Conference Tournament Primer: Big Sky Conference

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 13th, 2014

Championship Fortnight continues with the last five conference tourneys tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the final push of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, the O26 tourneys starting are the Big Sky, Big West, Sun Belt and WAC.

Dates: March 13-15
Site: At regular-season champion (Weber State)

2014 big sky bracket

What to expect: About half the league could win the Big Sky’s automatic bid this year. Every team in the conference suffered at least six losses, led by regular season champion Weber State at 14-6. In an odd twist, only seven of the league’s 11 teams participate in the conference tournament. Montana, last year’s representative in the NCAA Tournament, along with Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado pose the biggest threats. But don’t expect too much from the Big Sky’s team in the Big Dance. The First Four in Dayton and an early exit seem in order.

Favorite: Weber State. Yes, I’m still making the Wildcats the favorite despite stumbling down the stretch. They lost two of their last three games, and four of their last seven. Yikes. But with the parity in this conference — every other team had at least eight league losses — the home court advantage here makes Weber State the favorite. The Wildcats lost just one home game in league play.

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Pac-12 Team Preview: Washington Huskies

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on October 28th, 2013

We continue unveiling our team-by-team breakdowns, in roughly the reverse order of where we expect these teams to finish in the conference standings.

Washington Huskies

Strengths.  Washington only has two seniors on its roster, but the pair will be the key to this team’s success. In the backcourt is C.J. Wilcox, who is arguably the top senior in the Pac-12. His pure stroke is enough alone to keep the Huskies in games this season, and he will be looking to top his 16.8 points per game average from last year. Wilcox is as versatile as ever, according to head coach Lorenzo Romar, and as he goes, so does Washington. The other senior is center Perris Blackwell, a one-year fix who spent his last three years at San Francisco. Blackwell provides a much-needed offensive presence and has enough talent to prevent opponents from overplaying the Husky guards like they did last year.

Wilcox Will Be The Key To Washington's Success In 2013-14 (credit: Dean Rutz)

Wilcox Will Be The Key To Washington’s Success In 2013-14 (Credit: Dean Rutz)

Weaknesses. Matching six veterans and five newcomers expected to play immediately will be a challenge. Chemistry is a huge question, and if the Huskies don’t mesh quickly, opponents like Indiana, Connecticut and San Diego State will eat them alive. Wilcox needs to be a floor general and will have to bail out his teammates at times, which could be an uncomfortable spot for the senior.

Non-Conference Tests. Washington’s last three games before taking a break for Thanksgiving will give us a sense of just how improved the Huskies are. They’ll face Indiana and either Connecticut or Boston College on back-to-back nights in New York City before making the cross-country trip home to take on a Montana team that should win the Big Sky. Two of Washington’s first three games in the month of December will be played on the road against an elite mid-major (San Diego State), and one low mid-major (Tulane). Finally, following the road trip to New Orleans will be a visit from UConn, which could be the second Husky-on-Husky match-up in one month.

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Dana Altman and the Rise of Oregon Basketball

Posted by Connor Pelton on October 8th, 2013

Four short years ago, the Oregon basketball program was nearly left for dead. Of the Ducks’ 12 losses to Pac-10 opponents, 11 of those came by double figures. There were also losses to teams like Portland and Montana, and while McArthur Court was still a classic, its age was starting to show in a bad way. In January of the 2009-10 season, the Oregon football team went to its first Rose Bowl in 14 years, and it felt like the hoops team was getting left behind in all of the athletic excitement.

Enter Dana Altman the very next season. Altman was hired after a lengthy search, one that reportedly had many many high profile targets turn down the job. The former Creighton head man made a splash immediately, sweeping the Civil War series with Oregon State, upsetting a top 20 Washington team, and making it to the semifinals of the Pac-10 Tournament. They didn’t stop there, though, and after pulling an invitation to the CBI to close the season, the Ducks beat Altman’s former team in the best of three championship series in thrilling fashion. Also, halfway through the year, Oregon unveiled its state of the art replacement to The Pit, the Matthew Knight Arena. While drawing criticism from most of the nation for its oddly-drawn floor art, Oregon fans, and more importantly recruits, were drawn to it.

Oregon's NBA-Like Arena Has Helped The Resurgence Of The Hoops Program (credit: Brian Feulner)

Oregon’s NBA-Like Arena Has Helped The Resurgence Of The Hoops Program (credit: Brian Feulner)

Over the last two seasons, Oregon has continued to gain momentum. It won 24 games in 2011-12, including road contests at Nebraska, Arizona, and Oregon State. That season concluded with a trip to the NIT, and the Ducks were bounced in an entertaining rivalry game at Washington in the quarterfinals. Behind key hustle players like E.J. Singler, Carlos Emory, and Arsalan Kazemi, Oregon continued its rise up the postseason ladder in the last year’s campaign. Compiling two streaks of five straight wins and one of eight consecutive victories, Altman’s squad put it all together in March, winning the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas and pulling back-to-back upsets as a #12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The run ended against top overall seed and eventual national champion Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen.

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Breaking Down Pac-12 Non-Conference Schedules: Washington and Washington State

Posted by Connor Pelton on October 7th, 2013

October is here, and that means we are just weeks away from real, live basketball games. In order to prepare you for the first two months of the season, we’re going to break down all 12 non-conference slates over the next couple of weeks. Up first; the Washington schools.

Teams are listed in order of which they will be played. Last season’s RPI in parenthesis. Potential opponents (one round in advance) are italicized. All times listed are Pacific.

Washington

Lorenzo Romar, Washington

Lorenzo Romar’s Program Is on Shaky Ground Right Now (Geoffrey McAllister, AP)

Cream of the Crop: vs Indiana (8), @ San Diego State (30)

Washington has a pair of marquee opponents on its non-conference slate this season. The Huskies will face Indiana in New York City on November 21, in a game to be televised by ESPN2 at 6:00 PM. The Hoosiers finished 2012-13 with a 29-7 record and lost to Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen. Replacing their two leading scorers (and lottery picks) from last year will be of top importance heading into the season, and Washington will be IU’s first test. Equally as tough will be the trip to Viejas Arena to open the month of December. Senior guard Chase Tapley, and of course, the raucous student section known as The Show, will be waiting for the Dawgs. The game will be televised by CBS Sports Network at 12:05 PM on December 8.

Solid Names: UC Irvine (126), vs Boston College (113), Montana (74), Long Beach State (115), @ Tulane (178), Connecticut (49)

Connecticut headlines the second tier, and Washington could actually face the other Huskies twice this season, depending on how the 2KSports Classic shakes out. The scheduled match-up will be the final game before Christmas break, tipping off at 12:30 PM on ESPNU. When the two teams met last season in Hartford, freshman Omar Calhoun picked apart UW in UConn’s eight-point win. Now that Lorenzo Romar and company will get them in front of their own Dawg Pound, it says here that Washington gets a big revenge victory heading into the holiday. Northwest rival Montana could present a challenge. The Huskies always seem to drop a head-scratching home game or two (South Dakota State two years back, Albany and Nevada last season), and the Grizzlies are a likely candidate to continue the tradition. Seniors Mathias Ward and Kareem Jamar, both who averaged over 14 PPG last season, will lead a balanced Montana attack on the offensive end of the floor.

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Big East M5: The Day After Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 22nd, 2013

  1. bigeast_morning5(2)Yesterday was the true first day of the NCAA Tournament and overall it was a good one for the four Big East teams that played. Syracuse and Louisville cruised to easy victories and Marquette won the most exciting game in the day, rallying to beat Davidson on a gorgeous left-handed drive by Vander Blue in the last five seconds. Of course Pittsburgh ruined a perfect day for the conference by making exactly one of their 17 three-pointers and turning the ball over 15 times in an 18-point loss to Wichita State. The story for Pitt is getting old at this point. No matter how many times they win 25 games in the regular season, until they actually win a worthwhile NCAA Tournament game, their gaudy records won’t mean anything. It would be one thing if the Shockers had played a clean game themselves, but Wichita State was just 2-of-20 from downtown and turned the ball over 11 times themselves. For Jamie Dixon, that job at Southern California that he shot down oh so casually shot down this week is looking real nice right now, because it seems like the Pitt fans are starting to get fed up.
  2. You want to know why Vander Blue is an NBA prospect? Watch his game-winning layup against Davidson five times, heck I could watch it all day. Too often players settle for long jumpers on last-second plays, Blue on the other hand didn’t hesitate at all, blew past Davidson’s Jake Cohen, and finished smoothly at the rim with his left hand. That was a grown man move with the game on the line. It helped that on a day when the Golden Eagles shot just 34. 5 percent from the field, they hit three improbable three-pointers in a row in the final minute of the game. They weren’t open three-pointers either, they were well-defended, and the man who hit two of them, Jamil Wilson, made just two other field goals on 11 shots up to that point. It was a game that will be hard to top today in terms of excitement, late-game heroics, excitable coaches (what’s up Buzz). But after watching Memphis suffocate and swat down Saint Mary‘s offense, the Golden Eagles will not be able to play that poorly on offense and hope to win in the third round.
  3. An unintended benefit of having so many games spread out across the country is that occasionally a good story is written that wouldn’t have a news peg if there wasn’t an NCAA Tournament game being played in that city. Such is the case with this piece about Villanova’s experience in the realignment done well by the Kansas City Star. The Wildcats play North Carolina in Kansas City tomorrow and rather than write yet another preview, the Star chose to go back and time and talk with coach Jay Wright about the uncertainty of watching the Big East crumble and the move into a basketball-centric, new Big East conference next season. Things are settled now and that’s good, because the Tar Heels present a stiff challenge.  Not unlike Pittsburgh, Villanova is back in the tournament after a disappointing season and they will be looking to prove they belong.
  4. The best part about Syracuse’s near-50-point thrashing of Montana other than the near flawless basketball the Orange played was watching CBS Sports analyst Seth Davis act a fool in full-on Syracuse gear. The outfit was Davis manning up after he picked the Grizz to pull of the upset and felt confident to make a bet with Syracuse sports radio hosts, a bet he honored by looking extra-bright on national television. Yesterday I mentioned that another data-based formula showed that Montana was a good candidate to pull of the upset and last night’s beat down was evidence that none of these formulas are bullet-proof. The zone defense and length of the Orange defenders were too much for Montana’s shooters and the game turned into a boat race midway through the first half.
  5. Georgetown has had less obvious and publicized recent struggles in the NCAA Tournament than Pittsburgh but the Hoyas and coach John Thompson III could use a deep NCAA Tournament run this season to assuage some of the concerns that have crept out of nowhere since the team’s trip to the Final Four.  For whatever reason, Florida Gulf Coast has seen a groundswell of support and most of it is seemingly coming from people who have never seen them play. They have a win over Miami and they definitely have an argument about receiving just a No.15 seed given their resume and talent. But they also haven’t seen a defense as long and athletic as Georgetown’s and just as Montana found out today against a hungry Syracuse team, the Eagles are going to quickly learn how hard it can be to score against a premier Big East defense.
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Rushed Reactions: #4 Syracuse 81, #13 Montana 34

Posted by rtmsf on March 21st, 2013

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RTC is providing game-by-game coverage throughout Thursday from the San Jose pod.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. So, Yeah. Every now and again the NCAA Tournament gives us a complete and utter mismatch, and tonight’s Syracuse-Montana game was exactly that with no question about it. Not only did Syracuse’s size and athleticism dwarf the Grizzlies, but the expression on their faces (we’re playing Syracuse? THE Syracuse?) said all that anyone needed to know. For the majority of the game, Montana was well below the point-per-minute threshold. In fact, they never even got close to it after the opening couple of minutes, because the Grizzlies finished with an astounding 34 points for the game. Montana had a really nice season, but they were not in the right frame of mind for this one tonight.
  2. What Can You Take Away From a Game Like This? Not terribly much other than what was written above, but it does give a glimpse as to why Syracuse is such a scary team when all its cylinders are firing. Among the eight teams that played in this pod today, no other team has the combination of size, length and athleticism that the Orange bring to bear. They have the runway-model look of a #1 seed, but too many Jekyll-and-Hyde performances dropped Jim Boeheim’s team down to a #4 seed. But goodness — that’s a #4 seed that nobody wants to face when they’re holding NCAA Tournament competition to a 20% shooting night.
  3. Michael Carter-Williams Has Some Russell Westbrook In Him. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has watched the talented sophomore at times this year, but even in this blowout game where he notched four points, eight rebounds and nine assists, there were still a few times where he simply tried to do things that nobody with his talent at the point guard slot should ever be doing. Passes that had no chance at getting caught by a teammate; over-penetrations that got him in trouble; that kind of stuff. The young man has major talent, but if he really wants to maximize his abilities on his way to the highest level of basketball, he needs to find a way to improve his decision-making.

Star of the GameBrandon Triche, Syracuse. Among a number of stars for Syracuse tonight, Triche stood out the most. His 20 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field, four assists, and four steals set the tone for his team and paced the Orange to the easy victory.

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Big East NCAA Tournament Capsules: Syracuse Orange

Posted by Dan Lyons on March 21st, 2013

After starting the season 18-1, Syracuse looked to be poised for another run at a Big East title and a top seed in March. However, the Orange struggled down the stretch of the regular season, losing seven of their last 12 contests in Big East play. With their hot early start and a few big wins — including one at then top-ranked Louisville — the NCAA Tournament was never really in question, but their seeding looked to be in real jeopardy as the losses piled up. Jim Boeheim was able to right the ship in his last Big East Tournament, and with wins over Seton Hall, Pittsburgh, and Georgetown before a tough championship game loss to Louisville, Syracuse seems to have regained a lot of momentum heading into the Big Dance.

syracuse-arkansas

Has Syracuse Regained Its Midseason Momentum; Or Is This a Mirage?

Region: East
Seed: No. 4
Record: 26-9 (11-7 Big East)
Matchup: vs. Montana in San Jose

Key Player: Michael Carter-Williams is Syracuse’s most talented player, and C.J. Fair is certainly the most consistent player on the squad, but no individual may be more important to Syracuse’s Final Four aspirations than senior forward James Southerland. Southerland put on a clinic from long range in the Garden last week, hitting 19 of his 33 three-point attempts in Syracuse’s four games. When he is on, he’s as good a shooter as there is in the country, and his mere presence really spreads the floor for the Orange, opening things up for Carter-Williams to penetrate opposing defenses and Fair to get good looks on his dangerous mid-range jumpers.

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The Other 26: Bracket-Busting, East and Midwest Edition

Posted by IRenko on March 20th, 2013

RTC_final4_atlanta

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

This is part two of our TO26 bracket analysis, focusing on the 17 non-power-conference teams that populate the East and Midwest regions. The teams are grouped into five rough categories, and, within each category, they are ordered by their likelihood of advancing.  For our analysis of the South and West regions, see here.

Regional Threats

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

  • St. Louis (#4 Midwest) — The Bilikens are flying a bit under the radar, but this is a team that should be a favorite for a Sweet 16 run. They have one of the best defenses in the country, a group of experienced guards who can attack and shoot (Kwamain Mitchell, Mike McCall, Jordair Jett), a surprisingly effective post presence in Dwayne Evans, and a pair of pick-‘n-pop big men (Rob Loe, Cody Ellis) who can drain the three. It should be said, though, that the Bilikens’ draw is not necessarily ideal. A first-round game against New Mexico State presents some matchup quandaries (see below), as does a potential Third Round game against Oklahoma State — both teams are prepared to bang and grind with the Bilikens down low. Ultimately, I think the St. Louis’ defense is strong enough to get them to the Sweet 16, where their steady guard play gives them a non-trivial chance of knocking off the Cards.
Can Rotnei Clarke Lead Butler Back to the Final Four?

Can Rotnei Clarke Lead Butler Back to the Final Four?

  • Butler (#6, East) — Yes, they’re back. Neither Bucknell nor their potential Third Round opponent (Marquette or Davidson) will be an easy team to conquer, but all three of these teams will give Butler an important reprieve from its biggest vulnerability — a tendency to turn it over. Bucknell and Marquette will also play at the kind of grinding pace at which the Bulldogs excel. And they’ll focus their offense on the areas of the floor where Butler’s defense is strongest — the paint. Butler also has the shooters — Rotnei Clark, Kellen Dunham — to bombard Marquette’s compact defense and the rebounders to exploit Marquette’s weakness on the glass. If anything, Bucknell may pose a bigger matchup problem, as they tend to chase teams off the three-point line and they don’t give up much on the offensive glass. The Bison will be a tough opponent, but when you look at Butler’s pod as a whole, a Sweet 16 run looks well within reach.

One and Done

These teams have at least a 50/50 (or better) chance of picking up a win, but are unlikely to get two.

  • Colorado State (#8, Midwest) – I would actually bump the Rams up to the tail end of the “Regional Threats” group if not for the uncertain status of starting point guard Dorian Green. The team’s unquestioned floor general, Green suffered an ankle injury in the first round of the MWC tournament, and though he played in a semifinal loss to UNLV, was ineffective. With a fully healthy Green, the Rams’ have a good chance of toppling Missouri. The two teams are somewhat similar in that they try to score in the paint on offense, while keeping opponents out of the paint of it on defense. Neither team is especially potent from the three-point line, and both rely a fair amount on offensive rebounding, though the Rams’ have the advantage here, especially as they are equally adept at controlling their defensive glass. That, along with Missouri’s tendency to be a bit loose with the ball, may be the difference-maker. And don’t sleep on Colorado State’s chances against Louisville in the next round. The Cardinals’ weak points are defensive rebounding and three-point shooting. The Rams are the best offensive rebounding team in the country, and as noted above, their defense forces teams to beat them from the three-point line. They also take pretty good care of the ball, which will serve them well against Louisville’s pressure defense. But this analysis could be all for naught if Green isn’t healthy enough to be effective.
  • Creighton (#7, Midwest) Doug McDermott is perhaps the most fundamentally sound player in college basketball. His All-American status owes itself to his incredibly precise offensive footwork, positioning, movement, shot, and cuts. He has inside-outside skills that present a very tough matchup if you’re not used to guarding him. And he’s surrounded by lots of great three-point shooters. Cincinnati’s defense has generally been strong, so they might be able to contain McDermott and the Bluejays’ three-point attack. But they’ll have to be especially effective because their offense has been truly miserable. I like the Bluejays’ chances here. A Third Round matchup with Duke would be a tougher proposition, as the Blue Devils combine a defense that shuts down the three-point line with an offense that is far more high-powered than Cincinnati’s. McDermott may well get his points, especially posting up inside, but that’s not likely to be sufficient.

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Big East M5: 03.20.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 20th, 2013

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  1. The NCAA Tournament officially got under way last night with North Carolina A&T and St. Mary’s notching the first two victories of the Big Dance. Meanwhile, in the middle of Pennsylvania, Kentucky lost to might Robert Morris in the NIT, likely bringing delight to fans of their intrastate rivals, Louisville. The Cardinals are the No. 1 overall seed and the presumptive favorite to win the national championship according to plenty of pundits and bracketheads on ESPN.com. C.L. Brown of the Louisville Courier-Journal made the astute observation that the 2013 team bears plenty of resemblance, at least in terms of its resume, to the team Rick Pitino coached to a No. 1 seed in 2009. Brown breaks down the match-up between the two Cardinal teams and gives this year’s squad a slight edge for consistency reasons. What’s most interesting to us is that the player who would have the most sway on who wins that match-up will also be the most influential player in Louisville’s success this March — point guard Peyton Siva. Brown gives Siva the edge over Edgar Sosa and Andre McGee but that would assume that the good Siva shows up. It will be the same “if” in this year’s NCAA Tournament. If Siva is focused, consistent, and perhaps even dynamic, the Cardinals will likely be the best team in the field; but if he struggles to lead the offense and starts turning the ball over, it may end up as another disappointing season for Pitino’s club.
  2. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like Montana would stand much of a chance against Syracuse. The Grizzlies don’t have a real “good” win (unless you count an overtime loss to Davidson, which is still a loss, so you shouldn’t count it) and the Orange looked good (at least until the second half) of the Big East championship game. Jim Boeheim’s team also has a distinct size, length, and athleticism advantage. Yet, despite all of that, a deeper review of the numbers supports the fact that Montana has a good chance to pull of the upset. Those numbers are usually decent indicators of upset potential, but the Grizzlies’ chances of pulling it off really depends on whether Syracuse will come out motivated to play in San Jose. They have the cross-country trip and they are a team that, until the Big East Tournament began, looked listless and defeated. If that’s the team that shows up on Thursday in California, then the veteran team from Montana will have a puncher’s chance. But if the focused and intense Syracuse team that gutted out an overtime victory over Georgetown in the Big East semifinals returns, then the Grizzlies will have trouble dealing with the length of Syracuse’s zone defense and they will have even more trouble keeping them off the glass.
  3. It’s out in the open now — the secret weapon that Villanova will use to beat a hot North Carolina team that looks like a tough match-up for the Wildcats. Jay Wright will just rely on transfer point guard Tony Chennault, who knows everything there is to know about the Tar Heels because he spent two years in the ACC at Wake Forest. Er….well okay, so that’s not exactly a foolproof plan and Chennault didn’t have a whole lot of “inside” information to share with reporters and his teammates, but I guess he will know some of the players better anyway. Chennault at least understands that stopping the Tar Heels will involve some serious transition defense and a commitment to stepping out on the shooters, especially ones behind the three-point arc. In fact, the arc may be where this entire game is won and lost. The Tar Heels’ smaller lineup is built for attacking from the perimeter with P.J. Hairston at power forward, and the Wildcats have had a well-documented problem stopping the deep threat this season. If the Wildcats can slow down Hairston and use their size to their advantage, they will probably have a better shot to win.
  4. Taking a quick break from Tournament Talk, the sure-to-depress chatter of conference realignment has reared its ugly head again in the form of a story about how the Conference Formerly Known As The Big East could be in danger of losing its lucrative media rights deal. Basically, if Connecticut, Cincinnati, Houston, or Temple decide to leave the conference, the media rights deal with ESPN could be terminated. Those four schools are considered the Tier-1 schools by the television executives and if the Big East can’t hold on to them, the networks will have the option to renegotiate the deal with the league. Commissioner Mike Aresco continues to say all of the right things about the future of his league, but despite all of the maneuvering and jockeying among different teams, it seems like the conference constantly remains on the brink of dissolution, especially if schools like Connecticut and Cincinnati (both of whom are likely trying to find a new home as soon as possible) take off.
  5. Say what you want about the homer-ish tinge to this article about Cashmere Wright, but once you toss aside the paragraphs about why you should root for him, the overall point about Wright’s importance to the Bearcats is a good one. It’s no coincidence that the Bearcats’ sudden struggles during the regular season started right around the same time Wright suffered his shoulder injury. Wright has played much better down the stretch, which is good news for the Bearcats, because they will need him to score against a Creighton team that is one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country. Cincinnati will undoubtedly play tougher, more physical defense than the Bluejays are used to, but the Bearcats don’t exactly score easily and they rely heavily on Wright and backcourt mate Sean Kilpatrick to spark the offense. So yeah, I guess Cincinnati fans should be rooting for Wright.
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Bracket Prep: Akron, Louisville, Northwestern State, Montana, Oregon, Pacific & New Mexico State

Posted by BHayes on March 17th, 2013

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Saturday’s flurry of bid snatching wound down out West and left us with a near-complete picture of the puzzle. Just four automatic bids remain to be earned on Selection Sunday. As we have for each of the 31 automatic qualifiers to play their way into the Dance, 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 this week.

Akron

Zeke Marshall And Akron Overcame Late-Season Drama To Reach The NCAA Tournament

Zeke Marshall And Akron Overcame Late-Season Drama To Reach The NCAA Tournament

  • MAC Champion (26-6, 16-2)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #49/#54/#62
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +10.7
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #12-#13

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Last year’s Tournament darlings, the Ohio Bobcats, saw their shot at a return bid die on Saturday night, but don’t be surprised if their conquerors put some of that MAC mojo to use again this year. The Akron Zips turned in one of the most impressive performances of the day, comprehensively picking apart a good Ohio team en route to the MAC Tournament title. A pair of late regular season losses had recently killed the bubble talk surrounding the Zips, but let’s not forget how they entered the conversation in the first place. Keith Dambrot’s club ripped off 19 straight wins between December 15th and March 2nd in what still measures up as the longest winning streak in all of college basketball this season.
  2. Akron is as well-rounded a mid-major as you will find, but the Zips truest strength lies in a tougher-than-nails frontcourt. Demetrius Treadwell is the team’s second leading scorer at 11.4 PPG and leading rebounder at 7.9 RPG. His crafty, below-the-rim game may not be the sexiest, but it’s a great complement to the other important Zip on the interior, 7’0” Zeke Marshall. Marshall is the team’s leading scorer (13 PPG) and one of the nation’s leaders in FG percentage at 66%, but the big senior truly excels on the defensive side of the ball. He boasts the 4th best block percentage in the country (14.1%), and is, quite literally, a huge reason why Akron is one of the 20 best teams in the country in effective field goal percentage defense.
  3. The March suspension of point guard Alex Abreu (for drug charges) momentarily shook the team, but back-to-back good wins provide Keith Dambrot with some hope that his team has moved on, however much the loss of Abreu (10.3 PPG, 6.0 APG) hurts on the floor. Freshman Carmelo Betancourt has seen his minutes rise from 10 to 26 a game since the Abreu suspension, but the youngster will certainly not be asked to replicate Abreu’s production. The Zips have won with a balanced, team approach all season long, and the “next man up” attitude should come naturally for Betancourt and others. Dont overlook that even before that 19-game surge, the Zips beat Middle Tennessee State, pounded Penn State (by 25) and took OK State to overtime. Could a MAC team crash the Big Dance for the second straight season?

Louisville

A Decisive Second Half Surge Made The Cardinals Big East Tournament Champions For The Second Straight Season

A Decisive Second Half Surge Made The Cardinals Big East Tournament Champions For The Second Straight Season

  • Big East Champion (29-5, 17-4)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #3/#2/#1
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +19.2
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #1

 Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

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The Other 26: This Is Not Mark Few’s Best Team… Yet

Posted by IRenko on February 16th, 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.

After a 17-point win at St. Mary’s on Thursday night pushed Gonzaga’s record to 24-2 and cleared its biggest hurdle to a regular season record tainted with just two losses, some are wondering whether this is the best team that Mark Few has put together in his 14 years at the helm. It’s a fair question, given the way they’re playing. But the best ever? Sure, not since Adam Morrison was dragged off the court after a heartbreaking loss to UCLA ended his college career, have the Zags had a player with the combination of star power, All-American credentials, and curious hairstyle that Kelly Olynyk has brought this year. And, true, moreso than the Morrison-led team of 2006, this squad is a well-balanced offensive machine, with a multitude of frontcourt and backcourt options. They proved that on Thursday, when Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, who have deferred most of the scoring load this year to Olynyk and Elias Harris, dropped a combined 38 points on St. Mary’s.

This Gonzaga Team is Good, But Not Mark Few’s Best … Yet (James Snook / USA TODAY Sports)

This Gonzaga Team is Good, But Not Mark Few’s Best … Yet (James Snook / USA TODAY Sports)

But Few’s best team ever? They have a ways to go before they can claim such an honor. Take, for example, the 2004 team, which also dropped just two contests heading into the NCAA Tournament.  That squad was led by All-American senior guard Blake Stepp, and like Olynyk, he had lots of help. Junior Ronny Turiaf, sophomore Morrison, and senior Cory Violette shared the scoring load, with all four players averaging in double-digits. They coasted through league play undefeated, never winning a game by less than double digits, and ended the season on a 20-game win streak en route to a 2 seed in the Tournament, Gonzaga’s best ever. Their two pre-Tournament losses were to St. Joe’s and Stanford, both of which went on to earn 1 seeds that year. By contrast, this year’s Gonzaga team lost to Illinois, a bubble team, at home by 11 points.

Of course, this year’s squad could prove itself a superior to the 2004 team — or any team that Few has coached — if it can get past the Sweet Sixteen. Since Gonzaga burst onto the college hoops scene 14 years ago with a Cinderella run to the Elite Eight, they’ve yet to get reach the brink of a Final Four, much less a Final Four itself. The ballyhooed ’04 squad was upset by 10th-seeded Nevada in the second round, the ’05 team squandered a 3 seed with a second round loss to Texas Tech, and the ’06 Zags memorably collapsed against UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen (a game to which one cannot refer without remarking that it was perhaps the finest moment of Gus Johnson’s illustrious career). This Gonzaga team stacks up well with those predecessors, but unless it breaks through to the second game of the second weekend, it won’t prove to be their clear superior.

What’s undisputed, however, is that the Zags have been dominant enough to remain at the top of this year’s Top 10.  On to that, our Honor Roll, and this week’s games to watch  . . .

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ATB: Two Pac-12 Heavyweights Go Down, Zags Pass Big Test and Minnesota Nips Wisconsin…

Posted by Chris Johnson on February 15th, 2013

ATB

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

Tonight’s Lede. West Coast Stand Up. The West Coast staged the best of Thursday night’s games. For those who enjoy the spoils of the Pacific Time Zone, that’s entirely positive. Nighttime hoops is a normal occurrence. West coast denizens are exposed to these teams and players as part of their usual television viewing habits. And for the diehard fans out there living on central and eastern time, staying up a few extra hours to either a) watch or b) write about college basketball isn’t the end of the world. The masses aren’t so willing, by and large, which means many of the nation’s best conferences and leagues are something like foreign entities. Getting caught up by reading, watching highlights or studying these teams isn’t difficult, but the national audience is doubtless downsized for these West Coast-heavy nights. This isn’t a personal problem – I’m speaking in generalities. I have no qualms eschewing sleep for the best of the west, which is nice, because otherwise you’d be left without a tidy nightly recap of all that late-night cant-miss hardwood drama.

Your Watercooler Moment. Hey Now, Pac-12.

A late-push from the Golden Bears could shake up the Pac 12 race (Photo credit: AP Photo).

A late-push from the Golden Bears could shake up the Pac-12 race (Photo credit: AP Photo).

I could spill boundless quantities of digital ink on the frustrating development of the UCLA Bruins – the inconsistency of Ben Howland’s team, the perplexing reality of his team playing better defense (0.95 points per-possession in conference play) than offense (1.00). Or I could rip the Arizona Wildcats, a team I staunchly defended against early-season claims of specious success and smoke-and-mirrors late-game fortune. I’ll stay off both subjects, because on Thursday night the floor belonged to Cal and Colorado. Huge bubble-shifting opportunities were on offer for both clubs – Cal getting UCLA at home and Colorado welcoming Arizona – and neither failed to pull through. I wouldn’t call this a revenge game for the Buffaloes (Arizona players didn’t waive off Sabatino Chen’s should-be game winner; referees did), but Tad Boyle’s club played with purpose and grit throughout, to the point where last-possession bank-shot heaves were completely beside the point. Cal’s win was similarly uninteresting, scoreline-wise, and it gave it another big Pac-12 win to go alongside recent victories over Arizona and Oregon. The Bears need every sliver of profile-boosting juice they can get; they missed on pretty much every big opportunity in the non-conference, and hadn’t beaten anyone of note before the February 2 win over the Ducks. Beating UCLA is another nice chip, and Mike Montgomery’s team is looking more and more like an at-large worthy group. Colorado’s win is icing on an already solid portfolio – but, boy, must it feel nice to get even with the Wildcats, even if that loss had as much to do with a blown lead and faulty officiating as it did Arizona itself. Anyway, the Pac-12, somewhat insanely (remember last year?), has some real, actual depth: Oregon, Arizona, UCLA, Cal, Stanford (eh), Arizona State (eh) and Colorado are all at least relevant talking points in the NCAA Tourney discussion.

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