20 Questions: Can the Big East Approach Its Record of 11 NCAA Bids Again This Season?

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Question:  Can the Big East Approach Its Record of 11 NCAA Bids Again This Season?

The Big East can certainly “approach” its record of 11 NCAA Tournament teams but I feel pretty confident in saying the conference will not equal that number this season. There is too much uncertainty at schools such as Georgetown, Notre Dame and West Virginia to proclaim that all three will again make the field of 68. For the Big East to equal 11, those three teams plus one of Rutgers, Seton Hall and St. John’s (teams in the 11-13th place range) would have to wildly exceed the expectations of most writers and analysts to make the field. This assumes, of course, that DePaul, Providence and South Florida have no shot whatsoever of going dancing this March.

The Big East Will Need Help From One or Both of These Guys to Get to 11...

When you break it down, Connecticut, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Syracuse are considered preseason NCAA locks with Cincinnati, Marquette and Villanova not far behind. That makes seven teams and you have to figure at least one (probably two) of Georgetown, Notre Dame and West Virginia will earn bids as well. That makes eight or nine teams with an outside shot at ten in a best case scenario. As we’ve seen in the six year existence of the 16-team Big East, the league eats itself alive, especially in the middle. Ten wins in this conference is usually enough to garner an invitation but 9-9 and 8-10 records, often seen around tenth place, make a team’s situation dependent on what goes on in other leagues around the country.

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20 Questions: Is Indiana Slowly Getting Over the Hump?

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2011

I. Renko is an RTC columnist.

Question: Is Indiana Slowly Getting Over The Hump?

Indiana has long been considered a college basketball “blueblood,” one of the top six programs in the sport’s history.  But over the past 15 years, its hold on that distinction has become increasingly tenuous.  Since 1994, the Hoosiers have advanced past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament just once, during a surprising run as a #5 seed to the 2002 national championship game.  That one shining moment aside, the last decade and a half has seen one disappointment after another :

  • The faded glory of the latter Bobby Knight years, which, by the time of his controversial departure in 2000, were distinguished mostly by NCAA Tournament flameouts and an exodus of key transfers.
  • The tumultuous tenure of Mike Davis, who, despite some early signs of turning things around, proved to be in over his head for a job with the pressure and expectations that Indiana brought.
  • The initial promise of the Kelvin Sampson era which soon imploded in a recruiting scandal that was a humiliating blow for a program that had long prided itself on doing things the right way.

Is Tom Crean Two Years Away From Competing at a High Level?

Which brings us to the Tom Crean era.  It is difficult to overstate the depths to which the Sampson saga plunged the Indiana program.  Crean inherited zero scholarship players in his first year at the helm.  As a result, Indiana fans, though no stranger to high expectations, have given Crean a long leash as he has worked on a multi-year rebuilding project.

So far, Crean has done just about everything right off the court.  He has embraced Indiana’s traditions and fan base, making them the centerpiece of his recruiting pitches.  He has been a vocal and outgoing representative of the men’s basketball program and university.  He and his family have immersed themselves in the campus community.  He has built and rejuvenated in-state recruiting networks to take advantage of Indiana’s tremendous talent base.  He has recruited high-character kids who represent the school well.  For all these reasons, Crean remains popular with the fan base.

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20 Questions: Who Are the Best Candidates to Become Another Butler, George Mason or VCU?

Posted by rtmsf on November 9th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the Mountain West and Pac-12 Conference correspondent and an occasional contributor.

Question: Who are the best candidates to be another Butler, George Mason or VCU?

In the five seasons since George Mason’s huge breakthrough win on the part of mid-majors everywhere, the Colonials have seen their feat matched by three other teams, with Butler even outdoing GMU by advancing to consecutive national championship games and even giving Duke everything possible in 2010, coming just a fraction of an inch away from claiming an improbable national title. But Butler and Virginia Commonwealth, who faced each other in one of last year’s national semifinals, are likely to take steps back this year. While Brad Stevens has rightly earned the reputation as a coach who gets the most out of his team, the fact that the Bulldogs are now missing Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard, in addition to Gordon Hayward (who left two years ago) means that this vintage of Butler will be starting over. Sure, Ronald Nored returns for his senior season, while guys like Khyle Marshall, Andrew Smith and Chrishawn Hopkins are ready for their turns in the spotlight, but in the exceedingly unlikely event that Butler makes its third national title run, Stevens should be up for immediate sainthood, because that would qualify as a miracle. Likewise in Richmond, the Rams will be replacing four key players from last year’s run. While Bradford Burgess returns for his senior year ready to play a bigger role for VCU, there likely isn’t enough talent surrounding him to repeat last season’s remarkable exploits.

Which Mid-Major is Next in Line for a Run to the Final Four?

So, if Butler and VCU are out of the question, which team is possible? First, we should define the question a bit more clearly. The way I look at it, we’re not simply looking for a team outside of the Big Six conferences to fill in here, because schools like Memphis, UNLV and Louisville (when it was in Conference USA) have made Final Fours prior to GMU, and none of those were all that surprising. Likewise, if a team like Xavier or Memphis, for instance, made it to the Final Four this year, it wouldn’t exactly be a shock. Sure, it may raise an eyebrow here and there, but for all the money those schools throw at basketball and all the recruiting success those programs have, they shouldn’t be considered true mid-major programs. For the purpose of this question, we’ll use the Mid-Majority’s redline, which takes the Big Six conferences, along with the Mountain West, Conference USA, Xavier and Gonzaga and names them all major programs.

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20 Questions: Why Can’t Gonzaga Make Another Serious Run in the NCAA Tournament?

Posted by nvr1983 on November 9th, 2011

Question: Why Can’t Gonzaga Make Another Serious Run in the NCAA Tournament?

It seems like a strange question to ask. Every year ESPN hypes up Gonzaga as a Cinderella team, but a strange thing happened between 1999 and 2011–the Bulldogs failed to advance past the Sweet Sixteen. While the school has had its share of stars in the intervening 12 seasons (Adam Morrison being the most notable) much of its NCAA Tournament reputation is built on the work of Casey Cavalry from the 1999 NCAA Tournament. It is a fact that lost is lost on many casual college basketball fans and college basketball analysts, who at best choose to ignore it to help build a compelling narrative. Much like Duke has been made out to be the symbol of all things right in college basketball by certain media outlets there has been a tendency by many in the media to paint Gonzaga as the perennial Cinderella that always makes a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. That may make for a nice story line and the video of Cavalry flying in to tip in the game-winner against Florida makes for a nice clip (as well as creating the name for the best Gonzaga blog out there), but recently they have been surpassed by Butler as the mid-major du jour. The question is what happened to Gonzaga and what can it do to get back to the Elite Eight and beyond?

Few Has Racked Up Regular Season Accolades, But Not In The Postseason Yet

To start off, we should point out that Gonzaga has been far from a total failure during the Mark Few era, which also happens to coincide with the stretch where Gonzaga has been unable to get beyond the Sweet Sixteen, a fact that is probably not lost on Gonzaga fans. During his 12 seasons as head coach at Gonzaga, Few has compiled a 315-83 record (79.1%, which is 6th all-time in Division I and 2nd among active coaches trailing just Roy Williams) while winning the West Coast Conference regular season title 11 consecutive years and making the NCAA Tournament every season he has been a head coach. However, that success has not translated to the NCAA Tournament where after two consecutive trips to the Sweet Sixteen in his first two years as head coach Few has only been able to guide the Bulldogs out of the opening weekend two out of ten seasons including three years where they lost in the opening round.

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20 Questions: Is This Roy Williams’ Best North Carolina Team Yet?

Posted by KCarpenter on November 8th, 2011

Kellen Carpenter is an ACC microsite staffer and an RTC columnist.  

Question: Is This Roy Williams’ Best North Carolina Team Yet?

North Carolina enters the season as the near-unanimous choice for the best team in the country. They are the clear Vegas favorite to win the national championship. This team has the potential to be very, very good, and the raw talent assembled in Chapel Hill is impressive.  Let’s take a quick inventory: The team is led by Harrison Barnes, a first team All-America caliber player, and perhaps the most skilled Tar Heel of the Roy Williams era. He’s surrounded by three other All-America (though probably not first team) level players in steady seven-footer Tyler Zeller, pass-first floor general Kendall Marshall, and the lanky defensive terror that is John Henson. The fifth starter is the speedy and defensive minded Dexter Strickland, who some claim is one of the top one hundred players in America. Coming off the bench are three five-star recruits: Reggie Bullock, a big guard with a sweet-shooting stroke who missed most of last year with an injury, and two freshmen. James McAdoo is more Ed Davis than Marvin Williams, but regardless, he seems locked into the role of the big NBA prospect coming off the bench. P.J. Hairston is, like Bullock, a big guard with a penchant for draining threes.

It's All Smiles at Carolina This Season

That’s a pretty good team, and we aren’t even counting two skilled, big freshmen forwards in Desmond Hubert and Jackson Simmons, the senior Swiss Army knife that is Justin Watts, freshman back-up point guard Stilman White, the injured Leslie McDonald, who was last year’s best three-point shooter, and the relentless majesty of Blue Steel, the motley crew of walk-ons. While these players are pretty good, for now let’s just focus on the top eight guys in the rotation since more than likely they will be playing most of the minutes.  Let’s take a step back and look at these eight players.

This 2011-12 squad likely has more All-Americans and NBA draft picks than either of the 2005 or 2009 championship UNC teams. This was the main evidence that Gary Parrish used to suggest that this team will be Williams’ best North Carolina team. It’s an interesting point, mainly because it speaks to the pure potential of this group. There are a lot of guys on this team who have the potential to be truly great. I use the word “potential” here deliberately, though. Outside of Tyler Zeller, the only time this team has really proven its mettle was for the last half of last season. Extrapolating the team’s performance based on its relatively small sample size is risky, and perhaps overly optimistic. Still, for the sake of argument, let’s go with it.

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20 Questions: Can a Team of Freshmen Win a National Championship?

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 8th, 2011

Brian Joyce is an SEC microsite staffer and occasional contributor.

Question: Can a Team of Freshmen Win a National Championship?

It’s an easy question, so I have a simple answer. Yes, of course, a team of mostly one-and-done players can win the national title. That’s the beauty of college basketball, and more specifically the “lose and you’re out” nature of March Madness. Any team can win it all, as VCU and Butler proved this past year by advancing to the Final Four.

The question has been answered already on a number of occasions. Several teams with a nucleus of freshmen players have taken their teams to Final Fours and even come awfully close to winning a National Championship. The infamous Fab Five of the 1991-92  Michigan Wolverines were arguably the greatest recruiting class ever assembled. Despite their youth at a time when juniors and seniors dominated the college basketball landscape, the Fab Five overpowered opponents all the way to the national title game. It was there that Michigan met one of the best college basketball teams ever in the Duke Blue Devils, and simply didn’t have the focus and ability to play their level of basketball.

The Fab Five Were Arguably the Best Freshman Class Ever (AP)

A similar scenario occurred years later as the 2006-07 Ohio State Buckeyes put together a tremendous freshmen class led by Greg Oden and Mike Conley, Jr., that took the Buckeyes all the way to the final game. Ohio State ran into a team on a mission for its second consecutive title, as the young Buckeyes couldn’t handle Joakim Noah, Al Horford and the rest of the Florida Gators.

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20 Questions: Which Transfers Will Have the Biggest Impact This Season?

Posted by rtmsf on November 2nd, 2011

I. Renko is an RTC columnist.

Question: Which Transfers Will Have the Biggest Impact This Season?

Every year, college basketball fans draw up their preseason predictions of conference champions and NCAA Tournament fields based on returning players and incoming recruits.  But each year, a handful of key transfers play a pivotal role in leading their teams to a conference championship or NCAA Tournament bid.  Which transfers are most likely to play that role this year?

Pierre Jackson and Gary Franklin, Baylor — With the return of Perry Jones and the addition of blue-chip recruits Quincy Miller and Deuce Bello (coming soon to an All-Name Team near you), expectations for the upcoming season in Waco are high.  The Bears have more raw talent than almost anyone in the Big 12 and have a realistic shot at a conference crown.  But Baylor also had quality talent and relatively high expectations last year, only to find their season upended by mediocrity at the most important spot on the floor — the point guard position.  AJ Walton was thrust into the role of replacing Tweety Carter and responded by posting an obscene 32.1% turnover rate.  In a not-unrelated phenomenon, the Bears finished the season ranked 322nd in Division I in team turnover percentage.

The Development of Franklin and/or Jackson Could Be the Difference-Maker for Baylor This Season

If Scott Drew can’t find someone to settle things down at the point this year, the Bears may disappoint again.  And that’s where Jackson and Franklin come in.  Jackson is a well-regarded JUCO transfer and Franklin a formerly touted recruit who transferred from Cal after just a semester.  Franklin will not be eligible until the spring semester, but both will have a chance to pin down the starting point guard job.  If either proves to be a stable floor general, the Bears could have their first conference championship in more than 60 years.

Iowa State’s Starting Lineup — Okay, so maybe the entire starting lineup won’t consist of transfers, but it might come close.  Fred Hoiberg is trying to resuscitate the Iowa State program by resuscitating the careers of several D-I talents, including Chris Allen (Michigan State), Royce White (Minnesota), Anthony Booker (Southern Illinois), and Chris Babb (Penn State).  They make this list as a group because collectively, they will have the single biggest transfer impact on any BCS program this year.

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20 Questions: Who is the Best Defensive Player in College Basketball?

Posted by dnspewak on November 1st, 2011

Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent for the Sun Belt Conference and a Big 12 microsite staffer.  

Question: Who is the Best Defensive Player in College Basketball?

Measuring the top defender is a near-impossible task in almost every sport. Offensively, you’re golden once you take a few glances at the right statistics. The top quarterbacks in the NFL throw the most touchdowns and complete the most passes; the top players in college basketball score the most points and make the most shots; and the top hitters in baseball collect the most hits and drive in the most runs. It’s a a very simplistic way to look at the world, of course. But it’s true. Arguing who the best offensive players are in every sport, including college basketball, are easy, straightforward discussions.

But defense? That’s a whole other story. Do you measure the top defenders by blocks? Steals? Or is it deflections, opponent’s field goal percentage or some other hidden statistic only understood by sabermaticians?

The point is, selecting the nation’s top defender is a subjective task based on a variety of criteria. Most of all, it’s based on the individual impressions we form of players as we watch them compete, whether live or on television. For example, the statistics showed that Jimmer Fredette led the NCAA in scoring last season and shot 40 percent from behind the arc. But Old Dominion’s Kent Bazemore won the Defensive Player of the Year award but did not even finish in the top 15 nationally in steals per game.

Taylor Draws the Toughest Assignment Each and Every Night

ODU’s Bazemore is certainly a candidate for this honor again, but we’re going to go in a different direction here. Our choice for the best defensive player in the country is Vanderbilt’s Jeffery Taylor, a 6’7” forward with a multitude of assets on both ends of the floor. In his three years at Vandy, Taylor has gotten the opportunity to shut down players as varied as Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks, South Carolina’s Bruce Ellington, North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, Missouri’s Kim English, and many others. He has proven that he won’t back down from any defensive challenge, and he’s got the strength and versatility to match up with any collegiate position Kevin Stallings needs covered.

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20 Questions: Is Coach K the Greatest Coach in NCAA History?

Posted by mpatton on October 31st, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Coast Conference and an ACC microsite staffer.

Question: Coach K will become the all-time winningest coach soon. Is he the greatest coach in NCAA basketball history? If not, where does he rank?

Yes, but with a disclaimer. Mike Krzyzewski is the greatest coach of the modern era. You can define that era in many ways: the expansion of the NCAA Tournament (either when in 1975 it expanded to 32 teams, or when in 1985 it expanded to the truly modern 64 teams); the adoption of the shot clock (1985-86); the addition of the three-point line (nationally in 1986-87); or the advent of ESPN (1979 NCAA Tournament).

Truthfully, the best interpretation is somewhere in between, for all four of these events led to the game we know and love today. The expansion of the Big Dance made the NCAA Tournament more difficult both because more games separated teams from the championship and because at-larges increased the overall talent of the field. The shot clock redefined offenses and frankly made the game more exciting. The three-point field goal introduced statistical “noise” that created large swings in performance and allowed for more upsets (basically, a 40-minute game is a small enough sample size that even a horrendous shooting team like Florida State to go 9-19 from three and a good shooting Notre Dame team to go 7-30 from downtown). Finally, ESPN’s consistent coverage of college basketball symbiotically raised the popularity of both ESPN and men’s hoops.

Krzyzewski Will Pass Bob Knight for the Most Wins in Men's Division I History Early this Season

But to suggest that Coach K is a better coach than John Wooden would be too presumptive. There are plenty of arguments, but no sound logic can definitively put Krzyzewski over the Wizard of Westwood: Wooden won ten national championships in 12 years including an 88-game winning streak that is without a doubt the most dominant stretch of college basketball ever. If you still want to try to argue Coach K over John Wooden, read that one more time. I am not saying that Wooden would see that success now, but it is not like we are dealing with similar resumes. Wooden has as many titles as Coach K, Jim Calhoun, Roy Williams, and Tom Izzo (or Bill Self) combined.

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20 Questions: Which Non-BCS League Will Be the Best This Season?

Posted by rtmsf on October 30th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the Pac-12 and Mountain West correspondent for RTC and a microsite writer. You can find him on Twitter @amurawa.

Question: Which Non-BCS League Will Be the Best This Season?

In each of the past four years, the Mountain West Conference, Conference USA, Atlantic 10 and Missouri Valley Conference have all been ranked by Ken Pomeroy somewhere between the seventh- and tenth-best conferences in the nation. Going back nine years, at least three of those conferences have been among the top ten conferences in the nation every season, and no other non-BCS conference outside of these four has rated higher than ninth in that span. Now, as good as the Colonial may be this year, as good as the West Coast Conference or even the MAAC may be this season, I’m willing to wager that this year will be no different. One of the MW, the A-10, the MVC or C-USA will be the best non-power conference this season.

The Mountain West Will Take a Step Back With Losses of SDSU Stars (and BYU)

Further, I’ll be willing to wager that the Mountain West, a conference that has only once in that span ranked lower than eighth, will not be the best of those conferences this season. Last year as it rode BYU and San Diego State (not to mention UNLV, Colorado State and New Mexico), it was almost unquestionably the best non-power conference. But, gone are Jimmer Fredette and Kawhi Leonard. And in fact, BYU is gone altogether, as is Utah. UNLV and New Mexico return, and both of them will be very good, but SDSU will take a big step back this season, Colorado State looks to be ordinary, and the rest of the conference ranges from unspectacular to bad.

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20 Questions: Which Program Is In Best Shape The Next Five Years?

Posted by zhayes9 on October 28th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court. You can find him on Twitter @zhayes9.

Which program is in the best shape to compete for national titles the next five years?

The components of a successful college basketball program mimic a virtuous cycle: find the solution to the initial problem and the issues that follow are infinitely easier to solve. Once a foundation of success is built, once winning evolves into an expectation rather than a wish, everything else falls into place. Locating that first transformational coach and winning that first national title is the most difficult part. Once winning on the biggest stage becomes a habit, players follow that want to live up to the expectations set by their predecessors. A history begins to build. A brand is established.  Aside from an occasional bump in the road, these esteemed programs inevitably become an unstoppable machine.

Unstoppable machine seems like an accurate way to describe the North Carolina Tar Heels over the next five years under Roy Williams.

Roy Williams will win another national title at Carolina

The hype surrounding this year’s team is both unmatched and totally justified. One required trait of a top-flight program is sustainability and Williams has successfully re-loaded not even three years since a Tyler Hansbrough-led Carolina juggernaut cut down the nets in Detroit. A fresh influx of young, talented and hungry stars have arrived antsy to match the accolades of their elders and continue the tradition established by Dean Smith. Expectations for 2011-12 are precisely where Williams and the Tar Heel faithful want them: national championship or bust.

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20 Questions: Who is the Most Overrated Team in America?

Posted by rtmsf on October 25th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Question: Who is the Most Overrated Team in America?

Last week I made one fan base happy when I chose Wichita State as the most underrated team in the country heading into the 2011-12 season. This time around, another fan base is bound to have an equal but opposite reaction. At the end of every year, we college basketball fans look back on the season and ponder how we ever ranked a handful of teams so high back in November while we wonder how on earth we overlooked the team that “came out of nowhere” and made the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight. This piece will attempt to identify the team that is the most overrated as we begin the year. Of course this could completely blow up in my face but what fun is it without that possibility? I have a few teams in mind for this dubious distinction but one highly-rated club in particular has many blinking red lights at this point in time. No, it’s not Duke or Baylor with their questions at the point guard position. Nor is it Arizona, who lost Derrick Williams, or Marquette without the presence of Jimmy Butler. Those teams all have question marks but the team I’m most concerned about is the Memphis Tigers.

Josh Pastner's Team Looked Good Against Arizona, But What About the Rest of the Year?

Josh Pastner’s team won 25 games last year but could only manage a fourth place finish in a mediocre Conference USA. To their credit, the Tigers rebounded from six regular season conference losses to win the conference tournament and give Arizona one heck of a run in the NCAA Tournament. Memphis returns everyone from last year’s team sans Will Coleman but this is still an extremely young group short on experience and cohesion. The Tigers turned the ball over an average of 15 times per game last year, with primary ball handlers Joe Jackson, Will Barton and Chris Crawford combining for over half of that total. Changing a sloppy style of play in one offseason would be quite an achievement for Pastner and his staff but expecting that type of improvement is a bit too much in my estimation. Memphis probably won’t average 15 giveaways again but a number approaching that will effectively ruin any chance they have of making a big postseason run.

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