We looked at the best of the AAC non-conference schedules in Part I, after explaining a bit of what makes for a good non-conference schedule. This season, there’s quite a bit more bad than good, which could drag down the collective RPIs of AAC members and ultimately lead to lower NCAA Tournament seeds come March.
Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs, a popular sleeper pick, have a lot riding on a trip to Virginia.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats return the favor of a visit last season from MW favorite New Mexico with a road trip of their own to The Pit. They also will play former Big East rival and mid-level ACC squad Pitt at Madison Square Garden. Then… well, there’s the rivalry game with Xavier, which seems poised to finish in the bottom half of a newly constituted (read: relatively weaker) Big East; N.C. State, clearly headed toward the bottom of the ACC, and Conference USA also-ran MTSU. That trio might end up in the RPI top 100; it’s highly unlikely any other team on the schedule will come close.
Louisville: If the defending champs can escape Rupp Arena with a win, all will be forgiven by both their fans and the committee, as a road win against Kentucky is perhaps the highest quality victory available in college basketball this year. Southern Miss, which finished with an RPI of #30 last season, is favored to win Conference USA. They face a potential Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off final against North Carolina at the Mohegan Sun. They need the Tar Heels to be there, because the rest of their foes are middling teams in weak leagues, with Charleston the most likely to crack the top 100, and several – we’re looking at you, Hofstra and UMKC – seeming likely to end up north of #300.
Tonight’s Lede. Conference Tournaments, Y’all. The first conference tournament of 2013 slipped under the radar. If you missed it – and no one’s scolding you for passing on the opening round of the Big South Tournament – you can be forgiven. The smallest minnows of the mid-major world are long conditioned to early-round negligence in their conference tournaments. Just promise me one thing: When the mid-major tourney bombardment begins in earnest tomorrow, for the rest of the week and leading up until the Power Six tourneys, you will at least pretend like you know what you’re talking about when automatic bids are cashed in remote little gyms around the country and the at-large bubble pool inevitably shrinks. This stuff, whether it interests you or not, directly affects your teams’ NCAA hopes. On to the recap…
Your Watercooler Moment. Buckeyes Raid B-Town.
Stingy defense from the Buckeyes hindered Indiana’s vaunted offense (AP).
First things first: Indiana is not invincible at Assembly Hall. Just this winter, Wisconsin went into the vaunted Hoosier Dome, controlled the pace of play and imposed its trademark trodgy style to excellent effect. The Badgers left with a five-point win and a frustrated Hoosiers fan base. Things have changed since, obviously. Indiana quickly righted the ship with five straight wins, building confidence and national acclaim by the week, and amidst all the madness at the top of the college hoops landscape this season, the Hoosiers had built something of a consensus as the number one team in the country (sorry Gonzaga, but this isn’t about you). All that was left in the final week of the regular season, which Indiana – thanks to Michigan’s win over Michigan State on Sunday – began having already claimed at minimum a share of the regular season title, was a home-and-away two-game finish. Those games commenced Tuesday with a visit from Ohio State and finished Sunday at Michigan. The latter was viewed as the biggest road block, and with good reason. Tuesday’s matchup was perceived as a stepping stone of sorts, a tune-up for the regular season finale. The offense would hum, Victor Oladipo would infect the game with positive energy and Indiana would ride a boisterous crowd to a comfortable victory. It was practically a formality.
Ohio State did not take well to the idea of a Hoosiers victory party. The Buckeyes used the stifling perimeter D of not only Aaron Craft but also bouncy sophomore Shannon Scott (who had four steals) and got another big scoring effort from Craft (15 points) to complement one of DeShaun Thomas’s habitually-high scoring marks (18 points) to pull out a nine-point win. As encouraging as it is to see Craft put together another high-scoring effort (he had 21 against Michigan State), the Buckeyes’ key to victory was their defense. Like the Badgers in early January, Ohio State took Indiana out of its offensive comfort zone, and the Hoosiers were too shaken to adjust. Ohio State didn’t just spoil Indiana’s senior night and presumptive full-regular season title clinching. It quite possibly unveiled a defensive blueprint to shut down the nation’s hottest offense.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
Bubble Game of the Week. A cursory scanning of this week’s collection of games reveals an odd an utterly mystifying fact: there is only one game between two teams who truly classify as quote-unquote bubble inhabitants. Ole Miss was in danger of falling out of the conversation completely after losing to not just the worst team in the SEC this season, but one of the worst groups in league history: Mississippi State and its ghastly 227 RPI figure. The Rebels needed Tuesday night’s home game against Alabama just to stay in the picture; they got it, and probably dashed Alabama’s fading NCAA aspirations along the way. So Ole Miss isn’t totally dead, I suppose. Not yet. Winning at LSU Saturday would be a good place to start. Read the rest of this entry »
Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between Memphis and Xavier in Cincinnati.
Xavier outlasted Memphis, 64-62, in a game that exposed systemic weaknesses in Josh Pastner’s team fewer than three weeks from Selection Sunday. The Tigers entered the Cintas Center tied for the nation’s longest winning streak and boasting top-20 rankings in both the national polls and RPI. Their visit to Cincinnati represented the first of three consecutive road trips against potential RPI top-100 opponents, opportunities to combat the perennial whispers of “paper tiger” that pepper discussion of their Conference USA record. It also represented an audience with Xavier AD Mike Bobinski, chair of the NCAA Tournament selection committee and strong proponent of the “eye test,” as Mike DeCourcy tells us.
Xavier exposed Memphis’ vulnerability on the defensive glass (Credit FOX Sports Ohio)
They faced a Xavier team hung over from a crushing VCU comeback that all but eliminated its hopes of an at-large bid, and a student section reduced by the diaspora of spring break. Moreover with starting point guard Dee Davis injured, the Musketeers would field one primary ball-handler against the Tigers’ athletic press. It was against that backdrop that Memphis showed up and did all it could to reinforce the criticisms of its detractors. The Musketeers set the tone early with ferocious intensity under the basket and on 50/50 balls. They made Memphis look like the team with nothing to play for in the first half as they ran out to a 30-21 lead. The languid effort struck a chord with Josh Pastner: “Our energy level stunk that first half, and I believe in energy… We were minus-five in 50/50 balls at halftime –– first time in a long time that’s happened.” The Musketeers outrebounded Pastner’s team by 11 in the first half, and an six-rebound advantage on the offensive boards helped establish a 12-0 disparity in second-chance points. Memphis went to the locker room with zero points off five Xavier turnovers and only two fast break points.
The Weekend’s Lede. Reining in the Last Weekend of February. The end of two prized college basketball traditions came to pass this weekend. ESPN’s annual Bracketbusters event saw its last go-round feature a slate that, frankly, didn’t meet the occasion of the event’s last rendition. Meanwhile, a decades-old Big East feud between Georgetown and Syracuse came to a close, and unlike the mediocre Bracketbusters field, the game was a fitting send-off for one of the nation’s best rivalries. Those two events headlined another excellent weekend schedule, the rest of which included (per the usual) a massive upset, some grueling league match-ups and all kinds of bubble and seeding implications sprinkled throughout.
Your Watercooler Moment. Miami Goes Down.
The notion of Miami going undefeated in the ACC always felt like a distant, almost untenable concept. The Hurricanes are, at the risk of paint a bleak picture, a basketball non-entity. They play in front of an apathetic fan base at a “football school,” in a city with fans that are — let’s just say -– selective about going to see their teams play. Neither me, nor most of the nation’s best college hoops minds, knew exactly what to think. Miami was good, sure, but how good?
Until Saturday’s loss at Wake Forest, Miami’s first in ACC play, the answer was unambiguously glowing: Miami was good enough to run the table, despite everyone’s early-conference season doubts. The Hurricanes were storming through league competition, barely breaking a sweat while doing it and slowly but surely grasping the country’s attention as they rose up the AP Poll and surfaced as a favorite to land a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. The praise was well-earned; this team can really play. Not only do they have spiffy efficiency numbers to back up the results – which include a 27-point drubbing of Duke and wins over NC State and UNC – they also have the experience and senior leadership to complete the intangible component of a legitimate Final Four candidate. It’s never fun to be the subject of another team’s court storming, nor is it comforting to have your undefeated conference run come courtesy of one of the nation’s worst Power Six schools (Yes, Wake plays teams tough at home, but come on: these squads aren’t in the same league). But if you began the weekend pleasantly impressed and optimistic about Miami’s chances of making a deep March run this season, I don’t know why you’d lose faith now. Miami lost, and it didn’t look particularly good in recent games against Clemson and North Carolina, but does one game negate a 13-0 ACC start, a top-10 efficiency profile and a senior-laden team armed with the sideline guile of March-savvy coach? No, it doesn’t.
Also Worth Chatting About. Hoyas Soil Storybook Big East Exit.
Wins don’t get any bigger than Georgetown’s Saturday at the Carrier Dome at the Carrier Dome. (Getty)
All the elements of a ceremonial Syracuse smackdown were present. A raging pack of 35,000 + orange-clad maniacs, an eligible and re-ingratiated James Southerland, the jersey-hanging commemoration of one of the best players in program history (Carmelo Anthony). Saturday, at the Carrier Dome, this was about the Orange, about Jim Boeheim, about punishing a rival one very last time. Otto Porter and the victorious Georgetown Hoyas were having none of it. A defensive battle, as expected, stayed tight deep into the second half. Syracuse’s trademark 2-3 zone frustrated the Hoyas all afternoon, and Georgetown countered with smothering defense of their own. The deciding factor was Porter. In a game where points, assists and general offensive execution was hard to come by, Porter rose to the occasion in an impossibly tough road environment (before Saturday, Syracuse hadn’t lost at the Carrier Dome in 38 games, the nation’s longest streak). And so after a bumpy opening in conference play, and all the usual Hoyas-centric questions about season-long endurance being raised, Georgetown has rendered moot a once debatable subject: who’s playing the best basketball in the Big East these days? Georgetown is the only answer.
Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey
The Super Bowl marks the beginning of a two month stretch where college basketball dominates the national sports scene. From now until April 8, the focus will be squarely on our terrific sport. Sure it can be frustrating for the diehard fans that have been following every game since early November but the attention of the casual fans is what drives coverage and television ratings. The unfortunate reality is that without casual fan interest, college basketball would exclusively be a niche sport. We all have had that NCAA Tournament pool experience where the person who starts watching in February or March and knows very little other than team names and rankings wins the pool while the person who studies the efficiency metrics and knows that Travis Trice is a great three point shooter but awful inside the arc (h/t Luke Winn) finishes near the bottom of the pool standings. Nevertheless, it is an exciting time of year as bubble talk, last four in and last four out quickly creep into the daily sports conversation. Games like Tuesday night’s Ohio State/Michigan classic are what drive interest in the sport. We’ve been treated to plenty of great games this season but this one couldn’t have come at a better time, a time when most of America is now squarely focused on college basketball. Strap in, it’s going to be really fun as we head into the part of the season where every game is so big and teams make their final push towards March.
As we move into this crucial part of the season, the issue of teams peaking early can become a concern for some. The season is a process, an evolution if you will, and not every team is playing its best basketball come March. As I look across the nation, there are a few teams that may have already peaked or are peaking right now and may not be able to sustain their current level of play into March. Oregon, NC State, Miami and Butler come to mind. Two losses to the Bay Area schools have put a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. Is it a short term blip or a sign of things to come for the Ducks? Their ability to score and propensity for turnovers are causes for concern but Oregon’s defense is surprisingly solid. NC State’s issue is just the opposite. The Wolfpack certainly can score, although their offense was shut down in losses to Maryland and Virginia. However, defense has been a problem all year and NC State’s efficiency, ranked #141 in the country, is simply not at a level where you can win games consistently. Chances are the Wolfpack have already peaked and their inability to stop teams will catch up to them eventually. Miami is a case of a team that may be peaking as we speak. The Hurricanes have won 10 consecutive games in a variety of different ways. This fact (meaning they can play different styles/speeds) combined with a defensive efficiency ranked fourth in the country suggest Miami can sustain this level of play. Concerns for the Hurricanes include three point shooting, free throw shooting and offensive rebounding but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Miami hold steady, at least for the next few weeks. Butler is an interesting case. The Bulldogs are 18-4 (5-2) but have lost two of their four games since the emotional win over Gonzaga on January 19 while also struggling through a win over lowly Rhode Island. Butler’s league isn’t as tough as the other teams mentioned here so it will likely enter the NCAA Tournament with a very strong record. Of concern is the BU defense which is not at the elite level it was when the Bulldogs first went to the national title game three years ago. However, it would be foolish to doubt Brad Stevens and his group. With a soft schedule down the stretch, there is still time for Butler to pile up wins and gather confidence heading into the tournament. I would say Butler has not peaked yet despite some major wins already on its resume. Look out for the Bulldogs next month.
C.J. Leslie and NC State may have peaked early (E. Hyman/RNO)
As we head into February and the regular season begins to wind down, I figure this is a good time to look at a few of America’s underwhelming teams. There are teams out there with gaudy records but few quality wins or those who just haven’t gotten on track relative to preseason expectations. Notre Dame, UNLV, UCLA and Missouri come to mind immediately. Notre Dame is 18-5 and 6-4 in the Big East which appears good on the surface but this was a team many thought would finish third in that rugged conference. However, a closer inspection reveals the Irish have just two quality wins on their resume (Kentucky (maybe) and at Cincinnati). In Big East play, Notre Dame has lost twice on its home court, something that has been almost unheard of over the years in South Bend. Notre Dame has never been a defensive juggernaut under Mike Brey but this is arguably his worst defensive team in 13 years at the helm. UNLV is a team with lots of talent that always leaves you wanting more, always following up a stretch of good play with a disappointing loss. The Rebels struggle away from Vegas which is understandable but you would still like to see them beat a few good teams on the road. They have failed to do that. UNLV can still turn it around but I feel like we’ve seen this movie before. Three consecutive first round NCAA flameouts show that UNLV isn’t quite ready for primetime. In fact, the Rebels have not won a postseason game since a first round victory over Kent State in 2008. UCLA is still a work in progress but there is no denying it has been underwhelming. The Bruins have lost three of their last four games since winning 10 straight games after a disappointing 5-3 start. Defense has been a concern all season long but it’s the offense that has scuttled of late. Five of UCLA’s final seven games are on the road and one of the home games is against Arizona. Things could get a little dicey down the stretch for the Bruins. Missouri is the team I feel is the most overrated of all. Despite a resume that lacks one single freaking SEC road win and non-conference wins over fading Illinois and mediocre Stanford, the Tigers continue to be ranked in both major polls. Missouri is not a good defensive team and has given up a lot of points to pretty much every good team it has played. Phil Pressey can be a great distributor but he’s also a turnover machine and a poor jump shooter. Mizzou will probably make the NCAA Tournament but an early departure is highly likely. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
When you hear the word “Niagara” you’re not likely to think of basketball. But in the shadow of one of the world’s natural wonders, something is percolating on the hardwood. After a thrilling 93-90 overtime win over Iona that included a rally from a late 15-point deficit and a buzzer-beating three-pointer to win the game, Niagara sits atop the MAAC standings at 10-1. A win over Loyola today would cap a tremendous week for the Purple Eagles, giving them a perfect 3-0 record against the next three teams in the standings — Iona, Loyola, and Canisius — over the past seven days.
Juan’ya Green Capped Niagara’s Thrilling Win Over Iona With a Last-Second Three-Pointer in Overtime (James P. McCoy / Buffalo News)
Last year, Niagara finished 14-19, the first time in head coach Joe Mihalich’s 10-year tenure that he suffered consecutive losing seasons. Mihalich had taken the Purple Eagles to the NCAA Tournament in 2005 and 2007 and to the NIT in 2004 and 2009, but the team had fallen behind the pack in the MAAC in the three years since. The seeds of a resurgence were planted during last year’s losing campaign, as a host of young players started to find their footing in Division 1 college hoops. Having lost no one to graduation, Niagara was predicted to finish fifth in the MAAC in the preseason coaches’ poll. That seemed a fair, perhaps optimistic, assessment, but the clear light of hindsight makes a mockery of it.
What accounts for the turnaround? Mostly the maturation of Niagara’s all-sophomore backcourt: Juan’ya Green, Antoine Mason, and Ameen Tanksley. Last year, the trio showed that they had talent. This year, they’re showing that they can channel it into efficient offense. Green is actually averaging fewer points (16.5) than he did as a freshman (17.6), but that’s in part because he’s managed to corral his considerable talents and become a more effective facilitator. Coming out of high school, Green was known for his prodigious scoring ability, but questions lingered about his ability to create for his teammates. He’s answering those questions this year, increasing his assists (5.2 per game) and decreasing his turnovers (2.8 per game). With Green deferring more to his teammates, Mason, the son of former NBA player Anthony Mason, has stepped into the role of lead scorer. He’s upped his per-game average from 15.1 to a team-leading 18.7, but more importantly, he’s become a much more efficient scorer. He’s increased his field goal percentage from 38.2 to 44.6. He now shoots almost 80 percent from the free throw line, after shooting less than 65 percent last year, a significant development because of his knack for getting to the charity stripe. Tanksley, for his part, has also boosted his field goal percentage, from 38.6 to 45.7 and upped his scoring average into double-digits.
Here’s a look at the power rankings that Drew, Parker, Adam, and I have compiled after the third week of Pac-12 games (delta in parentheses):
Arizona, 5-0 (^1): There aren’t many teams in the nation that have only played five games in 24 days, but Arizona has done it perfectly. It was a successful two-game week for the Wildcats, who jumped all over both Northern Arizona and Texas Tech from the opening taps on Wednesday and Saturday night. Sophomore guard Nick Johnson was the highlight of UA’s big road win in Lubbock, scoring 18 points and collecting five rebounds. Sean Miller’s club, the only one without a loss in the Pac-12 through three weeks of play, was a unanimous decision at number one. The only concerning part of the week was the continuing poor play of Mark Lyons. With the exception of a four-point night against Long Beach State, his scorning outputs have been fine. What’s troubling is the fact he’s turning the ball over at a pace of three per game, which was also a problem seen with Josiah Turner and T.J. McConnell before him as point guards in Miller’s system. Arizona will now get back-to-back stiff tests from 6-1 Southern Miss and 5-2 Clemson. Up Next: 12/4 vs. Southern Miss.
Oregon, 7-1 (^2): Oregon had a quiet 2-0 week, but they got the job done and climbed a pair of spots in this week’s rankings. Senior forward Carlos Emory continued his strong play off the bench for the Ducks, averaging 12.5 PPG against Texas-San Antonio and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Up Next: 12/8 vs. Idaho State.
Emory Has Been The Surprise Of 7-1 Oregon’s Season So Far, Averaging 11.3 PPG and 4.8 RPG
Colorado, 6-1 (٧2): It wasn’t exactly a banner week for the previously top-ranked Buffaloes, who were taken to double overtime by Texas Southern before dropping a road game at Wyoming. Still, Tad Boyle’s guys deserve to be in the upper fourth of the conference. They rolled off four straight solid wins before this week, and a loss in Laramie to the Cowboys isn’t exactly a bad one, especially by typical Pac-12 standards. Up Next:12/5 vs. Colorado State.
California, 6-1 (٧1): California’s seven-day layoff ended up hurting it more than it helped, as the Golden Bears came out flat and sloppy on the road against Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon. The Badgers jumped out to a 31-12 advantage and never looked back as Cal folded in front of a big and loud Kohl Center crowd. If there was a bright spot it belonged to junior guard Allen Crabbe, who poured in 25 points against a stingy Wisky defense. Unfortunately for Cal, there wasn’t a whole lot of production from anyone else on the floor. Justin Cobbs was the next highest scorer with 11.Up Next: 12/9 vs. UNLV.
Stanford, 6-3 (^3): After dropping two places in last week’s rankings, Stanford jumped back up three spots after blowing out Seattle University and Denver. The Redhawks actually led Stanford 48-47 with 7:15 remaining, but a 12-4 Cardinal run down the stretch clinched Stanford’s fifth win of the year. Johnny Dawkins and company will now take nearly two weeks off for finals before returning to the hardwood.Up Next: 12/15 vs. UC Davis. Read the rest of this entry »
We mentioned yesterday how a pair of recent departures from UCLA will hurt the Bruins this season, but we didn’t even begin to look at how it can hurt recruiting in the years to come. This LA Times article discusses exactly that, along with getting a feel for the overall temperature of the program. Ben Howland has lost 11 players in the past four years, a staggering number even in the state of mass transfer that college hoops is in today. The departures haven’t appeared to hurt Howland in recruiting (obviously, as he brought in one of the top classes in the nation this year), but as the number of shocking losses grow, one has to wonder just how long until the Bruins see a sharp drop-off. Sophomore guard Norman Powell was quoted in the article as saying you shouldn’t let it affect your decision; “The people transferring, they probably have personal decisions. You can’t make your recruitment decision on, ‘Oh, people are leaving the program.’ The Bruins did a good job of putting the distractions behind them to dominate Cal State Northridge on Wednesday night, and they’ll need to do the same thing Saturday when they meet a very good San Diego State team in Anaheim.
After starting his career in Westwood by making the Big Dance in five of his first six seasons, defections, a lack of chemistry, and unthinkable losses have marked Ben Howland‘s past three seasons and the beginning of this one. Pacific Takes says the next few weeks will determine Howland’s future with the school, as the Bruins take on three tough opponents in that span. If they can get through Christmas with a clean slate, the UCLA fan base will be charged up for what this team has in store for conference play. Anything less and those Pac-12 games could very well be Howland’s last.
Arizona has opened the season with four wins and a Top 10 ranking, but the Wildcats are still a good bit away from reaching their peak. But if you’re looking for a “test-worthy” opponent to prove the Cats are legit, you’ll get plenty of opportunities in the coming days. Sean Miller’s club will take on Texas Tech and Clemson on the road before facing a Sweet Sixteen type (and maybe even Elite Eight) team in Florida at the McKale Center. Sandwiched in is also a visit from a 6-0 Southern Miss squad. So if you’re holding out on Zona, you’ll get proof soon enough that this is a legit team.
Finally, some congratulations is due to Drew. This space is usually saved for our Pac-12 football picks each week, but Drew clinched the contest last Friday when Utah’s Reggie Dunn returned a Colorado kickoff 100 yards to beat the Buffaloes, 42-35. The final scoreboard shows Team Murawa up six, and with only tonight’s UCLA-Stanford and tomorrow’s Nicholls State-Oregon State match-ups remaining, not even I can catch up. If you haven’t already, check out our college hoops pick’em, which we began yesterday. We’re already off to a great start thanks to young Kentucky’s flop in South Bend.
Three thoughts on the Pac-12’s 3-1 Tuesday, where we’ll focus on USC and UCLA’s tight consolation wins in their respective tournaments on opposite sides of the country.
KO ball prevails in Lahaina. With athletic, talented players that didn’t suit up for SC last season like J.T. Terrell, Jio Fontan, and Eric Wise, Kevin O’Neill will eventually turn to a more aggressive tempo from the deliberate style he’s been known for. But early in the year, classic KO ball did the trick for the Trojans in their 59-53 overtime win against Texas. O’Neill’s guys plodded along in the second half, with both teams going to overtime after scoring just 21 points each in the final 20 minutes. Obviously, this one wasn’t for lovers of offense (maybe those of you should check out this box score); each team hit just two three-pointers a piece in the 45 minutes of action.
There’s Been Many Cringe-Worthy Moments For Howland Early On In 2012-13 (credit: Jamie Squires)
The Bruins are still working things out, and that’s alright. Often times, teams with as much talent as UCLA has, especially new talent, will struggle early on to play together and find lineups and rotations that fit well together. Take freshman guard Jordan Adams, for instance. Adams had one of the best first 11 days of anyone in the conference, newcomer or vet, but shot an ice-cold one-for-six from the field once Shabazz Muhammad entered the starting lineup this afternoon. So, for the hoops fans up and down the west coast that may be concerned with this four-point victory over a team that has already lost home games to the likes of Youngstown State and Southern Miss, know that the important thing here is the W. UCLA now has 11 days to shore up their lazy defensive play and find rotations that maximize its potential before its showdown with San Diego State in Anaheim. If Ben Howland can’t figure it out by then, worry away. Read the rest of this entry »
We’re coming to you live from my living room, where days have been taken off from work, and the big-screen is flickering to life.
Of course, we missed the beginning of today’s action, due to my four-month-old son’s need to eat and have his diaper changed. He just doesn’t get it.
Anyway, while the RTC crew has things covered from the various arenas, I’ll take you through the best two days in sports in the same way as 99% of America: from the couch. We apologize in advance for the baby vomit smell or if the crying drowns out Verne Lundquist.
The plan is to focus less on Xs and Os, and more on the broadcast, announcers, commercials and coaches’ hairpieces. You know, the important stuff. If this works out, we’ll be back for a look at the night session later this evening.
And yes, I know I’m not Bill Simmons. I make way more money than him, anyway.
1:28 p.m.: We’re early in the second half of Murray State-Colorado State. I’ve been watching for a while, but had my hands tied with baby bottles and burp rags.
1:30: Love starting with Lundquist and Raftery. To be honest, I don’t have a problem with nearly any of the CBS announcing crews. But I mean come on, who doesn’t love Raftery. They both do a good job making it seem like they knew ANYTHING about either of these teams before yesterday.
1:31: Am I the only one who is bothered by these generic black/natural courts the NCAA insists on installing now at every site? There was something cool about immediately knowing which site you were watching. Every time they show “The Shot”, I take pride in recognizing the Spectrum floor. I could tell you instantly that Tyus Edney’s memorable dash was in Boise, because of the garish floor they had there. This just seems so sterile. It’s … it’s so … NCAA.
The NCAA Redfines Sterile
The Site of Edney's Magical Run
1:40: Colorado State can shoot threes, but I feel like this is going to just slowly drift away from them. Murray State should not have been a 6 seed anyway.
1:41: We now have a third game in progress, with Louisville/Davidson going on TBS. The last hour has been like watching a single game. Now is when it gets really fun.
Kansas State wins with experience. Kansas State has been here before, and it showed. They didn’t panic when they let Southern Miss back in the game twice. After Jordan Henriquez went to the bench with his fourth foul with more than six minutes left, they slowed it down, got the ball inside, and either scored on close shots or got to the line several possessions in a row. They shot 26-34 from the line, blocked 7 shots, and forced bad shots for Southern Miss at the end.
Batman and Robin came up big. Rodney McGruder had 30 points on 69% from the field as well as 4 steals. Jordan Henriquez came up with 15 points, 9 boards, and 6 blocks to completely stuff the stat sheet today. With him in the game, Southern Miss didn’t have a chance to get the ball inside.
Southern Miss’ bench kept them in the game. It is not often where you can say that your bench outscored your starters, but that was the case today for Southern Miss. Not only did Southern Miss outscore Kansas State’s bench 35-9, but they outscored their own starters 35-29. In the end it wasn’t enough to beat Kansas State, but without their depth, the game would have been a blow out.
Star of the Game.Rodney McGruder, Kansas State. McGruder not only led all scorers today with 30, but he carried Kansas State on his back from start to finish. It is safe to say that he had gotten in foul trouble, or struggled to make shots, that Southern Miss would be advancing, and not Kansas State. It was so obvious how dominant he was, that even the Southern Miss band was calling him the one man show every time he shot free throws. If the stat line of 11-16 from the field, 2-5 from 3-point, and 6-8 from the line doesn’t read efficiently dominant, I am not sure what does.
Sights and Sounds. Even though the Consol Energy Center is where the Pittsburgh Penguins play hockey, you couldn’t have figured that out today. The Southern Miss band proved to me that not only can college kids play great music, but they can talk trash with the best of them although they may have crossed the line with some of their chants (like the one at Angel Rodriguez, which if true definitely did). The Southern Miss band started doing that during warmups if you can believe it.
What’s Next? Kansas State will take on the winner of Syracuse/UNC Asheville on Saturday. Frank Martin will need to give his guys some kind of pep talk because I wasn’t that impressed with Kansas State today. If someone figures out a way to shut down McGruder, they are in for a world of hurt. Kansas State needs more guys to step up, and they will need to do a more consistent job of playing lock down defense throughout the game, whoever they play.
RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East), Kevin Doyle (South), and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.
#6 Murray State vs. #11 Colorado State – West Region Second Round (at Louisville, KY) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS
Steve Prohm Brings His One-Loss Team to the Dance (US Presswire)
Anytime you enter the NCAA Tournament with just one loss and 4-0 record over NCAA Tournament teams, you’re a big story and a threat to go deep in the tournament. That’s the situation Murray State finds itself in. The fact that they’ve got a recent history of some success in the tournament (they knocked off Vanderbilt in the first round in 2010 before losing a heartbreaker to eventual national runner up Butler) makes them an even bigger challenge. In that 2010 loss to Butler, then-freshman guard Isaiah Canaan had the ball in his hands with the clock running down and threw an errant pass that got deflected by Gordon Hayward, effectively sealing the Racers’ fate. Two years later, Canaan is this team’s leader and one of the best guards in the nation, capable not only of getting his own opportunities in a variety of ways, but also creating for his teammates. And he’ll certainly be a problem for a Colorado State team whose guards, though talented scorers offensively, struggle to stay in front of their men on defense. Another issue for the Rams is the fact that they are one of the smallest teams in the nation (there are only five teams smaller, according to Ken Pomeroy’s effective height statistic), with a frontline that doesn’t go any larger than 6’6”. Murray may not have a lot more height (their two main interior players – Ivan Aska and Ed Daniel – go just 6’7”), but the lack of size has been an issue for CSU this year. Still, the Rams can score with just about anybody, but their inability to lock down defensively will be a problem. A bigger problem could be the fact that the Racers are playing not only within an easy drive of their campus, but that the hordes of Kentucky fans who show up for the early session will most certainly convert their allegiance to the Racers, at least temporarily.
The RTC Certified Pick:Murray State
#8 Kansas State vs. #9 Southern Miss – East Region Second Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV
This could be an ugly game right off the bat. Neither of these two teams shoots the ball particularly well, especially Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles have an awful two point field goal percentage (43.3%) and rank second to last among NCAA Tournament teams in effective field goal percentage. Only 16th seeded Western Kentucky is worse. Despite the poor shooting numbers, Larry Eustachy’s Golden Eagles have a respectable offensive efficiency number thanks to a minimal turnover percentage and solid offensive rebounding. If Southern Miss is going to win this game, it must rebound the basketball and score on second chance opportunities. While Kansas State is regarded as a team that plays terrific defense and rebounds well, the Wildcats are vulnerable on the defensive glass. Provided Southern Miss and point guard Neil Watson can keep a good handle on the ball and get some decent looks, this team will hang around. For Kansas State, it must get Rodney McGruder going early and often. McGruder is the best offensive player on this team and has been playing at a high level of late. Kansas State should win the game if it rebounds well and plays its typical brand of physical hard-nosed basketball. The Wildcats should get plenty of offensive rebounding opportunities against a Southern Miss team that has just one player taller than 6’7.” The free throw battle could be important as well. Each team gets to the line well but also fouls a lot when playing defense. The Golden Eagles shoot it much better from the stripe and they’ll need to today in order to offset the rebounding disadvantage.