The Top 10 CBB Stories Of 2012: Wrapping Up Our List

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 31st, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

The turning of the calendar to a new year provides an occasion to stop and reflect on the highlights and lowlights from the year that was. Over the last five days, we’ve fed out a steady stream of 2012’s biggest college hoops stories. Some of them are fond memories that will forever ingrain themselves in the sport’s fabric in a totally positive way. Others were less cheerful tales in passing. All of them bore the common thread of being memorable, and to wrap up our countdown, here’s a layout of the 10 that stood out most.

  • 10. It won’t be until next season that Jabari Parker sets foot on Duke’s campus, but he’s already a household name amongst college hoops fans thanks to one of the most high-profile recruitments in years, and his decision to commit to the Blue Devils represents a direct threat on Kentucky’s and other contenders’ 2013-14 national title hopes.
  • 9. The days of college basketball’s opening day being tucked away under the fall football hysteria are dwindling. With patriotic fixtures like this year’s Ramstein Air Force Base game, and innovative event planners like Michigan State AD Mark Hollis, the start non-conference season feels more than ever like a well-defined commencement.
  • 8. The rebirth of Indiana basketball was an eventuality, and the proud program finally returned to its historic heights in 2012 thanks to coach Tom Crean, talented big man Cody Zeller and one of the deepest and most versatile rotations in the country.
  • 7. Railing on NCAA enforcement procedure has become the most popular and most frequent go-to media critique out there. Shabazz Muhammad’s slow and obscure eligibility clearance gave columnists endless ammo to tee off on the organization’s protocol.
  • 6. Some are reluctant to put Jim Boeheim among the sport’s all-time great coaches based on a shortage of postseason accomplishments. A fair gripe, sure, but you can’t quibble with the man’s historic consistency – Boeheim reached 900 wins when his then-No. 3 Syracuse team beat Detroit on December 17.
  • 5. People will remember him for different reasons – boundless basketball knowledge, self-damaging personal habits, verbal and physical abuse of players – but there’s one thing we can all agree on with Rick Majerus: he was one of his own kind.
  • 4. When Jim Calhoun made his retirement official in September, it was no shock he left without giving AD Warde Manuel much of a chance to conduct a thorough job search. Calhoun bolted on his own terms, because, well, that’s the imperative Calhoun we know, the one who built UConn basketball from a Yankee Conference afterthought into a national powerhouse.
  • 3. The chances we see two #15-seeds win their round-of-64 matchups on the same day again are meager. Odds are that the long-awaited 16-1 upset will happen before another Kyle O’Quinn and CJ McCollum team up to cause bracket-shredding chaos in office pools across the country.
  • 2. The verbal takedowns of John Calipari’s MO at Kentucky – recruit the nation’s best freshmen, glue together championship contenders contender, churn out NBA Draft picks, turn the roster over and do it all again the next year – would stick with the Wildcats’ coach until his patented formula produced a national champion. Sure enough, coach Cal got his wish in 2012.
  • 1. It wasn’t a shock when the Big East finally burst at the seams. The conference’s implosion was a long time coming, and for the first time in this new shifting college athletics landscape, basketball ruled the day. The Catholic 7 were long since fed up with their football partners, and they’ll forward to a new league – after adding up to five other basketball-only schools – without them.

Happy New Year and here’s to looking forward to a great 2013!

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The SEC Could Be On the Outside Looking In On Selection Sunday

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 31st, 2012

Over the summer, Kentucky coach John Calipari quipped that the additions of Texas A&M and Missouri made the SEC stronger than ever, adding that the league would get seven teams into the NCAA Tournament this season. Then again, Calipari probably didn’t anticipate his Wildcats would have four losses in non-conference play. He also probably never imagined the number of embarrassing losses for the conference would far exceed the quality wins within the league. And he likely never dreamed that the conference as a whole would be arguably weaker than the Mountain West, Pac-12, Atlantic 10, and Missouri Valley. Forget seven teams making the NCAA Tournament, the SEC will be lucky to get four in the Big Dance after a sub-par non-conference slate.

John Calipari was wrong, but just how wrong was he?

John Calipari was wrong about the SEC, but just how wrong was he?

The SEC has suffered a number of embarrassing losses during non-conference play. (all RPI references using TeamRankings.com) Vanderbilt lost to Marist (RPI #236). Winthrop (RPI #149) beat Auburn. Elon (#RPI 84) defeated South Carolina. Youngstown State (RPI #195) beat Georgia. Alabama dropped one to Mercer (RPI #150). Mississippi State lost to Troy (RPI #309). Then the Bulldogs turned around and lost to Alabama A&M (RPI #280). Unfortunately, the damage is done. The perception is that the SEC is weak. There’s nothing any team can do about that now. And that viewpoint will come back to haunt the league on Selection Sunday. Even if a couple of teams make a run in conference play, they will do it against SEC teams (see: perception of SEC, three sentences prior). The SEC needed quality wins, and well, it missed its chance.

The bottom of the league isn’t solely at fault. Even the top of the conference failed expectations, albeit unfair and outlandish ones. Kentucky was supposed to win the league this year. Sure, the Cats were reloading after sending six players to the NBA, but that’s life with Calipari at the helm. Outlandish expectations are certainly a testament to the outstanding work he’s done since arriving in Lexington.  In spite of the departures, Kentucky is still the most talented team in the SEC, yet Cal’s Wildcats are currently fifth in the SEC RPI standings. UK lost to Duke, Notre Dame, Baylor, and Louisville. All good or great teams, no doubt, but that leaves the Big Blue with a loss against four of the five quality teams (exception: Maryland, RPI #59) it faced. Kentucky will surely get into the NCAA Tournament, but its seeding becomes a major question mark. And if the SEC’s flagship program’s future is in doubt, what does that mean for the rest of the conference?

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Evaluating Big Ten Freshmen After the Non-Conference Season: Part One

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 31st, 2012

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

Historically, Big Ten coaches have not relied on their freshmen to contribute significantly because most of their players tend to stick around for at least two seasons in the conference. But this season is different because there are three schools that expect their freshmen to be a big part of their offense – Indiana, Michigan and Iowa. All three of these programs signed a top 30 recruiting class and in addition, Michigan State and Wisconsin also signed top 50 freshmen for this season. Let’s evaluate the top freshmen in the B1G as the schools have now wrapped up the non-conference part of their schedule.

Nik Stauskas(left) may be the most important freshman for the Wolverines.

Nik Stauskas(left) may be the most important freshman for the Wolverines.

Michigan: Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas 

McGary and Robinson were expected to contribute immediately which justified Michigan’s top five ranking in the preseason. McGary was supposed to add depth to the frontcourt and help Jordan Morgan but he hasn’t been able to find his rhythm in Ann Arbor after 13 games. The forward has had a tough time staying out of foul trouble and will need to improve his footwork in order to become more effective for John Beilein. He is extremely efficient on the boards – 5.6 RPG in just 14.6 MPG – but does not look for his shot much (5.7 PPG) because the offense primarily runs through the wings and guards. Speaking of the wings, Robinson has not disappointed at all by averaging 12.1 PPG and 5.9 RPG so far this season. He has great range on his jumper and has shown that he is willing to crash the boards as well. More important than his statistics is his ability to play alongside Tim Hardaway Jr. Both have similar skill sets but Robinson already has a great understanding of the John Beilein’s offense and is very efficient with this shot selection (62.1% eFG). While Robinson has met preseason expectations, his teammate Stauskas has exceeded them and has been the most important freshman of all for the Wolverines. Coming out of high school, the scouts knew that he had a good jumper but his long-range shooting this year has been off the charts – 57% from distance. Trey Burke and Hardaway carry the bulk on the offense but neither of them shoot exceptionally well from beyond the arc – at 38% and 35%, respectively. Stauskas allows John Beilein to spread the floor and gets open looks from the perimeter due to the dribble-drive kick out passes by Burke. It will be tough for him to continue shooting at such a blistering rate but as long as he moves around to open spots in the offense, Stauskas will play an important role in what could be a special season for the Wolverines.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Week Eight

Posted by KoryCarpenter on December 31st, 2012

With schools on Christmas break and a lot of teams giving players a few days off to travel home for the holidays, it was a slow week in the Big 12.  There were only eight games this week, highlighted by Baylor’s 94-87 loss at Gonzaga Friday night. The rest of the schedule was the usual end-of-December no-name games against teams like American and UMKC as teams prepare for the conference season’s start on Saturday. Kansas remains on top of the power rankings for another week after dismantling an overmatched American squad in Allen Fieldhouse Saturday night. The Big 12 microsite staff couldn’t agree on Oklahoma State and Kansas State at No. 2, and the trio of Texas, Oklahoma, and Iowa State were tied for fifth place, so we went to KenPom to settle the score. To reiterate the ranking process, I can’t speak for Danny and Nate but my vote isn’t like a Top 25 ballot where teams are almost automatically moved up or down each week with a win or loss. So Baylor lost to Gonzaga in Spokane. Do I think Iowa State or Oklahoma would have fared any better? If the answer is yes, I vote accordingly. If not, then the Bears might not slip because of the loss. With that out of the way, here is where we stand in week eight:

1) Kansas (11-1, 0-0)
Previous Ranking: 1

With no changes in a slow week in the Big 12, Bill Self's Jayhawks remain at No. 1 in our Power Rankings this week. (Photo credit: AP Photo).

With no changes in a slow week in the Big 12, Bill Self’s Jayhawks remain at No. 1 in our Power Rankings. (Photo credit: AP Photo).

Last Week: W 89-57 vs. American

This Week: Off

  • Rundown: Kansas did what it was supposed to do against American on Saturday in a glorified scrimmage. Bill Self is notorious for vastly improving his teams over the winter break when practice times are less limited, and this year is no different. The Jayhawks have been improving steadily since the close wins over San Jose State and Oregon State at the end of November, winning their last five games by an average of 26.2 PPG.
  • Interesting Stat: Jeff Withey has been so imposing defensively that teams have basically given up trying to score on him lately. In the last five games, Kansas opponents have attempted 23.6 three-pointers per game. And unless you are playing against Reggie Miller and Ray Allen on the perimeter, I think any team would gladly let its opponents shoot that often from deep.

2) Oklahoma State (8-1, 0-0) (KenPom No. 27)
Previous Ranking: 2

Last Week: Off

This Week: Today vs. Gonzaga, 5:00 PM ESPN, Saturday at Kansas State, 12:30 PM

  • Rundown: Gonzaga is 4-0 against the Big 12 this season, looking to make it five wins tonight in Stillwater. Gallagher-Iba Arena should be jumping tonight with the Bulldogs in town, and a Cowboys win would create a definite gap between themselves, Kansas, then everyone else in the conference.
  • Interesting Stat: Even with the talented duo of LeBryan Nash and Marcus Page, the Cowboys have not shot the ball well this year (44.2%), but they are the No.3 adjusted defensive team on KenPom.com. Their 81-71 loss to Virginia Tech on December 1 was the only time an opponent has scored over 65 points against them this season. Five teams have failed to reach 50 points against the Cowboys.

3) Kansas State (10-2, 0-0) (KenPom No. 48)
Previous Ranking: 3

Last Week: W 52-44 vs. UMKC

This Week: Today vs. South Dakota State, 1:oo PM, Saturday vs. Oklahoma State, 12:30 PM

  • Rundown: Kansas State struggled against UMKC last week, eventually winning by just 12 points. The Wildcats shot 32.1 % from the field against the Kangaroos, but I will consider it a letdown after beating then No. 8 Florida in Kansas City the week prior. 
  • Interesting Stat: Like Oklahoma State, Kansas State does not shoot the ball well (41.4% on the season) but they still have Frank Martin’s identity. They have grabbed 206 offensive rebounds this season (17.1 ORPG).

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We Need To Talk About Virginia Forward Akil Mitchell…

Posted by KCarpenter on December 31st, 2012

You can be forgiven if you don’t know much about Akil Mitchell other than the fact that he is a forward who plays for Virginia. In his first two years in the ACC, Mitchell was a role player backing up and complementing a veteran frontcourt stacked with the likes of Mike Scott and Assane Sene.  He played 22 MPG last year and averaged 4.1 PPG and 4.4 RPG. Those are decent numbers and all improvements over an even smaller role in his freshman year. However, with the departure of star player Scott, Mitchell has stepped into the limelight and performed magnificently. In 28 MPG this season, the 6’8″ forward is averaging 13.2 PPG and 9.2 RPG with a pair of assists and a steal a game thrown in for good measure. This is a remarkable improvement and currently Mitchell sits at fourth in the ACC in rebounds per game while he is just outside of the top 10 in scoring average. What makes this achievement all the more impressive is the tempo at which Virginia plays.

Akil Mitchell Has Made a Huge Leap This Season

Akil Mitchell Has Made a Huge Leap This Season

As in recent years, Virginia plays at a mind-numbingly slow pace. There are only four teams in Division I that play slower than the Cavaliers, and Tony Bennett‘s team is clearly the tortoise of the conference. So what? This means that Mitchell’s per game production actually underrates how good the forward has been for his team. He’s a top five player in the conference in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage as well as a top five player in offensive efficiency for players who use at least 24% of their team’s possessions. This isn’t an issue of a player who just needed more minutes or a more featured role: Mitchell took a big leap this year, improving in all of his tempo-free metrics even as he took on more responsibility for the offense.

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: So… About Those Preseason Predictions?

Posted by AMurawa on December 31st, 2012

With non-conference play all but wrapped up, we start to turn our attention to conference play this week. But, before we do we want to take a look back and see what we talked about prior to the season.

“We made a lot of predictions and bold statements prior to the season. Which prognostication did you nail and which did you completely whiff on?”

Adam Butler: I wish I’d had the stones to say things like “Jordan Adams will be UCLA’s best player” or “Josh Smith will leave the Bruins” or “USC will utterly flop.” No, on each of those insights I was sightless. I was the cool kid picking USC to overachieve and who was gobbling up Shabazz hyperbole like flavored vodka at a sorority house. I went out on the limb to say Arizona and Colorado would be good. I have said Spencer Dinwiddie would be All-Conference and, to date, he’s held up his side of that bargain, and I still love his game when he shows up (although, zero points vs. Fresno?). The one thing I’ve nailed but I don’t think it’s been terribly bold has been that Mark Lyons, no matter what he did numbers-wise, was going to have an overwhelming effect on this Wildcats team. I think it’s safe to say that he’s been a lightning rod of attention and criticism and handled it all in stride, strides that have taken him straight to winning buckets against Florida and SDSU. Lyons brings a dynamic to Tucson that was sorely needed and he has not let them down. As for whiffs? I figured Washington would be better and that Oregon would be worse. I thought Jio Fontan would hover around conference POY talk and that Dewayne Dedmon would be a big surprise: fails. There’s still time to play out but it’s hard to say that any of those thoughts will right themselves in my predictive favor. And in that remaining time, I’m excited to see just what UCLA will do and how Arizona’s freshmen bigs will develop within the routine of Pac-12 play. Moving forward, a few additional thoughts: Can Herb’s team keep up their pace? No. Is Solomon Hill going to win the conference POY award? No (but he may be the MVP). Can Colorado be the second best team in the Pac? Yes. Will Stanford be better then their 8-4 record? Yes. Alas, predictions are meaningless but oh-so-fun.

Jio Fontan In The Player Of The Year Race? Not So Much. (AP Photo)

Jio Fontan In The Player Of The Year Race? Not So Much. (AP Photo)

Connor Pelton: Looking back on it, I made some interesting (to say the least) picks back in October. But I did nail a few of those, starting with the pick of Arsalan Kazemi as an All-Pac-12 performer. I was the only one to include the Rice transfer on my 15-player ballot, and he has answered by averaging 9.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG, and 3.1 SPG so far. In fact, if he had not had been so tentative shooting the ball at the beginning of the season, it is not a stretch to say he would not only be leading the team in rebounds but points as well. Another pick I am liking was that of Jonathan Gilling as an all-conference three-point shooter. Kevin and I were the only ones to include the sophomore on our lists, and he has proved us right by knocking down 30 triples, second highest in the conference. But the pick I am most proud of is selecting USC at 10th in the conference, while everyone else here had the Trojans sixth or seventh. The thing that made me so skeptical about USC at the beginning of the season was the question, “Where do the points come from behind Jio Fontan?” Some said senior forward Aaron Fuller, who’s averaging a stellar 2.9 PPG. Case closed.

Now, onto the whiffs. While Chasson Randle hasn’t had a great season, there is no question he should be second team All-Pac-12 right now. I did not even include him on my list of 15, opting instead for guys like Ricky Kreklow and Kaleb Tarczewski. Whoops. It is easy to look bad when projecting an all-newcomer team, and boy have I done that. I did not include Mark Lyons on my team, or Jahii Carson, or Josh Scott. Those guys are averaging 13.4, 17.9, and 12.5 PPG, respectively. As we move into conference play, the picks that are on the fence of good and bad will begin to clear up. Are the Buffaloes an NCAA Tournament team? I said yes in October, and I still think they are now. Can Washington rebound from an awful start and make the NIT? No. Can California win a big game? It has to happen eventually, right?

Time will answer everything, and before we know it, we will be filling out brackets and talking about surprises and snubs on Selection Sunday.

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The 10 Biggest CBB Stories of 2012 — #1: The End of the Big East As We Know It

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 31st, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

College basketball gave us plenty of memorable moments and stories in 2012. After sorting through the main headlines, we’ve come up with the 10 most consequential items and, for the sake of maintaining publishing sequence symmetry, releasing two per-day over the next five days to lead into the New Year. It was an excellent year for the sport, though I can’t promise you won’t regret reliving at least one or two of the choices. In any case, here’s to summing up a great year and to hoping that 2013 is better than the 365 days that preceded it.

Of all the stories that gripped the college athletics world in 2012, none was more powerful than conference realignment. Programs shuttled between leagues and switched allegiances to chase television money and improved positioning in the new football playoff landscape. In the face of multi-million-dollar deals and ego-tripping conference commissioners, other sports were silenced, dragged along without a choice, and forced to deal with the consequences. It was a low point for college sports, and it marked a significant shift in the longstanding values that used to define conferences – geographic proximity, cultural coherence, academic solidarity, like-minded schools of thought. None of that mattered; the new forces ruling the land ran twofold: broadcast rights and football.

Victims were manifold, ranging from leagues big to small, east to west, monied to impoverished. The most public martyr was the Big East, whose slow deconstruction culminated this year when the seven non-football playing Catholic schools – DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova – agreed to pack up, ditch their football counterparts, and strike out to form a new basketball-only league. Long aggravated with being shoved around by pigskin-motivated leaders who had lost sight of the league’s original mission – the Big East was founded in 1979 as a way to bring together elite basketball programs along the eastern seaboard – the seven schools banded together to salvage their unity and common mission from the Big East’s crumbling infrastructure. The conference was a shell of its former self, robbed of its original identity, replaced by a transnational hodgepodge of C-USA transplants and new western emigres.

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week Seven

Posted by AMurawa on December 31st, 2012

Another week, another group of honors for Pac-12 people and things…

Team of the Week – UCLA

At first glance, this seemed like a no-brainer, what with UCLA’s Friday night win over a top 10 Missouri team (UCLA’s first win over a top 10 non-conference team in more than five years). But then we had to consider the fact that Arizona’s Christmas night win over San Diego State, although it seems like a distant memory, actually came at the start of the week. In the end, we gave the nod to UCLA since Missouri was more highly ranked than the Aztecs and since the Bruins’ win is much more important to their program (and, really, to their coach) than the UA win was. For the past month or so it has been a given that Arizona was the clear-cut favorite in the conference, but with UCLA showing a glimpse to a national television audience of their immense offensive firepower, all of a sudden UCLA is back in the picture a little bit. And, frankly, our history this season has been to reward the teams that have done the conference the greatest favor in the previous week; early in the year Colorado got TOTW honors on the back of a win over Baylor; California got the nod after winning the DirecTV Classic; and Arizona props for their win over Florida, as well as their first two wins in Hawai’i. And so, now it is time, for the second straight week, to give UCLA its due. While they’re still a flawed team that needs to improve in order to seriously contend for a Pac-12 title, at least they’ve begun to prove that they have the potential to make those improvements.

Shabazz Muhammad Helped Lead UCLA To Their First Non-Conference Win Over A Top Ten Team In More Than Five Years (US Presswire)

Shabazz Muhammad Helped Lead UCLA To Their First Non-Conference Win Over A Top Ten Team In More Than Five Years (US Presswire)

Player of the Week – Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA

I suppose if you had told me way back before the start of the year that Muhammad would win his first conference POTW award in the final week of the calendar year, I would have assumed that he had to sit out the first 10 or so games due to his NCAA eligibility issues. But, after getting cleared for play earlier than expected (he’s now played in 10 games for the Bruins), Muhammad was rusty and out of shape. He’s still not playing up to his immense ability, but he’s certainly in the ballpark, with his ability to put the ball in the hoop on a regular basis in a variety of ways likely unparalleled even in a Pac-12 that features prolific scorers like C.J. Wilcox, Brock Motum and Allen Crabbe. Against Missouri, Muhammad was a threat throughout, but truly shone late in the game with the outcome in doubt. In overtime, he scored seven of the Bruins’ nine points, including a three-point dagger with a minute to go that put his squad ahead for good.

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Pac-12 M5: New Year’s Eve Edition

Posted by PBaruh on December 31st, 2012

pac12_morning5

 

 

 

  1. UCLA fans are still trying to figure out what to make of their major win this past weekend against Missouri. On one hand, Shabazz Muhammad continues to look more and more like one of the best freshman in the nation, averaging 19.6 points per game, and Jordan Adams has been a great surprise thus far for the Bruins. On the other hand, UCLA is arguably the most prestigious basketball school in the country and the coaching job Ben Howland has done since 2008 has not been up to UCLA standards. In terms of this year, the Bruins were upset at home against Cal Poly and are struggling too much defensively by ranking 121st in the nation in defensive efficiency. Ultimately, as the season goes on, UCLA will still have to improve tremendously to meet expectations and for Ben Howland to keep his job.
  2. Washington certainly hasn’t fared too well in games against Connecticut in its program history and on Saturday it was their cold shooting that factored into a 61-53 loss. The 53 points were a season low for Lorenzo Romar’s team as the Huskies shot a season low 29.4 percent from the field. As the Huskies have incorporated shooters C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs more into their offense this year, a poor shooting night like this was bound to happen. Additionally, Lorenzo Romar continues t0 have little success in road games in the Eastern Time Zone as he is now a putrid 2-13 in such contests as the head coach of Washington.
  3. Arizona came back from Hawaii as the champions of the Diamond Head Classic and are now 12-0 heading into conference play and without question the best team in the Pac-12. However, like most teams at this point in the year, there is still room for improvement. The Wildcats are averaging 14.5 turnovers per game on the year and the team as a whole and point guard Mark Lyons will need to cut back on that as the season goes on. Arizona could also benefit from more consistent shooting from three. Despite Kevin Parrom shooting 47 percent on the year, Nick Johnson, Solomon Hill and Mark Lyons, who are the Wildcats’ three leading scorers, are all shooting under 40 percent from beyond the arc. As a team, Arizona is shooting 39 percent from three, but remains inconsistent as they shot 25 percent against San Diego State and 44 percent against Miami in their past two games.
  4. An unexpected home loss to Towson was definitely not what Oregon State needed heading into conference play. This game was supposed to be a confidence builder for the Beavers, but it was anything but that. Going into the game, Oregon State was undefeated at home, but they could never put Towson away despite having a 19-point second half lead. Oregon State has one more home non-conference game against Texas Pan-American that will take place today, and the Beavers will be looking to come away with a much needed victory.
  5. Cal still can’t manage to pick up that coveted marquee non-conference win as they were unable to beat Harvard at home this weekend. If the Bears want to hear their name on Selection Sunday, the loss to Harvard won’t help, and although losses against UNLV and Creighton will boost their overall RPI, that signature victory seems less and less likely for Mike Montgomery’s team this year. Going forward, the Bears will start off the conference schedule on the road with UCLA, who is coming off their biggest win of the season, and will also be dealing with the injury of starting center Richard Solomon.
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Set Your DVR: New Year’s Week Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on December 31st, 2012

setDVR

Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

College hoops heads into 2013 with the opening of conference season in some of the major leagues set to begin . The slate of games scheduled for New Year’s Eve is not to be missed, as the Big East and Big Ten seasons both get underway. However, it is one final non-conference match-up that leads our breakdowns. Happy New Year!

Game of the Week

#16 Gonzaga at #21 Oklahoma State – 6:00 PM EST, Monday on ESPN2 (*****)

After Spinning His Wheels For Most Of The Season, LeBryan Nash Raised The Roof In Stillwater. (AP)

Le’Bryan Nash and company look to stop Gonzaga’s winning ways against the Big 12. (AP)

  • A win against Oklahoma State today will make Gonzaga the best team in the Big 12. Obviously, Gonzaga is still in the West Coast Conference, but they are already 4-0 against Big 12 teams this season with wins against West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kansas State, and Baylor. Monday’s game against the Cowboys, however, is their first true road test against a Big 12 opponent. The other games have either been at home or on neutral courts. The Zags usually have a size advantage against their opponents, but Oklahoma State can match their size and even has that advantage at the guard position. The Pokes have four guards who contribute heavily to the offense that are 6’3″ or taller, including 6’7″ Le’Bryan Nash. With Bulldog guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Jr. measuring at 6’2″ and 6’1″, respectively, it will be very important to watch how Mark Few’s squad chooses to defend the perimeter size of the Cowboys. Much of that defensive pressure could actually fall on the Zags’ frontcourt. The Oklahoma State guards do most of their damage inside the three-point line because they are not much of a threat from the outside. Keep an eye on how this defensive responsibility affects Gonzaga’s offense inside. The Bulldogs will still need to pound the ball down low and get to the line because it’s their best chance of winning. If they can get to the line like Virginia Tech did against Oklahoma State, they can win this game in a tough road environment.
  • No team has shot over 50% eFG in a game against Oklahoma State this season, but the Cowboys face a Gonzaga team that is lethally efficient from two-point range. The GU frontcourt’s two-point shooting breaks down like this – Elias Harris shoots 58.8%, Kelly Olynyk shoots 72.3%, Sam Dower shoots 59.7%, and Przemek Karnowski shoots 65.3%. These player will put considerable pressure on Cowboys center Phillip Jurick and freshman forward Kamari Murphy. The key will be how OSU head coach Travis Ford uses his big guards on help defense to stop the Gonzaga low post attack. If Oklahoma State can figure this out, they will pick-up an important non-conference win as they head into Big 12 play.
  • Non-conference home losses are few and far between for Oklahoma State under Travis Ford. It’s hard to believe that Gonzaga can actually go 5-0 against the Big 12 this season, especially on the road in front of the Cowboy faithful at Gallagher-Iba Arena. This game will be extremely fun to watch, but the edge has to go to the Cowboys at home.

Other Games to Watch

#10 Cincinnati at #23 Pittsburgh – 12:00 PM EST, Monday on ESPN2 (****)

  • Pittsburgh is a very flimsy 12-1. The only good team they’ve play this season is Michigan and they lost that game. We’ll know very quickly if Pitt is any good against a tough and tested Cincinnati squad. However, the Bearcats have shot the ball quite poorly over the last three games. They cannot afford to continue to do so if they expect to win this one, especially at the “Oakland Zoo” in Pittsburgh. The match-up between Tray Woodall and Cashmere Wright should be great to watch all night. Expect Cincy to get back on track and win this game, though, from behind the three-point line. However, if they are shooting bricks like they have been in the past few outings, Pitt will get a great win to start off the Big East season.

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Evaluating the Three Current Favorites for ACC Player of the Year

Posted by EMann on December 31st, 2012

Ethan Mann is a writer for the ACC microsite. He is a senior at Duke University and can be reached at emann970@gmail.com.

Unless something really drastic happens during conference play, the ACC Player of the Year will likely come from this pool of three players: Duke senior forward/center Mason Plumlee, Virginia Tech senior guard Erick Green, and Maryland sophomore forward/center Alex Len.  Let’s take a look at each of the three player’s profiles thus far, a week removed from the start of the conference season.

Mason Plumlee

Before this season, Mason Plumlee had never quite lived up to the extremely high expectations that had surrounded him during his first three years in Durham. While Plumlee had not been a poor player, most people had not expected Plumlee to ever become a four-year player in Durham — he seemingly oozed potential based on his elite athleticism. While Plumlee had made incremental improvements each season — in his junior year averaging 11.1 points and 9.2 rebounds a game — few observers (including his high school coach, who suggested that Plumlee not return to Duke for his senior season) expected the breakout performance that his senior year has yielded so far.

Mason Plumlee is soaring above the competition during a breakout senior season for the top-ranked Blue Devils. (Duke Hoop Blog)

Plumlee is probably the frontrunner for National Player of the Year at this point, and conference player of the year as such. He is shooting 63.8% from the field while averaging 19.5 points (second in the league), 11.6 rebounds (first), and 1.6 blocks per game (sixth) for the nation’s top-ranked team. Much of his improvement has come as a result of major improvements at the free throw line. Plumlee, who shot 52.8% from the stripe his junior season and has hovered at around 50% for his entire career, is currently shooting 69.2% from the line and is going to the line at a much higher rate this season. Plumlee has only had one game where he has shot under 50% from the field, and he has had a double-double in eight of Duke’s 12 games, all of which are staggering statistics.  He also has Duke’s highest usage rate and offensive rating. The big question mark for Plumlee will be at the free throw line, though. While he has improved dramatically this year, he has also struggled over his last five games, reverting back to numbers closer to his career norms (27-of-47, or 57.4%). This is just nitpicking on a truly phenomenal season thus far for Plumlee, though, who should be considered the clear front-runner at this point, especially if Duke wins the ACC.

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The 10 Biggest CBB Stories Of 2012 — #2: Kentucky Gets Over The Hump to Win Its Eighth NCAA Title

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 31st, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

College basketball gave us plenty of memorable moments and stories in 2012. After sorting through the main headlines, we’ve come up with the 10 most consequential items and, for the sake of maintaining publishing sequence symmetry, releasing two per-day over the next five days to lead into the New Year. It was an excellent year for the sport, though I can’t promise you won’t regret reliving at least one or two of the choices. In any case, here’s to summing up a great year and to hoping that 2013 is better than the 365 days that preceded it.

Over the first two years of John Calipari’s tenure, Kentucky inched closer toward a national championship breakthrough – from an Elite Eight appearance in 2010 to a Final Four berth in 2011. Calipari reeled in the most decorated recruiting class of his career the following season, one built on the backs of center Anthony Davis and supplemented by forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, point guard Marquis Teague, and shooting specialist Kyle Wiltjer. He was locked and loaded for the third go-round of his one-and-done experiment, the yearly cycle of turning over the nation’s best freshmen talent and crafting national title contenders as he marshals players through the Wildcats’ historic program, maximizes their national acclaim and exposure, and ferries them into the NBA Draft.

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