Morning Five: 02.27.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 27th, 2015

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  1. The Chris Jones story is quickly going from bad to horrific. The former Louisville guard who was suspended indefinitely for one game last week before returning to lead Louisville to a comeback victory over Miami on Saturday has been charged with raping one woman and sodomizing another later that night. These events appear to be unrelated Jones sending a threatening text message to another woman, which appears to be the cause of his indefinite one-game suspension. According to the school, Jones, who has pleaded not guilty, was dismissed from the team after missing a Saturday night curfew and they were unaware of the nature of the charges prior to his dismissal.
  2. Being the son of LeBron James will lead to increased scrutiny particularly on the basketball court, but it appears that LeBron is ok with it up to a certain point, which appears to be college coaches recruiting his 10-year-old son LeBron James Jr. On some level part of this is due to James and other (like the John Lucas Camp) promoting videos of LeBron Jr. on social media. Even in the world of recruiting, reaching out to a 10-year-old is ridiculous especially when his father is among the most famous athletes on the planet and has access to any basketball figure he would like to speak to (ok, maybe not Pat Riley any more).
  3. Nathan Power, the Kansas State student who intentionally ran into Jamari Traylor following Kansas State’s victory over Kansas, has been cited for disorderly conduct. It is unclear what kind of penalty Power, who apologized in the student newspaper, will face. At the very least we would expect that he will be banned from going to Kansas State games for the foreseeable future, but we are not sure if he will face a fine or any kind of disciplinary measures such as probation.
  4. Over the years we have heard quite a bit about how Mark Few would never leave Gonzaga, but we have not seen a profile on Few that is in-depth as the one Jason King wrote. The picture that King paints of Few’s life at Gonzaga makes it seem unlikely that Few will be leaving any time soon. We are certain that some big school could offer Few more money and the possibility of becoming a NBA coach down the road (sorry, but we doubt that anybody is going straight from the sideline of the WCC to leading a NBA team), but it is usually not a good idea to mess with happy especially when Few is well-compensated and gets the chance to compete for a national title every year.
  5. This week’s version of Luke Winn’s Power Rankings are lighter on statistical analysis than usual, but it does offer a nice concise look at the defenses of the top teams in the country. The analysis–particularly the strengths/weaknesses–might serve as a good tool if you are looking at potential NCAA Tournament upsets. Some of the analysis is obvious like Kentucky and Virginia having ridiculously good defenses, but many people might not take the time to think about the weaknesses that those teams have (yes, there are a few weaknesses even for those teams).
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RTC Weekly Primer: Who Can Make a Run in March?

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 24th, 2015

It happens every year. Every single year. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but more often than not, there comes a time in a college basketball season when the entire hoops world witnesses the birth of something. It can begin with a bang; but it can also begin innocuously. It can occur in plain sight; but it can also be the tree in the middle of a deserted forest. This birth, of course, is the preliminary stage of a postseason run. And the run, of course, is the one that in a few weeks time will be the talk of college basketball. Back in 2011, it was Shelvin Mack, Brad Stevens and Butler. In 2012, it was Lorenzo Brown and NC State. In 2013, it was very nearly Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss. A season ago, it was Jordan McRae and the upstart Tennessee Volunteers. NCAA Tournament runs usually don’t just appear out of thin air. Typically, there’s a backstory. In 2015, the time has come for those backstories to develop. Next month’s headlines will start formulating themselves right now.

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Who will those headlines be written about this year? Who will be the team that sees everything come together at the right time? Who will be that team? It’s time to start considering some possibilities:

  • Georgetown – The Hoyas aren’t exactly in the same category as the Butlers and Ole Misses of years past, but they seem to be flying somewhat under the radar. Georgetown has the pieces to make a run. The Hoyas are a top-20 defensive team, boast an occasionally dominant post presence in senior center Josh Smith, and have a guard in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera who can take over a game. After getting smoked by Villanova a couple weeks ago, they’ve now won three straight and have the week off to prepare for St. John’s in Madison Square Garden on Saturday. That’s the kind of win that could propel the Hoyas to a #4 or #5 seed and their first Sweet Sixteen (or better) run since 2007.
  • Indiana – Another team that is solidly in the NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers certainly will never be considered a Cinderella story. But most projections have them as a #8 or #9 seed right now, meaning they aren’t being discussed as a legitimate contender either. This team has notable flaws in its personnel and it has a coach who many have questioned in recent years. But it’s also arguably got the most lethal backcourt in the country — just the type of thing that can carry a team on a surprising journey through March. The Hoosiers, which have struggled on the road but have been dynamite at home, travel to Northwestern on Wednesday night before a two-game home swing featuring Iowa and Michigan State. It’s really the perfect slate to build some March momentum.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Miami (OH), Kyle Wiltjer, Howie Dickenman & Binghamton…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 24th, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

The RedHawks wreaked havoc in the MAC East last week. (GoZips.com)

The RedHawks wreaked havoc in the MAC East last week. (GoZips.com)

Miami (OH). Miami (OH) took a wrecking ball to the MAC East last week, and it’s doubtful anyone saw it coming. At just 4-8 in conference play and 9-16 overall, the RedHawks – 1-7 on the road entering Wednesday’s game – traveled to first-place Bowling Green and beat the Falcons, 67-56, then turned around and knocked off Akron just three nights later. Against the former, John Cooper’s bunch hit 20 of 21 free throws and managed over a point per possession against one of the stingier defenses in America, prompting Falcons’ head coach Chris Jans to say afterward, “We’ve talked and talked about getting everybody’s best shot. And [today] you saw what happened.” But the effort was more than a one-shot, “best-shot” deal for Miami, because the RedHawks kept the upset momentum rolling into Saturday. Again facing long odds and a strong divisional contender, Miami overcome poor shooting (37% FG), forced 20 turnovers and gutted out an overtime win against the preseason MAC East-favorite Zips. Junior guard Eric Washington led the way with 21 points, including four big free throws in the extra period. Miami’s out-of-nowhere run has suddenly put Akron in jeopardy of having to play in first and second round games in the conference tournament (rather than byes), helped knock Bowling Green out of first place, and enabled Kent State to rise atop the standings. But Golden Flashes beware: The red-hot RedHawks come calling tonight at 7:00 PM ET.

Honorable Mentions: Columbia (2-0: at Brown, at Yale); Northern Arizona (2-0: vs. Idaho, vs. Eastern Washington); UC Davis (2-0: at Long Beach State, vs. Hawaii); Stony Brook (2-0: at Albany, vs. Binghamton); Chattanooga (2-0: vs. Mercer, vs. East Tennessee State); Buffalo (2-0: at Eastern Michigan, at Bowling Green)

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Best of the West: Top 25 Teams in the West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 18th, 2015

We’re now less than four weeks from Selection Sunday, so it’s a good time to check back in with our Best in the West, with a special focus on these 25 teams’ NCAA Tournament prospects. If you haven’t seen this post before, we take all the schools west of the Rockies (basically the schools from the Pac-12, Mountain West, West Coast, and Big West Conferences, and then some of the schools from the Big Sky and Western Athletic Conferences) and list the top 25 teams. Rather than just ranking schools #1 though #25, though, we divide them into tiers, because, for instance, while one team may be ranked third overall and another fourth, there may be a huge gap between teams three and four. Below are ourTop 25 teams in the West (their overall rank will be in parentheses) with descriptions of what we think the teams in each tier have in common, plus brief comments on each and their NCAA Tournament hopes

The Best of the Best – In a league of their own.

Gonzaga is #2 in The AP Poll And In The Mix For A #1 Seed in March

Gonzaga is #2 in The AP Poll And In The Mix For A #1 Seed 

  • Gonzaga (#1 overall, WCC #1) – The Bulldogs are 26-1 with the lone defeat an overtime loss at the McKale Center on the first weekend of December. For me, an overtime road loss equates to a win in the grand scheme of things, so I’ve got Gonzaga slightly ahead of that team that came out on the good side of the scoreboard in Tucson. Admittedly, the rest of the Gonzaga resume is a little light. Their best win is, what, a road win at St. John’s? Or is it the one at BYU? Or maybe the one at UCLA? All of those are good wins to be sure, but none of those are mindblowingly great entries on the Zags’ balance sheet compared with the teams with whom they will be competing for a #1 seed. For instance, the other two teams in this category both have better wins and tougher overall schedules than the Zags. But if they’re able to get from here to Selection Sunday with a “1” on the right-hand side of that record (which would mean additional wins at Saint Mary’s, over BYU and then another over one of those two teams in the WCC Championship game, they’ll probably nose out either Arizona or Utah. Now, teams like Virginia, Duke, Wisconsin and Villanova (not to mention Kentucky) may be a different story.

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RTC Weekly Primer: UNC-Duke, No. 1 Seeds, and a Tight Bubble

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 17th, 2015

They say time flies when you’re having fun, so by the transitive property, they might as well say time flies during college basketball season. But seriously, this season seems to have sped by. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s because a busy schedule has eaten up my down time. Maybe it’s something subconscious. But I genuinely feel like conference play just started and yet we’re already approaching March. The logical explanation for that? Maybe it’s because the overarching narratives of the season have been in constant flux. Or — another way of putting it — maybe it’s because Selection Sunday is just 25 days away and we really only know one thing: Kentucky is good. Really good. After that, everything is tight — tight with two heavily enunciated ‘t’s. According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, eight teams have a 25 percent or greater chance at a No. 1 seed, but only Kentucky’s odds surpass 60 percent. And moving down the hierarchy, there’s just so much additional uncertainty. There’s been a definitive top eight for over a month now, and nobody below that threshold appears too intent on breaking into it. Teams like Iowa State and North Carolina have invariably followed up big wins with baffling losses, and teams like Utah and Louisville simply haven’t separated themselves in a meaningful way. Even further down the Top 25, the bubble is nothing more than a mess. But that’s the case every year. And even as all-encompassing as it is right now, there are bound to be teams that stage late surges to put themselves in contention. There are also bound to be teams that spin out of control in the other direction. To put it succinctly… there is bound to be madness. That might as well be a slogan for college hoops in general, but especially this year.

The Only Thing We Know For Certain is that Kentucky is Really Good (USA Today Images)

The Only Thing We Know For Certain is that Kentucky is Really Good (USA Today Images)

One for the Money

North Carolina at Duke | Wednesday, 9:00 PM EST, ESPN

No matter which team you root for, no matter where you live, there’s only one game this week that is must-watch television. And even if Dickie V. won’t be on the call, you have to tune in for the first of two battles between North Carolina and Duke. When you think of college sports, almost all of the notions of amateur athletics are embodied by the Tobacco Road rivalry. Games are played with passion and intensity. They are played with unrelenting pressure and in front of hostile crowds. They are played enveloped by the shadows of history, in front of legends and ghosts of years past. They are laden with folklore and religiously maintained traditions. They turn the otherwise forgotten into heroes and the otherwise successful into villains. The Duke-Carolina games are as singularly powerful as nearly any regular season game in any sport, and this year’s annual rite of passage begins Wednesday night.

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RTC Weekly Primer: Road Warrior Week as Pressure Mounts at the Top

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 10th, 2015

As we approach Selection Sunday — and, yes, it is now a mere 33 days away — two ends of the spectrum dominate the college basketball conversation. One of those is the bubble. The other, of course, is the top line. And while it’s a bit too early to paint a decipherable picture of those teams vying for positions in the play-in games, the competition for the four No. 1 seeds is beginning to take shape. There appear to be three solid bets. Kentucky is near-lock. Virginia, with only one loss — a good loss, mind you — and a handful of impressive wins, is another. And Gonzaga, despite a relatively weak conference slate, is a third. Even if the Zags were to suffer one more defeat along the way, they might still be safe in a position on the top line. The fourth spot, however, is truly up for grabs. On the back of a splendid array of wins away from home, Duke would appear to be the front-runner. But Wisconsin, Kansas, Arizona and Villanova aren’t too far behind the Blue Devils. If the Badgers run the table the rest of the way — a real possibility — they’d make the committee’s job on this decision excruciating. Villanova could also cause a few headaches if they enter the discussion as a two-loss team. And Kansas, with its top-ranked schedule and plethora of top-50 wins, could close the season at No. 1 in the RPI. The pressure is on at the top. We’ll see which teams can handle it.

Gonzaga Continues to Roll Along to a Likely #1 Seed (USA Today Images)

Gonzaga Continues to Roll Along to a Likely #1 Seed (USA Today Images)

Road Warrior Week

This week isn’t overflowing with marquee matchups, so we’ll forgo Three for the Money in favor of a more general theme. It’s road warrior week. Duke got things started on Monday night when it went to Florida State and escaped with a narrow victory in Tallahassee. Some other top-10 teams this week might not be so fortunate, as eight of those — including the Blue Devils — will play on the road at an unranked team between Monday and Friday. It starts on Tuesday night when Kentucky travels to LSU; Notre Dame makes the long trek to Clemson; Kansas plays at Texas Tech; and Wisconsin heads to Nebraska. Kentucky perhaps faces the stiffest test of all. LSU, an up-tempo squad with a big and physical front line, will try to get out in transition and score before Kentucky can set up its suffocating half-court defense. Notre Dame, however, is the most likely of the four to lose. The Fighting Irish are only three-point favorites against the Tigers, a hard-luck team that has lost a bunch of close games this year. Wisconsin revisits the site of last year’s memorable Cornhuskers upset on ‘no-sit Sunday.’

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Murray State Quietly Racing Toward a Special Season

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 6th, 2015

After his team’s most recent defeat – a 93-58 beatdown at the hands of Valparaiso – Murray State head coach Steve Prohm did not mince words: “We need to figure out what we need to do to get better. We are struggling – we’re playing terrible. Everybody knows that.” The 35-point drubbing was the Racers’ third-straight loss, an ugly punctuation to an unexpectedly poor start. “This is definitely not the same basketball team that finished the year,” Prohm said. Those statements were made on November 29 – well over two months ago – and it’s safe to say that his team has figured out how to get better. A lot better, in fact. Since losing to the Crusaders just after Thanksgiving, Murray State has reeled off 18 straight victories and put itself in position to become the first team in 11 years to go unbeaten in OVC play. With the conference’s most exceptional player pacing an highly efficient offense, the Racers seem poised to cement themselves in league history. If they can follow that success up with even more in March? Then it might be time to start mentioning Murray State in the same breath as some of the elite mid-major programs in college basketball.

Cam Payne and the Racers have their sites set on something special. (ovcball.net)

Cam Payne and the Racers have their sights set on something special. (ovcball.net)

Murray State’s accomplishments to this point have mostly hinged on its ability to score with ease, a strong suit that begins with point guard Cameron Payne – the clear-cut front-runner for OVC Player of the Year. His dynamic scoring prowess (19 PPG) – quick off the dribble, adept at drawing fouls, proficient from deep – combined with equally-great passing skills (5.9 APG) makes the sophomore an unmatched force in the league. Last season, Eastern Kentucky coach Jeff Neaubauer called Payne “Murray State’s next Isaiah Canaan.” But the sophomore is not alone. Joining Payne in the backcourt are three excellent shooters – T.J. Sapp, Jeffery Moss and Justin Seymour – each of whom shoots better than 40 percent from deep and scores between 8.5 and 11.0 points per night. Down low, the Racers are equipped with arguably the conference’s best big man, 6’8’’ Jarvis Williams (16.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG), whose ability to run the floor – not to mention his great rapport with Payne – make him the perfect five man for Prohm’s uptempo attack (16.6 seconds per offensive possession; fastest in the OVC). Throw in power forward Jonathan Fairell, the fourth-best offensive rebounder in college hoops, and the sum of the parts of Murray State is an offense that might surpass last season’s Belmont group as the most efficient in recent modern OVC history. As it stands, the Racers rank 28th nationally in offensive efficiency (112.4 AdjO), just behind last year’s Bruins (112.9), and with a soft schedule upcoming, Prohm’s group has a great chance to further improve on that number.

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Morning Five: 02.04.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 4th, 2015

morning5

  1. With Greg Anthony currently dealing with legal issues from his arrest for allegedly soliciting a prostitute, CBS has decided to go with Bill Raftery and Grant Hill along with Jim Nantz and Tracy Wolfson to call the Final Four. While Raftery is well-established as a broadcasting icon, Hill is relatively new to the field although he has some studio experience and is well-spoken. Overall it seems like a safe line-up that is unlikely to say anything controversial and although they don’t have much any experience working as a group we doubt there will be any major issues.
  2. Josh Speidel, a Vermont commit, is listed as being in “critical but stable condition” at an Indiana hospital after being involved in a car accident on Sunday night. Speidel, a 6’7″ senior who is one of the top prospects in the state (25.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game this season), surprised many observers by committing to Vermont after having received interest from several Big Ten schools. None of the other four individuals involved in the two-car crash were seriously injured. For their part the Catamounts have posted a get well video on YouTube showing their support for Speidel. There is also a GoFundMe campaign #JoshStrong to help assist his family with the medical costs related to the accident.
  3. Oregon might have its share of off-the-court problems, but they don’t seem to have any problem recruiting as they received a commitment from Tyler Dorsey, a four-star guard, on Monday giving them three four-star commitments for the class of 2015 to go along with Kendall Small and Trevor Manuel. Dorsey, a 6’4″ combo guard from California, had originally committed to Arizona, but backed out of that commitment as the Wildcats appeared to head in a different direction with their recruiting. With Joseph Young’s departure after this season, Dorsey could have a spot waiting for him in the Oregon lineup.
  4. One of our earliest posts on this site was one criticizing Grant Wahl’s Magic Eight, which attempted to narrow down the list of potential national champions. Wahl has since moved onto soccer, which still has less scoring that college basketball despite what some writers would have you believe, and Luke Winn has inherited the task of coming up with a Magic Eight. We can’t quite remember Wahl’s track record, but Winn is quick to point out that his own picks have been far from perfect as he failed to include Connecticut in his list. This year’s list, which requires him to leave out two of the top eight teams in the country and include a team outside of the top 15, doesn’t include any particularly shocking teams (even if we can’t see Wichita State winning) and he doesn’t exclude any big names that people realistically see winning (sorry, Gonzaga), but Winn does point out some of most significant strengths and weaknesses of each team so it is worth a read particularly if you are still trying to catch up after football ended.
  5. Lost in all of the talk about President Obama’s budget is a measure that could have a significant impact on college athletics by proposing to end tax deductions for donations made to college athletics for seat-related contributions. For those of you who are unaware of the practice, when college teams sell season tickets a substantial portion is listed as a donation making it tax-deductible. By taking this away, they would in effect be raising the effective price of those tickets. We are not sure what the elasticity is for these type of tickets, but we have to assume they would have a bigger impact on programs that rely on these donations for such a significant portion of their revenues. And the government’s figure of $2.5 billion in increased revenues from taxes over the next decade from this change is a decent if not perfectly correlated indicator of the magnitude of the effect this could have on some athletic programs.
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RTC Top 25: Week Ten

Posted by Walker Carey on January 26th, 2015

The last week of the college basketball season was highlighted by two previously Top 10 teams falling victim to a conference foe on the road. First, Maryland was knocked off Thursday night in Bloomington by a hot-shooting Indiana squad. Then on Saturday, Iowa State – fresh off of home victories over Kansas and Kansas State – went down to Lubbock and suffered a surprising defeat to Big 12 cellar-dweller Texas Tech. While the Terps and Cyclones were unable to avoid the road upset bug, #2 Virginia and #9 Notre Dame overcome road deficits Sunday to earn key victories. The Cavaliers trailed for most of the game at Virginia Tech before finally grabbing the victory. The Fighting Irish trailed by as many as 18 points at North Carolina State before storming back and securing an overtime victory. With the calendar flipping to February next Sunday, expect conference play to continue to deliver the good as we get closer and closer to March.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

RTC25 01.26.15

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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How Can Saint Mary’s Beat Gonzaga?

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 22nd, 2015

According to Ken Pomeroy’s latest prognostications, Gonzaga is better than a 90 percent favorite in 10 of its 12 remaining games. The two games in which that is not the case come in late February when the Bulldogs travel to Saint Mary’s (February 21) and when they host BYU in the final game of the regular season (February 28). Tonight, Saint Mary’s gets its first crack at the Zags and, despite being a 15-point Vegas underdog and the Gaels having just an eight percent chance of winning this game, this is a match-up between teams that are a combined 14-0 in West Coast Conference play. Furthermore, the Gaels have been the only team in recent history to seriously and regularly challenge the Bulldogs’ spot atop the conference. Still, the Bulldogs have won all six games in this series in the past two seasons, and in several cases, decisively. So, the question becomes: What can Saint Mary’s do to beat Gonzaga?

Brad Waldow Will Need To Shine Against The Big Gonzaga Front Line (Getty Images)

Brad Waldow Will Need To Shine Against The Big Gonzaga Front Line (Getty Images)

As those Pomeroy odds indicate, the Gaels’ actual chances in tonight’s game are not strong. We could point out several minor data points – like the fact that the Zags won at Pepperdine by only two points while the Gaels won by nine there; or those unblemished conference records – to convince ourselves that this game of WCC titans is bound to be a battle. But the fact is that there isn’t a lot on St. Mary’s resume this season to suggest that it’s got the horses to win in Spokane tonight. The Gaels beat BYU on Saturday night in what easily represents their best win of the season, with wins over Pepperdine, UC Irvine and a fading Creighton team really the only other things of substance (note: “substance” used with great looseness here). But more than anything else, the Gaels have winning experience going for them. Of their seven players who factor most significantly into their rotation, they’ve got five seniors – four of those who have spent time at other schools before landing in Moraga. All of these guys have played plenty of road games against elite teams and rivals many times before, so when they roll into The Kennel tonight, they won’t be scared.

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Handicapping the Wooden Award Finalists

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 21st, 2015

The Wooden Award released its midseason top 25 list last week. College basketball’s top individual honor will likely go to a player named on that list, but there’s still time for others (attention: Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon and Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas) to work their way into the picture. However, it’s also true that the field of real contenders for the award is thinning as we near February and March. RTC handicaps the race for the Wooden…

Jahlil Okafor, Duke. Odds To Win = 3/2.

Any national Player of the Year discussion must begin with Duke’s freshman sensation. Okafor’s averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game begin to explain his value to the Blue Devils, but the impact of his presence runs much deeper than that. His steadiness (double-figure points in every game this season) has stabilized a Duke attack that was far more reliant on the three-point shot a season ago, while his unselfishness has helped the Duke guards find space on the perimeter. The presumptive top pick in next June’s NBA Draft has looked like the best player in college basketball from opening night, but an April coronation as the National Player of the Year will surely depend on Duke’s success. Balance has fueled the rise of other national title contenders (Kentucky and Virginia most notable among them), but there is no question that Okafor will continue to lead the Duke charge. Pole position has been well-earned: This is Okafor’s award to lose.

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin. Odds To Win = 5/2.

Kaminsky nabbed the national spotlight last March with a show-stopping regional final performance against Arizona. He has not given it up since. ‘Frank the Tank’ is grabbing more rebounds (8.2 RPG this season), blocking more shots (1.8 BPG) and even handing out more assists (2.4 APG) than he did a year ago. The Wisconsin center has been outstanding all season, but his value to the Badgers may have been best exhibited in a 40 minute stint on the bench. As their star sat out with a concussion on January 11, Wisconsin fell to Rutgers in one of the most shocking results of the season. The loss showed just how important the versatile center has become for Bo Ryan’s team. A balanced Badgers’ lineup may pose some threat to Kaminsky’s Wooden Award chances, but that surrounding talent is also what’s made the his team legitimate national title contenders. And as Wisconsin chases that elusive championship, its versatile big man is making a serious push for the most prestigious of individual accolades.

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RTC Weekly Primer: SEC Squishy Middle, Love for Big 12, Coach 1K, More…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 20th, 2015

Okay, okay, we get it… the Big 12 is awesome. I’ve made that pretty clear in past columns, and you probably don’t need me to tell you something so obvious. Monday night offered up yet another prominent example, when a “Kansas is back to its dominant self” narrative in the first half against Oklahoma turned into one of the best games of conference play this season. But rather than raving about it, let’s think big picture: What do we make of the Big 12 race? A few teams will definitely be involved. One is Kansas, of course, which hasn’t missed out on at least a share of the regular season crown since Bill Self’s first year in Lawrence. Two more are Texas, which seems to have found its footing, and Iowa State, which finally cleared the Kansas hurdle over the weekend. Oklahoma should be in the running too, despite losing three of its last four. What other teams could have a say in the matter? How about Kansas State, which is tied for the conference lead at 4-1? What about West Virginia, currently 15-3 and a top-15 KenPom team? Or Baylor? Or Oklahoma State?

The Big 12 Will Remain a War Zone For Most of the Season (USA Today Images)

The Big 12 Will Remain a War Zone For Most of the Season (USA Today Images)

It’s probably safe to rule out those last two teams even though both are ranked among KenPom’s top 25, but neither is likely to beat the teams above them on a consistent basis. It’s also fair to exclude Kansas State from the discussion. The Wildcats are clearly much better than their non-conference performance suggested, but recent wins over Baylor and at Oklahoma don’t tell the full story either. They have some flaws. However, it’s probably a tad premature to rule out West Virginia. The Mountaineers play such a distinctly effective style this season, forcing turnovers on over 30 percent of opponents’ possessions, that will remain a problem to solve for all nine conference foes. They’re a possession away from a 4-1 Big 12 record and the upcoming schedule suggests that we shouldn’t be surprised if Bob Huggins has his team sitting at 6-2 when this column runs two weeks from now. It appears to be a five-team race. But whether you think the Big 12 has four, five, or even six or seven teams capable of winning the league crown, the takeaway here is that the race is wide open. And with Kansas’ astounding decade-long run in jeopardy, the next two months in Middle America are must-watch sports television.

Three for the Money

  • Iowa at Wisconsin | Tuesday, 9:00 PM EST, ESPN. Around this time last year, Iowa sat at 13-3 on the season and waltzed into Value City Arena to take on 15-1 Ohio State. The Buckeyes at the time were KenPom’s second-ranked team and their only loss had come earlier in the week at Michigan State. They also hadn’t given up more than 70 points in a game. The Hawkeyes delivered one of the more impressive Big Ten performances last season, winning by 10 points and vaulting themselves from seemingly out of nowhere into KenPom’s top five. They are presented with a similar opportunity tonight against Wisconsin. With the memory of last year’s collapse still fresh, many people remain unsure of what to make of Fran McCaffery’s team – the Hawkeyes have defeated a questionable Ohio State team twice and won at North Carolina, but the rest of their résumé is dubious. A win in Madison would force the nation to take notice. For Wisconsin, this is its first real test since the loss of senior point guard Traevon Jackson. It could provide a platform for replacement Bronson Koenig to step up his game, but it also could reveal a major midterm problem for Bo Ryan. Tonight’s game will tell us a lot about which it will be.

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