Who Won the Week? Two Undefeated Teams, But Certainly Not The Third…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 7th, 2014

wonweek

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Wichita State

Cleanthony Early was outstanding for the Shockers. (AP)

Cleanthony Early was outstanding this week for the Shockers. (AP)

The nation’s winningest team cleared its toughest conference hurdle Wednesday night in defeating Indiana State in Terre Haute, led by senior forward Cleanthony Early’s 19 points. From here on, the Shockers have better than 50 percent odds to go undefeated in the regular season, according to KenPom.com, and about 35 percent odds to make it to the NCAA Tournament unblemished. Wichita State’s reign over the Missouri Valley has been so strong this year that only two teams – Missouri State and Indiana State – have even finished within 10 points of them. Tomorrow’s game at Northern Iowa is the toughest remaining tilt for the Shockers, which also sandblasted Evansville 81-67 last Saturday.

(Related winners: Gregg Marshall, whose stock will never be higher, even if he never wants to leave; the Missouri Valley, which is certain to get some more NCAA Tournament win shares, even without Creighton in the conference. Related losers: Indiana State, the MVC”s second-best team, which probably has to win Arch Madness to make the NCAAs; Evansville, perpetually anonymous in purple.)

LOSER: Arizona

Of the triumvirate of teams that came into last weekend undefeated, only two came out unscathed. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they weren’t one of them. Their road trip to California, the toughest game left on their schedule at that point, turned out to be undone by a last-second jumper from Golden Bears’ guard Justin Cobbs over center Kaleb Tarczewski, giving Cal a 60-58 win. That news was bad enough, but worse was what came after — that sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, a starter, had broken his foot during the game and would be out for the season. In Thursday’s 67-65 win over Oregon, Arizona looked disjointed offensively and saw star freshman Aaron Gordon injure his leg in a game in which he made just 2-of-11 free throws. The Wildcats actually trailed the disintegrating Ducks with just 90 seconds left before point guard T.J. McConnell made a three-pointer that gave them the lead for good. Sean Miller only played seven players, even accounting for Gordon’s injury, and its lack of depth could be problematic should more injuries arise or should fouls accumulate. It’s a shame to see this happen because a full-strength Arizona team looked to be head and shoulders above all but a few others around the country.

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Evaluating AAC Non-Conference Schedules: The Bad and the Ugly…

Posted by CD Bradley on October 30th, 2013

We looked at the best of the AAC non-conference schedules in Part I, after explaining a bit of what makes for a good non-conference schedule. This season, there’s quite a bit more bad than good, which could drag down the collective RPIs of AAC members and ultimately lead to lower NCAA Tournament seeds come March.

Larry Brown's SMU Mustangs, a popular sleeper pick, have a lot riding on a trip to Virginia.

Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs, a popular sleeper pick, have a lot riding on a trip to Virginia.

The Bad

  • Cincinnati: The Bearcats return the favor of a visit last season from MW favorite New Mexico with a road trip of their own to The Pit. They also will play former Big East rival and mid-level ACC squad Pitt at Madison Square Garden. Then… well, there’s the rivalry game with Xavier, which seems poised to finish in the bottom half of a newly constituted (read: relatively weaker) Big East; N.C. State, clearly headed toward the bottom of the ACC, and Conference USA also-ran MTSU. That trio might end up in the RPI top 100; it’s highly unlikely any other team on the schedule will come close.
  • Louisville: If the defending champs can escape Rupp Arena with a win, all will be forgiven by both their fans and the committee, as a road win against Kentucky is perhaps the highest quality victory available in college basketball this year. Southern Miss, which finished with an RPI of #30 last season, is favored to win Conference USA. They face a potential Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off final against North Carolina at the Mohegan Sun. They need the Tar Heels to be there, because the rest of their foes are middling teams in weak leagues, with Charleston the most likely to crack the top 100, and several – we’re looking at you, Hofstra and UMKC – seeming likely to end up north of #300.

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Award Tour: Mason Plumlee, Anthony Bennett and Coach K Are Our Frontrunners

Posted by DCassilo on December 21st, 2012

awardtour

David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

The holidays are always a good time to take a breath and reassess the entire country in college basketball. What is out there is a lot of uncertainty, especially in terms of title contenders. Is there really much that separates No. 1 Duke from No. 9 Kansas or even No. 24 Oklahoma State? But in terms of our races, it’s pretty clear that the field is chasing Mason Plumlee for Player of the Year, Anthony Bennett for Freshman of the Year and Mike Krzyzewski for Coach of the Year. All three have been nothing short of stellar from the opening tip. While parity is fun, there’s nothing better than watching the field try to hunt down the favorite.

And now, a look at those fields.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

10. Brandon Paul – Illinois (Last Week – 10)
2012-13 stats: 18.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.5 APG

Paul showed his versatility for a guard by grabbing a season-high nine rebounds against Eastern Kentucky last Sunday. The craziest thing about the Illinois senior is that while he would be a frontrunner for the top player in any other conference, it’ll be a fight to even make the All-Big Ten team. This week: December 22 vs. Missouri

9. C.J. McCollum – Lehigh (Last Week – 6)
2012-13 stats: 24.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.1 APG

Not much to write as McCollum missed his only game this week with an ankle inury. He’s day-to-day, so he shouldn’t miss much time. This week: None

8. Michael Carter-Williams – Syracuse (Last Week – 8)
2012-13 stats: 12.3 PPG, 5 RPG, 10.7 APG, 3.4 SPG

Michael Carter-Williams Has Been a Revelation This Season

Michael Carter-Williams Has Been a Revelation This Season

It was a typical two games this week for Carter-Williams. The assists were there but so were the missed shots and turnovers. The fact that Jim Boeheim is tolerating the latter two is a good indication of how special this kid is. This week: December 22 vs. Temple

7. Jeff Withey – Kansas (Last Week – 8)
2012-13 stats: 14.1 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 5.4 BPG

Despite all the defensive accolades he receives, Withey’s offense cannot be overlooked. Make no mistake, he is a focal point of what the Jayhawks want to do, as he’s attempted at least eight shots in all but two games this season. The senior had 17 points and 13 rebounds against Richmond on Tuesday. This week: December 22 at Ohio State

6. Cody Zeller – (Last week – 3)
2012-13 stats: 15.7 PPG, 8.3 PPG

The loss against Butler is the type of game Zeller is supposed to take over and will his team to victory. Instead, he made just four shots from he floor and grabbed five rebounds. It’s safe to say that he has not taken a leap forward in his sophomore season. This week: December 21 vs. Florida Atlantic

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Award Tour: Anthony Bennett is the New No. 1 Freshman, the Five Worst D-I Teams, and an Ode to the Big East Conference…

Posted by DCassilo on December 14th, 2012

awardtour

David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

Farewell, Big East. As a Villanova grad who grew up in New Jersey, you were always close to my heart. I’ll miss the prime time Saturday night final. I’ll miss the coaching legends. I’ll miss the physical play that would be called for a foul in any other league. I’ll miss the afternoon games of the Big East Tournament. I’ll miss being sponsored by Aeropostale. I’ll miss record crowds at the Carrier Dome. I’ll miss seeing Carnesecca and his sweater sitting behind the St. John’s bench. I’ll miss Mick Cronin being displeased with his team. I’ll miss West Virginia fans throwing stuff. I’ll miss looking at the newspaper and saying, “Wow, DePaul won.” I’ll miss Madison Square Garden. I’ll miss the weird dimensions of the RAC. I’ll miss Seton Hall thinking its good. I’ll miss Providence’s mascot. I’ll miss UConn breaking the rules. I’ll miss Pitt’s illegal screens and 30-year old point guards. I’ll miss Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami. I’ll miss Pitino’s press conferences. I’ll miss people saying Villanova is Guard U when it rarely sends a guard to the NBA. I’ll miss Georgetown running the Princeton offense. I’ll miss the overachievers at Notre Dame and Marquette. I’ll miss that time South Florida was good. I’ll even miss the double bye, Burr and Higgins. Now let’s end this league in style.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

10. Brandon Paul – Illinois (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 19 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.5 APG

Illinois is going to need a big effort out of Brandon Paul at Indiana. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

Brandon Paul tore apart Gonzaga. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

With 35 points at Gonzaga last Saturday, Paul officially declared his candidacy in the Player of the Year race. The major improvement in his game this year comes down to his shooting. He never cracked 40 percent from the field in his first three years but is up to 46.8 percent this season.This week: December 16 vs. Eastern Kentucky

9. Michael Carter-Williams – Syracuse (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 12.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 10.4 APG, 3.8 SPG

There’s no doubt that Carter-Williams does more to fill up the stat sheet than any player in the country, but it’s his passing that has been second to none. He leads the nation in APG and has 37 dimes in his last three games. A high turnover rate (3.8 per game) and poor three-point shooting (22.2 percent) hold him back from challenging for the top spot. This week: December 15 vs. Canisius, December 17 vs. Temple

8. Jeff Withey – Kansas (Last Week – 7)
2012-13 stats: 13.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 5.6 BPG

After blocking five shots against Colorado last Saturday, Withey has swatted the ball at least that many times in six of his team’s eight games. His defensive dominance coupled with the rise of freshman Ben McLemore has the Jayhawks thinking of a return to the title game. This week: December 15 vs. Belmont, December 18 vs. Richmond

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Blue Devils Went Down To Georgia, Found Their Heart And Soul…

Posted by ARowe on November 14th, 2012

Everyone’s talking about how great Duke’s seniors were against the freshmen of Kentucky. And they deserve every ounce of praise they’re getting.

Seth Curry was amazing down the stretch. He’s been fighting through a shin injury over the last few months and has only been able to participate in four practices so far this season. Even then, he was a limited participant. His first organized game of basketball in two months was Duke’s second exhibition game against Winston-Salem State, where his rust showed. Battling like the tough competitor that he is, Curry logged 34 minutes in an intense game and showed no ill effects of the nagging pain. He somehow seemed to get better as the game wore on, scoring 13 of his 23 points in the final 13:13 with Mason Plumlee on the bench for six of those minutes.

Duke’s Guys Were Ready in Atlanta Last Night (credit: Duke Blue Planet)

Mason Plumlee played like a man possessed early in the game. Kentucky’s defense was clearly geared to stop him, but Nerlens Noel could not contain Plumlee down low. He scored six of Duke’s first nine points and 14 of their first 27. Not only did he put up 18 points on 7-8 shooting, he was perfect from the line and found open shooters on the wing with smart kick-outs as Kentucky’s defense collapsed around him in the paint.

In the battle of “seniors vs. freshmen”, Kentucky had only one player who had logged meaningful minutes last season — Kyle Wiltjer. Watching Kentucky’s game against Maryland, it was clear that Wiltjer was the key to the Wildcats’ offense as he put up 19 points on 67% shooting. Not known as a defensive stopper, Ryan Kelly matched up perfectly with Wiltjer and completely took him out of the game.  Wiltjer was only able to get five shots off against the senior, connecting on two of them for five total points.

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Big Ten Non-Conference Schedule Analysis: Ohio State Buckeyes

Posted by KTrahan on November 1st, 2012

The Big Ten microsite will be analyzing the non-conference schedules for some of the Big Ten teams in the coming weeks. Today, we continue with the Ohio State Buckeyes. Check out their full schedule here.

Where we left off: Ohio State sure isn’t afraid to play anyone, and the Buckeyes proved that with last year’s non-conference schedule. OSU played Florida in the second game of the season, drew Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and played at Kansas. The Buckeyes won the first two but lost in Lawrence without top forward Jared Sullinger. Even the rest of the non-conference slate wasn’t a slouch, as OSU also visited South Carolina. That kind of schedule helped prepare the Buckeyes for a tough Big Ten slate, and they’ll be tested again this year before conference play begins.

Matta’s Team Will Be Challenged By the Buckeyes’ Non-Conference Schedule

Major tournaments: Ohio State will play some top-tier teams this non-conference season, so there’s little to nitpick, but the one criticism of the Buckeyes’ schedule is that they’re playing in a lackluster tournament. OSU will compete in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tipoff, matching up with Rhode Island followed by either Washington or Seton Hall. Those games will be played in Uncasville, Connecticut, and games against Albany and Missouri-Kansas City — one before and one after the Uncasville games — will be played in Columbus. Washington would be a decent opponent, but considering the other tournaments around the country, this isn’t the most exciting set of match-ups around.

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ACC Team Previews: Duke Blue Devils

Posted by EMann on November 1st, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the ACC microsite will release a preview for each of the 12 teams.  Today’s victim:  the Duke Blue Devils.

The 2011-12 Duke Blue Devils will be remembered primarily for two things:  (1) Austin Rivers’ dramatic three-pointer at the buzzer to cap a miraculous comeback and beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill, 85-84, which will live permanently in the rivalry’s lore; (2) their stunning 75-70 loss to 15th-seeded Lehigh in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. That Duke team, however, had a very strange portfolio for most of the season — mostly manifested through its porous defense (by Duke standards), which ranked 70th in the Ken Pomeroy rankings. It was also strange in that it featured a player in Austin Rivers who never quite fit into the Duke mold in many people’s eyes; while Rivers was certainly an extremely competitive player, the combination of his reliance on the ball for much of the team’s offense and individual success (and scoring incredibly inefficiently:  his offensive rating was the second worst on the team), along with the ensuing chemistry issues that his style of play seemed to cause, ultimately derailed the Blue Devils (along with Ryan Kelly’s injury). Duke also finished 8-0 in road play in the ACC, but lost three conference games (and nearly five – a 20-point comeback against NC State in the second half and an overtime victory against lowly Virginia Tech) at home, a shocking result for a generally good Duke team in Cameron Indoor Stadium. While it did defeat eventual runner-up Kansas and Michigan State at neutral sites, among others, in non-conference play, it was also destroyed by Ohio State. This year may very well feature addition by subtraction, and Coach K has clearly focused on teamwork and communication as the season gets underway as he sensed that as contributing at least partially to the team’s defensive woes last year.

Rasheed Sulaimon has a great chance to win ACC Rookie of the Year.

Newcomers

Duke has four new players eligible for this season, as the fifth newcomer, Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood, quite possibly Duke’s best player on the floor during Countdown to Craziness, must sit out this season. Two of these players are true freshmen, headlined by guard Rasheed Sulaimon. Although Rodney Purvis at NC State has gotten most of the headlines as the favorite for ACC Rookie of the Year, look for Sulaimon to heavily challenge for that honor. Sulaimon is a versatile player in the mold of many of Mike Krzyzewski’s favored guards over the years:  a solid outside shooter who can also attack the rim, as well as a strong perimeter defender. With Seth Curry’s undisclosed injury keeping him out for possibly another couple weeks, Sulaimon has been temporarily slotted into the starting lineup.  While Sulaimon may not start once Curry returns, he will definitely play a ton of minutes and should see the court at crunch time to take advantage of his opportunity. Forward Amile Jefferson, who chose Duke over NC State at the 11th hour, will provide high motor play and solid interior defense, though his offensive game is still a bit unrefined.  Look for him to contribute 10-12 minutes a game.

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Is There A Method To The (Midnight) Madness? Reviewing the ACC Events This Season…

Posted by ARowe on October 8th, 2012

Every year in the middle of October, college basketball fans get their first sweet taste of honey — the first official practice of the upcoming season. This used to be an unceremonious start to the college basketball year until October 15, 1971. At 12:03 AM that morning, Maryland head basketball coach (and former Duke center) Lefty Driesell had his players report for a one and a half mile run around the track at Byrd Stadium that was watched by 3,000 rabid fans. In 1982, the University of Kentucky officially dubbed the event “Midnight Madness” and the tradition spread like wildfire around the never-ending Keeping Up With The Jones’ culture surrounding college athletics.

With a Clean Bill of Health, Roy Will Have More Reason to Dance This Year

In the past, these events were typically only attended by the most obsessed basketball fans around the country, willing to stay up past midnight to catch a glimpse of their favorite players. Layup lines (a boring, repetitive practice that no one even watches before real games), scrimmages (who do you root against?) and skits that dress up power forwards in tutus dominate the itinerary. In 2005, the NCAA allowed schools to move up the time of the first practice to 7 PM on the closest Friday to October 15. This allowed these made-for-primetime showcases to actually take place in prime time. ESPN now televises these glorified scrimmages across their family of networks, dispatching their TV analysts and color commentators to the blue blood programs and up-and-coming schools to hype up their viewers for the season to come. Schools use the events to showcase their program to recruits, who often schedule their visits to schools during this weekend.

Around the ACC, different schools have taken different approaches to the “Midnight Madness” festivities and often refer to the first public practice by a different name. This year, for the first time I can remember, schools are even spreading out the event on different days. This change may be due to the newer, relaxed practice time rules which took effect for the first time this offseason.

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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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