Michigan State Appears Back on Track: Delaware Its Latest Test

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 20th, 2014

If you had said you were tired of hearing one phrase in the Big Ten this season, it likely would have revolved around Michigan State. It was repeated nearly every game: “When Michigan State is healthy, the Spartans are one of the best teams in the country.” Well, after an injury-plagued regular season, we finally got the chance to see what the Spartans can do at full strength in last weekend’s Big Ten Tournament. Two wins later over teams that came into Indianapolis in the conversations as potential No. 1 seeds, America was fully back on board with the Spartans. As of this writing, Michigan State is considered the favorite to make it to the Final Four out of the East region and one of a handful of teams considered likeliest to win it all. Even President Obama is picking the Spartans. The question, of course, is whether the Big Ten Tournament revealed the true answer to that original statement, and whether Sparty’s opening round game against Delaware today is just the first step on its way to Arlington.

The Spartans may finally be healthy but Michigan State needs Keith Appling to play back to his pre-injury level for a deep March run. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

The Spartans may finally be healthy but Michigan State needs Keith Appling to play back to his pre-injury level for a deep March run. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

Perhaps the best sign that Michigan State is back to an elite level is that it seemed to get better as the Big Ten Tournament went along. Over the Spartans’ three games, it appeared that they were slowly but surely getting back on track. In its first game against Northwestern, it methodically took care of business against an outmatched Wildcats team. In the semifinal against Wisconsin, Michigan State showed its offensive flair by shooting 53.8 percent from three and 56.9 percent overall. Most notably was its performance in the championship game against Michigan, as Sparty held the one of the nation’s best offenses to 31 percent shooting and 26 percent from three-point range. This is a sea change for a team that had been struggling defensively prior to the return of Dawson.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten M5: 03.20.14 March Madness Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 20th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. It is finally here. Not counting the play-in games (sorry Iowa), the NCAA Tournament is here and the Big Ten sees plenty of action. Four Big Ten teams are in action in the NCAA Tournament today. With this in mind the predictions are final and play begins, and Michigan State got a huge supporter on its already overflowing bandwagon. President Barack Obama made his picks and had the Spartans as the last team standing. With how the Spartans have played lately they have become a hot team to pick as the favorite to make it to the Final Four from its regional. The big question is if this team has finally gelled with everyone healthy. If it has, Obama and plenty of others will have made the correct pick on national champs.
  2. The Selection Committee had plenty of juicy second round (seriously, can we drop this first/second round game stuff already?) games and one certainly is Ohio State against Dayton. The instate match-up of little brother versus big brother with more than a few compelling storylines. There is the obvious state match-up implications of the major conference foe against the mid-major as Ohio State rarely schedules fellow Ohio schools (its last game against Dayton came in 2008 in the NIT). Then there is Thad Matta going against a former assistant coach in Archie Miller. Let’s also add in Dayton’s Jordan Sibert, who transferred from Ohio State. Not to mention this could be Aaron Craft‘s last collegiate basketball game. With all of this surrounding the opening game of the second round, it is plenty enough of a reason to take an extended lunch break.
  3. Bo Ryan is used to the NCAA Tournament. He’s been there plenty of times, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand its significance for Wisconsin‘s players. He makes sure to allow his guys to enjoy the moment and not just focus on the “business at hand” when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. It’s an interesting approach to hear, but also refreshing because Ryan is right. While he may go year after year, most of these players have at most four chances to make it here, so it means more to them to enjoy the atmosphere and chance to be there. Still, with its opening game against American the Badgers are focused on a team that plays a methodical style and pace. It likely helps Wisconsin having played Northwestern this year (who uses the same Princeton style offense as American), so don’t be surprised if the Badgers don’t struggle too much with this slower pace and get to enjoy the NCAA Tournament for at least one more game.
  4. Michigan certainly would love to make it back to the National Championship Game again this season. That chance starts by having to avoid the upset to a No. 15 seed in its opening round game, the same No. 15 seeds that have sprung three upsets in the past two tournaments. This is something the Wolverines are certainly aware of as they take on Wofford. It likely helps Michigan that it knows what it takes to make it back to the final and that it can’t overlook a single opponent on the way. Still, the most interesting perspective may be that the Wolverines are preaching not overlooking Wofford while using the belief they are being overlooked to the make the NCAA as motivation.
  5. While the future certainly looks bright for Illinois, that doesn’t mean the seniors want to see their careers end yet. The Fightin’ Illini got a huge game from Rayvonte Rice as they won their first round NIT game last night by coming back against Boston University. Rice dropped 28 points as he said after the game he wanted to make sure he extended seniors John and Joseph Bertrand’s careers. For a game that started terribly for Illinois as it trailed 30-13, Rice helped them respond and comeback. This extends the season at least one more game with the second round NIT date TBA against Clemson.
Share this story

O26 Bracketbusting: East and West Regions

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 19th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

The most joyous time of the year is finally upon us, and I’m not talking about tax season. I’m talking about buzzer-beating threes and scoring sprees, nickel-dimers and Nantz one-liners, back-door cuts and Farokhmanesh guts. I’m talking about the NCAA Tournament. And since O26 squads often make the most magic in March, let’s examine the prospects of each non-power conference unit in the upcoming Dance. Yesterday, Adam Stillman reviewed the South and Midwest Regions. Here, Tommy Lemoine looks at the East and West regions.

Regional Threats

These are the teams that have a legitimate chance to reach the second weekend, and perhaps even the Final Four.

Can San Diego State generate enough offense to make a deep run? (AP Photo)

Can San Diego State generate enough offense to make a deep run? (AP Photo)

  • San Diego State (#4, West) – This is the fifth straight season San Diego State has reached the NCAA Tournament, but only once in that span has it advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. The good news for Aztec fans is that this is the best overall defensive unit – not to mention highest-seeded outfit – since 2011, the year Kawhi Leonard and company made that run to the second weekend. Steve Fisher’s club ranks seventh nationally in defensive efficiency thanks to long-armed perimeter defenders like Winston Shepard (he’s a 6’8’’ two-guard) and interior stalwarts like Skylar Spencer. The Aztecs are aggressive, confusing and energetic on that side of the ball. They draw New Mexico State on Thursday, a sizable and athletic #13 seed that’s both offensively proficient and does a good job defending the paint. But they turn the ball over quite a bit, and there’s a good chance SDSU will seize on that sloppiness, even if they have trouble scoring. In the following round, they would meet either Oklahoma or North Dakota State – two really efficient offensive squads that have both shown weaknesses this season against athletic, pressure defense. Both are beatable for the Aztecs. Finding success in Anaheim, though, might be a different story. The offense will need to be more consistent than it’s been up to this point, especially against a team like Arizona – the nation’s best defensive unit (and most likely Sweet Sixteen opponent). If Mountain West Player of the Year Xavier Thames can play like he did in January and early March – when he put up numerous 20-plus point performances – and complementary pieces like athletic wing Dwayne Polee can make solid contributions, SDSU would have a shot. But if they can’t find buckets with regularity, the Aztecs won’t last long.
  • Gonzaga (#8, West) – It seems like everybody is sleeping on the Zags in favor of the ‘Marcus-Smart-can-make-a-run’ narrative, which is fine, and may very well happen. But do people realize that Mark Few’s bunch is ranked 20th overall in KenPom, with a top-15 defensive efficiency rating and a stellar effective field goal percentage? They might not be vintage Gonzaga, but these Bulldogs can still play. Their opening bout with Oklahoma State will probably be a good one – in fact, it has the highest ‘Thrill Score’ according to KenPom’s FanMatch – and  should be winnable if they can contain Smart and limit turnovers. The experienced backcourt of Kevin Pangos, David Stockton and Gary Bell will help in the latter department. If they manage to get past the Pokes, a match-up with Arizona in the round of 32 would be daunting, of course, but not necessarily insurmountable. Consider this: Three of the Wildcats’ four losses this season came against opponents ranked in the top-30 in effective height. Gonzaga, with 7’1’’ Przemek Karnowski and 6’9’’ Sam Dower in tow, ranks 25th. Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon will not be able to simply bully Few’s frontcourt into oblivion. If the big men hold their own and Pangos (41 percent) and Bell (42 percent) get hot from behind the arc, watch out. Admittedly, a deep run into the second weekend or the Final Four seems a bit farfetched for the WCC champions – especially considering their lack of quality wins in 2013-14 – but I’m not willing to completely push aside the possibility of a Sweet Sixteen run.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Bracket Prep: East Region Analysis

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 17th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), Midwest (11:00 AM), South (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Brian Otskey (@botskey) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

You should also check out our upcoming RTC Podblast with Brian breaking down the East Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

East Region

Favorite: #1 Virginia (28-6, 16-2 ACC) – The Cavaliers earned the final No. 1 seed and there should be no griping about that. While much is made about Virginia’s unbalanced ACC schedule, you can’t brush off both the regular season and conference tournament crowns. Tony Bennett’s team has a great blend of talent and experience with seniors Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell leading an impressive group of sophomores. This team is one of the finest in the nation on the defensive end of the floor where it has earned its reputation for slow, physical basketball, but its offense doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Virginia ranks No. 25 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and was second behind only Duke in ACC games.

Joe Harris led his Cavaliers team to the ACC title and a No. 1 seed. (USA Today).

Joe Harris led his Cavaliers team to the ACC title and a No. 1 seed. (USA Today).

Should They Falter: #2 Villanova (28-4, 16-2 Big East) – The Wildcats blew their chance to grab the top seed in this region with a quarterfinal Big East loss to Seton Hall on Thursday. That said, Villanova remains a dangerous team. Jay Wright’s group has not received a lot of press because most people may not even know the players on this team. There are no stars or surefire NBA draft picks here, but this team plays with tremendous chemistry and is efficient on both sides of the ball. Are the Wildcats too reliant on the three-point shot? Probably, but the toughest competition for Villanova likely won’t arrive until the Sweet Sixteen at the earliest, where it may have to face Iowa State.

Grossly Overseeded: #13 Delaware (25-9, 14-2 Colonial) – Admittedly, this is a reach. There are no teams in this region I felt were overseeded, but I have to pick one, Delaware is it. The Blue Hens went just 8-7 outside of conference play and are a great example of the stark contrast between the RPI and better rating systems like KenPom. Delaware is No. 70 in the RPI, which no doubt helped them to a No. 13 seed, but its efficiency profile (No. 105 in KenPom) is much more similar to that of a #14 or #15 seed. The Blue Hens are a good team and were very competitive with Villanova and Notre Dame this season, among others, but a #14 seed may have been more appropriate. Again, this is a very minor quibble with an otherwise solid seeding job in this region by the committee.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Bracket Prep: Delaware, Manhattan, Wofford

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 11th, 2014

bracketprep2(2)

As we move through Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. None of the bids handed out Monday night were easily earned, but Delaware, Manhattan and Wofford all ended up on the right side of close margins to punch their tickets to the Big Dance.  Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners.

Delaware

Delaware Capped A Dominant Season In The Colonial With A Tournament Title. Welcome To The Field Of 68, Blue Hens.

Delaware Capped A Dominant Season In The Colonial With A Tournament Title. Welcome To The Field Of 68, Blue Hens.

  • Colonial Champion (25-9, 17-2)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #74/#107/#111
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +4.2
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #13

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Another dangerous mid-major earned a Tournament bid on Monday night when Delaware eluded William and Mary to earn the Colonial’s auto-bid. The Blue Hens profile is heavily deficient in good wins – their most notable victory is a home conquest of Towson (Ken Pom rank of 130) – but take a closer look at their nine losses. Six of them came to top-100 teams, including a four point defeat at possible #1 seed Villanova, a two-point loss at Richmond, and a 12-point loss at Ohio State. Delaware has proven they can hang with some of the nation’s best teams, but can they finally put one in the win column next week?
  2. The Blue Hens are not especially stingy defensively, but they show little mercy on the other end of the floor. Coach Monte Ross’ team loves to get out and run (8th nationally in possessions/game), but at little expense to efficiency (55th nationally in offensive efficiency). Delaware is the only team in the country with three players averaging at least 18 PPG – Devon Saddler (19.8), Davon Usher (19.7), and Jarvis Threatt (18.1) – and all five starters average double figures. Delaware opponents will struggle to target any one Blue Hen in particular, but keep a special eye on Jarvis Threatt. The junior missed eight February games after being suspended for a violation of athletic department policies, but the Blue Hens were undefeated in the CAA when their floor general – and his eye-popping stat line (18.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 5.6 APG, 2.6 SPG) was in the lineup.
  3. That indifferent defensive effort (196th nationally in defensive efficiency) could prove problematic as Delaware seeks the first Tournament win in program history, but a lack of depth should also be a concern for Blue Hen believers. Few coaches used their bench less frequently than Ross did (17, to be exact) this season, which is an odd trait considering the up-tempo assault that Delaware prefers to employ. The margin for error will always be slim for the higher-seeds looking to craft the next great March upset, which means a bit of Blue Hen foul trouble could easily steer a well-intentioned upset bid off course. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Circle of March: Vol. IX

Posted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2014

With six days of hoops left until Selection Sunday, we still have a lot of work to do. Thirteen more teams were eliminated on Monday night, and that leaves a grand total of 211 “eligible” schools remaining on the Circle of March. Eight of those teams are now locked into next week’s field of 68, with Delaware, Wofford and Manhattan last night joining the previous five automatic entrants. Penn and Princeton finish their regular seasons this evening and four other championship games will be held in the Horizon, NEC, Summit and WCC Tournaments, but we won’t really start to see a lot of progress (also known as white space) in the Circle until the Thursday and subsequent editions.

circlemarch_3_10

Teams Eliminated From National Title Contention (03.10.14)

  • Maryland-Eastern Shore
  • Ball State
  • Kent State
  • William & Mary
  • Iona
  • Denver
  • Central Michigan
  • Bowling Green
  • South Carolina State
  • Saint Mary’s
  • Western Carolina
  • South Dakota State
  • San Francisco
Share this story

O26 Superlatives, Part II: CAA, C-USA, MAC, MEAC, MVC, SoCon, Summit & WCC…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 10th, 2014

In Part II of our three-part series, we pass out 2013-14 superlatives to the best teams, performers and performances from eight different O26 conferences: CAA, Conference USA, MAC, MEAC, Missouri Valley, SoCon, Summit and WCC. In alphabetical order:

Colonial Athletic Association

The Blue Hens outworked the rest of the CAA for much of 2013-2014. (The Post and Courier)

The Blue Hens outworked the rest of the CAA for much of 2013-2014. (The Post and Courier)

  • Team of the Year – Delaware (22-9, 14-2). Not even early- and late-season suspensions of two of Delaware’s best players could stop the Blue Hens’ run to a CAA regular season title. Monte Ross’ up-tempo club raced off to an 11-0 start in conference play, amassing a large enough lead that preseason favorite Towson was never able to catch up.
  • Player of the Year – Jerelle Benimon – Towson. You want beastly numbers? How about these: In 32 games, the 6’8’’ Benimon averaged 18.9 points, 11.7 boards, 3.7 assists and 1.3 blocks per game, recorded an NCAA-best 20 double-doubles and reached the free throw line 258 times, good for sixth in the country.
  • Coach of the Year – Monté Ross – Delaware. Ross found a way to keep things together, to keep winning after guard Devon Saddler – the team’s leading scorer – missed seven games due to suspension early in the season and Jarvis Threatt – the team’s third-leading scorer – was suspended for the entire month of February.
  • Upset of the Year – Northeastern over Georgetown, 63-56. In the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, miles from Boston or Washington D.C., Scott Eatherton and the Huskies pounded Georgetown in the paint and pulled off an unexpected upset. Alas, it was another full month before Bill Coen’s bunch wound up back in the win column.
  • Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Johnathan Burroughs-Cook – College of Charleston. Burroughs-Cook cares not that you are D-II school or that he is playing in a preseason game—he will still annihilate your attempt to draw a charge.

Conference USA

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Conference Tournament Primer: Colonial Athletic Association

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 7th, 2014

Championship Fortnight continues with two more conference tourneys tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the next week-plus of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, the CAA and SoCon get started.

Dates: March 7-10
Site: Baltimore Arena (Baltimore, MD)

CAA.jpg

(caasports.com)

What to expect: Help may have arrived just in time for Delaware. After starting 11-0 in conference play, the Blue Hens dropped two of their final five games and appeared vulnerable without starting point guard Jarvis Threatt and key reserve Marvin King-Davis, each suspended at the end of January. Both players have since returned to the court and will likely prove much-needed in the team’s run for the automatic bid. It won’t come easy: Towson, the preseason league favorite, enters the tournament on a six-game winning streak and is equipped with the conference’s best player, Jerrelle Benimon. Since the event will be held in Baltimore instead of Richmond this year, both teams should feel comfortable — Towson is right down the road, and Delaware’s campus is only one hour away. Drexel and William & Mary could be semifinal threats, but expect a Hens-Tigers championship game on Monday night.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

O26 Storylines: On Harvard, Atlantic 10, #dunkcity Again…

Posted by Adam Stillman on February 14th, 2014

We are a little more than four weeks away from Selection Sunday. And the bubble picture is as muddled as ever. Let’s check out this week’s O26 storylines:

Is Harvard in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament?

Is it possible Harvard might miss the NCAA Tournament? (Robert F. Worley)

Is it possible Harvard might miss the NCAA Tournament? (Robert F. Worley)

Harvard was basically penciled into the NCAA Tournament before the season began. If the Crimson weren’t able to secure an at-large bid, certainly they’d run away with the Ivy League. Right? Well, all of the sudden Harvard isn’t looking like such a sure thing. You can thank Yale and its shocking 74-67 win AT Harvard last Saturday for that. Now those two sit atop the Ivy League standings with a 5-1 conference record. Furthermore, Yale boasts a more favorable schedule the rest of the way. The Bulldogs close out the season with a combination of four home games and four road games, including the return home game with Harvard. The Crimson, on the other hand, hit the road for six of their final eight contests. Is it time to hit the panic button for Harvard? Not quite yet, but the Ivy favorite is making things much harder than they should be. It still wouldn’t be a surprise to see Harvard win the league by a few games and earn the conference’s automatic bid without much trouble. But this storyline definitely can’t be overlooked for now. Ken Pomeroy projects Harvard as the favorite in all eight of its games, and predicts the Crimson will win the league with a 9-3 final record. Pomeroy projects Yale as the favorite in five of its last eight games, predicting the Bulldogs will finish with a 10-4 conference mark. It would be a travesty to see such a talented team miss the Big Dance, but the possibility of that happening isn’t all that far-fetched.

Can VCU keep pace in the Atlantic 10 race?

Saint Louis is on the verge of running away with the A-10 regular-season title. The Billikens (9-0 in league play) host VCU (7-2 in league play) on Saturday with a chance to move three games ahead of the second-place Rams. That would be a lot of ground to make up with just six games left on the docket. SLU, the defending regular season and tournament champions, can go a long way toward a repeat with a win Saturday at a sold-out Chaifetz Arena. Sure, there’s a return game at VCU on March 1, the only game the Billikens aren’t favored to win the rest of the way, per Ken Pomeroy. And that includes a season-ending trip to Massachusetts. Pomeroy projects the Billikens to finish 14-2 to take the title, with VCU coming in second at 12-4. The Rams need to steal a win Saturday, otherwise it’s looking like two straight A-10 titles for SLU. For more insight on Saturday’s game, read Tommy Lemoine’s excellent preview.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

O26 Weekly Awards: Wichita State, Davon Usher, Gary Waters & Yale…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 12th, 2014

With just over a month until Selection Sunday, many teams across the landscape of college basketball are beginning to show their true colors, for better or for worse. Some early conference pace-setters have returned back to the pack, while a number of apparent-disappointments have readjusted and begun to find their way. And others yet just keep on winning. Let’s pass out a few awards to those who took care of business last week.

O26 Team of the Week

Wichita State. The Shockers have been written about and discussed at length over the past several days, so there’s no need to overanalyze the implications of last week’s big road victories, followed up with a closer-than-expected home win on Tuesday night — most everyone understands the undefeated potential that now lies ahead. But that does not mean we shouldn’t still celebrate the accomplishment. The fact is, no other O26 program had near the expectations, attention or build-up that Wichita State did entering the week, and perhaps no other O26 team proved as focused, unwavering and simply excellent on the basketball court either. In two of its most difficult conference road tests of the season, Gregg Marshall’s club displayed the same mental and physical toughness it has all year long, locking down defensively — especially in key moments, when it needed it most — and draining timely shots to remain perfect and march one step closer to history.

Wichita State got the job done on the road last week. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Wichita State got the job done on the road last week. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

First, on Wednesday in Terre Haute, the Shockers found victory by responding with immediate answers for each crowd-igniting, lead-dwindling run that Indiana State threw at them. After the Sycamores used a late first half surge to pull within one at the break, Wichita State responded by outscoring the home squad 14-4 in the opening eight minutes of the second. When Greg Lansing’s team went on an 8-0 spurt to then cut the lead to two, the Shockers punched back with four straight points and five straight stops. And when the gap was again sliced to a single possession with under two minutes remaining, Marshall’s guys earned key trips to the free throw line and shut things down on the defensive end. The ultimate result: a 65-58 victory and a season sweep of the Missouri Valley’s second-best unit. Three nights later in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the story was much the same. Wichita State was again too deep, too physical, too consistent over a full 40 minutes, pounding Northern Iowa on the glass — they secured 46 percent of available offensive rebounds — and squashing potential threats to the lead before they could gain traction. The effect was both defeating and demoralizing for the Panthers: “They play every possession perfectly,” UNI sophomore Matt Bohannon said after the game. Again, ‘perfect’ was the prevailing word used to describe the Shockers. Those perfect possessions led to another perfect week, a three-game stretch that might be crucial in their quest for an even greater form of perfection this season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Jasick, Brennan, Rice & Ross: Four Outstanding O26 Coaching Jobs This Season

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 7th, 2014

As great as the Steve Fishers and Gregg Marshalls and Jim Crews of the world are — and they’re pretty darn great — several other O26 coaches have also achieved remarkable success so far in 2013-14, often with less to work with and more to prove. Let’s examine a few of those head coaches around the country who have stood out to this point despite leading lesser-known programs.

Tony Jasick has raised the bar at IPFW this season. (gomastodons.com)

Tony Jasick has raised the bar at IPFW this season. (gomastodons.com)

Tony Jasick – IPFW. At 18-7, Jasick’s team has already tied IPFW’s highest win total since it joined the Division I ranks 13 years ago, vastly exceeding expectations along the way. The Mastadons were picked to finish sixth out of eight teams in the Summit League preseason poll, making their current 6-2 conference record — enough to be tied for first place — quite a surprise, especially considering that they’ve already beaten the next three top contenders. In its win against overwhelming league-favorite North Dakota State, IPFW went 20-of-21 from the free throw line and committed just 11 fouls en route to a double-figure victory. It took Dayton some last-second heroics at home to beat Jasick’s club, and after falling to Illinois by just two points in late November, Illini head coach John Groce said of the Mastadons: “I thought they were going to be the best execution team that we have played so far. And they were.” Only 35 years old and in just his third year, Jasick could very well lead his program to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance this season and is sure to become a hot coaching name in the near future.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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

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

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

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

Note: All statistics dutifully harvested from kenpom.com.

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story