RTC Summer Updates: Mountain West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 2nd, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Mountain West correspondent, Andrew Murawa.

Reader’s Take I

Summer Storylines

  • A New Look League: In the aftermath of last summer’s conference shake-ups, the Mountain West is a slimmer volume this year than last, and will look even different next year. Last year’s regular season champion, BYU, is off to pursue football independence, with membership in the West Coast Conference for basketball and some other sports a byproduct of that decision. Secondly, Utah jumped at the opportunity to become a member of the new Pac-12 conference. In the 12 years in which the two Utah schools were a part of the MWC (okay, since its unveiling of their new logo in July, the league office wants the conference to be abbreviated as MW, rather than MWC, and we’ll try to do that from here on), they won a combined five outright regular season titles between them (BYU three, Utah two) and twice shared the regular season titles. However, the MW did not sit idly by and let its conference dissolve when the Utah schools left. It snapped up Boise State to give the Mountain West eight teams in the 2011-12 campaign, with Fresno State and Nevada due to join in 2012-13 just as TCU departs for the Big East. In the long run, the three losses are bigger than the three additions, but the newcomers are strong enough to keep the MW chugging along.
  • Coaching Shuffle: We knew heading into the offseason that there would be at least one new coach in the conference, as Wyoming pulled the trigger on firing Heath Schroyer during the middle of the conference season. In late March they announced the hiring of Larry Shyatt, an associate head coach at Florida, back for his second stint as the head man in Laramie. But when Lon Kruger announced a day later that he had accepted the head coaching job at Oklahoma, arguably the most attractive job in the conference opened up at UNLV. Ten days later, UNLV announced the hiring of Dave Rice, most recently the associate head coach to Dave Rose at BYU, but previously a player and assistant coach under Jerry Tarkanian in Vegas. With Rice’s brother, Grant Rice, the head coach at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High – not coincidentally the high school of 2012 top ten recruit Shabazz Muhammad – the hiring opens further inroads for the Rebels with local recruits. To tie everything up in a nice little bundle, Schroyer was hired by Rice as one of his new assistants, along with former Rebel star Stacey Augmon and former SDSU assistant Justin Hutson.
  • Transfer Hotbed: Every year, the Mountain West seems to be the landing spot for some big transfers, guys who have struggled in their first stop in a BCS conference and who are ready to start over a rung down the ladder. UCLA as a feeder school for the conference is a well-worn path, having sent Chace Stanback to UNLV and Drew Gordon to New Mexico in recent years. This year, another former Bruin will be active in the MW, with forward Mike Moser joining Stanback in Las Vegas for the Rebels. No less than five other former-Pac-10 players will show up on MW rosters this season, with Drew Wiley (formerly of Oregon) joining Boise State, Demetrius Walker (formerly of Arizona State) joining New Mexico, and Xavier Thames (formerly of Washington State) joining San Diego State, all of whom will be eligible this season. Arizona’s Daniel Bejarano and USC’s Bryce Jones also announced transfers to Colorado State and UNLV, respectively, but neither will be eligible until the 2012-13 season. UNLV also welcomes former Marquette point Reggie Smith to compete with incumbent point guard Oscar Bellfield this season, while CSU inked former Minnesota center Colton Iverson, eligible in 2012-13. Then there’s the Aztecs, who signed Utah transfer J.J. O’Brien and St. John’s transfer Dwayne Polee. While O’Brien will sit out a year, Polee, who attended Los Angeles’ Westchester High, has applied for a hardship waiver, given that his mom is suffering from an undisclosed medical condition. While these waivers aren’t often granted, if it happens in this case, Polee could be a big boost for the Aztecs’ 2011-12 hopes.

Steve Fisher maxed out an experienced team in 2011, but will need former role players to step up this season. (Kent Horner/Getty Images)

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Morning Five: Cinco de Mayo Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 5th, 2011

  1. Former UNLV star and NBA veteran Stacey Augmon joined Dave Rice’s brand-new UNLV staff as an assistant coach on Wednesday.  The Plastic Man is the Runnin’ Rebels third-leading all-time scorer with over 2,000 points and is widely regarded as one of the best collegiate defenders of his era (a three-time national defensive player of the year selection).  A popular player both during his playing days and afterward, he, along with other stars Larry Johnson and Greg Anthony, helped compose one of the most fearsome collegiate lineups of all-time; while Augmon was in Vegas, UNLV went 126-20 including back-to-back trips to the Final Four and winning  a national title in 1990.  With his #32 jersey hanging in the rafters of the Thomas & Mack Center, Augmon will certainly have the adequate standing to convince potential recruits of how a few years in Sin City can further a young players’ career.
  2. Wednesday’s NBA Draft news focused on another somewhat questionable decision in that Michigan’s Darius Morris has decided to keep his name in as an early entrant despite projected by most observers as a second round pick.  An interesting byproduct of several elite players staying in school — namely, Jared Sullinger, Harrison Barnes, and Perry Jones — is that the meme of “weak draft” has been repeated to the point that many second- and third-tier players  now think they have a good shot at reaching the first round’s guaranteed money.  Sigh.  Sometimes you can’t win for losing with these guys, right?  In equally relevant news, Maryland’s Jordan Williams has also decided to chase the dollars, having signed with an agent and making his announcement to leave school on Wednesday.  He’s projected as a late first-round or early second-rounder, but remember, folks… it’s a weak draft.
  3. We mentioned yesterday in the M5 that Kentucky’s “pro day” allowed NBA GMs and personnel to watch several Wildcats work out all at once rather than having to travel all over the country in a very short window of time.  We also mentioned that forward Terrence Jones’ decision would end up being “predictably unpredictable,” and if DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givony’s tweets today are any indication, you should count on it.  His mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader yesterday that her son would take until ‘the last minute’ to make his decision about whether to leave school.  And if we know anything about this guy, he’ll do whatever he feels will surprise the maximum number of people.
  4. The Shane Battier Rule is finally near enactment at the collegiate level.  The NCAA Rules Committee on Wednesday recommended that all levels of men’s basketball add the semi-circle known as the “restricted arc” to eliminate secondary defenders taking charges directly underneath the opposing basket.   For the last two seasons, the NCAA has utilized an imaginary arc under the basket, but referees often had just as much trouble deciding how far out the restricted area extended away from the basket to apply — this will make things much cleaner and easier on everyone.  As a fan, there’s nothing more infuriating than to watch an excellent offensive move taken away by an off-ball defender perching himself directly underneath the basket well after the ball has left the driving player’s hand, so we’re particulalrly thankful for this legislation.  The rule change will still need to be approved by the Rules Oversight Panel on June 9, but we should expect it to accept the recommendation.  As a brief aside, the committee also recommended that coaches next season have the ability to ask for a monitor review at any time during the game (for example, to contest a two-pointer counted as a three).  The tradeoff is that if the coach’s request for review turns out to be incorrect (keeping with the example, the two-pointer actually was a two), he risks losing a timeout.  Interesting idea.
  5. Set your DVRs now.  Ohio State alumnus Bob Knight will be honored at an OSU-Lamar game on December 20 for his time as a player in Columbus and general contributions to college basketball.  Why Lamar?  Well, his son, Pat, you may recall, took over as the head coach down in Beaumont, Texas, a month ago.  By that point in the season, Coach K (with 900 wins) will likely have surpassed Knight (902) as the all-time wins leader, but it will be interesting to see if Buckeyes fans will think of the longtime Indiana coach as one of their own, or if they’ll still harbor resentment from a number of years of losses at the hands of the General.  We’d imagine it could get interesting on the mic if OSU fans decide to get creative that evening.
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Past Imperfect: The NCAA’s Greatest Weekend

Posted by JWeill on March 24th, 2011

Past Imperfect is a series focusing on the history of the game. Each week, RTC contributor JL Weill (@AgonicaBossEmail) highlights some piece of historical arcana that may (or may not) be relevant to today’s college basketball landscape. This week: the greatest Sweet 16 and Elite Eight ever, the 1990 NCAA Tournament.

By the time the 1990 NCAA Tournament hit its second weekend, fans had already been treated to quite a show: 16th-seeded Murray State pushing top seed Michigan State to the wire; Loyola Marymount’s emotional return to the court following the tragic passing of All-American teammate Hank Gathers and stunning rout of defending champion Michigan; upsets by Ball State, Dayton and Northern Iowa; surprise takedowns of high seeds Kansas, Purdue and No. 1 Oklahoma.

But as much as the results, 1990 in many ways represented a modern apogee for college basketball – a natural peak that was a nexus of upperclassman experience, elite talent and athleticism and a growing American obsession with this quirky college tournament cum mega-event. As television numbers soared and a new generation of basketball fans came of age, interest in the NCAA Tournament was at an all-time high, and the product on the court was worthy of it.

Basketball is a game that has weathered changes in style, scandals of all levels and cycles of roster attrition, any of which might have crippled a less beloved sport. But while there have always been flaws, much of the negativity and cynicism that has since widened the gap between fans of the college game and fans of the modern NBA at the end of the 1980s had yet to be amplified by the combination of youthful revolt, unmitigated marketing and an ever-present media lens that we accept as the norm today. Likewise, at the time the 1990 tourney tipped, ESPN had yet to dominate the sports broadcast market the way it does now and, while viewership of cable television was certainly widespread, Americans were still mostly attuned to a tradition of watching major sporting events like the NCAA Tournament on network, and even more so, local television. And, certainly not to be ignored, this was long before the Internet changed forever the way fans consumed, discussed and dissected the sports the watched.

NBA talents with years of college experience like Michigan State’s Steve Smith made the 1990 NCAA special.

But if in these many ways the beginning of the 1990s was a more innocent time for fans, it was a more experienced and developed time for college basketball. Since Magic Johnson had been drafted No. 1 overall as a sophomore in the 1979 NBA Draft, only 12 underclassmen had been selected in the draft to that point, and of those, none had been freshmen from Division I colleges. There was a fundamental agreement that freshmen were not physically ready to play with grown men in the NBA, and despite the Spencer Haywood decision of the early 1970s granting high school players the right to be drafted, only three high school players had opted to skip college entirely: Moses Malone, Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby.

The result was that coaches continued to build teams around star players who they knew were not only talented, but also would be around long enough to accrue the experience that came with having played at least two years in college already. Any fan of college basketball knows that while added playing experience is certainly no guarantee of success at the college level, it sure does help.

So came the 1990 tournament, flush with future pros, plus Hall of Fame and soon-to-be-household-name up-and-comer coaches, too. There were blueblood programs and upstarts alike. And the opening weekend of the tournament was a fantastic one. But if the first two rounds had produced great games and standout individual performances, it was only a prelude to the grand waltz of the weekend ahead. From March 22-25, 1990, college basketball showed, on its grandest stage, all of the best things its season-ending tournament had to offer: emotion, drama, intrigue, and controversy – not to mention collegiate athletics played at the highest level.

It all began with a bang. Two years before a miracle full-court pass and shot at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J., would become one of the most replayed and remembered moments in NCAA Tournament history, another, different but equally improbable full-court catch and shoot would captivate college basketball fans’ imaginations … for all of two days.

Few people remember now that when coach Jim Calhoun took over the University of Connecticut program it was arguably the worst in Division I. Now, in just his fourth year, Calhoun had the Huskies as the East Region’s No. 1 seed, facing a talented fifth-seeded Clemson in the Sweet 16. Strong and oozing confidence, UConn opened a 19-point lead. But in the second half, Clemson went on a 25-8 run to cut the lead to two with just over three-and-a-half minutes left. With only 12 seconds remaining in the game, Clemson sophomore David Young hit a three-pointer to give the Tigers their first lead since early in the first half. UConn point guard Tate George missed a jump shot with four seconds left, Clemson rebounded and was fouled. But after forward Sean Tyson missed the free throw, UConn collected the rebound and called time out. One second remained on the game clock.

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Morning Five: 01.15.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 15th, 2010

  1. Knowing what we know about NC State, this idea to use a real wolf as the team mascot will not end well.  Then again, maybe the wolf can “escape” and devour Sidney Lowe during a rampage — that might make some of their fans happy.
  2. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan pulled no punches in his address to the NCAA yesterday, stating that college basketball is tainted by ‘renegade’ coaches and that the one-and-done rule is essentially an academic sham.
  3. The hits keep coming for DePaul.  Just days after firing their coach Jerry Wainwright, the Blue Demons lost their best player Mac Koshwal 2-4 weeks with a foot injury.
  4. Luke Winn is back with his power rankings in the best read of the week, as usual.  It’s a little scary that we remember those LJ/Augmon t-shirts from the days when the high fade was still rockin like Marley Marl and De La Soul.
  5. OJ Mayo continues to hide behind his agent when it comes to substantive answers while maintaining that he loves USC and would have never done anything inappropriate like, oh, maybe take money to attend the school.  Look, we know he’s not legally obligated to say a word, but just once we’d like to see an athlete come out in his prime and say, “yeah, I did all that stuff and more.  So what?”  Maybe by thumbing his nose at the NCAA, it’ll help embarrass the organization into re-assessing how they do business.
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RTC Bracket Championship Results: Best Team of the Modern Era (1985-2008)

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2009

Ok, we’re ready for the firestorm.  The four of you who are still reading this are going to swim the moat and scale the walls of the RTC castle after you read this post.  You’re going to want to string up those responsible by their testicles, and ritualistically flog them until they admit that a grievous error has been made.  We’re ready for it.

And the reason we’re prepared for such a thing is because the best team of the Modern Era is one that didn’t even win the championship in its given year (cringe).  Hell, they didn’t even make the final game!  But you need to hear us out, listen to what we’re saying, open your mind to the possibility, and it’ll all make sense soon enough.

Your RTC Modern Era Champions

Your RTC Modern Era Champions

For the full 64-team bracket, click here.  The championship game analysis is below the bracket.

ncaa-modern-bracket-final

Instant Analysis

#2 UNLV 1991 def. #1 Duke 1992.  You’re probably thinking… but RTC, we already saw this game, we know how it ends up.  It was played in the 1991 national semifinals with 90% of the same principal players and themes involved.  LJ, Augmon, Anthony, Hunt, Ackles vs. Hurley, Laettner, Hill, Hill, Davis.  Tark vs. Coach K.  Good vs. Evil.  Glitzy vs. Coldly Efficient.  Foot Stomps vs. Hot Tubs.  Clean vs. Dirty.  And you’d be right.  The 1991 match-up was the de facto national championship game, and it has gone down in NCAA Tournament lore as one of the greatest games of all-time.  Duke, of course, won the game with an 8-1 run to catch and finish off the Runnin’ Rebels, 79-77, after their floor leader Greg Anthony fouled out.

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RTC Bracket Final Four Results: Best Team of the Modern Era (1985-2008)

Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2009

And we’re down to two…  the two teams, that in our highly-valued and respected opinion, are the most talented, battle-tested and worthy of the RTC Modern Era.

We’d be shocked if this didn’t inspire some debate, simply due to the fact that all four of these teams were damn near unbeatable in their primes.  Still, we had to choose two to advance into the Finals, and while the choices were far from easy, we made them and we’ll live with them.  Surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly), we’re left with one national champion and another team that didn’t even make the finals!

For the full 64-team bracket, click here.  The game analyses are below the bracket.

ncaa-modern-bracket-r2

Instant Analysis

#1 Duke 1992 def. #1 UNLV 1990 - Duke’s back-to-back champions featuring Laettner, Hurley and Hill visit the scene of the crime by playing the last team to beat them in the NCAA Tournament, the 1990 UNLV team featuring LJ, Augmon and Anthony.  Not only did that UNLV team beat them, remember, that team murdered them by a score of  103-73.  Of course, the 1991 Duke team then got its revenge against UNLV by pulling the unlikeliest of upsets against the 34-0 Rebels in the next year’s national semifinals.  Are you ready for Round Three?  The 1990 Duke team was young and played like it in the rout against UNLV – although they were led by senior Danny Ferry,  he never won anything Laettner was a sophomore and Hurley was a freshman.  They were still learning what it took to become a champion, as they had not yet developed the toughness to keep their heads and stare down a physical, athletic and intimidating squad like UNLV.  The 1992 Duke team had done exactly that.  In fact, they may not have lost a game all season had Bobby Hurley not broken his foot midway through the year – Grant Hill filled in admirably at point as Duke stayed afloat (losing only two games), but it was clear that Hill was still learning on the job.  Similarly, 1990 UNLV won the national title, but they weren’t quite the dominant entity that they were to become the following year when they rode a 45-game winning streak into the Final Four.  Under this context, Duke 1992 ran out to a quick early lead against the 1990 UNLV team, who came into the game cocky based on their previous thrashing of the Devils with many of the same faces on board.  Laettner, who by his senior year had developed a deadly three-point shot, repeatedly took George Ackles out to the three-point line, while a new wrinkle  by the name of Grant Hill kept causing matchup problems for Stacey Augmon, unaccustomed to having to guard someone even more athletic than the Plastic Man.  By halftime, Duke was shocking the overconfident Rebels by twelve points on the backs of Laettner and Hill.  Tarkanian lit into his team at the half, and the Rebels came out very aggressive on defense to force Duke into several uncharacteristic turnovers.  After a Larry Johnson dunk where he chin-upped on the rim afterwards, the Rebel fans were raucous and Duke appeared to be on its heels again, holding onto a 2-pt lead.  K called timeout and immediately referred his team back to a similar situation they had faced in the prelims against Kentucky (E8), and he ordered his team to once again focus on getting good shots and playing superb defense.  K’s admonitions worked, as Duke re-settled itself to slowly work its margin back up to eight points by the under-four timeout.  Tark tried to surprise Duke after that timeout by throwing a three-quarter court press on Hurley, but with the ‘point forward’ skills that Hill had developed midway through the season, Duke was able to capably dribble through the traps and throw over the top for several easy dunks  by Thomas Hill and Brian Davis that essentially salted away the game.  Afterwards, Coach K talked about the character of his charges for fighting through all the adversity of having to play a team they’d already played in the previous two tourneys, while Tarkanian went on a tirade about how the NCAA continually gives his Rebels an unfair shake because they’ hate him.

#2 UNLV 1991 def. #1 Kentucky 1996 – The other semifinal matched Tarkanian’s 1991 UNLV team against the other team widely reknowned as the best team of the 90s, the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats.  The odd thing about the 1991 UNLV team compared to their national champion 1990 counterpart is that by every reasonable objective measure, the 1991 version was the superior team.  They were 34-1 after the 79-77 upset against Duke, and they had beaten teams by an absurd 27 ppg during the season, including a statement-making game at #2 Arkansas’ Barnhill Arena that was much worse than the final score indicated (112-105 UNLV).  Had the Rebels run into any other team than Duke, whom they had humiliated by thirty pts in the previous year’s title game, they most likely would have gone back-to-back.  The Kentucky 1996 team was probably the closest thing to that 1991 UNLV team that exists in the Modern Era, with their devastating runs overwhelming teams with athletic, pressure defense from end to end.  In this one, UNLV clearly had something to prove from the tip, having lost in the prelims to Duke (F4), a team that to a man they felt they were much better than.  Kentucky was simply unaccustomed to facing a team with as many offensive and defensive weapons as UNLV had, and it was clear they were a little surprised by the aggressiveness and strength of the Rebel starters on the defensive end (mirroring themselves).  UK fought back behind Tony Delk’s three-point shooting (4 threes in the first half), but UNLV stilltook a 4-pt lead into the half, and Kentucky’s Rick Pitino thought he had the Rebs exactly where he wanted them.  Or not.  UNLV then went on a devastating 27-9 run to start the second half, fueled by repeated uncharacteristic turnovers from Anthony Epps (and the freshman Wayne Turner, once Pitino pulled Epps) leading to fast-break dunks by seemingly everyone on the UNLV roster.  Having faced only one major deficit all year (against UMass early in the season), Kentucky and Pitino were completely shellshocked.  Similar to 1995′s prelim loss to UNC in the Elite Eight, Kentucky began to panic, shooting threes nearly every time downcourt, many of which were altogether out of the structured offense.  With five minutes left in the game, Kentucky finally seemed to awaken from its self-induced slumber and went on a 12-0 run of its own to cut the lead back to six.  That’s when Larry Johnson called for the ball on three straight possessions, stared down Antoine Walker, went right around him all three times and either earned a layup or dunk-and-one in the process.  Ballgame.  UNLV moves on to the final game despite not having done as much in the prelims, and Big Blue Nation burns up the talk radio circuit demanding Pitino’s head for not having his team ready and losing to a team that Duke had already beaten.

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