The RTC Interview Series: Pac-12 Preview with Don MacLean and Miles Simon

Posted by Walker Carey on November 6th, 2013


Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. To read through the entire 2013-14 preseason interview series, click here. As part of our national preview with the Pac-12, RTC correspondent Walker Carey recently had the pleasure of speaking with two Pac-12 experts in Pac-12 Network analyst and former UCLA star, Don MacLean, and ESPN analyst and former Arizona star, Miles Simon. (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)

Don MacLean and Miles Simon Shared Their Pac-12 Thoughts With Us

Don MacLean and Miles Simon Shared Their Pac-12 Thoughts With Us

Rush the Court: Arizona is the overwhelming preseason favorite in the league. What is it about Sean Miller’s team that has expectations so high in Tucson?

Don MacLean: The talent level there is very high. Sean Miller has brought in some very high-level recruits. Aaron Gordon brings another dimension for the team with his great athleticism and versatility to play inside and on the perimeter. T.J. McConnell is going to be great for the team. I worked the exhibition game last week and I was really impressed by McConnell. I think he is really good. He is the first true point guard that Sean Miller has had since he has been at Arizona. When you have all that talent, you need a pass-first guy to spread the ball around. From what I have seen, McConnell seems to be that guy. Sean Miller is also a great coach. With this roster, the depth that the team has, and Miller’s coaching, I think it is warranted to put Arizona as the best team in the league right now.

Miles Simon: Sean Miller obviously brought in a tremendous recruiting class. Getting Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Elliott Pitts to come in is a good place to start with this team. Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell is going to be an excellent addition for the team at point guard. When you look at this team, it is just so long and athletic. I think defensively, this might be the best group that Sean Miller has had since he has been at Arizona. There are just so many positives with this team going into the season.

RTC: Oregon made a surprise trip to the Sweet Sixteen last March after pulling off upsets over Oklahoma State and Saint Louis. Gone from last season’s team are Arsalan Kazemi and E.J. Singler, but the Ducks did secure the services of UNLV transfer Mike Moser. With Moser joining a team that has the talented backcourt of Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson returning, should Dana Altman’s squad take a step forward in the Pac-12 this season and should another NCAA Tournament run be expected?

MacLean: You can never expect an NCAA Tournament run, but I think the team should be just as good. Do not forget that Oregon also added Joseph Young, the transfer from Houston. Adding Mike Moser as a fifth-year guy is an important piece and Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson will be better as second-year players. With what Dana Altman does with his style of play and the way he changes up defenses, I think the Ducks will be as good as they were last season.

Simon: I think Oregon will get back to the NCAA Tournament. It really has some nice pieces, but when you lose guys like Arsalan Kazemi, E.J. Singler, Tony Woods and Carlos Emory, you are losing what was the heart and soul of your team. A lot of leadership and toughness left with those guys. If Mike Moser is able to return to where he was with UNLV two years ago, he will be excellent. The backcourt of Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson should be explosive and one of the best in the league. Johnathan Loyd is the third guard and he has some experience because he had to play a lot when Artis was injured last season. When you consider these pieces, this is a team that should get back to the NCAA Tournament and finish in the top half of the Pac-12.

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The Inane Ramblings of a Pac-12 Homer…

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 25th, 2013

So, the other night, I’m sitting around, minding my own business, doing a podcast with Shane and Randy talking about the Pac-12. When out of the blue, I get accused by an attacker who shall remain nameless of being a Pac-12 homer, just because I picked seven conference teams to get invited to the NCAA Tournament next March. And yeah, maybe taking a flyer on Stanford as a Sweet Sixteen team might have been a part of the equation. But, being an upstanding southern (Californian) gentleman, I say this injustice shall not stand! So, I’m taking to the RTC Pac-12 microsite to air my grievances. Because, really, if anything, I’m a Mountain West homer.

You Have Insulted My Honor And I Demand Satisfaction

You Have Insulted My Honor And I Demand Satisfaction

So, let’s get right to the point. I’m entering my fifth season as an RTC Pac-12 correspondent and I’d like to establish my credentials. In 2009-10, I was right there making fun of the inept conference and coming up with scenarios until the last moment where the conference would only earn one bid to the NCAA Tournament. In 2010-11, as Arizona was following Derrick Williams’ lead on the way to the Elite Eight, I was one of the last holdouts, doubting the Wildcats’ supporting cast every step of the way, nevermind the fact that I was dead wrong. I also had the then-Pac-10 correctly pegged as getting just three NCAA Tournament invites, right up until the point where the Selection Committee screwed up and somehow determined USC was worthy of an at-large as well. In 2011-12, I was telling you all that there would be no redeeming qualities about the Pac-12 Tournament. Heck, I was the guy who was regularly driving several hours into the desert to watch the Mountain West Tournament instead of driving 20 minutes to the Staples Center and getting to sleep in my own bed while being forced to watch the Pac-12 version. Does any of this sound like the hallmarks of a Pac-12 homer? God, no. I hated the Pac-12 at its nadir as much as the next guy. Maybe more so.

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Why is Doug Gottlieb Picking Cal as a Top Ten Team?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 23rd, 2013

It’s the time of year where everybody and their brother are locking in their picks for the upcoming college basketball season. You’ve got All-America teams and conference projections and Top 25s. And it is all good fun. And I get it, you don’t want to have roughly the same picks as everybody else; at some point you want to go out on a limb and say, “Hey, this may be completely wrong, but I’ve got a hunch about Player A or Team B.” And that’s cool. And that’s fun. But. Doug Gottlieb, who is more often right than he is wrong and has probably forgotten more about the sport than I’ll ever know, picked California 10th – in the nation, mind you, not the conference. And now I’m completely befuddled and I’m looking at the Golden Bears and I’m thinking to myself: “What the hell is he seeing that I am missing?”

California? Tenth In The Nation? Am I Missing Something? (credit: Mark J. Terrill)

California? 10th In The Nation? Am I Missing Something? (Mark J. Terrill)

Now, don’t get me wrong, there is clearly plenty of talent on that roster. Point guard Justin Cobbs returns for his senior year. Freshman Jabari Bird is one of the most highly regarded rookie wings in the nation. There’s a pair of returning upperclassman starters up front in Richard Solomon and David Kravish. And there are plenty of other interesting pieces, like versatile sophomore wing Tyrone Wallace, and talented, if oft-injured shooter Ricky Kreklow. And Bird’s not the only freshman expected to make an impact, with Jordan Mathews likely to step right into a big role and seven-footer Kameron Rooks coming along far more quickly than had been previously expected. And, perhaps most importantly, head coach Mike Montgomery is a wizard who routinely gets the most out of his teams. But 10th? In the nation? Huh?

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2013-14 RTC Class Schedule: Arizona Wildcats

Posted by BHayes on September 26th, 2013

Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler. Periodically throughout the preseason, RTC will take an in-depth look at the schedules of some of the more prominent teams in college basketball.

Sean Miller’s fifth season in Tuscon could easily turn out to be his best. Despite the graduation of key seniors Solomon Hill (a first round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft), Mark Lyons, and Kevin Parrom – in addition to the surprising departure of freshman Grant Jerrett to the professional ranks, Miller has assembled the most talented roster that Arizona has seen in quite some time. A solid Pac-12 conference and challenging non-conference schedule will challenge the Cats’, but a nice blend of returnees and newcomers should give the man at the helm ample leeway to steer this storied program deep into March.

Nick Johnson will be asked to do more -- both on and off the court -- for this young but talented Wildcat team

Nick Johnson will be asked to do more — both on and off the court — for this young but talented Wildcat team

  • Team Outlook: This will be a new-look Arizona team, as last year’s squad was built around departed seniors Lyons and Hill. Some familiar faces will be back and poised to fill leadership roles this time around, with junior Nick Johnson (11.5 PPG, 3.2 APG, 1.9 SPG) most prominent among them. The athletic two-guard shot the ball better from three-point range as a sophomore (39% after 32% as a freshman), and should also serve as the Cats’ best perimeter defender in 2013-14. Sophomores Kaleb Tarczewski (6.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 22.2 MPG) and Brandon Ashley (7.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 20.5 MPG) return to anchor the frontcourt, with each likely seeing a slight minutes increase, despite the arrival of a duo of freshman studs in the same frontcourt. Both Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson were McDonald’s All-Americans last spring, and immense immediate contributions from both freshmen would surprise no one. Gordon especially shapes up as a good candidate for a jump to the NBA after a season of stardom in Tuscon, as he is currently projected as a Top-20 pick in the 2014 draft on NBADraft.net. Gordon’s production will be one of the keys to this Wildcat season, but he may not be Sean Miller’s most important player. Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell (11.4 PPG, 5.5 APG, 2.8 SPG in 2011-12) will be filling Lyons’ shoes and running the show in Tucson this season. McConnell was an efficient lead guard in the Atlantic-10 and should quickly acclimate to the Pac-12, but the absence of proven ball-handlers elsewhere on the roster means his transition has to be a smooth one for Arizona to be successful. He will be a welcomed change-of-pace for teammates used to the shoot-first Lyons dominating the ball, and his steal % of 4.7 (12th best in the nation in 2012) is ample indication of a dedication to both ends. The talented youngsters around him will keep expectations low for McConnell individually, but don’t be shocked if he emerges as the leader of this club. Read the rest of this entry »
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ATB: No. 1 Falls, Wolverines Look Fierce and Butler Goes Home…

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 24th, 2013

ATB

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

Tonight’s Lede. Third Round Ahoy! The first weekend of NCAA Tournament play is a refined product. After a second-round customarily filled with upsets and wacky outcomes, the next stage puts sheer team quality over luck and happenstance. This is where the true contenders make their bread. Part one of the third round wrapped up Saturday night, and save for a few surprising results, the best teams by and large validated their putative reputations.

Your watercooler moment. Drop The Revisionist Committee Tongue-Lashings.

The anti-Gonzaga backlash is about to ramp up considerably (Getty Images).

The anti-Gonzaga backlash is about to ramp up considerably (Getty Images).

There is nothing more casually distasteful than hindsight Tournament declarations and Monday morning quarterbacking. It happens every year. Middle Tennessee got run by Saint Mary’s, they never deserved an at-large birth! New Mexico never deserved to be a three seed! The Mountain West is terrible! All of those proclamations have been uttered in various forms, on various mediums, and all of them are patently false. Trying to argue against a certain team’s Tournament placement or inclusion after the fact is like ordering a manifestly scrumptious steak entrée at a five-star restaurant, leaving disappointed with the way it turned out and advocating the dish’s removal from the restaurant menu during the ride home. It’s not fair or to validate previous logic with future outcomes. That won’t stop anyone from copping to lazy criticisms of Gonzaga’s No. 1 seed status in the wake of Saturday’s upset loss to nine-seed Wichita State. Was Gonzaga tested in the same way as, say, Louisville or Indiana on a weekly basis in conference play? No. Did Gonzaga deserve a number one seed (or at least deserve to be in the argument), after posting a 30-2 win-loss record, a 4-2 record against the RPI Top 50, the No. 4 efficiency offense and No. 18 defense in the country? You’d be forfeiting your credibility as an objective and rational college hoops observer to disagree. The Bulldogs may have lost to a hot Wichita State team, may have blown an eight-point second half lead, may have allowed a physical Shockers group too much room on the perimeter. But they didn’t lose their claim to all of the aforementioned credentials. The selection committee’s vague criteria has offered up decades of case evidence to analyze, and by their admittedly fuzzy standards, Gonzaga deserved to be a No. 1. Their early third-round dismissal does not change that fact.

Also worth chatting about. Michigan Turns Major Third-Round Hurdle Into Cakewalk.

The Rams had no answer for McGary Saturday (AP Photo).

The Rams had no answer for McGary Saturday (AP Photo).

Recent history affects NCAA Tournament bracket intellect in real and influential ways. When paired with commendable regular season results, that team is extremely difficult to ignore – no matter the opponent. It’s part of why VCU beating Michigan Saturday looked like such a cinch “upset” pick, and completely why Michigan’s 25-point demolition of the Rams was more of an “upset” than a VCU win could have ever been. Mitch McGary played the best game of his college career to date (21 points, 14 rebounds), the Wolverines kept turnovers at a manageable level (12), and when the Rams can’t induce cough-ups they can’t get stops. The final product: Michigan has its first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1994. The Wolverines more resembled their early-season national title-contender form Saturday that at any point this season. When Burke is dishing to open shooters and slashing into the lane, when Tim Hardaway Jr. is presenting matchup problems all over the floor, Michigan is – just as many suspected in November and December – a bona fide national title threat. Throw in the possibility of a potent interior presence in McGary, and John Beilein’s team will give the winner of Sunday’s Roy Williams Bowl (Kansas-UNC) all it can handle and more. Michigan is in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in nearly two decades, and I wouldn’t be surprised if its journey blows past that minor landmark.

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Pac-12 M5: 03.21.13 Edition

Posted by PBaruh on March 21st, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. Oregon guard Dominic Artis says he’s now 100 percent healthy and will be ready for today’s game against Oklahoma State. The freshman guard has more than his health to worry about, however. Artis is a Bay Area native and as the game will be played at HP Pavilion in San Jose, he has been trying to get tickets for his friends and family noting that it’s like high school all over again. As far as conditioning goes, he said he’s finally up to full speed and is excited and ready for today’s game.
  2. Sean Miller has always been an intense competitor and that continues to be apparent as the head coach of Arizona. His fire and passion for the game led him to walk on at Pittsburgh in college and he accomplished much more than a typical walk-on usually does. Miller ended up starting at point guard as a freshman and although he never had a basketball playing career after college, it was clear that his drive would lead him to coaching. At only 44 years old, Miller has become a prominent recruiter and successful motivator and his teams have been mainstays in the NCAA Tournament. He may agitate others with his animated antics on the sideline — most recently after his loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament — but that’s what separates the Pennsylvania native from others and is a major reason for his continued success.
  3. Cal is coming off back-to-back losses to end the season, so getting off to a good start will be key for the Bears when they square off with UNLV today. The Bears have struggled in starting games with soft defense and stagnant offense, but at other times Mike Montgomery’s team has proved that they are a determined bunch. When they were thought to be finished in the Pac-12 race at 3-4, they then rolled off seven straight victories. This was due largely to tougher defense as the Bears held their opponents to just 33 percent shooting during their run. As they get ready for a rematch against UNLV, Justin Cobbs said their NCAA First Four blowout loss last year to South Florida is still fresh in their minds. Count on the Bears to be ready to get back on the court and play 40 strong minutes of basketball.
  4. The Pac-12 certainly isn’t the best conference in college basketball, but it is a league filled with parity.  Just take a look at regular season champion UCLA. They lost to Arizona State, USC, and Washington State. Oregon lost to Stanford and Utah. Arizona fell to USC. Colorado lost to Utah and Oregon State. Additionally, almost every game that these teams played in the conference season came down to the wire. Because of this, Pac-12 teams playing today and tomorrow could benefit as they’ll be ready to play and are no stranger to close finishes.
  5. Arizona junior Jordin Mayes is playing his best basketball at the right time of the year. Prior to the Wildcats’ loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament, Mayes had scored 22 points in his past three games and showed his willingness to shoot from behind the arc. Arizona will need all it can get from its key bench player today and the junior has experienced some success in the NCAA Tournament. Back in March 2011, Mayes hit four three-pointers against Texas and also provided key minutes in Arizona’s upset of Duke that led to an Elite Eight appearance that season.
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Pac-12 M5: 03.20.13 Edition

Posted by PBaruh on March 20th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. Arizona has become a trendy pick to get upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats will play Belmont on Thursday and analysts of CBS Sports, Yahoo!, ESPN and USA Today have predicted an early exit for Arizona. Solomon Hill and Jordan Mayes don’t seem to be worried, however, noting that analysts are just doing their job and it won’t affect their preparation or performance. Arizona has the talent to compete with anyone in the field of 68, but nothing will come easy starting with Belmont. The Bruins were the Ohio Valley Conference champions and are the 18th best three-point shooting team in the nation at 38.6 percent. That doesn’t bode well for Arizona as they rank 276th in the nation in defending the three with opponents shooting 36 percent from behind the arc.
  2. Cal’s Justin Cobbs has finally found his balance. When the Bears take on UNLV Thursday, it will be a rematch of a non-conference game from earlier in the season when the Runnin’ Rebels came away with a 76-75 victory on a last second tip-in. Cobbs understands his role at this point of the season much better as a combination of a scorer and facilitator for Mike Montgomery’s offense. Earlier in the year, Cobbs was shooting poorly by averaging just 11.4 points per game and couldn’t find his rhythm. Over the past 13 games, however, Cobbs is averaging 17.1 points and 5.7 assists per game. Allen Crabbe is the focal point of the Cal offense, but if the Bears want to get past UNLV this time, they are going to need a strong game from Cobbs.
  3. Craig Robinson started out the season by saying this Oregon State team was the best he has ever had, and now he’s the first to say it was a disappointment. The Beavers finished a lowly 4-14 in the Pac-12, but if any of the Oregon State faithful want a coaching change, it’s unlikely to happen this year. Athletic director Bob De Carolis met with Robinson in Las Vegas last week and confirmed that the administration is still in full support of its head coach. Next year, the Beavers will lose Joe Burton but will return Angus Brandt who had a season-ending knee injury very early in the year. In addition to Brandt, the Beavers will have Roberto Nelson, Devon Collier, and Ahmad Starks all back, but if they can’t make strides in the 2013-14 season, Robinson could find himself on the hot seat.
  4. Arizona State and Herb Sendek plan to make the most of out of their NIT appearance. Tonight the Sun Devils will play Detroit in Tempe and won’t be taking them lightly at all. Although Arizona State is playing in the postseason, there is some disappointment from the fans that the team didn’t reach the NCAA Tournament. Sendek isn’t one of those disappointed, though, mentioning that there is no way Arizona State won’t be motivated as they will get another opportunity to play in front of their home crowd in a postseason setting.
  5. For the first time in a half-century, Colorado is in the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year. The Buffaloes will be playing in Austin against Illinois on Friday afternoon and will certainly have a significant rebounding advantage. Colorado has Andre Roberson who averages 11.3 rebounds per game while Illinois’ best rebounder is Nnanna Egwu who pales in comparison at only 4.6 rebounds per game. Tad Boyle said after practice yesterday that Roberson will guard Illinois’ leading scorer Brandon Paul, which could spell trouble for the Illini as Roberson has already successfully defended Allen Crabbe and Solomon Hill this year.
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Pac-12 M5: 03.14.13 Edition

Posted by PBaruh on March 14th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. When the quarterfinals get underway later today in the Pac-12 Tournament, Mike Montgomery and Cal will be ready. Guard Justin Cobbs knows any team is capable of winning the event and hopes that Cal will be the team to do just that. The Bears will face Utah and if Cal can play the way they did down the stretch of the regular season, they could walk away as the tournament champions. Part of the reason Cal finished the season by winning nine of its final 11 games was its strong defense, holding opponents to 39 percent shooting from the field (best in the conference).
  2. Arizona’s late season struggles could affect the Wildcats come Selection Sunday. Committee chair Mike Bobinski noted how a team finishes is certainly important and that might not bode well for Sean Miller’s team if it doesn’t have a strong conference tournament. Without question, the Wildcats are a lock for the field of 68, but better play in Vegas could certainly earn them a higher seed. Additionally, winning multiple games certainly would make Arizona a little more confident before the NCAA Tournament as the Wildcats don’t have a truly notable win since beating San Diego State in December 2012.
  3. The status of Ben Howland’s job as head coach of the Bruins has been a recurring topic this year, but Howland is choosing to reflect on his latest Pac-12 title rather than an unpredictable future. This year, Howland has been more relaxed than usual. After a disappointing loss to Cal Poly and near loss to UC Irvine early in the season, Howland clearly revamped his offensive philosophy with this team. The Bruins get out and run more than ever and have a much more open offense than they have in years past. Nevertheless, a successful turnaround and a Pac-12 regular title isn’t enough to keep Howland off the hot seat. Only success in the NCAA Tournament will decide if the veteran coach stays in Westwood.
  4. A coach that might be on a hotter seat than Howland right now is Stanford’s Johnny Dawkins. With a loss to Arizona State yesterday, the Cardinal will miss the NCAA Tournament again and even another NIT championship might not be enough to keep the former Duke assistant in Palo Alto. Under Dawkins, Stanford has posted an above average 93-73 overall record, but hasn’t finished better than sixth in any year in the Pac-12. The Cardinal were picked by many this year to finally play up to their potential and finish near the top of the league standings, but that didn’t happen. It will be interesting to see how Stanford brass chooses to handle the head coaching position.
  5. Arizona State co-Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Jahii Carson was sensational yesterday against Stanford, scoring 34 points in their 89-88 overtime win, but Arizona State athletic director Steve Patterson says the team needs to continue to upgrade its talent. Carson is likely to leave for the NBA before his four years are up as a Sun Devil and if ASU doesn’t continue to improve as a program, they might be set back once again. Patterson noted with rival Arizona ahead of the curve in recruiting and talent, thinking about remaining more than just competitive is necessary.
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ATB: A Couple of Big Bubble Wins, Miami Stunned at the Buzzer and a Whole Bunch of Weird Losses…

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 7th, 2013

ATB

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

Tonight’s Lede. Two Questionable At-Large’s Cash In. At the end of a long season, after a mixed bag of wins and losses leaves you wanting more, every now and then the schedule throws you a lifeline. Teams get big resume-boosting opportunities right in their own home gyms. Sometimes they take advantage; other times not. Villanova and Iowa State were blessed with such propositions in their respective home confines Wednesday night, with Oklahoma State visiting Hilton Coliseum and Georgetown making its way to the Wells Fargo Center. With Tourney ticket-punching affairs hanging in the balance, their agendas were simple. Win and you’re in.

Your Watercooler Moment. Bubble-Dwellers Score Big.

Taking out a top-half seed like Oklahoma State will make waves in the at-large picture (AP)

Taking out a top-half seed like Oklahoma State will make waves in the at-large picture (AP)

When national player of the year candidates meet desperate bubble teams, I’ll take the latter every time and never think twice. Arguably the best player in college basketball over the past few weeks, Georgetown’s Otto Porter, came upon a collective force he could not overcome in Philadelphia, PA. That force was Villanova’s home court advantage and added motivational edge, and the Wildcats – having already knocked off Syracuse, Louisville and Marquette at home this season – were not about to let this golden opportunity slip away. Sure, Jay Wright’s team could have busted off a few Big East Tournament wins and maybe, maybe snuck into the field after a loss Wednesday night. Instead, thanks to the efficient offense of JayVaughn Pinkston and solid defensive work on Porter, Villanova can go into Selection Sunday feeling optimistically comfortable about its position in the field. The other big bubble game didn’t feature a top-five team. A National POY candidate was in the building, though, and not even Marcus Smart could hold down the Cyclones’ potent offense in Ames. Like the Georgetown win, ISU’s triumph should get them over the hump (ISU’s case is thornier than Villanova’s, no doubt), provided it takes care of business Saturday at West Virginia. It’s never smart to make definitive statements about who’s in and who’s out before the selection committee gets together and sets in stone the field of 68. The committee has been known to make some puzzling decisions from time to time. And I don’t consider myself skeptical when I say the selection process will render more than a few dumbfounding choices this season. But on Wednesday night these two teams may have eliminated the possibility of selection day robbery altogether. Their profiles look worthy.

Also Worth Chatting About. Uh, Miami?


One of the main takeaways from Saturday’s loss at Duke, besides Ryan Kelly’s marvelous return, was the way Miami hung tough for 40 minutes, battled the Blue Devils every step of the way, and came one three-point shot away from sending the game into overtime. Miami came away with a loss, but if you’re Jim Larranaga you head back to Coral Gables feeling like your team not only managed the pressures of a brutal environment with poise and aplomb, but also nearly knocked off arguably the best team in the country (I don’t subscribe to this notion, but it’s out there) on a night when its newly-healthy senior forward miraculously returned from a weeks-long absence to play one of the best games in program history. It happens. Conference games are hard to win on the road. And besides, Miami still had the ACC regular season crown to bank on, right? All it had to do was win one of its final two regular season games to clinch its first outright conference title since moving to the ACC; easy stuff. On Wednesday night Georgia Tech was anything but “easy” at the BankUnited Center. The Yellowjackets stunned Miami, delaying its outright conference title and shaking up the ever-fluid NCAA Tournament seeding permutations, but more than anything else, Georgia Tech handed the Hurricanes their first truly worrisome lost of the conference season (shout out to Florida Gulf Coast!). Mere weeks away from the opening round, Miami will need to assess its mistakes and roll into the tourney riding the same confidence and momentum it had throughout most of league play.

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ATB: Kelly Ignites Duke, Bubble Teams Fall in Droves and a Breathtaking One-Man Show in the MVC…

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 4th, 2013

ATB

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

The Weekend’s Lede. March’s First Weekend. The regular season is whittling down to it climactic end. After this weekend’s bloated weekend of excitements, where many a conference race were won and lost, only one more weekend remains before conference tournaments begin. The regular season has been filled with excitement and unlikely drama, so in one sense it is devastating to face the end-of-regular-season music. The nearing of conference and NCAA Tournaments is what I like to call the ultimate silver lining to that dour sentiment. That’s right: check your calendars. The Tournament, and the mini tournaments leading up to it, are coming to a TV near you. And soon. What I’m really trying to get at here is that as grim as the prospect of a Saturday afternoon with zero college hoops on tap may be, the treat at the end of the calendar will arrive at a moment’s notice. One phase (the regular season) gives way to a better one (the postseason). That turning point isn’t here yet, so in the meantime we’ll stop by and examine some of the hardwood happenings in various leagues around the country. All systems go:

Your watercooler Moment. Ryan Kelly Helps, a Lot.

The return of Kelly was the deciding factor in Duke's ACC bout with Miami (USA Today Sports).

The return of Kelly was the deciding factor in Duke’s ACC bout with Miami (USA Today Sports).

Whenever someone would mention Duke’s chances of advancing into the deep rounds of the NCAA Tournament, or its seeding prospects, they talked about Duke in two forms. With Ryan Kelly, the Blue Devils are undefeated with wins over Kentucky, VCU, Louisville, Minnesota, Ohio State, Temple and Davidson. Without him they’re not the same team, both empirically and wins-wise, and a mixed run through the ACC underscored the impact of Kelly’s absence on Duke’s collective unit. The conversation loomed as Duke took road losses at NC State, Miami, Maryland, and most recently, Virginia. No one doubted whether Duke would improve with Kelly in the lineup, only whether they could improve enough to regain their nonconference form or, in the most skeptical corners of ACC message boards, whether Kelly would return at all this season. And even if he did return, how much could we reasonably expect from an unconventional 6’ll’’ stretch four with a history of nagging foot injuries? The answer to that question came Saturday. Kelly returned to the Blue Devils just in time for a titanic ACC clash with Miami, who embarrassed the Blue Devils in Coral Gables in their first matchup in January. To say Kelly returned would be like saying Willis Reed “returned” from a torn thigh muscle for game seven of the Knicks’ NBA Finals series with the Los Angeles Lakers. Kelly didn’t just return. He stole the show: 36 points on 10-of-14 shooting in a game that Miami kept close throughout, and was only sealed when Shane Larkin and Rion Brown missed game-tying threes as time expired. It’s unreasonable to bank Kelly for 30 points on any given night. I could even see him sitting out, or playing sparse minutes, in Duke’s two remaining regular season games. If his foot isn’t fully healed, he may need the extra rest to gear up for the NCAA Tournament. What matters is that Kelly is back, and Duke can start working on trending back towards the clear-cut No. 1 team that ruled the hoops landscape in November and December. 

Also Worth Chatting About. Big East Contenders Handle Business.

A midseason Big East panic is a distant memory after Louisville won at Syracuse Saturday (AP).

A midseason Big East panic is a distant memory after Louisville won at Syracuse Saturday (AP).

At the top of the Big East standings, a glut of variously capable teams has positioned itself within striking distance of the conference title at different stages this season. Syracuse and Louisville were the obvious favorites entering conference play, and teams such as Marquette, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame have looked threatening on occasion. The picture has remained muddy for a while now – as it should in a league as naturally competitive and unpredictable in the Big East. As the conference schedule wanes, time and gradual attrition has sliced the pool of realistic challengers into a formidable trio: Georgetown, Louisville and Marquette. The most surprising exclusion expedited its exit on Saturday afternoon at the Carrier Dome, where the Orange engaged in a low-scoring tussle, eventually falling on the wrong end of Louisville’s payback effort from the Orange win at the KFC Yum! Center earlier this season. You may or may not have realized, but the victory was Louisville’s fifth in a row since that devastating 5 OT loss at Notre Dame, the only one of which had any real consequence. The Cardinals are once again locking teams down with the nation’s No. 1 efficiency defense, getting just enough on the other end from Peyton Siva and Russ Smith and peaking just in time for the postseason. With Marquette holding serve against the Irish on Saturday just a week after knocking off the Orange at home, the Golden Eagles stand tied with Louisville in the Big East table, with Georgetown holding down first place after its win over Rutgers Saturday night. Syracuse’s three-game skid essentially dashes its league crown hopes, but more importantly it gives the Orange two straight defeats in their previously unassailable home gym and three straight losses overall. The Orange, strangely enough, are officially vulnerable at home, and officially on the outside of the conference title chase looking in as they round out their last hurrah in the Big East.

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Pac-12 M5: 02.26.13 Edition

Posted by PBaruh on February 26th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. With the chaos continuing in the Pac-12 and no team running away as the favorite, Arizona once again has another chance to control its fate and win a share of the crown. Three weeks ago, when Oregon lost to Stanford and Cal and Arizona swept the Washington schools, the Wildcats found themselves in a familiar position. They blew it then when they lost to the Bears, seemingly ending their chances at the time with Oregon and UCLA ahead of them in the standings. But now the Ducks and the Bruins have done the same, both losing to Cal in the past couple of weeks, setting up a three-way tie for first place. Despite the fact that Arizona owns no head-to-head tiebreakers as of now, a share of a conference title is still within reach.
  2. UCLA took another step toward its ultimate goal with a win over USC on Sunday. The most recent match-up between these two teams couldn’t have been more opposite as USC had defeated UCLA in overtime at Pauley Pavilion, but the Bruins made it apparent on Sunday that this game was going to be very different from the opening tip. UCLA raced out to a 17-4 lead, led by 19 points at half, and never let the Trojans sniff success in the second half. Although the Bruins still have a great shot to win the Pac-12, that isn’t what matters in Westwood. Yes, it’d be nice to have a Pac-12 championship, but it won’t matter if they don’t make some serious noise in the NCAA Tournament with Ben Howland’s job is on the line.
  3. The good news for Oregon is that they still are tied for first place in the Pac-12. The better news is the fact that star freshman Dominic Artis is close to returning from his foot injury and the Ducks only have one game this week, allowing him more time to recover. Even if Artis is unable to go on Thursday night against Oregon State, the Ducks should still be able to take care of the Beavers. And when Oregon travels to take on Colorado and Utah to close out the season on the road, Artis will likely be back, which will be crucial.
  4. Barring an unexpected Pac-12 Tournament championship, Larry Krystkowiak and Utah know the season is close to an end; as a result, the head coach is planning on extending his playing rotation for the final four games of the season. Standout players Jason Washburn and Jordan Loveridge will most likely see less time while freshman Dakarai Tucker is in line to get more minutes. Tucker had eight points in the each of the past two games against Arizona and Colorado and has put forth a strong defensive effort in practice and will be rewarded.
  5. After surprisingly winning seven of its past eight games in the Pac-12 with notable road wins over Arizona and Oregon, Cal is now another team in serious contention for the Pac-12 title, only one game out of first place. With two weeks left in conference play, there are still so many ways this race could pan out, but if Cal wants to finish at the top they’re going to need some help. As far as this week goes, the Bears need Arizona State and USC to beat UCLA and Arizona, respectively, and take care of their own business by beating Utah and Colorado in Berkeley. It won’t be easy though as Colorado needs every win it can get to secure a possible at-large bid, but if the Bears can get through this week unscathed, they’ll be one more step closer to an unexpected Pac-12 title.
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It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume XI

Posted by jbaumgartner on February 25th, 2013

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…. Ohio State’s Sam Thompson getting so high on this alley-oop against Michigan State on Sunday that he was literally staring at the rim when he got the ball. That would have been enough, but then he chose to hammer home right on a poor Michigan State defender – just for kicks. Definitely one of the more impressive athletic plays I’ve seen this year.

Sam Thompson is not shy about attacking the rim

I LOVED…. the hilariousness that is Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery on set. In this week’s gift from above, Raftery comically asks Bilas if he’s “ever been ridden” before. Take a look – it’s just too much.

I LOVED…. everyone realizing that Miami can be very, very average – or in this case, downright bad in a loss to a Wake Forest team that was 4-9 in the ACC going into Saturday. If Miami and Gonzaga somehow play their way into #1-seeds, I don’t think it’s overkill to say that they could be two of the more susceptible #1-seeds ever for a first-round upset. And Miami could even be the likelier of the two because of how much they love the three-ball.

I LOVED…. glancing at the Georgetown schedule and having my jaw slowly drop lower and lower as I looked at their defensive efficiency during this very impressive nine-game winning streak. Check it out – since losing to South Florida on January 19, the Hoyas have allowed 47, 51, 52, 56, 63, 55, 55, 66 and 46 points. That’s pretty stingy, and it bodes well for a Tournament run if they can continue mustering enough offense. Read the rest of this entry »

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