Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 30th, 2010

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

A Look Back:

The ACC looks out of sorts right now.  Duke is the only undefeated team remaining (to put that in perspective, the Big East has seven undefeated teams and even the normally middling SEC has two unbeaten teams left); the conference is fifth in the RPI (behind the Mountain West, no less); and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge is shaping up to fall to the Big Ten for the second straight year.  Admittedly, the strongest teams in the ACC have lost to respectable top 25 foes; the RPI is shoddy this early, since it’s still nearly impossible to judge strength of schedule; and the matchups in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge favor the ACC enough where it should be an actual challenge as to which conference will win.

Team of the Week

Say hello to the Virginia Cavaliers.  Yes, the same team I slated ninth last week just overcame a ten-point halftime deficit to shock upstart Minnesota on the road.  That’s a huge road win for the ACC in the Challenge (especially considering no one picked Virginia to even make this a game).  The Golden Gophers were ranked 13th and 15th in the Coaches’ and AP polls, respectively, coming into Monday night’s contest.  The Cavaliers were led by seniors Mustapha Farrakhan (23 points, 4-5 from three), Mike Scott (17 points, 12 rebounds), and freshman Joe Harris (24 points, 4-6 from three).  Tony Bennett showed his team might not be the most talented squad in the ACC, but they can surprise some people.

Player of the Week

Kyrie Irving had a phenomenal week.  He totally shut down All-American Jacob Pullen on the defensive end, while offensively he finished with 17 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists.  Irving has a quick first step and the ability to create his own shot, which combines with very good court vision (especially for a freshman) to make him virtually unguardable.  He can shoot the three, get to the bucket, or collapse the zone while dishing it to an open teammate with relative ease.  Expect to see his name here multiple times this season.

Power Rankings

  1. Duke (6-0): Duke showed off a dominant performance against Kansas State to start the week.  As mentioned before, Irving was phenomenal.  Five Duke players finished in double figures, and the game never felt in question despite subpar performances from seniors Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith.  This Duke team has a ton of offensive weapons.  Especially when the threes start to fall, the Blue Devils put up points in a hurry.  Huge game this Wednesday against Michigan State.
  2. Florida State (5-1): Florida State lost a closely contested game to Florida at home this week.  Not surprisingly, the Seminoles’ offense was the root of their troubles: they finished shooting an ugly 33% from the field and 55% from the charity stripe.  Defensively, they held an explosive Gator team to under 40% from the floor.  They’ll need to score more than 50 points if they want to beat Ohio State this Tuesday night, but watch out if Chris Singleton can get this offense into a rhythm.
  3. Clemson (5-1): The Tigers needed overtime to take care of a pesky Seton Hall team in the Virgin Islands, but the bigger concern is on the glass.  Clemson has only averaged 32.2 rebounds a game (good for 287th in Division I), and they play at a pretty good pace.  While they might not need a dominant rebounding performance to beat Michigan, they’ll need to improve before conference play rolls around.
  4. Maryland (5-2): After a tough 2kSports Classic, the Terrapins enjoyed a light week, taking care of Delaware State and Elon.  Elon kept it a little close for comfort after a slow start, but a dominating 24 points and 13 rebounds from Jordan Williams sealed the deal.  Maryland really needs Sean Mosley to step into a more involved role: last year, he averaged more points, more rebounds and less turnovers.  It’s tough to lose a player like Greivis Vasquez (who used 30.6% of Maryland possessions last season), but as this team matures, players should find their respective roles.
  5. N.C. State (4-1): The Wolfpack are still without Tracy Smith.  Smith’s role on this team cannot be understated: he’s the best rebounder, senior leader, and first offensive option for an otherwise very young team.  Not having Smith really showed down the stretch as Georgetown took over the finals of the Charleston Classic (not to mention in the nine rebound advantage).  Smith is supposed to come back in the middle of December, and N.C. State will be a very different team when he does.
  6. Virginia Tech (4-2): The Hokies sport two quality losses (Kansas State and UNLV), but they weren’t all that competitive in either game.  So far, Seth Greenberg’s squad relies too heavily on Malcolm Delaney and hasn’t shown the ability to give him the support he needs to be successful.  They have a real measuring-stick game at home against Purdue this week.  This team has played a tougher schedule than last year’s “snubbed” squad, but they haven’t capitalized on any of the opportunities.
  7. Virginia (4-3): Despite Sammy Zeglinski’s injury Tony Bennett’s squad got the first quality win of the season at Minnesota.  Don’t think this punched a ticket to the Big Dance (or even the NIT), but it’s a great sign for the Cavaliers going forward.
  8. North Carolina (4-2): North Carolina continues to underachieve.  The Tar Heels were only up six on the University of North Carolina-Asheville with five minutes to play, and then barely eked out a win over the College of Charleston Sunday.  Both games were at home.  So far, no one has stepped up as the leader of this team.  Tyler Zeller looks like the most likely candidate right now, but he needs to be much more aggressive if he’s going to be the go-to guy this season (and avoid nagging injuries).  There is plenty of talent to be found, but someone needs to take over and make this his team.
  9. Boston College (4-2): Boston College rebounded with wins against Texas A&M and Cal, but lost to a talented Wisconsin team.  The Eagles seem to be getting more and more comfortable with Steve Donahue’s style, but they are far from perfect.
  10. Georgia Tech (4-2): The Yellow Jackets played two impressive games this week.  After beating a talented UTEP team they took a (slightly overrated) Syracuse team down to the wire.  Paul Hewitt has got talent this year in Brian Oliver and Iman Shumpert.  Now he only has to coach that talent to its potential.
  11. Miami (4-2): The Hurricanes are a mixed bag.  Maybe the team is too caught up in Randy Shannon’s recent firing.  But I expected Durand Scott to be much more of a factor.  They definitely should move up in the rankings as the season progresses, but the big three of Malcolm Grant, Scott and Reggie Johnson (who admittedly is averaging a very solid 12 points and 10.5 rebounds a game) will be expected to really step up.  This week the Hurricanes get tests against Mississippi and West Virginia this week.
  12. Wake Forest (3-3): The Demon Deacons took care of Marist, but dropped a game at home to Winthrop. Tuesday night’s game against Big Ten cellar-dweller Iowa will not be for the faint of heart.

A Look Ahead to the ACC — Big 10 Challenge (predictions included)

Monday

  • 7:00PM Virginia at Minnesota: Minnesota (1-0, Big 10)

**Author’s Note: Virginia already won this game, but I’d be lying through my teeth if I said I picked Virginia.

Tuesday

  • 7:00PM Iowa at Wake Forest: Wake Forest (1-1)
  • 7:00PM Georgia Tech at Northwestern: Northwestern (2-1, Big 10)
  • 7:30PM Ohio State at Florida State: Ohio State (3-1, Big 10)
  • 9:00PM Michigan at Clemson: Clemson (3-2, Big 10)
  • 9:30PM North Carolina at Illinois: North Carolina (3-3)

Upset alert: look for North Carolina to at least temporarily find themselves on the road at Illinois.

Wednesday

  • 7:15PM Indiana at Boston College: Boston College (4-3, ACC)
  • 7:15PM N.C. State at Wisconsin: Wisconsin (4-4)
  • 7:30PM Purdue at Virginia Tech: Purdue (5-4, Big 10)
  • 9:15PM Maryland at Penn State: Maryland (5-5)
  • 9:30PM Michigan State at Duke: Duke (6-5, ACC)

Call me a homer, but I like the ACC to win the challenge.  Especially since Virginia was able to steal a win on the road Monday night.  The games to keep an eye on now are Ohio State – Florida State, North Carolina – Illinois, Purdue – Virginia Tech and Michigan State – Duke.  No games are gimmes for either conference (as Virginia proved), so it should be another great year of the Challenge.  Don’t forget to tune in for a couple of the games, though I’d suggest looking for games taking place outside of Winston-Salem.

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Checking in on… the MWC

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 30th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 conferences.

A Look Back

After a strong early start to the season for the Mountain West as a whole, the wheat has begun to separate from the chaff. Utah and Colorado State gave the first hint this week that they may be pretenders rather than contenders, while BYU and UNLV posted early-season tournament wins, proving their qualifications for being considered among the favorites in the conference. While it was BYU and San Diego State who were considered 1 and 1-A (not necessarily in that order) coming into the season, the Runnin’ Rebels have thrown their hat into the ring and it looks like, as November winds its way down, we could have tri-favorites come conference play, with New Mexico, and waiting-to-be-eligible transfer Drew Gordon, a step or two back.

On a larger scale, the biggest news in the conference this week was the announcement on Monday that TCU would be joining the Big East beginning with the 2012-13 season. While obviously a huge deal on the football side of the equation, frankly the loss of the Horned Frogs basketball program will hardly register much notice. However, for the overall health of the conference, this is a major setback. Basically the conference has traded BYU, Utah and TCU for Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada. While the three newcomers are very good collegiate sports programs, the overall strength of the conference has taken a step back since mid-summer.

Team of the Week: UNLV – It’s not that we didn’t know that the Rebels were going to be good this season, it’s just that they had some questions that needed answering first. We wondered about their three-point shooting ability and they’ve shown us that they are a more consistent three-point shooting team this season than last (despite the loss of sharp-shooter Kendall Wallace for the season to a torn ACL). We wondered about their interior play and Kansas transfer Quintrell Thomas has shown, when capable of staying out of foul trouble, an ability to defend the post, rebound well on both ends of the floor, and even score with some efficient posts moves. Following a pretty impressive run through a merely average field in the 76 Classic, this Rebel team seems poised to compete for a MWC crown.

Player of the Week: Jimmer Fredette (Senior), BYU – While UNLV’s Chace Stanback took down the Most Outstanding Player hardware at the 76 Classic, Fredette gets the nod in this space in part due to two game-winning plays in a couple tight games at the South Padre Invitational. On Friday night, with his Cougars deep in a double-overtime battle with South Florida, Fredette got into the lane after much effort, drawing the interest of most of the USF defense before finding Noah Hartsock for a game-winning baseline jumper. Oh, and throw in a season-high 32 points for Fredette, to go nicely with five threes, five steals and four assists. Not to be outdone, the next night the senior went for 24 points, four assists and three more steals, and this time hit the game-winner himself, a three with 11 seconds left to give the Cougars a win over St. Mary’s and a South Padre Island Invitational championship to boot.

Newcomer of the Week: Will Clyburn, Junior, Utah – While the Utes may have been exposed a bit this week, Clyburn certainly wasn’t. The junior college transfer has still led the Utes in scoring every night out this season, and he averaged another 18.5 points per game this week, while hitting his first double-double with a 21-point and 10-rebound outing in a loss to Oral Roberts on Saturday. Clyburn leads the Utes in scoring, rebounds, steals, and threes, and gets to the line more than any of his teammates and converts at an 88.9% clip.

Game of the Week: BYU 77, South Florida 75 (2OT) – We talked about the game winner in this game above, when we handed out our POTW award to Jimmer Fredette, but that was just the capper on an all-around great game. Early in the second half, the Cougars found themselves down ten to the Bulls, before Fredette scored ten points in under four minutes to get the Cougars back in striking distance and regaining the lead a few minutes later on a Fredette three. From there, Jackson Emery caught fire for the Cougars, scoring 14 of the next 15 points for BYU, with four three-pointers mixed in there, but they still could not shake the stubborn Bulls, needing a three from Charles Abouo with 33 seconds left and a defensive stop to send the game to the first overtime. The first OT was a back and forth affair, with Fredette and USF’s Jawanza Poland trading threes in the final minute to force a final OT and the Fredette/Noah Hartsock heroics. As if this battle wasn’t enough for Cougar fans, the next night against St. Mary’s, while requiring no overtime to settle upon a winner, was just about as exhilarating of a win.

Power Rankings

1. San Diego State (6-0): This was a very quiet week for the Aztecs, with only a matchup on Friday against San Diego Christian (NAIA), in what was the Aztecs’ first home game of the season. After raising last year’s MWC Tournament championship banner before the game, SDSU trudged through an uninspired game that was still tied 13 minutes in. The Aztecs eventually turned it on and coasted to a 19-point win that told us little or nothing about either team.

A look ahead: The competition gets much stiffer this week, although the Aztecs won’t have to leave the cozy confines of Montezuma Mesa when they host St. Mary’s on Wednesday and Wichita State on Saturday.

2. BYU (6-0): After destroying Mississippi Valley State in Provo in an utter mismatch, the Cougars headed to the South Padre Island Invitational, where they won both of their games by a combined total of three points over some solid competition in South Florida and St. Mary’s. However, even the most die-hard BYU homer is not going to confuse the Bulls or the Gaels with Final Four contenders. As a result, it is clear the Cougars still have some work to do to live up to their potential. While some remain givens, freshman Kyle Collinsworth has been up and down in the early going, although he did add 10 points against St. Mary’s. Up front Noah Hartsock and sophomores Brandon Davies and Chris Collinsworth have had their moments, but none have been the consistent force in the low post or on the glass that would take some of the pressure off of the Cougar backcourt. Wing Charles Abouo has done a lot of the dirty work for BYU, actually leading the team in rebounding with 6.7 per night despite his 6’4 frame, but he is a limited offensive player. For the Cougars to compete with the best in this conference, Dave Rose will need to find consistent contributors beyond Fredette and Emery.

A look ahead: This is the week of tough roadies around the conference, as BYU will be challenged with a trip to Omaha to face Creighton, followed by a supposedly neutral-site game in what will be heavily partisan Salt Lake City against Hawai’i.

3. UNLV (6-0): Sure, the Rebels walked through the competition at the 76 Classic. But a closer look shows wins over Tulsa and Murray State teams who, while good solid teams, aren’t exactly finished products or hyper-talented squads. On top of that, while the Rebs also handled a very good Virginia Tech team, the Hokies did their part in giving that game away, turning the ball over 18 times and hitting just nine of their 21 free throws. If Virginia Tech shoots a reasonable percentage from the line and turns the ball over a few less times (granted, the vast majority of those turnovers weren’t unforced errors), that is easily a game decided by a possession or two at the end. Now, none of that is meant to take anything away from Lon Kruger and his team – they’ve certainly looked awfully good in the early going – but just to add a measure of sanity to the hype surrounding the hot Rebels. They’ve certainly showed that they are capable of contending for a MWC title, but they’ll have more chances on down the line in non-conference play to show their national credentials.

A look ahead: The Rebels turn into the road warriors this week with a trip to Bloomington to face Illinois State in the opening night of the MWC/MVC Challenge, then head back to their home state to face Nevada in Reno on Saturday.

4. New Mexico (4-1): The Lobos coasted through a relatively light week, posting wins of 22 points over Northwood and 29 points over San Diego. The big news of the week was the return of junior shooting guard Phillip McDonald from a partially torn elbow ligament. Elbow injury or no, McDonald wasted no time in testing out his shooting stroke, hoisting 15 attempts from the field and ten from behind the arc in his first game back, although he connected on just five field goals and three three-pointers for 13 points, although he did at six rebounds. Sophomore point guard Jamal Fenton was the high scorer in the San Diego game, hitting four threes on the way to a career-high 16 points. In both games, the Lobos closed the first halves strongly (15-2 run to close the half against Northwood, 23-5 run against San Diego), then sailed home to easy wins.

A look ahead: Not an easy week for the Lobos, with a road trip to Carbondale to face Southern Illinois, followed by the road portion of their home-and-away matchup with in-state rival New Mexico State. These are two games the Lobos should win, but given their youth, road games of any type can be difficult, as their lone previous road trip of the year, a 25-point loss to Cal, proved.

5. TCU (4-2): Aside from TCU’s defection from the conference, they did score a couple good wins on the hardwood this week with a 16-point victory over Houston and a 12-point win over USC. Ronnie Moss led TCU in both games with 17 and 20 points respectively and has yet to fail to score in double figures on the season. With defendable losses to Rider and Bradley on the season, the Horned Frogs are right in the mix of things in the middle of the pack of the MWC with Utah and Colorado State, but even with some early season success, there are some glaring weaknesses here, namely poor defensive efficiency and an inability to get to the line offensively. While they have improved those numbers a bit from last season’s awful numbers, and while they’ve patched other holes from last year (committing too many turnovers and not forcing enough, for two), the undersized Frogs will need to improve on the defensive end in order to jump up the standings.

A look ahead: A breather with a home game against Prairie View A&M before welcoming Northern Iowa into Fort Worth for a good test.

6. Colorado State (2-1): Maybe blame it on the Rams playing just their third game of the season and first game in over a week. Maybe blame it on too much turkey. Or maybe just step back and admit that this Ram team, who some thought might push for a fifth NCAA bid from the MWC, is just not ready for prime-time. Whichever way you choose, it was easy to see that CSU was just outclassed in their own arena by Sam Houston State. Gilberto Clavell led four Bearkats in double figures with 29 points and nine rebounds on 10-14 from the field and 9-11 from the line as Sam Houston dominated the Rams 40-29 on the glass and got to the line 41 times to CSU’s meager 17. The fact is, the best team in Moby Arena on Saturday night won the game. While Tim Miles’ squad is an undersized bunch, that is no excuse for the way they were outhustled and outmanned inside, and seniors like Andy Ogide, Travis Franklin and Andre McFarland will need to improve their toughness for this Ram team to take the next step.

A look ahead: Colorado State gets to stay at home this week, welcoming Drake and Fresno State into Fort Collins. While neither of their opponents is much of a threat to earn an NCAA Tournament bid, both will provide good tests for the Rams and a good opportunity for the team to rebuild its confidence.

7. Utah (3-2): Rough week for the Utes at they got their first good look at a higher caliber of competition. First up was the always tough road trip to Logan for in-state rival Utah State, where the Aggies owned Utah on the glass and at the line, winning the rebounding battle 45-32, while outscoring the Utes 39-13 from the charity stripe. Next Oral Roberts visited the Huntsman Center, and while Utah did compete better inside, they were simply outshot this time around. Junior college transfers Will Clyburn and Josh Watkins continue to lead the Utes, with each having scored in double figures in all five Utah games, but the rest of the rotation is unsettled. Last year’s MWC defensive player of the year, David Foster, is still racking up blocks with ease – he’s averaging three blocks a game – but he’s only playing 15 minutes a night due to tendinitis in his knee. That’s not the only health-related problem the Utes have had, as freshman J.J. O’Brien suffered a stress fracture in his right foot and will be out until late December, while senior forward Jay Watkins has been working through a back injury.  

A look ahead: Utah host Fresno State on Tuesday before traveling to Peoria for a matchup with Bradley over the weekend, a couple good challenges for the team.

8. Air Force (3-1):The Falcons week consisted entirely of one of the most head-scratching wins of the year, when they knocked off Wofford, a tournament team from last season who returns most of its production. Wofford has gotten kicked in the teeth some early in the season, with losses to Minnesota, Clemson, Georgetown and Xavier already on the books, but this loss to Air Force is truly astounding. Somehow Wofford managed to dominate on the glass to the tune of a 50-27 rebounding advantage and, more staggering still, a 24-2 edge on the offensive glass. Yet, Air Force still managed to get to the line a season high 29 times and, better yet, shoot 51% from the field while holding Wofford to under 34%. Senior Tom Fow and sophomore Mike Lyons led the Falcons with 18 each and senior Evan Washington added 14 points, six rebounds and three steals as AFA fans entertain the idea of finishing somewhere other than ninth place for the first time in three seasons.

A look ahead: The Falcons host Cal State Northridge and Evansville, games in which, frankly, given the Wofford score, just about anything could happen.

9. Wyoming (2-4): Since we last checked in with the Cowboys, they’ve shown some little bit of progress. Sure, they lost a couple more games along the way, but they competed with #10 Missouri for a full 40 minutes before falling by ten at the Cancun Challenge, then back the next night and fought hard against a surprising 5-1 Providence team, only to be undone by Vincent Council’s 29 points and perfect 16/16 night from the line. Sure, they are still wildly undisciplined (see sophomore Desmar Jackson’s nine turnovers against Mizzou – although, certainly better players than him have turned the ball over nine times against the pressure of a Mike Anderson-coached team) and severely underperforming (I understand Afam Muojeke is not all the way back from his knee injury, but how that talented of an offensive player can score just 13 points in 47 minutes on 4/15 shooting in Cancun is beyond me), but they played both of those teams closer than they played North Florida or Northern Colorado. That’s progress, right?

A look ahead: The Cowboys play sort of a weird road game when they head to South Dakota on Wednesday, then return home for their MWC/MVC game with Indiana State on Saturday. A split this week is a good week. A 2-0 week? Keep dreaming.

 

Game of the Upcoming Week

Wichita State @ San Diego State, 12/4, 7 PM PST, The Mtn. – This week’s Mountain West schedule is chock-full of interesting games: UNLV visits Nevada for an in-state rivalry, San Diego State hosts St. Mary’s, and the MWC/MVC Challenge gets underway, with BYU at Creighton, UNLV at Illinois State and New Mexico at Southern Illinois some of the highlights. But we’ll take this battle between two teams picked prior to the season as favorites in their respective conferences. Given Wichita State’s strikeout in their battle with Connecticut in Maui, this borders on a must-win game for the Shockers’ at-large hopes, while this is the second tough test in week for Steve Fisher’s Aztecs.

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Ball Reversal: ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Posted by zhayes9 on November 30th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.

Monday night proved one thing for sure: anything can happen in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Who had a Virginia team that was humiliated by Washington in Maui last week leaving the Barn against undefeated Minnesota with a triumphant victory? Hot shooting from Joe Harris and the entire Cavalier lot (10-13 from downtown) paved the way for Tony Bennett’s biggest win since moving cross country to Charlottesville and gave the ACC an unexpected boost to kick off the Challenge. With five other marquee games on the docket the next two nights, now is a better time than ever to introduce my second installment of Ball Reversal, dissecting what each team needs to do to pick up a portfolio-building win in late November. Without further ado:

Jared Sullinger/Cleveland.com

Tuesday- Ohio State at Florida State, 7:30 PM (ESPN)

How Ohio State wins: Match defense with defense. There’s one thing Florida State does incredibly well and that’s defend the heck out of you. They finished first in the nation in defensive efficiency last season, second in two-point field goal defense and fourth in block percentage. Through six games this season, the Seminoles are on pace to rival those impressive totals: fourth in defensive efficiency, seventh in two-point percentage defense and second in block percentage. Florida head coach Billy Donovan’s game plan against the Seminoles was to match FSU’s lockdown defense with a 2-3 zone to force FSU to go away from their strengths and take outside jumpers. Florida then won the contest on the free throw line, scored just enough on the offensive end and marched out of Tallahassee with an impressive road win. It would be prudent for Thad Matta to trot out his best defensive lineup down the stretch against a Florida State team that has ranked in the lower portion in most offensive categories the last two seasons. If the Buckeyes get enough stops, their incredible talent level and scoring ability should provide enough ammo for a key road win.

How Florida State wins: Keep the Buckeyes out of the paint. Ohio State’s statement victory at Florida a few weeks ago looked like a layup drill for a good portion of the game, a combination of an effective pass break and halfcourt teamwork resulting in easy opportunities for Jared Sullinger and other Buckeyes for the entire second half. Ohio State has been tremendous inside the arc all year along, ranking seventh in two-point percentage. Where they’re slightly suspect–although one would anticipate William Buford’s 27% mark from deep to increase sooner than later–is behind the three-point line where they’re 96th in the nation in marksmanship. Along with stellar defense, Leonard Hamilton’s teams are perennially very tall and very long. Chris Singleton, Bernard Young and Xavier Gibson do the honors on this year’s squad. FSU should try to frustrate Sullinger as much as possible with this trio’s length and take chances with Jon Diebler, David Lighty and William Buford shooting contested threes. If successful, the Noles have an outside chance to pull off an upset and avoid two straight home losses against ranked teams.

Tuesday- North Carolina at Illinois, 9:30 PM (ESPN)

How North Carolina wins: More production from their preseason All-American. This one is fairly obvious and doesn’t take any efficiency stats to calculate: the Heels need a coming out party by Harrison Barnes (and the first half against Hofstra doesn’t qualify). Unfair expectations or not, Barnes came into this season as the far-and-away #1 freshman prospect, projected number one overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, a preseason All-American and savior of the Tar Heels program. So far, Barnes hasn’t totally figured it out at the collegiate level. Through six games, he’s averaging 12/6/2 on 35% FG and 33% from three, respectable totals for a really good freshman but clearly below expectations. Barnes is UNC’s best player and to avoid picking up their third loss in seven contests he needs to perform admirably on this considerable stage, utilizing his versatility, smooth jumper, rebounding prowess, passing ability and that all-around repertoire that has wowed so many basketball evaluators over the last couple of years. This Illinois game and the meeting with Kentucky on Saturday are crucial: with every defeat, the pressure in Chapel Hill only mounts.

How Illinois wins: Take advantage of UNC’s perimeter-oriented bigs. As talented as North Carolina may be, this is really an ideal matchup for the Fighting Illini. Illinois is vulnerable when their lanky forwards Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis have to spend too much time in the paint defending bulky, strong, powerful big men. Tisdale and Davis are more suited playing more of a perimeter, face-up game than getting dirty in the post. Luckily for them, Carolina’s bigs are very similar. John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes are incredibly skilled and talented, but none of them are known as bruisers down low. Tisdale and Davis should be able to spend a lot more time in their comfort zone excelling in the mid-range game and knocking down jumpers and are much less likely to fall into foul trouble. Tisdale, specifically, hasn’t been able to stay on the floor at much as he’d like this season. He fouled out in a combined 38 minutes in the two 2K Sports Classic games against Pittsburgh’s plethora of bigs and Maryland’s Jordan Williams, two matchup nightmares. The style in which the Carolina forwards operate does not pose the same problem.

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RTC Live: Georgetown vs. Missouri

Posted by rtmsf on November 30th, 2010

Game #50.  RTC Live is back at Sprint Center in KC for some BBQ n’ hoops, as Georgetown travels to a semi-road game vs. Missouri. 

Exactly one week after last Tuesday’s top five showdown between Duke and Kansas State, RTC Live returns to Sprint Center in Kansas City for another matchup of ranked teams, as the Missouri Tigers square off against Big East contender Georgetown in the John McLendon Classic. Mike Anderson’s team is off to a fast 5-0 start, including wins in Cancun over Wyoming and La Salle, as they get set for this semi-home tilt. The Tigers are an experienced team led by juniors Marcus Denmon and Laurence Bowers, while juco transfer Ricardo Ratliffe has been outstanding on the glass, averaging 9.6 boards a game to go with 10.8 points per contest. The Hoyas will counter with a backcourt attack led by Preseason Big East POY Austin Freeman and Chris Wright. Freeman, at 20.2 points per game, has lived up to the hype and trails only Kemba Walker and Casey Mitchell in scoring in the Big East. John Thompson III’s troops include eight players who average 15 minutes or more per game, proving that he has the depth to keep up with Anderson’s frenzied “40 Minutes of Hell” style. Both teams are hungry to hand the other their first loss of the season, so expect a hard-fought, physical night on the hardwood.
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RTC Live: Georgia Tech @ Northwestern

Posted by rtmsf on November 30th, 2010

Game #51.  RTC Live joins in on the ACC/Big Ten Challenge fun with an intriguing game between two teams swinging up this year.

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge continues on ESPN2 with Northwestern vs. Georgia Tech at 7:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. CT. The Wildcats are 4-0, their best start in 17 years, and are taking on a Yellow Jackets team that appears to have turned the corner since losing at Kennesaw State earlier this season. After going 1-1 in the Legends Classic in Atlantic City, New Jersey, with a victory over UTEP and a loss to Syracuse, this should be another test to see how far Paul Hewitt’s squad has come already this season. Georgia Tech also could be Northwestern’s toughest non-conference opponent as the Wildcats attempt to go to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the program’s history. There are tons of players to watch from Northwestern’s baby-faced assassin John Shurna, who’s coming off of 23 points against Creighton on Sunday, to Georgia Tech’s famous son, freshman Glen Rice, Jr. Come join John Templon of Chicago College Basketball from Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston starting 15 minutes before tip-off.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.30.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 30th, 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 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

After Virginia’s upset of Minnesota last night, the ACC is off to a good start in the ACC-Big Ten challenge. Will that continue tonight as the games ramp up? We also have a really good Big East/Big 12 clash on tap this evening. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#2 Ohio State @ Florida State – 7:30 pm on ESPN (****)

Chris Singleton Has Been Mostly Outstanding This Season

Ohio State’s last journey to the state of Florida was a rousing success, a 93-75 shellacking of Florida in Gainesville. The Buckeyes face an opponent with a much different style, but also a team that was beat by the same Florida team that lost to Ohio State. We said this was a crucial week for Florida State and now it becomes even more important as the Seminoles are in danger of going 0-2 at home against two quality teams in a span of three days. FSU star Chris Singleton was held in check by the Gators, shooting just 2-12 on the night. Singleton must get back on track for Leonard Hamilton and his team to have any chance against Ohio State, it’s as simple as that. This game features two of the top five teams in defensive efficiency but Florida State’s offense has held them back. The ‘Noles rank #94 in offensive efficiency, a far cry from the Buckeyes lofty #4 perch. Florida State has to have a strong defensive game against an explosive Ohio State offense but it doesn’t stop there. A solid performance on the other side of the ball is imperative. Florida State can play all the defense it wants but they won’t win without better scoring. Michael Snaer had a great game against Florida, going 5-6 from beyond the arc. He’ll need more of that against an Ohio State perimeter that can match or better him with guys like Jon Diebler (48% from three) and David Lighty. Singleton versus Jared Sullinger in the post will be one heck of a matchup. Perhaps the best defensive player in the nation goes up against one of the best offensive post players (62% FG) and whoever gets the edge could lead their team to victory. Two key areas bear watching in this game: turnovers and rebounding, especially on the offensive end for Ohio State. The Buckeyes rank #6 in forcing turnovers while FSU is #276 averaging 18 turnovers a game. If Florida State is turning the ball over that much they can essentially forget about getting a win tonight. Ohio State is #10 in offensive rebounding percentage while the Seminoles are #187, not doing a good job on the defensive boards. Ohio State is the favorite here but it would be hard to imagine them playing so well again away from home. Florida State isn’t desperate but they are in need of a big time win. They may not get it tonight but we think they’ll come out with a strong effort and make this a very interesting game.

#10 Georgetown vs. #10 Missouri (in Kansas City) – 9 pm on ESPNU (****)

Both teams tied for tenth in our latest RTC Top 25 released yesterday, though their playing styles could not be any more different. Missouri uses Mike Anderson’s version of “forty minutes of hell,” acquired from his time spent as an assistant under Nolan Richardson at Arkansas. The Tigers rank #16 in tempo and are second in the nation at forcing turnovers. That could be a problem for a Georgetown team that likes to play at a slower, more deliberate pace. The Hoyas average 15 turnovers per game and rank #222 in turnover percentage. Georgetown gets most of its points behind the three point line from the trio of Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark. All three shoot at least 45% from the arc with Freeman checking in at an astounding 58%. As a unit, Georgetown is the sixth best three point shooting team in the nation. Missouri, #196 in defending the three, is going to need its taller wing players such as 6’6 Kim English (two steals per game) to harass the Hoya shooters with his length and athleticism. Missouri as a whole is not very good at three point defense (#196), but neither are the Hoyas (#189). Marcus Denmon and Michael Dixon Jr. are Missouri’s best deep threats and will need to minimize the pain of the Georgetown three point attack by making shots of their own. Coach Anderson uses a deep bench to rotate fresh players in and out in order to keep the defensive pressure strong throughout the game. No Missouri player averages more than 26 minutes per game. While Georgetown is almost exclusively a perimeter oriented team, they’ve received good contributions from Julian Vaughn and Hollis Thompson up front, combining for 19/14 a game. Missouri holds an edge in the front court behind Ricardo Ratliffe (11/10) and Laurence Bowers (12/7). The Hoya big men need to rebound the ball effectively against a solid Missouri front line that will stay fresh with two other contributors coming off the bench for Anderson. Georgetown is going to need something good off the bench from a few other players in order to keep their starters fresh against the relentless Mizzou pressure. This should be a tremendous basketball game and whoever holds the edge in three point shooting or rebounding should come out on top. Expect a forty minute battle with the outcome not determined until very late.

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Morning Five: 11.30.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 30th, 2010

  1. The biggest news of Monday was of course that in the interminable quest for more football dollars, Texas Christian University (TCU to most of us) will join the Big East starting in the 2012-13 season.  That makes seventeen Big East basketball schools if you’re counting at home.  Yes, the league that in large part made college basketball what it is today — with hundreds of ESPN games and the star-making powers all of it entails — is now chasing skirts in a region of the country over a thousand miles removed from its nearest member institution.  Presumably the league will now look into adding another school like Houston to lock up another major media market as the 18th hoops (and tenth football) school, and then there’s the possible addition of Villanova football should they choose to do so, but where does it end?  Does it go to twenty basketball schools by adding Memphis and Central Florida?  And what about the Big East Tournament — nobody was a fan of the double-bye system before; do we move to a triple-bye now?  How would you like to be the #20 seed in your conference tournament?  David Steele over at Fanhouse has a nice piece on how the ACC and Big East, two conferences that were to basketball what the SEC and old SWC were to football, have completely lost their hoops souls with football-driven expansion.  Luke Winn also breaks down what the addition of TCU will do (or won’t do) for the Big East from a hoops perspective — he makes an excellent point about Marquette’s recruiting prospects improving with a Texas team in tow.  Can’t say we disagree wither either’s takes at all.
  2. Condolences go out this morning to John Calipari and his family, as the Kentucky coach announced via Twitter that he lost his mother, Donna, to a battle with cancer on Monday.  Calipari does not expect to miss the Wildcats’ next game versus Boston University tonight, and we’ve heard rumors that Kentucky students will exhibit some unifying show of solidarity through the wearing of black shirts or something similar.  Nice touch.
  3. Seth Davis goes out on a shaky limb with his proclamation Monday that UConn’s Kemba Walker has been the best player in America through the first four weeks of the season.  Ok, not really, but as always, his Hoops Thoughts column is well worth the read.  Can we use this opportunity to say that having sat through three UConn games in Maui last week, we’re not as sold on the Huskies and Walker long-term as some others seem to be?  We think that UConn is a nice team — probably an NCAA Tournament team — but top ten?  We’re just not seeing it.
  4. Butler’s Ronald Nored will miss at least one game as a result of the concussion he suffered last weekend at Siena.  The Bulldogs’ next game is Wednesday in their Horizon League opener on the road against 7-0 Loyola (Chicago).  He’s questionable for Saturday’s game against top-ranked Duke as well.  With Butler not playing very well as it is, these next two games are fairly important, so it’s not a good time for Nored to be on the shelf.
  5. Bruce Pearl certainly knows how to play to an audience.  At a Knoxville Quarterback Club dinner on Monday night he mentioned former UT football coach Lane Kiffin in reference to having made mistakes and “hoping for… some other dumbass to take [me] off the front page.”  The dumbass in question, of course, was Kiffin.  Perhaps the funniest part of this series of quotes by Pearl was his reference to the “slippery rock theory,” which we suppose is a theory founded somewhere in central Pennsylvania (as opposed to its better-known but obstructionist cousin, the “slippery slope” theory).
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Around The Blogosphere: 11.30.10 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 30th, 2010

If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to rushthecourt@gmail.com.

Top 25 Games

  • Virginia 87, #12 Minnesota 79: “Minnesota wasn’t dominated by Virginia for much of the game, but for a seven minute stretch in which the Gophers couldn’t score and the Cavs couldn’t miss, the game quickly got out of hand and never really bounced back the other way.” (From the Barn or The Daily Gopher)

Other Games of Interest

  • Seton Hall 69, St. Peter’s 49: ‘The two teams entered the Monday night game at the Prudential Center with personnel issues. Seton Hall was able to get through theirs en route to a 69-49 win over St.Peter’s.” (Villanova by the Numbers)

Pre-Game Analysis

  • Preview: #18 Purdue (5-1) @ Virginia Tech (4-2): Breaking down the Boilermakers match-up with the Hokies. (Tech Hoops)
  • A Brief Look at Illinois: “It’s a strange ACC/Big Ten Challenge this year. The Big Ten, fresh off their first victory in eleven tries, is the favorite to repeat. And the UNC game isn’t even expected to be close, with 6-1 Illinois an overwhelming favorite. How did the Illini, a team that needed a miracle comeback to beat Clemson a year ago, come in a heavy favorite?” (Carolina March)
  • Know Thy Opponent: Boston College Eagles: “Wednesday’s game, as Ryan wrote in The Minute After on Friday, will be the first true test for a team that made relatively easy work of it’s first six home games. While the game is certainly winnable, it’s not one the Hoosiers will be favored in by those making the odds.” (Inside the Hall)

News/Analysis

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Checking in on… the Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 30th, 2010

Jimmy Lemke is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.

A Look Back

  • How They Fared: It was a week that had mixed results for the Horizon League.  The torch-bearer for the conference, Butler, won a difficult MAAC road game by double-digits against Siena before dropping an overtime decision in Hinkle Fieldhouse against state foe Evansville.  Detroit picked up three solid victories over Albany, Bowling Green and Niagara after dropping an early-week decision at Missisippi State.  Milwaukee‘s upset bid over Marquette just failed at the end, with a missed front end of a one-and-one giving Marquette just enough breathing room to win in the dangerous U.S. Cellular Arena.  Wright State showed signs of life by defeating a good Summit League program in Oakland, weathering the storm of 25 points and seven rebounds from Keith Benson.  They then lost two games they were expected to lose against Richmond and Southern Illinois in Chicago.
  • Dropped Out: After the gut-wrenching loss to Evansville, Butler dropped out of the rankings for the first time since January.  The Horizon League is no longer represented in the Top 25 despite getting off to an excellent 42-21 record as a conference, its best in years.
  • Owning The Paint: Detroit’s 3-1 record largely comes from the play of Eli Holman, who averaged 14 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2 blocks over the four games.  Milwaukee’s Anthony Hill recorded a double-double in the loss to Western Michigan and 18 points and eight rebounds against Marquette on Saturday.
  • Tip Of The Cap: Youngstown State’s Vytas Sulskis gets the nod this week as he joined the 1,000 point club at the school.

Power Rankings

  1. Cleveland State (8-0) – The Vikings’ perfect early season continued with decisive double-digit victories over Akron and St. Bonaventure.  In a time when Butler seems to be fallible, Gary Waters’ team hasn’t shown a chink in the armor yet. Norris Cole paces the conference with 20.4 points per game.
  2. Butler (3-2) – Brad Stevens is still fumbling around with his lineup, with eight different players getting starts for the Bulldogs.  Saturday’s loss to Evansville doesn’t defuse the question surrounding the search for Gordon Hayward, but it’s not every day you have to replace an NBA lottery pick. A rematch of last year’s final with Duke awaits this weekend.
  3. Detroit (4-3) – The Titans were close to taking down the Mississippi State Bulldogs in Starkville, and the rest of the week they took care of business. Eli Holman is playing at his best right now, which is very important as the Titans get ready for Wright State on Saturday.
  4. Loyola (7-0) – It can no longer be ignored: Loyola is just as perfect as Cleveland State.  Why do the Ramblers not get as much love here?  Their one-point victory at WCC doormat San Francisco would be their best victory of the year if they didn’t whoop Western Michigan on the road.
  5. Valparaiso (4-2) – The Crusaders were mostly predictable this week, losing a close one at MAC champ Ohio before beating Northern Colorado and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.  Valpo has a great road trip to open conference season; their fans only have 30 miles or so to Chicago.
  6. Youngstown State (4-1) – They may be playing nobody now, but if they weren’t robbed at Akron, they’d be undefeated heading into Milwaukee on Thursday.  The Penguins were awful in conference play in 2009-10, let’s see if Jerry Slocum‘s new roster is up to the challenge.
  7. Milwaukee (3-4) – The Jekyll-and-Hyde Panthers continued their ways, but it ended the week 0-2.  A dumb loss before Thanksgiving to Western Michigan was mirrored by a spirited and winning-worthy performance in a three-point loss to Marquette, the toughest Horizon League opponent all week.
  8. Wright State (3-3) – The Raiders got the nod over UIC and Green Bay by posting a great victory over Oakland, a team many think will win the Summit.  N’Gai Evans has made a big difference since returning to the lineup, and the Raiders need him with huge games at Cincinnati and Detroit looming this week.
  9. UIC (3-3) – Howard Moore‘s UIC Flames suffered a loss to Ernie Zeigler’s Central Michigan Chippewas the night before Thanksgiving.  They escaped an awful Toledo team on Sunday to complete the season sweep of Tod Kowalczyk’s Rockets.
  10. Green Bay (3-3) – Rahmon Fletcher and the Phoenix were lucky to escape Saturday with a home victory over North Dakota State, a team that has fallen since their tourney appearance in 2009.  A Monday loss to IUPUI, whose only other win came against IU-Northwest, means that Green Bay has work to do.

A Look Ahead
Unlike most conferences that start play in January or late December, the Horizon League has “Opening Weekend,” the first set of games (tell me the conference shouldn’t market that).  The Wisconsin schools open up at home against Ohio, while the Indiana schools travel to Chicago, although Butler will play at UIC later in the season (they’ve got a big non-conference game Saturday night).  Detroit and Wright State’s “Rivalry” game will take place on Saturday. (all times eastern)

  • 12/1 – Butler at Loyola, 8 p.m. Horizon League Network
  • 12/1 – Detroit vs. Akron, 7 p.m. HLN
  • 12/1 – Wright State at Cincinnati, No TV
  • 12/2 – Youngstown State at Milwaukee, 8 p.m. HLN
  • 12/2 – Cleveland State at Green Bay, 8 p.m. HLN
  • 12/2 – Valparaiso at UIC, 8 p.m. HLN
  • 12/4 – Cleveland State at Milwaukee, 8 p.m. HLN
  • 12/4 – Wright State at Detroit, noon HLN
  • 12/4 – Youngstown State at Green Bay, 2 p.m. HLN
  • 12/4 - Valparaiso at Loyola, 4 p.m. HLN
  • 12/4 - Butler vs. Duke at IZOD Center, 3:30 p.m. ESPN
  • 12/4 - UIC vs. Akron, 4 p.m. HLN

If you didn’t catch the HLN, ten games this week are featured on the Horizon League’s free streaming service, the Horizon League Network (http://horizonleaguenetwork.tv or http://horizonleague.org).

Caught On Film: If you’re like me, you were disappointed when Gordon Hayward’s Too Big Yo rap was taken offline.  We’re disappointed no more!

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ATB: ACC Takes Early Lead 1-0

Posted by rtmsf on November 30th, 2010

We’re Back.  These After the Buzzers dropped off a little bit over the long holiday weekend, and for that we apologize.  Still, we’re working through some ideas as to how we want to set them up, so if you have any suggestions for improvement or additions/deletions, we’re all ears.  So long as it doesn’t take us all night to do and it sounds reasonably interesting, we’ll consider it.  Hit us up in the comments.

The Minnesota Defense Wasn't Tight Tonight (MST/R. Tsong-Taatarii)

Your Watercooler MomentACC 1, Big Ten 0.  Don’t be fooled by the fact that Minnesota was without defensive stalwart Al Nolen tonight — the Gophers still came into this home game as a fifteen-point Vegas favorite, and Tony Bennett’s Virginia team hadn’t exactly shown any signs of breaking through after a 1-2 trip to Maui last week.  A 39-18 second-half run by the Wahoos fueled by 77% three-point shooting  (10-13) erased a ten-point halftime deficit and had Tubby Smith fuming after the game about his team’s shoddy defense.  So what is the teachable moment here?  Perhaps that Minny wasn’t quite as good as their 6-0 record with wins over a UNC team in disarray and a West Virginia team still finding itself would have led us to believe?  Or that ACC teams just find ways to win these ACC/Big Ten Challenge games year after dastardly year?  Well, that’s certainly true, and the Big Ten now finds itself in a serious hole going into Day Two of the event considering that this game was a supposed lock for the midwestern league.  In looking at the remaining ten games, Ohio State on the road (@ FSU) and Illinois/Northwestern at home (vs. UNC and Georgia Tech, respectively) become must-wins, with the hope that Iowa and/or Michigan can break through versus Wake Forest or Clemson on the road.  If we were laying odds at this point as to which league will win this challenge, we’d go heavily on the ACC — that’s how important the Minnesota loss tonight at home was.

Tonight’s Quick Hits…

  • Jacob Pullen’s 241st Trey.  With Pullen’s second three of the evening tonight in an easy win against D2 Emporia State, Pullen became the all-time leader in made threes at the school.  He already has 1,618 points in his career and is well on his way to becoming the all-time leading scorer at the school (he needs to average 17.8 PPG the rest of the way, assuming 28 more games).  Here’s the question, though — is Pullen the greatest player in program history?  The greatest guard?  Mitch Richmond and Rolando Blackman were awfully good players at K-State, but Pullen could eclipse both of them with a first-team all-American type of a season and a deep Tournament run.
  • LaceDarius Dunn’s Return.  In two games back from suspension against admittedly weak competition, LD has averaged 22 PPG, 5 RPG, 4 APG, and 4 SPG while shooting 10-19 from deep.  We know that Dunn can bomb away, but only seven of his shots have been from within the circle; he may want to mix it up a little more as we get into the heart of the season.
  • Blake Hoffarber’s Jumper.  He shoots them in volume like JJ Redick once did down on Tobacco Road, but every time he puts one up, we think it’s going in.  He’s been somewhat “off” so far this year, but after a 5-11 performance tonight, he’s still at 38.7% on the season.  Of course, this is down from last year’s nearly-automatic 46.7% from deep, but we figure he’ll catch fire soon enough.
  • 8-0 Before December.  There are only thirty D1 teams remaining with a flawless record, but did you know that Cleveland State has already racked up eight wins before November is out?  The Vikings have mostly feasted on a steady diet of mid-level teams, but with a win already against Iona (who beat Richmond), CSU may be looking at a strong season in the Horizon League.
  • Wichita State’s Balance.  One of the most effective shooting teams that you’ll find, Gregg Marshall’s Shockers utilize a cadre of ten players who average between 14-25 minutes per game, nine of whom tally at least four points per contest.  Even though WSU came out of Maui with a 2-1 record, it was the Shockers who arguably played tournament champion UConn the toughest among their three wins.

… and Misses.

  • Those Ridiculous-Looking McDonald’s Stairs at The Barn.  Minnesota’s Williams Arena is a grand old barn, the fourth oldest building currently in use in Division 1 basketball.  And we certainly understand that sponsorships will happen and must happen, even at grand old barns.  But those McDonald’s stairs in the camera view on each side of the scoring table look ridiculous and are embarrassing for a program of this stature.  Maybe it would be ok if the “M”  used was the same configuration as the Gophers’ “M,” but it’s not.  Please, please get rid of this travesty.
  • USC Basketball.  With four losses to the likes of Rider, Bradley, Nebraska and TCU already under its belt, Kevin O’Neill’s team is already in serious trouble this season.  The Trojans have games coming against #20 Texas, #4 Kansas and #15 Tennessee in the next three weeks, and even with Jio Fontan returning on Dec. 18 for the KU game, we’re not sure that this dysfunctional unit will recover.

Tweet of the Night.  Yeah, this is more or less what we thought too when told that TCU was becoming the seventeenth Big East basketball school.

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Monday’s Check-Ins…

Posted by rtmsf on November 29th, 2010

Monday is chock-full of BCS or Super Six or Power Conferences, whatever you like to call them…  regardless, here they are…

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2010

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

A Look Back

The Big East had been questioned coming into the season.  I did it myself.  They didn’t have their usual firepower up top. Their preseason player of the year candidates — the Austin Freemans and Corey Fishers and Kris Josephs of the world — barely make a peep on NBA Draft boards. And the bottom of the league? Don’t get me started on the bottom of the league.

But is it possible that, while looking at the Big East’s faults, we happened to overlook just how deep the conference is?  Yes, apparently.  The early season tournaments aren’t just an entertaining way to kick off a normally bland start to the college basketball season. They also act as a gauge, a way to measure how each respective conference stacks up against one another.

And the Big East was, in a word, impressive, in the 2010 installment of the early season tournaments:

  • UConn beat Wichita State and upset Michigan State and Kentucky to win the Maui Invitational.
  • Syracuse beat Michigan and Georgia Tech to win the Legends Classic.
  • Notre Dame notched wins over Georgia, Cal, and Wisconsin to with the Old Spice Classic.
  • St. John’s beat Arizona State in the finals of the Great Alaska Shootout.
  • Pitt won the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic by beating Maryland and Texas in NYC.
  • Georgetown won the Charleston Classic with a win over NC State in the finals.
  • Villanova lost to Tennessee in the finals of the Preseason NIT.
  • West Virginia beat Vanderbilt in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off before losing to Minnesota in the finals.

By my count, that is six tournament titles and two second places finishes. Both of the second place finishes came via loss to a top 25 team. With the exception of Louisville, who didn’t play in one of these tournaments, each of the Big East’s top eight teams finished either first or second in their respective tournament. The ESPN/USA Today poll currently has five Big East teams in the top 25, and eight in the top 29. The AP poll looks even better, as those eight teams are all in the top 27, with Notre Dame also sneaking their way into the top 25.

The top of the Big East is a far cry from where it was in 2009, when they sent five teams to the Sweet 16, three to the Elite 8, two to the Final Four, and logged three of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.  But with the depth of this conference — among the schools already listed, keep in mind Seton Hall is playing without Jeremy Hazell and with half of Herb Pope and Cincinnati just beat Dayton 68-34 — there is no reason we shouldn’t expect another season with eight or nine potential NCAA Tournament teams come March.

Player of the Week: Kemba Walker, UConn

It has to go to Walker, as much as I would like to pass the award elsewhere. Kemba absolutely took the college basketball world by storm out in Maui. Coming off of a 42-point performance against Vermont, the Huskies point guard put the team on his diminutive back and carried them to a Maui Invitational tournament title. He averaged 30.0 PPG, 4.0 APG, and 2.7 SPG during the event, leading his team to wins over then top ten teams Michigan State and Kentucky and into the top ten of both major polls.

Team of the Week: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The Irish stormed through Disneyland, taking home the title in the Old Spice Classic held at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex. Along the way, the Irish knocked off Georgia, Cal, and Wisconsin. There are a couple things that really impressed me about this team. For one, they are just as good defensively as they were last season. They held Wisconsin to 51 points two days after holding Cal to 44 points (and 5 in the first half!) The second thing that impressed me is the versatility they have in their lineup. The Irish can play big if they have too, using Tyrone Nash and/or Jack Cooley on the front line. But, as they did against Wisconsin, they can also go small, using essentially five perimeter players, with Carleton ScottScott Martin, and Tim Abromaitis on the front line. They also have a freshman point guard named Eric Atkins that proved his worth on this trip. He will allow Ben Hansbrough to play off the ball when need be. The third thing is their resiliency. The Irish were down 11 late in the second half to a good Wisconsin team before coming back and winning. Against Georgia, the Irish switched to a zone in the second half that helped then comeback from 12 down at the half.

Power Rankings: (last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pitt 7-0 (1)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. Robert Morris 74-53, 11/27 vs. Penn 82-58
Next Week: 12/1 vs. Duquesne, 12/4 vs. Rider

Pitt looked like Pitt these two games. They smothered an overmatched opponent defensively, waiting for a big second half run to take control of the game. The Panthers are easily the best team in the Big East right now.

2. UConn 5-0 (9)
Last Week: 11/22 vs. Wichita State 83-79, 11/23 vs. Michigan State 70-67, 11/24 vs. Kentucky 84-67
Next Week: 11/30 vs. New Hampshire, 12/3 vs. UMBC

The only thing I want to elaborate on from above is that the Huskies role players have been pretty impressive. Shabazz Napier is a playmaking point guard that is a tough defender. Roscoe Smith and Jeremy Lamb are both impressive athletes with enough skills to be capable thus far. And Niels Giffey is the kind of all-around talent — defends, shoots the three, handles the ball — that UConn has been missing the last few seasons. The question is whether it lasts.

3. Villanova 5-1 (2)
Last Week: 11/24 vs. UCLA 82-70, 11/26 vs. Tennessee 68-78
Next Week: 12/4 vs. St. Joe’s

Villanova is desperately in need of a leader. Against Tennessee, the Wildcats just simply could not get into any kind of a rhythm offensively with their three back court stars struggling. Corey Stokes and Maalik Wayns combined for 6-20 shooting from the field and six turnovers. And Corey Fisher? He finished the game 1-10 from the floor with five turnovers and just three points. Worst still, he didn’t seem like he wanted any part of the ball down the stretch. That’s not a good sign for the kid that was supposed to fill Scottie Reynolds shoes.

4. Georgetown 6-0 (3)
Last Week: 11/27 vs. UNC-Asheville 87-72
Next Week: 11/30 vs. Missouri in Kansas City, 12/4 vs. Utah State

Last week, we talked about how the Hoyas’ big men were playing better than expected. Well, this week, we should now talk about how the back court may actually be outperforming expectations. Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, and Jason Clark are averaging a combined 47.2 PPG and 11.1 APG. Wright and Clark are both shooting over 45% from three. Freeman? He’s hitting an obscene 57.6% of his triples.

5. Syracuse 6-0 (4)
Last Week: 11/26 vs. Michigan 53-50, 11/27 vs. Georgia Tech 80-76
Next Week: 11/30 vs. Cornell, 12/4 vs. NC State

The most important part of two more unimpressive wins for the Orange was that Kris Joseph finally looked like the player many of us thought he was going to be all season long. Joseph had 22 of the Orange’s 53 points in the win over Michigan, then Joseph scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half — after fighting foul trouble in the first half — in the title game against Georgia Tech.

6. West Virginia 4-1 (5)
Last Week: 11/27 vs. VMI 82-66
Next Week: 12/1 vs. American, 12/4 @ Miami

The Mountaineers played just one game since their impressive second place finish in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. In an 82-66 win over VMI. Casey Mitchell, once again, was the star, hitting for 25 points in the win. Kevin Jones hasn’t quite developed like many expected, but perhaps the bigger issue is that Truck Bryant was held out of the VMI game for “disciplinary reasons.”

7. Notre Dame 7-0 (8)
Last Week: 11/25 vs. Georgia 89-83 2OT, 11/26 vs. Cal 57-44, 11/28 vs. Wisconsin 58-51
Next Week: 11/30 vs. Indiana State

See above – Team of the Week

8. Louisville 4-0 (7)
Last Week: 11/27 vs. Marshall 80-66
Next Week: 12/1 vs. FIU, 12/4 vs. South Alabama

There’s not much more to say about Louisville than we already have said. They are 4-0 and have five guys averaging between 11.0 PPG and 12.0 PPG. Most surprising? Walk-on point guard Elisha Justice, averaging 7.0 PPG and 2.0 APG.

9. Marquette 5-2 (6)
Last Week: 11/22 vs. Duke 77-82, 11/23 vs. Gonzaga 63-66, 11/27 vs. Milwaukee 75-72
Next Week: 12/4 vs. Longwood

I’ve been high on Marquette all season long. They create quite a few matchup problems when they put their best lineup on the floor. But how impressive they were in a loss to Duke was erased in a close win over Milwaukee and a loss to Gonzaga. Marquette is always going to play close games, but until they start winning more impressively, the Golden Eagles have to slide.

10. St. John’s 4-1 (11)
Last Week: 11/25 vs. Ball State 88-83 OT, 11/26 vs. Drake 82-39, 11/28 vs. Arizona State 67-58
Next Week: 12/1 vs. Wagner

St. John’s looked like the St. John’s we expected this season. Playing four time zones to the west, the Johnnies rolled through the Great Alaska Shootout, capping their tournament victory with a come-from-behind win over Arizona State. St. John’s did it in the second half with a great press and on the back of 17.7 PPG from Justin Brownlee.

11. Cincinnati 5-0 (12)
Last Week: 11/24 vs. Savannah State 54-41, 11/27 vs. Dayton 68-34
Next Week: 12/1 vs. Wright State 12/4 @ Toledo

Cincinnati was flying far off of my radar, even with Sean Kilpatrick doing his best Lance Stephenson impression. But what the Bearcats did to Dayton? That just wasn’t right. The final doesn’t do that beatdown justice. The score at one point in the second half was 56-19.

12. Seton Hall 2-3 (10)
Last Week: 11/22 vs. Clemson 58-64 OT
Next Week: 11/29 vs. St. Peter’s

There’s not much to say about Seton Hall since last week. They still are operating without Jeremy Hazell, and Herb Pope still isn’t back into shape. The Pirates will be good, but we may have to wait until the Big East season to see it.

13. South Florida 4-3 (12)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. Liberty 60-43, 11/26 vs. BYU 75-77 2OT, 11/27 vs. Texas Tech 64-61
Next Week: 12/1 vs. VCU, 12/4 @ Florida Atlantic

The Bulls looked impressive when they took a very good BYU team to double overtime. The next night, they proceeded to beat Texas Tech, and while the Red Raiders may not be a tournament team, its still a nice win for USF. Jawanza Poland and Ron Anderson look like they may end up being pretty good players one day.

14. Providence 5-1 (14)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. La Salle 73-84, 11/24 vs. Wyoming 84-77
Next Week: 11/29 vs. Central Connecticut, 12/1 vs. Northeastern, 12/4 vs. Rhode Island

The Friars are 5-1, but they haven’t beaten anyone of substance. The only borderline team they have played was La Salle, who they lost to by 11 points.

15. Rutgers 3-2 (15)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. Norfolk State 83-57, 11/26 vs. St. Joe’s 70-76
Next Week: 12/1 vs. NJIT

It looked like the Scarlet Knights had bounced back from an opening night loss to Princeton. That is until they lost to A-10 cellar dweller St. Joseph’s.

16. DePaul 1-4 (16)
Last Week: 11/25 vs. Oklahoma State 56-60, 11/26 vs. Cal St. Northridge 66-88, 11/28 vs. Stanford 74-81 OT
Next Week: 12/2 vs. Northern Illinois

The good news is that DePaul looked competitive in their losses to Stanford and Oklahoma State. The bad news? Stanford and Oklahoma State are going to be spending a lot of time at the bottom of their respective conferences. The worse news? DePaul lost by 22 to Cal St. Northridge.

A Look Ahead

  • …way ahead. In 2012-13, TCU will jump ship to the Big East, as was reported Monday afternoon. With the conference growing to 17 teams in basketball (assuming no defections in the meantime), let the scheduling and logistical nightmares commence, not to mention nightmares on the basketball court – the Horned Frogs haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1987.
  • Things cool down for the most part, now that the early season tournaments have wrapped up. The biggest highlights on the schedule for this week are a semi-road game for Georgetown, who faces Missouri in Kansas City, a visit to Syracuse from NC State, and another ACC-Big East date, as Miami hosts West Virginia. To dig a little deeper, VCU, whose performances against Tennessee and UCLA  turned a few heads in New York City, will make a trip to South Florida Wednesday.
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