RTC Weekly Primer: An Ode to the Big 12

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 6th, 2015

Money talks. It’s an unavoidable and unfortunate truth. In almost any facet of life, money is persuasive. Whether indirectly or directly, visibly or otherwise, it influences the decisions we make, creates irresistible motives, and causes things to happen that are otherwise undesirable. It’s an unparalleled force. A few years ago, the Big 12 was a victim of the almighty dollar’s faculties. It succumbed to money’s authority. Between 2010-13, while the league went about its business playing collegiate sports in the midsection of America, it was relentlessly under siege. Driven by economic motives, the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 ravaged it, pilfering four of its 12 members and rearranging the landscape of college sports. During this period of extreme uncertainty, there were thoughts of dissolution. There appeared to be a significant chance that the Big 12 would soon cease to exist. At the very least, it had been weakened as it’s BCS brethren had beefed up. These were times filled with worry; with concern; with fear.

The Big 12 May Have Lost the Football Wars This Year, But It is Killing the Basketball Side (USA Today Images)

The Big 12 May Have Lost the Football Wars This Year, But It is Killing the Basketball Side (USA Today Images)

Several years later, with all of that uncertainty now in the rear view mirror, money seems somewhat irrelevant. It still talks, and the economic side of Big 12 sports might not be as lucrative as that of the Big Ten or SEC. But money doesn’t automatically result in good basketball. And in 2014-15, while the Big Ten and SEC are crammed with mediocrity, the conference that once looked in serious danger is thriving. Seven of the 10 conference teams currently rank in KenPom’s Top 25, while only eight from the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC collectively make the cut. In an age where money increasingly steps to the forefront of any discussions on college sports, there remains a majestic purity about this sport. And as conference play gets underway in the Big 12, that purity will be as enjoyable and as evident as ever. It’ll also produce night after night of high-quality basketball.

Three for the Money

Kansas at Baylor | Wednesday, 9:00 p.m. EST, ESPNU

Where else to start but with the Big 12? As will be the case many times this year, there are multiple mouth-watering match-ups in conference play, but any game that involves Kansas still draws extra attention. It’s an annual tradition around this time of year to pose the question, “Is this the year that somebody finally unseats Kansas atop the Big 12?” But this year, such an inquiry might just have a little more merit to it. Baylor isn’t necessarily one of the teams that could knock the Jayhawks from their perch — that responsibility should fall to Oklahoma, Texas and Iowa State. But the Bears are an outstanding example of the depth of the league. Picked sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll, Scott Drew’s squad has been steadily improving this season. Led by a physically imposing front line that pounds the offensive glass as well as anybody in the country, Baylor won’t be an easy out for anybody. And especially not for a Kansas team that, despite only two losses and several good wins, hasn’t looked vintage. It is important to note that we’ve seen the stage set like this before only to have the Jayhawks hit their stride in early February and run away from the pack. But the backcourt of Frank Mason and Wayne Selden is a far cry from what Self has had in Lawrence over the years. The interesting match-up here, however, is down low, where Kansas’ forwards, specifically Cliff Alexander, will have to brandish their Big 12 title winning credentials and show some requisite toughness.

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Morning Five: 01.05.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 5th, 2015

morning5

  1. The biggest news in college basketball this weekend came from the sidelines as Cincinnati announced that Mick Cronin would not coach the rest of the season and serve in an advisory role while dealing with what has been described as a non-life-threatening arterial dissection. Cronin has been out since finding out about the condition on December 19. While it appears that Cronin expects to return to his sideline duties at some point, but in the interim associate head coach Larry Davis will serve as the head coach. At Butler, they removed the interim title from Chris Holtmann and made him the head coach officially replacing Brandon Miller, who took a medical leave of absence just prior to the start of the season. Very little information about Miller’s condition has been released, but we wish him the best in recovering from whatever he is dealing with. Holtmann has lead the Bulldogs to an 11-4 record this season and appears to have the program headed in the right direction after a disastrous first season following Brad Stevens’ departure.
  2. While the coaching announcements stole the headlines there were also quite a few major developments involving significant players. The biggest news comes out of St. John’s where sophomore guard Rysheed Jordan (14 points per game) is taking an indefinite leave of absence to deal with “personal and family matter” although some reports indicate that it might be related to disciplinary issues. At Stanford, freshman Reid Travis (7.5 points and a team-leading 6.9 rebounds per game) will be out indefinitely with a stress fracture. At Virginia TechJoey van Zegeren (9.8 points and a team-leading 5.3 rebounds per game) was suspended indefinitely apparently as the result of an incident (or incidents) at practice. As for Dayton, nothing seems to be going right for the Flyers this season with the latest misfortune coming in to the form of point guard Ryan Bass having to miss the rest of the season due to concussion-related symptoms following a concussion in an early November practice.
  3. It might have been a rough week for the SEC in college football, but things are starting to look a little bit better for the conference in basketball. We all know about Kentucky and Florida even if the latter has been awful this season, but we will have to start keeping an eye on LSU starting next year. The Tigers, who already have the consensus #1 player in the class (Ben Simmons) coming in, appear to have added another five-star guard to their backcourt with Antonio Blakeney‘s commitment to LSU. You may remember Blakeney as the recruit who committed to Louisville before backing out soon after in a move that some recruiting analysts publicly claimed was driven by shoe companies (Blakeney plays for a Nike AAU team; Louisville is an adidas school). If that was in fact the reason for Blakeney backing out of his Louisville commitment then LSU fans can feel safe. If not, they might not want to get too excited quite yet.
  4. Texas got a big boost this weekend with the return of point guard Isaiah Taylor, who had been out the past six weeks after breaking his left wrist. Taylor, who had been averaging 15 points and 3 assists per game this season before his injury, had 8 points, 4 steals, and 2 assists, but also showed his rust with 6 turnovers. Although Texas managed to go 8-2 without Taylor, they clearly were not the same team without him as evidenced by their losses to Kentucky and Stanford. With Taylor back in the mix, the Longhorns might be the favorites in the Big 12 and should be a Final Four threat.
  5. As you may have noticed this has been a rough year for Kobe Bryant, who is climbing up the all-time NBA scoring list while being on a losing team and setting all kinds of new standards for inefficiency. That didn’t stop Bryant from opining on the state of basketball in American and laying the blame on AAU programs and the culture around them. While we agree with many of Kobe’s comments, we don’t see him offering many solutions outside of scrapping it for a European-style club system, which we are certain wouldn’t fly in the US with the established interests. Mike DeCourcy, who has never been known to mince words, also went after Kobe pointing out that for all the shortcomings of the American system we still manage to produce the best basketball in the world by far.
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Will the Big East Have Six NCAA Teams? A Mid-Season Review

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 31st, 2014

With the arrival of conference play comes a critical juncture for teams looking to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. Those that have overperformed against their preseason expectations — teams like St. John’s and Seton Hall — will seek to establish an early footprint in the increasingly competitive Big East, whereas the likes of Marquette, Xavier and Creighton look to re-emerge after a handful of non-conference woes. Today we will examine the top Big East overperformers and underperformers to this point, followed by an early look at the NCAA Tournament bubble as it relates to each team. But before discussing team performance, my preseason Big East rankings were as follows:

Villanova Has Lived Up to Its Expectations This Season (USA Today Images)

Villanova Has Lived Up to Its Expectations This Season (USA Today Images)

  1. Villanova
  2. Georgetown
  3. Xavier
  4. St. John’s
  5. Providence
  6. Seton Hall
  7. Butler
  8. Marquette
  9. Creighton
  10. DePaul

Biggest Overperformers

  • St. John’s (11-1) has made a serious case as the second best team in the Big East. Sporting a defense that ranks fourth nationally in defensive efficiency and third in block percentage, the Red Storm have received a great deal of attention following wins at Syracuse and versus Minnesota. Sure, they were fourth in my preseason rankings, but the envisioned gap between the Johnnies and Xavier/Georgetown was large and has proven so far to be completely off base. Ranked #15 in the latest AP Poll, Steve Lavin has built a team featuring an incredibly talented group of quick, athletic guards with senior D’Angelo Harrison (19.0 PPG) shouldering the offensive load while do-it-all forward Sir’Dominic Pointer and shot-blocker Chris Obekpa wreak defensive havoc. At this point, St. John’s has looked superior to every other Big East team outside of Villanova, and although its inconsistent outside shooting (266th nationally) and offensive execution in the half-court leave much to be desired, the Red Storm have been the single biggest conference surprise this season.

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RTC Weekly Primer: The Wait is Over, Conference Season is Here…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 30th, 2014

The wait is over. The wait is finally over. For a month and a half now, college basketball has kept us intermittently engrossed. There have been glimpses of the beauty, sniffs of the joy. But beginning today, we get to dive in. We get the full dosage. We get to bask in all the glory. The beginning of conference play is important, not just because attention ratchets up and the momentous games come in droves, but because these first few weeks are full of realizations. This is when we start to get a true feel for individual teams. This is when preseason “underrated” statements are validated and gaudy records against weak competition are exposed. It’s too early to make sweeping judgments about conferences as wholes, but at last, the balance of power within those leagues will start to reveal itself. We’ll learn a lot these next few weeks. Or at the very least, we’ll think we have. And right now, that’s good enough.

Three for the Money

We’re actually going to bypass this section for now because there aren’t many single games that stand out this week. There are no clashes between conference heavyweights. In fact, there are only a couple of contests between two ranked teams. Instead, this week is about collections of games. It’s about the Big Ten tip-off event on Tuesday. It’s about the quintet of Big East games on Wednesday. It’s about the first full west coast Friday night in the Pac-12. And it’s about a jam-packed Saturday all across the nation.

A Juicy Big Ten Triple-header

Maryland Begins Its Opening Big Ten Season Today (USA Today Images)

Maryland Begins Its Opening Big Ten Season Today (USA Today Images)

The two worst teams in the league, Northwestern and Rutgers, actually get things started today at Noon, but we can pretend that game isn’t happening. The real curtain-raiser is the afternoon tripleheader on ESPN2. First, Iowa travels to Columbus to take on Ohio State in a rematch of last year’s upset of the then-No. 3 Buckeyes. Without Roy Devyn Marble in the lineup, though, the Hawkeyes aren’t the same team they were a year ago, more closely resembling the team that closed last season on a 1-7 slide. They lack consistent scoring punch in the backcourt, and that could mean trouble against an Ohio State team of which perimeter defense is a legitimate strength. KenPom only gives the Hawkeyes a 19 percent chance to enter Value City Arena and get a win.

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Defense Provides St. John’s With an Identity

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 20th, 2014

For the Red Storm, it was never a question of talent. D’Angelo Harrison and Rysheed Jordan were All-Big East team nominees and Chris Obekpa has been one of the most intimidating shot blockers in the country. But despite being picked to finish third in the Big East this season, there was a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the team chemistry and the collective focus on the defensive end of the floor heading into the season. It was a problem that plagued talented teams of the past, and without a leader, it would continue to do so.

St. John's Defense (USA Today Images)

St. John’s Defense Gives the Red Storm an Identity (USA Today Images)

D’Angelo Harrison changed that. With 5:29 remaining in the game, the senior motioned his teammates into a huddle, drawing them away from an increasingly confrontational game against St. Mary’s. Frequently cited for attitude problems in the past, it showed signs of the team’s long-awaited maturation; a coming of age, displayed in just a matter of moments. From there, the Red Storm rallied, together as a team, to capture another home court win. However, that’s not to say the win came easily. In the first half, the Johnnies looked completely out of rhythm, reverting to their old, all too familiar “take ‘em” strategy. Like a bad habit, the problem for is one that becomes self-reinforcing over time: shoot first, think second. When it works, the perimeter tandem of Harrison, Jordan, and Phil Greene looks unstoppable, especially when Obekpa and Sir’Dominic Pointer are on the floor to grab offensive rebounds. But when it doesn’t? The team looks desperate and confused.

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RTC Top 25: Week Three

Posted by Walker Carey on December 8th, 2014

College basketball experienced its first true upset weekend and this week’s RTC25 reflects the madness that took place on the court. Let’s run through the carnage. Fresh off a hard-thought ACC/Big Ten Challenge victory over Syracuse, previously-#15 Michigan was stunned at home by NJIT. What made the upset so stunning is that the Wolverines are the reigning Big Ten regular season champions, while NJIT is the lone remaining Division I independent because its former conference folded and it has yet to find a new league willing to offer an invitation. This defeat along was stunning enough to cause Michigan to fall completely out of this week’s RTC25. #23 Miami (FL) also suffered an upset loss at home to Green Bay over the weekend. The previously unbeaten Hurricanes were ice cold from the field, shooting just 32.8 percent from the field in the defeat. Poor shooting was also the theme for #16 San Diego State on Sunday, as the Aztecs shot just 20.5 percent in a road loss at Washington. College basketball is often where the unexpected becomes the ordinary, and that was certainly on display over the weekend.

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

rtc25 w3

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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What’s Trending: Feast Week Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on November 28th, 2014

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host. 

 

#4WhiteGuysAndAnEgyptian

When asked about Louisville’s dominating victory over Savannah St., Rick Pitino dropped this controversial sound bite. Some liked it, some didn’t, but we can all agree that it turned some heads.

 Short Shorts Making a Return?

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Big East Conference Preview: Seton Hall, Providence & St. John’s

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 12th, 2014

The Big East microsite will preview each Big East team in tiers in preparation for the season’s tipoff on Friday. The bottom tier was released yesterday; it can be found here. Today: Seton Hall, Providence and St. John’s make up the middle tier of the conference.

#6: Seton Hall

The Kevin Willard era hasn't been great so far, but this might be his most talented team. (Getty)

The Kevin Willard era hasn’t been great so far, but this might be his most talented team. (Getty)

The Kevin Willard era at Seton Hall has not been a successful one by any stretch of the imagination. After a 21-10 season at Iona in 2010, Willard’s Pirates have continually found themselves outmatched by Big East opponents, producing just one subsequent season above .500 during his tenure. Yet you can’t argue with his recruiting results of late: In 2013, Willard brought in four-star point guard Jaren Sina, a highly-skilled passer and shooter who was coveted coming by many, with offers from the likes of Memphis, Villanova and Pittsburgh. This year Willard brings in a top-tier recruit in shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead, who ranks #2 in the country at his position. Couple him with a 6’8″ four-star power forward in Angel Delgado, a strong rebounder for his size, and four other three-star recruits and Willard’s latest recruiting class was ranked 12th nationally as a result. Whitehead’s impact is expected to be immediate — the 6’4″ shooting guard was a McDonald’s All-American and has shown an ability to score in a number of different ways. It should come as no surprise that the media pegged him as the favorite to win this season’s Big East Freshman of the Year award. His talent, in addition to the return of backcourt mates Sterling Gibbs and Sina, will without question force opponents to play small in order to contest the Hall’s perimeter attack and stop transition buckets. However, the Pirates also lose three senior starters and junior forward Patrick Auda, and their collective loss of leadership will not go unnoticed. Rising senior Brandon Mobley will also need all the frontcourt help he can get from Delgado and redshirt freshman Rashed Anthony. The Pirates are expected to feature some three-guard sets, and should boast one of the best backcourts in the conference — the key will be finding ways to mask their relative lack of size in the paint, which wasn’t as big of a problem with Gene Teague. An NIT berth is certainly not out of the question for this young, talented squad, and it will completely depend on how well the backcourt gels over the course of the season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ranking the AAC Non-Conference Schedules: Part I

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 10th, 2014

It might seem that ranking non-conference schedules at this early juncture is a fruitless endeavor, and we understand that sentiment. Smart college basketball fans think they know who will be good and who won’t, but it’s all just educated guesswork until the season starts. That doesn’t mean evaluating non-conference schedules is foolish. Some teams will surprise and others disappoint, but the variance between preseason expectations and season-long success isn’t usually big enough to make schedule analysis worthless. In fact, given the weighty importance the Selection Committee places on non-conference scheduling when it determines the field of 68, analyzing schedules now may lead to clues about which AAC bubble teams could actually get in. We ranked all 11 team’s non-conference schedules from worst to first below, with the first installment featuring teams ranked #11-#6 today. All preseason rankings are courtesy of KenPom.com.

11. Houston Cougars

Sampson's Rebuild Took a Hit With the Loss of LJ Rose to Injury

Kelvin Sampson is Likely Smiling Because Of All The Bad Teams The Cougars Play.

The sky is blue, the sun rises in the east, and the Houston Cougars play an aggressively terrible non-conference schedule – those are the only three things anyone can truly count on. After three seasons in a row of playing one of the worst such schedules in the country, nothing has changed in that regard. The Cougars play six opponents ranked #294 and lower, including such luminaries as Abilene Christian and Houston Baptist. Early games against Murray State and Harvard present important opportunities to notch good wins, but it’s a good thing the Cougars aren’t expected to contend for an NCAA Tournament berth because the committee might laugh this non-conference resume out of the building.

10. East Carolina. Aside from the unlikely chance that the Pirates walk into Chapel Hill and upset North Carolina, there are few opportunities for the team to get any other wins worth noting. East Carolina will ease into its new conference playing an inspired non-conference schedule that includes perennial powerhouses like North Carolina Wesleyan and Virginia-Lynchburg. They will play in the Gulf Coast Showcase, pitting them against a tough Green Bay team and perhaps Fresno State if they win, but the rest of this schedule is littered with opponents that won’t be relevant by the middle of December.

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The RTC Podblast: Big East Preview Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 7th, 2014

Welcome to conference preview season. In this, our fourth of eight conference preview RTC Podblasts that we’ll be rolling out before the dawn of the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) joins us to discuss the key storylines, teams and players to watch among the 10 teams of the Big East. As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts the podblast, and the full rundown of topics is below. Make sure to tweet at us (@rushthecourt) if you have any opinion on which team should be the gang’s new favorite heading into the 2014-15 season.

Also remember to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record. And don’t forget to check out our 2014-15 Preseason Storylines Podcast, and feel free to contact us at any time — we’re listening.

  • 0:00-6:18 – Villanova
  • 6:18-12:09 – Search for a Second Team
  • 12:09-17:05 – Surprise Teams
  • 17:05-23:45 – Randy’s New Favorite Team Nominees
  • 23:45-26:28 – Top Players in the Big East
  • 26:28-29:46 – Predictions for the Conference
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One on One: A Big East Preview with Jon Rothstein

Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) on November 3rd, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the Big East, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Big East expert in CBS Sports Network College Basketball Insider Jon Rothstein (@jonrothstein)

Rush the Court: Villanova enters the season as the pretty clear favorite to win the league. The Wildcats return four starters from a team that went 29-5 last season. What are some reasonable expectations for Jay Wright’s squad this season?

Expectations are high for Jay Wright and Company. (Getty)

Expectations are High for Jay Wright’s Villanova Team (Getty)

Jon Rothstein: I think reasonable expectations are to win the Big East title, have a chance at winning the Big East Tournament title, and get another high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova was terrific last year in close game situations. I think there is a real possibility that Villanova could be a better team this year than it was last year, but have a worse record because its non-conference schedule is that much more difficult. What makes Villanova so good this year is that it does not lose 50/50 balls. Every ball that is being contested seems to go Villanova’s way almost every time. A big reason for that is Josh Hart. Hart is a guy who can go on a tear for Villanova this year, as he will step into a more enhanced role with the departure of James Bell. I think right now if there is one person who epitomizes Villanova’s culture and brand, it is Josh Hart.

RTC: Georgetown had a below average season last year [just 18-15 overall and 8-10 in conference]. There are no two ways around that. Does John Thompson III’s team have enough firepower to ensure a more successful campaign this season?

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Morning Five: 10.31.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 31st, 2014

morning5

  1. Zach Lofton‘s time at Minnesota was very short-lived. The Illinois State transfer, who would have had to sit out this season as a transfer after averaging 11.3 points and 3 rebounds per game last season, was kicked off the team yesterday. The reasons for Lofton’s dismissal are unclear, but he is still on scholarship at the school and can remain at the school to pursue his undergraduate degree so we are assuming it was something that wasn’t too serious as in it was not due to an arrest. We are not sure what Lofton’s plans are, but we are assuming that he won’t be staying at Minnesota.
  2. Yesterday, Florida announced that John Egbunu, a transfer from South Florida, will have to sit out this season per NCAA transfer rules. Egbunu, who averaged 7.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game as a freshman last season, was a top-60 prospect coming out of high school. We are not sure what basis the Florida staff was hoping to use in order to get Egbunu a waiver, but they should be able to survive without him this season as they already have a deep frontcourt.
  3. Connecticut junior guard Omar Calhoun is expected to miss at least a week after spraining the MCL in his right knee. Calhoun injured the knee during a Sunday practice, but a subsequent MRI revealed that there was no significant structural damage. Calhoun has reportedly recovered completely from the bilateral hip impingement surgery that limited his production as a sophomore. The Huskies appear to be set for their starting backcourt with Ryan Boatright and Rodney Purvis, but Calhoun could be a key reserve for the team.
  4. St. John’s announced yesterday that junior college transfer Keith Thomas would not be academically eligible for this season. Thomas, who was an honorable mention NJCAA All-American while averaging 15.3 points and 15.7 rebounds per game last season, is the third player from Westchester Community College to either be ruled academically ineligible as the school’s academic credentials are being questioned (where have we heard this before?). The loss of Thomas is a big hit for the Red Storm as they lack many legitimate big men outside of Chris Obekpa.
  5. We aren’t exactly sure how much to read into Jeff Goodman’s report that several college basketball referees had accessed unauthorized information on a refereeing site. While some of that information like game schedules and how much certain referees were paid probably did not affect the way games were called, other information like comments that coaches made about certain officials certainly could have impacted the outcome of games. If this might seem a little far-fetched, it was just a year and a half ago that where the Pac-12 had a controversy because there were reports that the head of officiating attempted to get other officials to target Arizona coach Sean Miller. We doubt that this will lead to a similar revelation, but it should be the primary concern in a situation like this.
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