lock. Up to this point, the only major feather in the Lobos’ cap is a win over Cincinnati back in early December, so beating the Aztecs this weekend would not only shake up the conference race, it would also carry serious resume-boosting implications. Not to mention bragging rights in a match-up that features two of the best fan bases west of the Mississippi.

Kendall Williams and the Lobos  welcome San Diego State to the Pit on Saturday. (Eric Draper The Associated Press)

Kendall Williams and the Lobos welcome San Diego State to the Pit on Saturday. (Eric Draper The Associated Press)

In fact, considering how closely matched the game is on paper, New Mexico’s 15,000-plus screaming fans might very well become a deciding factor when it’s all said and done. According to KenPom, the Lobos are pegged as the slight favorites with a win probability of 54 percent, a figure that will dip considerably when they head to San Diego in early March. But first they get to host the Aztecs in The Pit, their menacing, subterranean arena in which they boast an all-time winning mark well over 80 percent. Not many visiting teams escape unscathed. For San Diego State fans, the silver lining is this: Steve Fisher units have gone an admirable 6-8 in the daunting stadium since he took over in 1999.

Of course, the outcome will ultimately be decided on the court, and there, each team will have distinct advantages. For New Mexico, the ability to get interior scoring from its imposing frontcourt duo of Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow will be critical. The big men combined to average 36 points and 15 rebounds in the Lobos’ two victories over the Aztecs last year; in the one loss, they mustered just two points and nine boards total. Paint production will be especially important considering that opposing guards Xavier Thames and Winston Shepard are stingy perimeter defenders, capable of minimizing Kendall Williams’ usually-considerable offensive production. San Diego State, meanwhile, hopes to continue playing the excellent team defense that has limited opponents to around 0.94 points per possession this season, good for 17th in the country. They are long, fast, physical and will suffocate teams that are ill-prepared. On the other end, the Aztecs are led by the gifted Thames — who’s likely to win Mountain West Player of the Year — and the team-wide ability to garner second-chance looks by crashing the offensive glass. Forwards Josh Davis and J.J. O’Brien must out-bang the sizable New Mexico frontcourt if San Diego State hopes to generate enough offense to survive Albuquerque. The game will be high-stakes and high-energy, so flip to The Deuce and check it out when Saturday night rolls around.

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We Salute You: Paying Homage to the Nation’s Undefeated Teams in League Play

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on February 6th, 2014

Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is a national columnist for Rush The Court and spent way too much time on these articles.

With the calendar turned to February and the meat of conference play upon us, the most dominant and least effective teams are showing their colors against equal competition. And with the halfway point of conference season rapidly approaching for many – and already here for others – now is a good time to take stock of both teams that are undefeated in conference and those who have yet to win. Tuesday’s installment took a look at the less fortunate teams among us, ranked from least likely to most to not win a game in conference play. Today, we do the same, but with the 10 teams still undefeated in conference play.

Note: All statistics dutifully harvested from

Syracuse (22-0, 9-0 Atlantic Coast Conference)

Jim Boeheim has done a masterful job managing his lineup. But will the grind of the ACC season catch up to the Orange? (Getty)

Jim Boeheim has done a masterful job managing his lineup. But will the grind of the ACC season catch up to the Orange? (Getty)

  • Odds: 1.8 percent chance to go undefeated
  • Most likely losses: Feb. 22 at Duke, 67 percent; March 1 at Virginia, 59 percent
  • Biggest strength: Top 10 offense; defensively, second in block rate and steal rate
  • Achilles’ heel: Middle-of-the-road free-throw shooting
  • Key player: Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis (12.1 points per game, 5.6 assists per game, 2.3 steals per game; plays more of his team’s minutes than any other power conference freshman)
  • Outlook: Syracuse’s chances of going undefeated are not equal to their chances of beating the teams on this list. (In fact, I’d take the Orange in each match-up, and I hope that the team most likely to go undefeated and this Syracuse squad end up facing off in the NCAA Tournament, because that would be one hell of a game.) But the Orange still have to go into Cameron Indoor Stadium to face a Duke team that took them to overtime in Syracuse in an instant classic this past weekend. They also have to travel to Virginia and former Big East rival Pittsburgh in the regular season, which are the three toughest away games on their entire schedule. Syracuse has played a grind-it-out slow tempo this season, its seventh straight in which its pace of play has slowed down, going from 27th in tempo in 2007-08 to 344th of 351 teams in 2013-14. That slow tempo lets coach Jim Boeheim play six to seven players regularly, and his starters have played tons of minutes, which could be a big problem as the season drags on or, heaven forbid, a core player gets hurt.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 4th, 2014

It’s the first week in February, and we’re basically halfway through the conference season (believe it or not). So for the most part this week, our Mountain West check-in will be a review of the season to this point combined with  look forward, while just touching on a handful of stories from this past week.

First, the conference race. San Diego State remains atop the standings without a blemish in conference play. They’re ranked fifth in the nation and in the RTC25 and in strong contention for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But New Mexico has just one conference loss and still has two games with the Aztecs remaining on its schedule. A game back of those two, you’ll find the surprise team of conference play – Nevada – sitting at 7-2. How this makes any sense is still unclear as the Wolf Pack were terrible in non-conference play and have looked every bit of their record in conference; they can no longer be regarded as fluky. Despite Nevada’s successful run in conference play, the line for serious contention for at-large consideration in this conference is drawn right between the Lobos and the Wolf Pack. Right now New Mexico looks like a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team; whereas everybody south of the #2 spot in the conference probably needs to win the Mountain West Tournament to get a bid.

Steve Fisher, San Diego State

Steve Fisher Has His Aztecs Atop The Mountain West Standings And Again Inside the National Top Five. (Gus Ruelas/AP)

As for awards, Coach of the Year is the easy one – Steve Fisher is not only the heavy favorite to win the MW Coach of the Year award, but he’s probably the favorite nationally as well. Despite a less than favorable finish in our ranking of Mountain West coaches last week, Nevada’s David Carter really does deserve at least some consideration.

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Award Tour: Doug McDermott Blowing Away the NPOY Competition

Posted by Jameson Fleming on January 31st, 2014


Jameson Fleming is an RTC columnist who also works for as the site’s social media editor. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesonFleming.

Michigan State was so close to landing a player in this week’s Award Tour rankings, but Gary Harris struggled in a loss to Michigan. His day will come… eventually. Providence’s Bryce Cotton and Ed Cooley are also very close to making their debuts on the watch lists as well. Cotton is an ironman who has carried the Friars after taking over as the point guard, while Cooley has kept the team moving forward after a rough start to conference play. Andrew Wiggins is quickly turning into the player everyone expected before the season — he was never bad or mediocre, just not a stud – until now. After 27 points against TCU and 29 more against Iowa State, Maple Jordan is rounding into form as Kansas’ second Big 12 Player of the Year candidate. Pitt’s Lamar Patterson struggled against Duke, but he’ll have several more chances in the coming weeks to prove he’s an ACC Player of the Year candidate.

Player of the Year

Thanks to some outstanding play of late, Justin Jackson (left), Xavier Thames, and Nick Stauskas are all in the POY discussion.

Thanks to some outstanding play of late, Justin Jackson (left), Xavier Thames, and Nick Stauskas are all in the POY discussion.

10. Justin Jackson – Cincinnati. Last Week: Not Ranked
2013-14 stats: 11.1 PPG, 7 RPG, 3.3 BPG, 107.5 oRTG

Justin Jackson isn’t going to wow anyone offensively. He can score a few buckets here and there, be a playmaker occasionally, and draw a lot of fouls. So why did he make the Player of the Year rankings? He’s a dominant defender and rebounder. Jackson is arguably the best player on a Cincinnati team that is now 20-2 with wins at Louisville, at Memphis, Pittsburgh and SMU. He’s the only player in the top 50 in the country in block AND steal rate according to KenPom, and his late steal against Louisville helped seal an impressive victory in the KFCYum! Center against the Cardinals.

9. Xavier Thames – San Diego State. Last Week: Not Ranked
2013-14 stats: 17.5 PPG, 2.7 APG, 121.6 oRTG

Xavier Thames has emerged as San Diego State’s top player after spending three years toiling in mediocrity thanks to poor shooting and turnovers. But as a senior, Thames has become a much more efficient scorer and distributor. He’s the main reason why the Aztecs could overcome huge personnel losses and improve from last year’s NCAA round of 32 squad.

8. Joel Embiid – Kansas. Last Week: 9
2013-14 stats: 11.3 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.7 BPG, 113.6 oRTG

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode X

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on January 29th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Michigan Proving the Doubters Wrong

No team in America had a better month of January than the Michigan Wolverines. Since the calendar flipped to 2014, Michigan has reeled off seven consecutive wins to start Big Ten play and has won nine straight since a two-point home loss to No. 1 Arizona on December 14. Of those seven wins, an astounding four have come on the road in ridiculously tough environments. Seriously, who wins at Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State in just over a three-week span? Michigan has established itself as a Big Ten contender with a pretty favorable schedule the rest of the way. How have the Wolverines done it? Offense. Believe it or not, Michigan’s 2013-14 adjusted offensive efficiency is greater than the number posted by last year’s Trey Burke-led squad that reached the national championship game. A lot of that can be attributed to the increase in fouls called this season, but it is impressive nonetheless. The Wolverines are shooting the ball fantastically, putting up at least 71 points in all but one of their Big Ten games. Derrick Walton Jr.’s growth has been fun to watch, encapsulated in the and-one that essentially won the game at Michigan State last Saturday. Nik Stauskas’ game speaks for itself and he should be in the running for the National Player of the Year award. Yes, national. (Side note: I love how a guy like Stauskas can back up his trash talk and swag with his game on the court. There are some guys who just run their mouths for the heck of it but Stauskas actually backs it up on the floor. I have no problem with that whatsoever.) Glenn Robinson III has emerged as a steady presence and a fairly reliable scorer behind Stauskas, something that needed to happen for Michigan to take the next step.

Nik Stauskas is leading the way for the red-hot Michigan offense. (USA TODAY Sports)

Nik Stauskas is leading the way for the red-hot Michigan offense. (USA TODAY Sports)

I am a bit concerned about Michigan’s defense which is allowing an adjusted 105.3 points per 100 possessions in Big Ten play, good for eighth in a 12-team league. The Wolverines’ interior defense is not good at all and that’s the place where they miss Mitch McGary the most. That said, all the talk about McGary having such a negative effect on this team was a bunch of hot air from the media who became obsessed with him after last year’s NCAA Tournament. The fact is McGary bogged down Michigan’s offense (without Trey Burke feeding him) in addition to being not 100 percent healthy. We’ve seen the results without him and you cannot tell me Michigan isn’t better. Michigan has been criminally underrated all year long because of the McGary injury combined with a few close losses to very good teams. May I remind you of what I wrote in this very column a week before Christmas. Michigan has always been a factor and it has hit its stride against a strong schedule. The Wolverines are here to stay but really, they never went anywhere. Michigan has been at least top 20 good all year long, now it is a top 10 caliber team.

Do Not Sleep on Louisville

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Morning Five: 01.24.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 24th, 2014


  1. Minnesota got some relatively good news yesterday when Andre Hollins was diagnosed with what has been described as a “severe ankle sprain” after x-rays and later a MRI on his left ankle came back negative. A “severe ankle sprain” might not sound like good news on the surface, but with the way Hollins went down it would not have been unreasonable to think he might have broken a bone or suffered significant ligament damage. Instead, Hollins will be evaluated daily according to the coaching staff and has not been ruled out of their game against Nebraska on Sunday. Given how easy the Gophers upcoming schedule is and how important Hollins is to the team it would seem like they would be more likely to give him more time to recover.
  2. At this point we are not sure if we are going to see this Michigan State team completely healthy the rest of this season. It seems like as soon as they are about to get back to full strength. The latest addition to the injury list is Branden Dawson, who broke a bone in his left hand after slamming it into a table during a film session. Dawson claims that he was upset at himself and in particular at comments that Dan Dakich had made about the team’s effort. The long bright spot for the Spartans with this injury is that Dawson is only expected to be out for 4-5 weeks, which means he should be back in time for March.
  3. Yesterday, the US Basketball Writers Association released its Oscar Robertson Trophy Midseason Watch List that features what the USBWA considers the top 23 players in the country. As you might expect this list is fairly similar to the one put out by the Wooden Award the day before. The one notable inclusion in this group is Xavier Thames, who has been putting up ridiculous advanced metric numbers, but has been largely ignored because he plays at San Diego State. Other than Thames the list also has most of the same snubs as the Wooden list and like the Wooden list it also does not eliminate players from postseason consideration for awards.
  4. Kentucky basketball tickets are among the most coveted in all of college basketball so it should come as no surprise that somebody is reportedly trying to make money off counterfeit tickets. According to reports, Lexington police are investigating a woman’s claim that she was sold counterfeit tickets to Tuesday night’s game against Texas A&M. Lexington police have already identified an individual that they would like to question about the case.
  5. We have no idea how this even became a controversy, but yesterday Nik Stauskas apologized for comments that his father made about Nik potentially turning pro after the season. Nik’s father, Paul, had recently told that there was a “really good possibility” that Nik might enter the NBA Draft after this season. At this point we would consider Stauskas as a borderline first round pick so while he might enter this year’s Draft it is too early for him to be thinking about it and way too early for him or his family to talk about it. While this is a different circumstance than the one that Russ Smith’s father put him in after the NCAA Championship Game it follows a similar pattern of a family member deciding to use some of his or her son’s fame to get a little bit of media attention too.
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Morning Five: 01.23.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 23rd, 2014


  1. The case of Bubu Palo is one of the more unique ones that we can remember. Palo was charged with second-degree sexual assault in May 2012, but the charges were eventually dropped. Iowa State’s Office of Judicial Affairs determined that Palo had violated student conduct rules and he was dismissed from the team. Last week a district court ruled that Palo should be able to rejoin the team. Now Iowa’s attorney general, on behalf of school’s Board of Regents, filed a motion to essentially prevent Palo from rejoining the team. Palo’s case will likely be heard by Iowa’s Supreme Court as the Board of Regents is claiming that the district court decision essentially stripped the school of its power to decide who can represent its university. There have been several other cases like this (Dez Wells and Michael Dixon come to mind), but we cannot remember one where the school had to go to such extreme lengths to prevent a player from coming back to a team.
  2. In the past few weeks we have seen quite a few coaches have loud outbursts both on and off the court. This is nothing new and coming at this point in the season it should not be too surprising. What is new is the contrition that some coaches are showing. John Groce is only the latest example to come out and apologize for his outburst. And he is not alone as Frank Martin, Fran McCaffery, and others have come out in the past month and publicly apologized for their outbursts some of which may have cost their teams games. Are we seeing a kinder, gentler coach or just a more politically correct one?
  3. Yesterday the Wooden Award Advisory Board released its Midseason Top 25 featuring the front-runners for the end of the year award. The usual suspects are on there (McDermott, Parker, etc.), but most of the focus for lists like this is on who got snubbed. In this case, the names that jump out are Nik StauskasGary Harris, and Joel Embiid not to mention Xavier Thames and Sean Kilpatrick. We have no idea how anybody could put together a group of the 25 best players in the country and not include those five, but the one saving grace of this list is that being absent from it doesn’t eliminate the players from consideration for end of the season awards.
  4. As we have pointed out before the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week award continues to confuse us as it has been almost exclusively awarded to players who have no shot of receiving any postseason honors. Obviously this award is meant to reflect a single week’s work rather than a season’s contribution, but it is striking to see that just two of the seven winners (Doug McDermott and DeAndre Kane) this season will even be in contention for any national honors at at the end of the season. This week’s winner was Naadir Tharpe, who at this point is not even assured of having his starting point guard job secure at Kansas.
  5. We are not sure what to make of Mark Titus’ newest power rankings. Gone is the usual ridiculous non sequiturs and instead we have an interesting set of rankings that is backed up by actual analysis (still a little light on the numbers). The thing is looking at these rankings it is pretty clear how big of a mess it is after the top two teams because we would totally rearrange the next ten spots on the list, but we don’t necessarily have any significant issues with Titus’ rankings because we can see his reasoning too.
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Let’s Open the Wooden Watch List’s Doors Just a Bit Wider

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 22nd, 2014

Earlier today, the Los Angeles Athletic Club released its Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 list, a veritable collection of this season’s top performers who are in the running for the sport’s highest individual honor. While the organization got most of the list right, this is sports coverage in 2014, so the proper response to the released list is to immediately poke holes in it and state cases for those who were overlooked. Of course, the way the season is shaping up, this might just serve as a list of Doug McDermott and the players he soundly beat on the way to taking Wooden Award honors in “The Year Of The Freshman.” But if the purpose of the list is to acknowledge players based on their performance thus far this season, there are five who deserve more consideration than they were granted by the LAAC.

Lamar Patterson has led Pitt all season and his Panthers are in first place. That isn't enough for Wooden Watch List spot? (Charles LeClaire/USA Today)

Lamar Patterson has led Pitt all season and his Panthers are in first place in the ACC. That isn’t enough for a Wooden Watch List spot? (Charles LeClaire/USA Today)

  • Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh: 17.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.4 SPG, 122.8 ORtg, 59.8% eFG, 44.3% 3FG – It seems like everything about the Panthers this season has been criminally underrated, including its star forward. The senior has had just one bad game all season long (November 12 against Fresno State), and on the rare occasion when he isn’t an efficient scorer, he still finds ways to help Jamie Dixon’s offense.
  • Joel Embiid, Kansas: 11.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 2.8 BPG, 67.9% FG, 115.3 ORtg, 68.4% eFG, 12.7% BLK – The Cameroonian freshman exploded onto the scene early in the season, and depending on whom you ask (as well as what time it is), is the leading prospect to be selected with the top pick in this June’s NBA Draft. With Tarik Black combating foul trouble and Perry Ellis fighting inconsistency on a regular basis, it’s tough to picture where the Jayhawks would be if not for its stud rookie center.

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Checking in On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 8th, 2014

After the slowdown around the holidays, the Mountain West is back in full swing. Conference play is underway; everybody has played at least one game against a conference opponent; and San Diego State ended non-conference play on a big high, scoring a thoroughly impressive win at Kansas over the weekend. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s jump right in, after recognizing that right now we have Air Force and Nevada – two teams we have been making fun of all season – tied atop the conference standings with 2-0 records.

Team of the Week

Behind Player Of The Week Xavier Thames, The Aztecs Are Outperforming Their Expectations (Kent Horner, Getty Images)

Behind Player Of The Week Xavier Thames, The Aztecs Are Outperforming Their Expectations (Kent Horner, Getty Images)

San Diego State – The Aztecs got conference play underway well by going on the road to Colorado State, getting a good early start, and then maintaining a solid lead the rest of the way. Then on Sunday, they capped off a dream day for San Diego sports fans, backing up the Chargers’ playoff win with a win of their own at Allen Fieldhouse. They’re not a perfect team, but this squad likes each other, works exceedingly well together, and Steve Fisher is getting every last drop out of it in what is turning out to be yet another masterful coaching job. While we maybe have been a step behind on fully believing in this team, those days are over; the Aztecs are the clear favorite in the Mountain West.

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