Rushed Reactions: #2 Ohio State 95, #15 Iona 70

Posted by IRenko on March 22nd, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #2 Ohio State and #15 Iona. You can follow him on Twitter at @IRenkoHoops.

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Ohio State Won at Iona’s Pace  — Ohio State ordinarily plays at a fairly slow pace, while the Gaels like to race up and down the court, using their quickness to hide their lack of size inside. Iona managed to get the kind of uptempo game with which they’re typically comfortable, as each team had a whopping 78 possessions and combined for 136 field goal attempts and 46 free throw attempts. But Ohio State seemed to benefit from the breakneck pace more. They consistently broke Iona’s pressure, and seemed inspired by the Gaels’ quick pace to rev up their own. Relying on steady ball control and their athleticism advantage, the Buckeyes outscored the Gaels 34-11 on fast break points and 29-9 on points off turnovers.

    Sam Thompson showed off his athletic gifts against Iona. (Getty)

    Sam Thompson showed off his athletic gifts against Iona. (Getty)

  2. Sam Thompson Can Put on a Show — One consequence of the Buckeyes’ getting to play an up-tempo game is that bouncy wing Sam Thompson had a chance to show off his incredible athletic gifts. Thompson delighted the pro-OSU crowd with a series of high-flying dunks, none more spectacular than an incredible one-handed, full extension, alley oop that he threw down with 1:23 to play in the first half. Not only was it a highlight reel feature, but it snapped a 7-0 Iona run that cut OSU’s lead to four, and sparked the Buckeyes’ own 15-0 run.
  3. Momo Jones Says a Quiet Goodbye – Iona’s talented point guard played his first two season at Arizona before transferring to Iona to be closer to his family, and his grandmother in particular. It seemed to take him some time to adjust, but he managed a stellar second act, playing an instrumental role in the Gaels’ Tournament trip last year and leading them back this year. But he went out with a bit of a whimper. The scoring just nine points on 3-of-14 shooting (1-of-8 from three-point range).

Star of the Game: While many feel that Deshaun Thomas’ season has been somewhat disappointing, he’s scored in double-figures in every game, and saw no need to interrupt that streak tonight. Thomas poured in 24 points on an efficient 8-of-12 from the field. He showed his complete offensive game, hitting jumpers (a perfect 3-of-3 from three-point range) and taking advantage of Iona’s size disadvantage down low to score in the paint. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Other 26: Bracket-Busting, South and West Edition

Posted by IRenko on March 19th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC columnist and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Oh, well. What’s a royal ball? After all, I suppose it would be frightfully dull, and-and-and boring, and-and completely… Completely wonderful. – Cinderella

It’s time for college basketball’s annual ball, which means it’s time for America to fall in love with Cinderella all over again. There are 36 teams from the 26 non-power-conferences who have been invited to this year’s Big Dance, and while the slipper no longer fits for some of the more prominent of these schools, for the bulk of them, this is a rare opportunity to make a name for themselves on the grandest of stages.

This is the first of a two-part series taking a look at the NCAA Tournament prospects for all 36 teams hailing from The Other 26. We focus today on the TO26 teams in the South and West regions, grouping them into five rough categories, and, within each category, ordering them by their likelihood of advancing.

Regional Threats

These are the teams that have a credible chance of dancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.

Can Kelly Olynyk Lead the Zags to Their First Final Four?

Can Kelly Olynyk Lead the Zags to Their First Final Four?

  • Gonzaga (#1, West) — It’s been five years since a TO26 team reached the top seed line. In 2008, Memphis rode its #1 seed all the way to the brink of a national championship, and Zags fans are hoping for the same — and perhaps more — this year. Gonzaga has no glaring weaknesses. They are led by an athletic, skilled frontcourt, the centerpiece of which is NPOY candidate Kelly Olynyk. They get steady guard play from Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, and David Stockton. If they’re to run into any trouble, it will likely be against a team that (1) sports a strong, athletic interior defense that can contain Olynyk, Elias Harris, and Sam Dower and pound the glass, and (2) can hit the three-point shot consistently, as Illinois did in beating them (Gonzaga’s defense allows a lot of three-point attempts). There are a fair number of teams that meet the first criteria in the West bracket, but not many with a lot offensive firepower from the three-point line or otherwise. In short, this is as good a shot as Gonzaga has ever had to make the Final Four. The eyes of the nation will be watching to see if they can make good on their promise.
  • Virginia Commonwealth (#5, South) – VCU is a popular sleeper pick for the Final Four, and there’s some merit to that notion, but here is the most important thing you need to know about them: They are 25-2 on the year (and 14-0 in A-10 play) against teams with a turnover rate over 18 percent. And they are 1-6 (and 0-5 in A-10 play) against teams with a turnover rate under 18 percent. The Rams’ first-round opponent, Akron, falls squarely in the former camp (20.8 percent), a problem for the Zips that will be exacerbated by the absence of their legally-troubled starting point guard, Alex Abreu. After that, things get a bit trickier for the Rams. Their two potential Third Round opponents, Michigan and South Dakota State, rank in the top 10 in the country in turnover rate. Those stats are perhaps somewhat inflated by the fact that both teams play in conferences that don’t feature a lot of pressure defenses, but if you’re looking for a point guard to lead you against such a defense, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than Trey Burke or Nate Wolters. It’s true that Michigan has struggled lately in general, and that if you look ahead to a potential match-up with Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen, Havoc’s odds of success improve, but I’d caution against over-exuberance at the Rams’ chances given a potentially dicey Third Round contest.

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Bracket Prep: Western Kentucky, Davidson, James Madison, Gonzaga & Iona

Posted by BHayes on March 12th, 2013

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Championship Week continued in full blast on Monday night, as five more NCAA Tournament tickets were punched. As each of the 31 automatic qualifiers plays their way into the Dance over the next week, we’ll take some time to give you an analytical snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets next weekend.

Western Kentucky

Sun Belt Cinderellas Again -- Welcome Back To The Big Dance Hilltoppers

Sun Belt Cinderellas Again — Welcome Back To The Big Dance Hilltoppers

  • Sun Belt Champion (20-15, 14-10)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #166/#183/#184
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +0.5
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #15-#16

 Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Who needs the regular season anyways? For the second consecutive campaign, Western Kentucky saw months of mediocrity give way to an unlikely week of dominance at the Sun Belt Tournament, where they depart as champions again. The sequel may never be as thrilling as the original – the 2012 Hilltoppers were just 9-18 (!) before winning their final six games to earn the auto-bid – but this Western Kentucky team is as unlikely a Big Dance participant as any.
  2. Western Kentucky isn’t elite in any one facet of the game, but they may be able to match up with their opening round opponent with regard to physicality and toughness. The Hilltoppers are third in the Sun Belt in effective height, and also rank third in the league in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages. 6’6” sophomore George Fant is slightly undersized for the amount of time he spends in the paint, but leads the team in rebounding at 6.6 boards per game. Fant also ranks in the top 50 in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Senior Jamal Crooks (11.8 PPG, 4.1 APG) is another high-motor Hilltopper – his emotional energy and leadership is a crucial reserve for the young team around him.
  3. Expect WKU to compete on both ends, but don’t mistake intensity with skill. They do not shoot the ball well from deep, turn the ball over at an unacceptable clip (on 22.3% of possessions), and don’t play a whole lot of defense either. It all adds up to a rather unimpressive paper profile, and the 10-10 Sun Belt record before this week does little to make you feel better about things. The exact seed line will depend on what happens elsewhere, but either way, it’s hard to envision the Hilltoppers being competitive, much less capable of manufacturing an upset for the ages.

Davidson

Soak It In De'Mon -- You And The Wildcats Are Tournament Bound Yet Again

Soak It In De’Mon — You And The Wildcats Are Tournament Bound Yet Again

  • Southern Conference Champion (26-7, 20-1)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #69/#66/#67
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +9.4
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #12-#14

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

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Three Thoughts as Indiana State Outlasted Iona

Posted by WCarey on February 23rd, 2013

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s Bracketbuster game between Iona and Indiana State. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.

Iona and Indiana State met in Terre Haute on Saturday to kick off the final day of the final Bracketbusters event. Both teams entered the contest struggling quite a bit. The Gaels had posted just a 1-4 record in February and in the process, had dropped into a fifth-place tie in the MAAC standings. Sitting at 15-12 overall and 9-7 in conference play, Iona does have star power in senior guard Momo Jones and junior guard Sean Armand. Despite its star power, the team has really struggled in close games – all of its last five losses have been by three or fewer points. Just two weeks ago, Indiana State was a legitimate candidate to earn an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. However, the Sycamores have been in a tailspin ever since, dropping winnable road games to Missouri State and Bradley and losing at home to a Wichita State team that the Sycamores defeated on the road last month. With one team having to get back on the winning track, Indiana State defeated Iona 65-64 in what was a tight battle until the final buzzer. The following are three thoughts from Saturday’s action.

Indiana State

Indiana State is Slipping Off the Bubble, But Got the Win Today

  1. Despite This Season’s Struggles, Tim Cluess Certainly Has Iona Going In The Right Direction.  In his first three seasons as the leader of the Gaels, Cluess has posted a 65-33 record, which is quite impressive when you consider the program won just 12 games four seasons ago. In his inaugural campaign, Cluess led his team to 25 victories and all the way to the CIT Final. Last season, the Gaels also won 25 games, but this time earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament where the team was eliminated by BYU in a heartbreaker. New Rochelle, N.Y. is not exactly a location many recruits covet, but Cluess has been able to build on the success of his predecessor, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, and transform the program into one that will be consistently battling for the MAAC title and NCAA Tournament bids. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your DVR: Week of 01.28.13

Posted by bmulvihill on January 28th, 2013

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Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Things are a little quiet this week with mostly match-ups between top and bottom teams in the conferences.  However, there are a few games that mean a lot to certain teams, including those in some of the smaller conferences. Let’s get to the breakdowns!

Pittsburgh at #8 Louisville – 7:00 PM EST, Monday on ESPN (****)

Pitino looks to end a three game slide to in-state rival Kentucky on Saturday (AP)

Pitino needs to stop the bleeding at Louisville (AP)

  • Louisville is in an absolute must-win situation. They have lost their last three games and have struggled at crunch time with opportunities to win. Everyone keeps saying the Cardinals still could be the team to beat in March. However, history shows that teams that lose three games in a row during the regular season rarely win the title. Only four teams since 1980 have lost three games in a row and still managed to win the whole thing – 1982-83 North Carolina State, 1984-85 Villanova, 1987-88 Kansas, and 2005-06 Florida. Only one team in history has lost four games in a row and still won the tourney – Danny Manning and the Miracles (Kansas actually lost five straight at one point that season). The reality is that Rick Pitino‘s team is a poor shooting team and unless they get that corrected quickly, Louisville should not be considered a threat to win it all. Pittsburgh on the other hand seems to be turning things around. After starting 1-3 in conference play, they have managed to rattle off four straight wins. Both teams need a win to stay within two games of Syracuse and Marquette in the Big East. Pitt has improved their shooting and offensive rebounding in the last four contests and has been able to play tough defense without putting teams on the line. Keep a close eye on how Pitt does in the paint against Louisville shot blocker Gorgui Dieng. The Panthers are not a threat from three, so most of their points will come from inside the arc. For Louisville, they need to convert their turnovers into points by simply hitting shots. While Pittsburgh is not as long as Syracuse, Villanova, and Georgetown, they are not short. So Pitino’s crew needs to get to the basket for lay-ups and dunks. Shooting over the top is not a great way to break a shooting slump. Watch Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear, as their performance on the interior will be the key to Louisville breaking their losing streak.

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The Other 26: Reshuffling the Top of the Deck

Posted by IRenko on January 26th, 2013

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

It was a wild week for the TO26’s best teams, as seven of the teams ranked in our top ten — including our top five — all suffered losses. With Gonzaga, Creighton, VCU, Butler, and UNLV all going down, who has a rightful claim on the number one ranking?  Does New Mexico slide all the way from 6th to 1st after their win over Colorado State?

Not quite.  Yes, Gonzaga lost to Butler in a game played without Rotnei Clarke, Butler’s leading scorer. But it was in a hostile road environment, and even under those conditions, Gonzaga had a victory in hand with just a few seconds left on the clock. And on Thursday, the Zags followed up the loss with a 20-point drubbing of conference rival BYU. So Mark Few’s men will continue to hold the top spot in our rankings. But all of the action elsewhere will produce a substantial reshuffling. Without further ado, on the substantially revised Top 10, our weekly Honor Roll, and a few games to keep an eye on as the week unfolds.

Top Ten

RTC -- TO26 (1.26.13)

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Pac-12 M5: 01.17.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 17th, 2013

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  1. Since the firing of Kevin O’Neill on Monday morning, coaches on the hot seat are on the minds of many around the conference. Bud Withers of The Seattle Times points to Craig Robinson, Johnny Dawkins and Ken Bone as the three remaining Pac-12 coaches most likely to be relieved of their duties following the season, and one of the factors that could play a part in their departures is the relative disinterest of the fan bases, especially at Stanford and Washington State, where small crowds have become a theme. Of note is that Ben Howland is missing from Withers’ list, but rest assured, barring a deep run in the NCAA Tournament (meaning at least past the first weekend), Howland’s position will be reevaluated once the season ends.
  2. Continuing to mine that O’Neill theme, the Arizona Daily Wildcat has a piece about how the state of UA basketball could have been much different had previous events turned out differently. To begin with, O’Neill was the interim head coach at Arizona when Lute Olson took his leave of absence in 2007-08, and, were it not for a change of heart on Olson’s part, the plan was to make O’Neill the head man when Olson retired. When that plan fell through, O’Neill wound up free to take the USC job when Tim Floyd abruptly resigned in the wake of recruiting allegations. And, in that whole regime change, guys who had been committed to USC, namely Derrick Williams and Momo Jones, wound up de-committing and instead enrolling at Arizona, became key cogs in the 2011 Elite Eight team. Solomon Hill was also at one point committed to Tim Floyd and USC, but he backed out of that and switched his allegiance to Arizona prior to the coaching change. In short, were it not for a couple simple twists of fate involving O’Neill, the present face of Arizona basketball would look significantly different.
  3. Aside from that, you know, we actually had some games in the conference tonight. Where Wednesday games were sort of a one-off rivalry-game-only type of thing in the past, these are a regular occurrence every week this year. It takes some getting used to, sure, but really, basketball spread out more evenly through the week? I ain’t complaining. Washington State kicked things off last night by raining down fire from deep on Utah on the way to the Cougs’ first conference win of the season. Coug Center’s got your round-up of all the action, including Mike Ladd’s career night. It’s worth noting that Ladd is starting to pick up the pace offensively and it is he, rather than more popular possibilities like DaVonte Lacy or Royce Woolridge, who has stepped up as the second option on this team behind Brock Motum. Ladd has now scored in double figures in five straight games, averaging better than 16 points per night over that span.
  4. As Sabatino Chen’s desperation three-pointer banked in at the buzzer at the end of Colorado’s conference opener, it appeared that the Buffaloes were ready to be a serious contender for the Pac-12 title. Almost literally since that exact moment, not much has gone right for CU. Moments later, that shot was perhaps erroneously waved off. Soon thereafter the Buffs folded in overtime of that game. And since that night, they’ve proceeded to drop three of their next four, stumbling to a 1-4 conference start, including last night’s 10-point loss at Washington. But, while Colorado gets much of the attention for their sudden failures, the Huskies are out to a surprising 4-0 conference start. But, as Jerry Brewer of The Seattle Times notes, while past Husky teams have made their mark with style and flair, this vintage of UW is getting it done with grit, hustle and smarts. And, perhaps not coincidentally, they’re overachieving this year, as opposed to their almost annual recent underachievements.
  5. Lastly, on a day that wasn’t all that great for Oregon sports, there was bad news for the basketball program as well when it came to light that the prep school that 2013 recruit Cristiano Felicio is currently attending may be under scrutiny for its legitimacy as an educational institution. And, the crazy part about this story is that may not be the worst part about it. Aside from possibly being little more than a scam perpetrated on talented basketball players, the president of the school is under investigation for physically abusing some of the schools players by subjecting them to “hands and feet bound with zip ties” and “clothes pins attached to their nipples.” Yikes.
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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: MAAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 10th, 2012

Ray Floriani is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC.

Top Storylines

The Redshirts: We are not talking about individual players but a program. In the latter part of the summer, Loyola announced its intention to exit the MAAC for the Patriot League. The Greyhounds captured the postseason title this past March. Coach Jimmy Patsos has another very strong group on hand. The interesting thing is how will the last run through the MAAC affect Loyola’s play. The guess here is not too much. Caution is needed however as the MAAC contingents would love nothing to upset the Greyhounds as a ‘going away present.’

How Will Jimmy Patsos Handle the Last Go-Round the MAAC? (AP)

Master Builder: When Canisius hired Jim Baron last spring they not only got a veteran coach with a proven track record, but the Buffalo-based school hired a coach who rebuilt situations at three different schools. First was St. Francis (PA). Next, his alma mater, St. Bonaventure, and most recently, Rhode Island. Baron brought St. Francis and St. Bonaventure to the NCAA Tournament in his careers there. He also had a few NITs under his tutelage but couldn’t get on the board during Selection Sunday while at URI. Make no mistake, though, Baron knows Canisius’ status and what needs to be done to succeed there. Word here says he goes ‘four for four’ in reclamation projects.

Must-See: A few of the notable matchups in the MAAC include…. On January 27, Iona hosts Loyola and visits the Greyhounds on March 1. The latter game could decide the regular season champion and have a strong bearing on final conference seeds for the postseason tournament. A few other notable games:

  • November 11 – Manhattan at Louisville – Steve Masiello ducks no one and heads south to face a powerful Louisville team and his former boss (mentor), Rick Pitino.
  • November 22 – Marist vs. West Virginia in the MAAC sponsored Old Spice Classic in Orlando. The field also includes the likes of Clemson, Davidson, Gonzaga, Oklahoma and Vanderbilt.
  • January 6Iona hosts Manhattan, and more than rivalry bragging rights are at stake.
  • January 25 – Loyola visits Manhattan, another huge midseason contest.

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Morning Five: 08.24.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 24th, 2012

  1. You know you’re doing something right in a lawsuit if the defendant’s attorneys start attacking the plaintiff’s ringleader long before the discovery phase ends. According to this report from The Birmingham News, the NCAA and its licensees maneuvered hard against marketing guru Sonny Vaccaro in an attempt to discredit him prior to a ruling by a federal court in California about whether the so-called Ed O’Bannon likeness case will become a class action suit. It’s no secret that Vaccaro has encouraged ex-players who feel wronged by the perpetual and ongoing usage of their faces and likenesses to join the suit, but the NCAA questioned whether his financial motives were too inextricably tied to the players to render him prejudicial. The NCAA had requested voluminous records of his communications for years, but ultimately, the two sides agreed that Vaccaro would turn over “custodial records from Vaccaro’s three organizations, communications with the plaintiffs, camp/tournament documents using players’ likeness, and payment records to or from players.” The court plans on making a decision on the class action later this fall, and without question that ruling could have a monumental impact on the future financial solvency of the NCAA.
  2. Thursday was an assistant coach kind of weekday as a number of high-profile schools announced comings and goings among their coaching support staff. Kentucky, a school whose media relations department must work a ridiculous amount of overtime, announced that former Wildcat center Marquis Estill will join the team as an undergraduate student assistant while he finishes his degree. Estill left school early in 2003, after receiving all-SEC honors after his junior season. Meanwhile, across the continent in Seattle, Washington announced that it was adding former Arizona State assistant Lamont Smith to its staff as a top recruiter mere days after adding another new assistant, former D-II head coach Brad Jackson (Western Washington). The key word in the previous sentence is former, as Arizona State lost not only Smith but also Scott Pera, who is leaving the desert to coach closer to his home at Pennsylvania. As Herb Sendek said about the twin departures this week, “the timing isn’t ideal.” More on ASU in a post later today.
  3. Much has been made recently about the Big East’s 60-day window to negotiate a new television deal with ESPN that begins on September 1, but it isn’t the only conference looking forward to making waves with a brand new broadcasting deal. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told media on Wednesday that the league expects to sign a 13-year deal with FOX and ABC/ESPN worth $2.6 billion and will provide “unprecedented” exposure in a much more “widely distributed” manner. Or, in other words, what everyone else says about these deals. From a financial perspective, if this deal turns out to be true, a distribution of over a quarter-bill to each of the 10 member institutions doesn’t sound very bad after all. As Bowlsby suggests, perhaps 10 schools is the right number after all — leagues have been pushing each other out of the way to expand, but maybe they should start thinking about strategic contraction instead?
  4. One school not reaping the tens of millions of dollars that the schools located nearby it are is Creighton, but that isn’t stopping the hot mid-major basketball school from investing in its future while things are going well on the court. Plans were announced earlier this week that the school will build the Fighting McDermotts a brand spanking new 35,000 square-foot practice facility to match what some of its MVC peers have already done. Perhaps more importantly, the school seeks to match what a certain Big Ten school an hour to the southwest is doing — even though Creighton is clearly the more successful basketball program than Nebraska, the spectre of all those BTN dollars at NU certainly keeps the Joneses over in Omaha looking over at their neighbor’s lawn. With possibly two more years of Doug McDermott as a Bluejay, this practice facility could be the recruiting carrot that Creighton needs to bridge its current and pending success with a strong recruiting future.
  5. Last summer the story of Lamont “Momo” Jones‘ transfer from Arizona back home to Iona was a hot topic. The question of how it would ultimately impact both schools was a common refrain, and as it turned out, it was his new school that played in March Madness (losing to BYU in the First Four), while his old school was shipped to the NIT (losing to Bucknell). Jones enjoyed his best season statistically in 2011-12, going for 16/3/3 APG while shooting a career-high 46% from the field. More importantly to the rising senior, though, he spent what he characterizes as the best of year of his life near his family — especially his ailing grandmother in the Bronx — and even became a first-time father of a boy, Jace’, in May. With all the negative stories surrounding college basketball these days, this piece by Dan Greene is one that will send you into the weekend with a smile on your face.
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USC Week: Evaluating The Recent Past

Posted by AMurawa on July 2nd, 2012

It has now been 20 seasons since the USC Trojans last finished a season with less than 10 losses, 26 years since they earned at least a piece of the Pac-10 title and 51 whopping years since they won their conference outright (then known as the Athletic Association of Western Universities – or the Big Five). Compared to that history of futility, the recent past in USC basketball has been relatively successful. Between the 2006-07 and the 2010-11 seasons, the Trojans posted a combined 103-66 record, finished tied for third twice and never finished lower than a tie for fifth. And then came last season, when the wheels came off the bus entirely, as the team limped home to a school-worst 6-26 record, helped along by an almost unbelievable stretch of injuries. Of the five players who started in USC’s first exhibition game last summer in Brazil, just one was still active when their season wrapped up, and all told, just six scholarship players remained available.

Kevin O'Neill, USC

The USC Basketball Program Had Been Relatively Successful In Kevin O’Neill’s First Two Seasons, But Nothing Went Right Last Year (Rick Scuteri/AP)

Teams are going to have injuries from time to time, and head coach Kevin O’Neill understands that, but last year’s streak of bad luck came at a particularly tough time, with the program left in a fragile state by previous head coach Tim Floyd. In June 2009, Floyd resigned abruptly in the wake of NCAA investigations (and eventual penalties) related to illegal benefits for O.J Mayo, just shortly after starters DeMar DeRozan, Taj Gibson and Daniel Hackett had all decided to leave school early to pursue professional careers. With the change in staff and the NCAA sleuthing around, the Trojans lost all but one player from their 2009 recruiting class, including Derrick Williams, Momo Jones and Renardo Sidney. The Trojans were able to scrape into the NCAA Tournament in 2011 behind a molasses-slow tempo and stingy defense, but the program was still in recovery mode from the Floyd fiasco, lacking the depth to be able to mask the multiple injuries they endured last year.

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Arizona Week: Running Down the Returnees

Posted by AMurawa on June 27th, 2012

The Wildcats return five players who earned 10 or more minutes last season and it is a good bet that each of those players will have at least as big a role in 2012-13, with a couple different players perhaps poised for breakout seasons. Today we’ll take a look at each of them, by order of last year’s scoring average, and try to peer into the near future for each of these guys.

  • Solomon Hill, Senior, Small Forward (13.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.6 APG) – In 2011-12, Hill led the Wildcats in rebounding and assists, was second in scoring, posted the highest field goal percentage and defensive rebound percentage, used the most possessions of anyone on the team, knocked down 37 three-pointers at a 39% clip, and did all of that in a highly efficient manner. In other words, the dude’s versatile. And, in a year where Arizona will be breaking in a one-season tire-patch of a point guard in Mark Lyons, a guy who has been known to fall in love with his own shot, Hill’s ability to play the point-forward position could be vital. Further, with a bunch of talented freshman bigs getting ready to make an impact in Tucson, Hill could be pushed out of the paint more, setting up camp more on the perimeter and at the elbows. If he can continue to improve his jumper as he has done, he could prove to be a matchup nightmare, capable of stepping out to hit the three, knocking down the pull-up off a couple dribbles, using a power move to get to the hoop, or feeding the bigs out of the high post. Really, while Hill definitely shone in his junior year, he could be primed to step it up even another notch in his final collegiate campaign. Throw in his ability as a vocal leader on a team with plenty of youngsters (he could, in particular, be a mentor for freshman big Grant Jerrett, who has some of the same skills that Hill possesses) and Hill could be one of the most important players to his team in the entire country.
Solomon Hill, Arizona

Solomon Hill is Arizona’s Most Versatile Player, And Could Be The Team’s Emotional Leader This Season (Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

  • Nick Johnson, Sophomore, Shooting Guard (9.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG. 2.4 APG) – Johnson’s freshman season got off to a flashy start, with seven double-figure scoring efforts prior to New Year’s Day, copious amounts of highlight-reel dunks, solid defense, and a confident jumper. Unfortunately, once conference play rolled around, he struggled with his jumper (he shot 41.7% from three prior to January 1 and 28% afterward) and his confidence waned. Opponents began playing off him and daring him to shoot, and his entire game at both ends of the floor was negatively impacted by his shooting woes. Still, all things considered, it is hard to be anything but bullish about Johnson’s future. As athletic as any returning guard in the conference, Johnson’s got a strong first step, the ability to throw down a dunk in an opposing big man’s face, and a willingness to make the unselfish play when it presents itself. Add on the ability to be a lockdown defender and, so long as Johnson tightens up his jumper, he could be among the conference’s best players next year.
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Arizona Week: Evaluating the Recent Past

Posted by AMurawa on June 25th, 2012

For better or worse, there are three overriding eras in the history of the Arizona basketball program, all revolving around Hall of Fame head coach Lute Olson. There is, of course, the Lute Olson era, from 1983 to 2007, during which the Wildcats made 23 straight NCAA Tournaments (over the course of 24 seasons), advanced to four Final Fours and won their lone NCAA Championship in 1997. The other two eras are dictated by their relationship to the Silver Fox’s reign in the desert. The pre-Olson era had its moments, mostly under Fred Enke (who coached the program from 1925 to 1961) when the Wildcats owned the Border Conference in the 1940s and advanced to three NITs and one NCAA Tournament, but by and large, the Arizona program was a non-entity prior to Olson’s arrival from Iowa. However, the end of the Olson era left the Wildcat program in something of a mess, as health and personal issues caused the transfer of power to be choppy at best, with Kevin O’Neill and Russ Pennell each limited to single ill-prepared seasons in the desert. Throw in the fact that the results from the 2007-08 season had to be vacated because of violations committed by Olson, and for a stretch, there was some doubt as to whether the program could live up to the high standards set by their iconic head coach.

Lute Olson, Arizona

Lute Olson’s Legacy Casts A Heavy Shadow Over the Arizona Basketball Program (Danny Moloshok, AP Photo)

But, in the spring of 2009, highly regarded head coach Sean Miller agreed to leave Xavier and become the new top man in the desert, immediately reestablishing a sense of stability around the program. Despite the fact that his Wildcats missed the NCAA Tournament in his first season after 25-straight appearances, the program was back in the limelight in his second year, as the Wildcats won the Pac-10 and advanced to the Elite Eight in 2010-11, before losing to eventual national champion Connecticut as a potential game-winning three rimmed out at the buzzer. While last year’s team again missed the NCAA Tournament, Miller assuaged the fears of Wildcat fans by inking an elite recruiting class, ranked third in the nation by ESPNU, featuring three top 20 recruits. For the most part, there appears to be a confidence around the program that, despite a few bumps along the road in transition from Olson to Miller, the road ahead looks smooth.

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