2008-09 Quarterly Report – Midseason

January 13, 2009
The regular season is flying by.  Believe it or not, we’re only nine weeks away from having an official NCAA Tournament Bracket to review and obsess over.  We also happen to be nine weeks removed from opening night, so yesterday marked the official midpoint – 63 days on each side – of the regular season.  Which means, of course, for all you folks who have been busy with the holidays, busy with the bowl games, busy with the NFL Playoffs…  let’s get you caught up.

2009-f4-ford-field-v2

From now until the first tip in Dayton March 17th on the Road to the F4 in Detroit (ugh), roughly 150 or so teams are realistically jostling for position to be selected as one of the Chosen 65.   As we nestle into the familiarity of conference play (only the Ivies have yet to begin) and America once again wakes up to our game, weaknesses will be exposed, experienced teams will try to avoid complacency and young teams will start to figure it all out.  Come Selection Sunday, many of these prospective bracketeers will have fallen by the wayside, but there will be 50 or so at-large teams holding NCAA-caliber resumes, even though only 34 will be taken.   Before we jump in with both feet into the fun that the next two months will bring, let’s take a look back at the first two months to see what we’ve learned.

Carolina is Not Unbeatable, but Are the Heels Still the Favorite? A mere month ago we wrote that North Carolina was playing like  a team with plans to lose no more than a couple of games (if that many) all season.  Then the last eight days happened.  First, UNC lost at home to an underwhelming BC team, followed by a road loss at Wake Forest last night to start 0-2 in the ACC.  So what’s going on – how can this juggernaut of a team with nearly everyone returning look so… mortal?  It’s easy, really.  So far, UNC’s defense hasn’t been up to snuff.  It’s more efficient as a whole than last year’s version, but their statistical profile is elevated on the defensive end by forcing turnovers which in turn fuels their lethal fast break.   In a halfcourt set, as Wake and BC repeatedly and effectively showed, UNC can be penetrated and exposed.  The key to playing with the Heels is limiting those TOs that Ty Lawson turns into the quick strikes that overwhelm teams.  Is it a fatal flaw?  It could be (how’s that for a hedge?).  Teams that can’t consistently make stops don’t win championships, but we really don’t see why UNC’s defense shouldn’t be able to make the commitment to improve over the next two months.  The 2005 title team only became legit once Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants and Sean May got serious about stopping people in addition to outscoring them.  Can the 2009 Heels – specifically, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Deon Thompson – do the same?  Stay tuned.

These Guys Have to Commit to Better Halfcourt Defense
These Guys Have to Commit to Better Halfcourt Defense
The Big East Should Have Its Own Region. Seriously, let’s just rename the E. Rutherford Region this year and invite every Big East team.  Or at least the top 12.  Of course, if we did that, it would prohibit the possibility of the conference placing four teams in the Final Four this year – a plausible scenario.  Tell us that you couldn’t envision a situation where four of the following teams – Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Syracuse – would reach Detroit in April.  Throw in Villanova, Marquette and West Virginia and you might just have nine of the Sweet Sixteen.  The top half of this conference is really that good.  So who is the best of the best?  It depends on when you ask the question.  Two weeks ago it was UConn.  A week ago Georgetown.  Now it’s Pittsburgh.  Next week…  probably Syracuse.  The point is nobody knows.  UConn has the most raw talent, but they’ve exhibited problems putting it together consistently.  Georgetown, haven’t you heard, has rebounding issues.   Pittsburgh isn’t reliable from behind the arc.  Syracuse has a tendency to lose to teams like Cleveland St. on miracle shots.  Louisville spends much of its time looking for its ass with both hands.  Notre Dame has a maddening tendency to play defense with its hands.  Marquette and Villanova are too guard heavy.  West Virginia has Bob Huggins.  And on and on.   All we can say for certain is that the quality of play in the seemingly-nightly matchups between Top 25 teams is top-shelf, and it makes up for all those other nights where we’re stuck watching Auburn-Ole Miss.
The Big Ten Doesn’t Suck This Year. Now don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying that our friendly midwestern conference is on par with the Big East, or even the ACC, but it’s a lot stronger in the middle of the pack than it has been in recent years.  Not much was expected out of Minnesota (15-1), Illinois (14-2) or Michigan (13-3) this year, but each of them are playing excellent ball and have marquee wins over the likes of Louisville, Missouri, Duke and UCLA in their pockets.  Combine their success with the standard good seasons expected from Michigan St. (13-2), Purdue (12-4), Ohio St. (11-3) and Wisconsin (12-4), and you have a competitive six-bid conference. Even traditional cellar dweller Penn St. (13-4) has shown signs of life this year.  Heck, they even made the ACC/Big Ten Challenge competitive (losing 6-5) this year!
Our Midwestern Friends Have Been Practicing
Our Midwestern Friends Have Been Practicing

They’re Putting It Together. Now that Tom Izzo once again has a full complement of players with Goran Suton back in the fold, Michigan St. has looked much better since their abysmal performance in the ACC/B10 Challenge against UNC.  They’ve run off nine in a row with wins at Texas, at Minnesota and Ohio St. – everyone wrote this team off after that UNC game, but they’ll be heard from in March.  UCLA is also quietly going about its business, also reeling off nine in a row (including a 3-0 start in road games in the Pac-10) since their loss to Texas in mid-December.  Ben Howland is getting production from eleven players, and if anyone really thought the Bruins were going to have a ‘rebuilding’ season, they need to have their head checked.  This team will win close to 30 games again.   It’s amazing how a series of close games that go your way can make or break a team’s confidence.  After Louisville had dropped tight ones to Minnesota and UNLV in late December, everyone was ready to write off the Cards.  Now that they’ve won three of their lost four on the last possession, they sit at 3-0 in the Big East (with two road wins) and appear to be in relatively good shape compared to some of the other Big East contenders (UConn, ND, and Georgetown in particular).  We’ll see just how good they can be when #1 Pittsburgh visits on Saturday.

Pleasant Surprises. Obviously, Wake Forest is a pretty big surprise – we expected them to be pretty good, but nobody saw a top five team coming from Dino Gaudio this year.  What about Syracuse? – at 16-1 and the lone loss to Cleveland St. from 75 feet, Jim Boeheim’s crew has as much talent as just about anybody in the country.  Clemson is pulling its annual ridiculous start, but there are signs that this Tiger team is legit – they have a balanced attack, they’re strong at both ends of the court, and they have good road wins at Illinois, South Carolina and Miami (FL) so far.  Butler is a HUGE surprise, although we shouldn’t ever be surprised with that program.  The Bulldogs sit at 14-1 and two of their top three players are freshmen, yet they once again appear to be the class of the Horizon and a top mid-major.  Tubby Smith has Minnesota playing great ball, and the Gophers are on a fast track to the NCAA Tournament at least a year ahead of schedule.  Coaching matters – Mike Montgomery also has California playing hard for the first time in a decade.  The Bears look like a top three team in the Pac-10 at this point.

Syracuse Has the Look of a Team Built for March
Syracuse Has the Look of a Team Built for March

Disappointments. Since the Q1 update, Gonzaga has done nothing but crap itself, losing games to Arizona, UConn, Portland St., and Utah.  They did get a key OT win at Tennessee last week, and their defense is still stronger than in recent years, but for some reason or another, the Zags are having trouble putting it all together.  USC is destined to become this year’s NC State (a preseason ranked team that won’t make the NCAA Tourney).  The SECTennessee, Florida and Kentucky – have all been various shades of disappointing.  Between the cream of the SEC East, there’s what, three quality wins?  On the other side of that conference, only Arkansas has even been mildly interesting, with big home wins over Oklahoma and Texas.  At the mid-major level, Southern Illinois (6-8 ) and Wright St. (9-8 ) have a long way to go before they’ll turn their seasons around.

RTC Midseason All-Americans. We’ll take some heat for not putting defending NPOY Tyler Hansbrough on our first team, but his numbers, particularly his rebounding average, are off from last season.  Granted, he’s still probably recovering from a stress reaction injury, so he’ll have time to recover his (rightful?) place on the 1st team, but for now, we like Griffin (obvious choice) and Harangody in our frontcourt.  Curry and Harden are also easy choices in the backcourt, but we’re making a leap of faith choosing Teague – his last two games against BYU and UNC were very impressive performances (he averaged 32/5/4 assts on 59%) and we’re riding on the Wake bandwagon right now.

  • Jeff Teague, G – Wake Forest (21/4/4 assts on 54%/54% 3fg shooting)
  • Stephen Curry, G – Davidson (29/4/7 assts/3 stls on 45%/37% 3fg shooting)
  • James Harden, G – Arizona St. (23/6/5 assts on 56%/42% 3fg shooting)
  • Blake Griffin, F – Oklahoma (23/14/3 assts on 65% shooting)
  • Luke Harangody, F – Notre Dame (25/13 on 51% shooting)

Knocking on the Door (2d Team).

  • Tyler Hansbrough, F – North Carolina (22/8 on 54% shooting)
  • Patrick Patterson, F – Kentucky (19/9/3 assts on 71% shooting)
  • Dejuan Blair, F – Pittsburgh (15/13 on 61% shooting)
  • Manny Harris, G – Michigan (19/8/5 assts on 44%/31% 3fg shooting)
  • Ty Lawson, G – North Carolina (15/3/6 assts on 53%/42% 3fg shooting)

All-Freshman Team. Al-Farouq Aminu (Wake Forest), Jrue Holiday (UCLA) and Gordon Hayward (Butler) were tough to leave off this list.

  • Greg Monroe, C – Georgetown (14/6/3 assts on 57% shooting)
  • Sylven Landesberg, G – Virginia (19/6/3 assts on 49%/30% 3fg shooting)
  • Tyreke Evans, G – Memphis (16/6/4 assts/3 stls on 45% shooting)
  • Seth Curry, G – Liberty (20/4 on 45%/40% 3fg shooting)
  • Paul George, F – Fresno St. (16/7 on 54%/46% 3fg shooting)

RTC Greatest Hits (Q2).

Big Games (Q3). Here are the top 10 games of the next month.

  • Syracuse @ Georgetown – 01.14.09
  • Pittsburgh @ Louisville – 01.17.09
  • Georgetown @ Duke – 01.17.09
  • Wake Forest @ Clemson – 01.17.09
  • Texas @ Baylor – 01.27.09
  • Duke @ Wake Forest – 01.28.09
  • California @ UCLA – 01.29.09
  • Connecticut @ Louisville – 02.02.09
  • Duke @ Clemson – 02.04.09
  • Michigan St. @ Minnesota – 02.04.09
  • Notre Dame @ UCLA – 02.07.09

Extremes. This won’t last much longer, as we fully expect all three of the unbeatens to have a loss by this time next week, if not sooner.  That’s what conference play does to you.  NC Central will get a win against a D2 squad soon, but poor little NJIT has no relief in sight.  They’re sitting on 49 in a row and, according to KenPom’s projections, 60+ in a row is within reach.   Memo to NJIT coach Jim Engles – take a page from the NC Central playbook and schedule some JV High School D2 teams.

Unbeaten (next possible loss)

  • Pittsburgh (Big East): 15-0 (@ Louisville 1/17)
  • Wake Forest (ACC):  14-0 (@ BC 1/14)
  • Clemson (ACC): 16-0 (v. Wake Forest 1/17)

Winless (next possible win)

  • NJIT (Ind): 0-16 (Bryant 1/21)
  • North Carolina Central (Ind): 0-18 (D2 Central St 1/16)

ATB: T-Will’s House of Cards

January 13, 2009

afterbuzzerNews & Notes.

  • Miami (FL)’s Eddie Rios was suspended indefinitely for the second time this season for a violation of team rules.  Missouri’s Leo Lyons was also suspended indefinitely relating to his arrest for failure to pay an outstanding traffic ticket.   Pay your tickets, kiddies.
  • Billy Packer (where’s he been?) and Bob Knight plan on doing their own show on FSN during March Madness between filling out parlay cards at the Wynn Las Vegas this year.
  • LMU’s Bill Bayno resigned due to medical reasons; he will be replaced by assistant coach Max Good (currently 1-11 this season).

The First of Many Ginormous Mondays.

Louisville 87, Notre Dame 73 (OT). This was a fantastic game, and the third in a row that came down the last possession of regulation for the battle-tested Cards (who won all three).  The Big East is going to be like this all year long, and the teams that can make plays in the last two minutes will be sitting at 11-7 and staring at a top four NCAA seed, and those that don’t will be at 7-11 and needing a nice run in the Big East Tournament to get back on the bubble.  Terrence Williams and Luke Harangody were both pretty much unstoppable in a mano-a-mano passion play that rivaled anything we’ve seen in a while.  T-Will blew up the stat sheet, going for 24/16/8 assts/3 stls, while Harangody showcased a variety of spins and fadeaway jumpers in a 28/13 night.  Both teams stepped up their games defensively down the stretch, as Louisville outscored ND 3-2 in the last seven minutes.  Harangody in particular didn’t score a single point during that period and overtime.  Louisville moved to 3-0 in the conference, with #1 Pitt coming to Freedom Hall on Saturday.  It’s amazing to think that a mere two weeks ago everyone was writing the Cards off, including us.  A couple of final notes on this game – the Earl Clark slam “over everyone in the building,” according to Jay Bilas, was phenomenal (see below).  It really seemed as if his arms were something like the trees in Lord of the Rings on that dunk.

Also, the final play of regulation where ND threw the ball into the backcourt did not appear from our view to be a backcourt violation as it was called by the ref.  It was a harmless error from Louisville’s perspective, but how amazing would that ending have been if T-Will had ended the game on a wild play like that?

Oklahoma 78, Texas 63. What was most surprising about this game was just how uncompetitive Texas was throughout.  Texas couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn (34%), and AJ Abrams was the chief culprit (8-27 incl. 3-15 from three).  Blake Griffin was his usual self, going for 20/10, but he was assisted by three other Sooners in double figures.  Honestly, we keep waiting for the other shoe to drop in terms of production for Oklahoma outside of Griffin/Warren, but it hasn’t happened yet.  Jeff Capel really has this team playing well.

Other Games of Mild Interest. Not much on the slate tonight, but Davidson and Steph Curry were in action.

  • Davidson 70, Appalachian St. 52. Curry Watch – 16/6 assts for Curry on 7-13 shooting in a road win.

Set Your Tivos: 01.10.09 & 01.11.09

January 8, 2009

Set Your TivosSet Your Tivos is back with a loaded schedule. It looks like the NCAA is kicking the season into full swing this weekend with that pesky little college football sport and its antediluvian method of determining a champion out of the way, we can all focus on what’s really important.

Saturday
Noon
NC State at #11 Clemson on Raycom Sports and ESPN Full Court: The Wolfpack will be looking to hand the Tigers their first defeat. Just based on history, I don’t have a lot of faith in Clemson and it looks like the pollsters don’t either. I don’t think this is a particularly interesting game based on the teams playing (especially when you look at the other games you can watch in this time spot), but keep an eye on this one particularly around the end when you could see a team fall from the ranks of the unbeatens.

#21 Louisville at #17 Villanova on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Will Edgar Sosa’s resurgence lead more disgruntled college coaches to adopt the Rick Pitino method of motivation? Pitino will need Sosa, Earl Clark, and Samardo Samuels at the top of their game if he wants to go into Philadelphia and get Louisville its first quality win of the year. Jay Wright will counter with Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds as the Wildcats hope to return to form after 2 rough games on the road. We’ll be interested to see if Louisville can ride the momentum off their big win over Kentucky to finally play up to the form that we expected them to earlier in the season.

We're big fans of Original Recipe
We’re big fans of Original Recipe

#22 West Virginia at #15 Marquette on Big East Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Honestly, I don’t know if any Big East team is going to be able to make it out of the conference with less than 4 losses. The scary thing is that both of these top 25 teams will struggle to go 8-8 in the conference this year. After a tough loss to Connecticut, the Mountaineers travel north to face the Golden Eagles. Alex Ruoff and Da’Sean Butler will need to outplay Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal, and Lazar Hayward if they hope to get a road win, which will be a rarity this year in the Big East.

1 PM
Kansas at #12 Michigan State on CBS: Tom Izzo has his Spartans playing well after some early struggles. Does anybody want to work out a comparative score about how bad Harvard would beat Michigan State? Bill Self will rely on the inside-outside combo of Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins if he hopes to steal one in East Lansing. The key to this game will be how Collins does against Kalin Lucas. If Collins can outplay Lucas, don’t be surprised if the Jayhawks extend their impressive recent run including a win over Tennessee.

2 PM
#2 Duke at Florida State on ESPN and ESPN360.com: This could be  potential letdown game for the Blue Devils after their win over Stephen Curry and Davidson on Thursday. [Yes. Curry played well. Much better than he had in previous BCS games, but I don’t buy the starting PG, 18-20 PPG as a rookie, and NBA superstar stuff that ESPN was trying to stuff down my throat. I’ll post more on this in the near future.] I’m sure that Coach K will remind his team that the Seminoles have knocked off heavily favored Duke teams several times in the past few years (I attended the most shocking of these upsets). I would normally say that Duke should win this type of game without any problem, but with the recent history of this “rivalry” I wouldn’t be too short of anything. As usual with Duke, watch the officials closely.

7 PM
Miami (FL) at #24 Boston College on ESPNU: As we earlier wrote this week, we have no idea what to make of the Eagles. Beat UNC then lose to Harvard the next game. The Hurricanes have been winning all the games they are expected to, but they need to start winning some of the tougher games on their schedule if they want to live up to their preseason top 25 ranking or even make the NCAA tournament. This game will likely come down to a showdown between Jack McClinton and Tyrese Rice. Well that and whether BC decides to show up for this game.

Sunday
Noon

St. John’s at #1 Pittsburgh on Big East Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: The Red Storm are coming off a shocking victory over Notre Dame. I don’t really think they should pose much of a challenge to the #1 team in the country, but momentum has a funny way of affecting games like these that shouldn’t be competitive. The Red Storm lost Anthony Mason Jr (son of that Anthony Mason) three games into the season, but have a balanced attack with 4 players averaging between 10.1 and 13.0 PPG. As you’re aware (since you visit this site), the Panthers aren’t quite as balanced, but Sam Young and DeJuan Blair may be one of the best 1-2 combo in nation. Look for this one to be closer than you would expect.

Junior could use some help from daddy this weekend.
The Red Storm could use some help from Junior and daddy this weekend.

1:30 PM
Wisconsin at #14 Purdue on CBS: After years of bashing the Big 10, it looks like the conference is slowly making a comeback. The problem they have now is that they have a lot of solid teams, but no great teams (with the possible exception of Michigan State). After a big win over Michigan at Crisler last weekend, the Badgers go into Indiana looking to pull off another upset. I’m guessing most people will probably be watching the NFL playoffs around this time, but keep this one on “Recall”, “Last”, or whatever function your remote has so you can flip back and forth between the games.

8 PM
#3 UNC at #4 Wake Forest on FSN: Without question, the biggest game of the weekend features the experienced Tar Heels going into Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum to face the extremely young  Demon Deacons. I don’t think there is much to say about the Tar Heels, but here’s a brief summary: Tyler Hansbrough hustles and pulls in the ladies; Ty Lawson is fast, inconsistent, and shouldn’t be let near a car; and Roy Williams wears goofy ties and has a tendency to make comments he wishes he could take back. Oh yeah, they also ball with the President Elect. The Demon Deacons are still kind of an unknown to most of America, but with their win at BYU (ending the Cougars NCAA-leading home winning streak at 53) may be our first glimpse at how good this team could be in the very near future. Al-Farouq Aminu may get the headlines nationally, but be sure to watch for Jeff Teague, James Johnson, and Chas McFarland who are all at least as important to Wake as Aminu is. A win here could be big for Wake in getting a high seed in the NCAA tournament. I’d like to take Wake here, but I think the BC game may have woken up the Tar Heels who may have been buying into the hype that was being thrown their way (definitely not from us).

10:30 PM
#7 UCLA at USC on FSN: The Bruins have quietly rebounded from a couple of close, early-season losses to roll off 8 straight wins (against admittedly weak competition). The Trojans have been inconsistent with some solid wins followed by some horrible losses (Oregon State). This will be one of our East Coast offices first good looks at the Pac-10, which only has two top 25 teams currently. There are a couple of intriguing aspects in this game. How has Darren Collison  adjusting to not having Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook? How is Demar DeRozan adjusting to college hoops and is he legit? Do teenage girls still love Lil’ Romeo? If any of these mysteries interest you or you want to see one of the better crosstown rivalries in recent years, we recommend you tune in at the end of a long weekend. If none of that interests you, tune in to see what Jordan Farmar was complaining about.

0.5 PPG


ATB: So… Harvard > BC > UNC, right?

January 8, 2009

afterbuzzerHow is This Humanly Possible? Harvard 82, Boston College 70. In one of the biggest transitive property sequences we’ve ever seen, Harvard, a school who had never in its illustrious basketball history defeated a ranked team, went to BC and knocked off the newly-ranked Eagles a mere 72 hrs after those same Eagles had gone into the nation’s #1 team, North Carolina, and knocked them off.  Sure, this kind of scratch-your-head stuff happens every year to a certain extent.  But rarely is it in back-to-back games, and even more rarely is the difference in talent so great in the larger of the two upsets (according to Sagarin, BC was #40 in America; Harvard #247).  Of course, we know that the transitive property doesn’t work in basketball, but it’s fun to talk about.  What’s also fun to talk about is the word “letdown,” and BC may have redefined the word by completely failing to show up for a crosstown rival that its second team should be able to handle (esp. love the cheerleader angle below on the video).  Credit is due to Tommy Amaker’s crew, who took advantage of an opportunity to catch an ACC team sleepwalking – the Crimson took the lead 19-17 with 7:32 remaining in the first half, and never lost it again, even extending into the 12-16 pt range deep into the second half.  Jeremy Lin was the story, dropping 27/8/6 stls, and perhaps signaling to the rest of the Ivy League that Amaker’s influx of talent will be heard from this season.  As for BC, Tyrese Rice, who was outstanding against Carolina, had a quiet 14-pt foul-out game.   In the long run, this game won’t hurt BC too terribly much if they reboot and have a good ACC slate (8-8 or better, for example).  But if they go 6-10 or even 7-9 in conference, this could end up being a bubble knockout game for the Eagles.

Curry Watch. Duke 79, Davidson 67. This game wasn’t as close as the floor, but we do have a few points to make about this one.  First of all, the announcing trio of Tirico/Jackson/Van Gundy was soooooooooooooooooooo much better than it would have been listening to Dickie V. chortle about Curry and K, Duke and Carolina, Roy and Dean, and various other interludes for two hours.  Secondly, COMPLETE AGREEMENT with Van Gundy and it took an NBA guy to point it out, but the charge call in the NCAA (perfected by Duke) where a player stands underneath the rim waiting on a driving player to run into him has got to end.  College basketball needs the NBA block/charge semi-circle, we’ve been saying it for years – it would put an end to that gimmicky nonsense and avoid penalizing players who make fantastic drives to the rim without running through someone (standing under the basket Battier-style does not qualify).  About the game, Stephen Curry was cold early, made some shots late, and turned the ball over a lot (but he still ended with 29/8/6 assts to go with his 7 tos).  Davidson isn’t as good as they were last year, but heck, they lost all these type of games in the pre-conference season in 2008 too, so we won’t write them off  for a March run just yet.  Other than that, we’ll have to respectfully disagree with Mark Jackson’s assessment of Curry’s game as a PG – we’re more in concert with SVG’s thoughts – great shooter who has questionable decisionmaking skills.  For Duke, Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer had twin 22-pt games.

Overtime Madness. There were two games tonight that went into OT and, in both cases, the home team outplayed the visitor for the majority of the contest, only to be shocked by furious comebacks which led to OT losses for Indiana and Tennessee.

  • Gonzaga 89, Tennessee 79 (OT). This game probably shouldn’t have gone into overtime, as Matt Bouldin’s final shot in regulation should have counted due to a missed goaltending call where a UT player’s hand went up through the net and into the rim as the ball flew over the goal.  Thanks, Jay Bilas.  Nevertheless, Tennessee’s porous defense caught up with them tonight and ended their 37-game homecourt winning streak, as they allowed Gonzaga to get off the schneid and pull out a key road victory thanks to 53% shooting and Bouldin’s 26/4/5 assts.  Austin Daye added 20/8, but more importantly for the Zags, they held UT to only 36% shooting, their worst home performance since late in the 06-07 season.  Does this mean that the Zags we saw a month ago – the ones who played defense – are back?  Obviously, it’s uncertain, but at least they appeared to be interested in the concept tonight.  Or maybe they just know how to play Tennessee.
  • Michigan 72, Indiana 66 (OT). We’ll give credit to Tom Crean’s kids – they’re playing extremely hard.  They just don’t have the kind of talent to hold good teams down when they wake up and realize they’re down 20 pts to an inferior squad, as Michigan did in the second half tonight.  We were sure this was going to be an L for the Wolverines when we saw the early score, but Manny Harris, Laval Lucas-Perry and DeShawn Sims (49 pts combined) didn’t allow that to happen.  UM improves to 2-1 in the Big Ten.

Edgar Sosa Watch and Other Interesting Things.

  • Louisville 71, S. Florida 57. Tonight’s Edgar Sosa Watch: 5-9 for 12 pts.  Verdict: not invited to transfer after this road win for the Cards.
  • Syracuse 85, Depaul 68. Andy Rautins hit five threes to continue his hot streak over the last few games (25-44).  Cuse’s main six players all scored between 12-17 pts.
  • Providence 87, Cincinnati 79. If PC is going to make a run at an at-large, it’s games like this on the road that they have to win.  The Friars are now 3-0, but they’ve played three of the four bottom-feeders in the league so far (St. John’s and Depaul in addition to Cincy).
  • Morgan St. 66, Maryland 65. Horrendous home loss to a MEAC team (albeit probably the best one in that conference).  Very rough night for the ACC.
  • Marquette 81, Rutgers 76. Rutgers is making it known they’ll not be a pushover in the RAC this year.  Wes Matthews was perfect from the field (10-10) for 23/6 in a game where MU had to hold on down the stretch despite having a 21-pt lead earlier in the second half.
  • Wisconsin 74, Northwestern 45. UW moved to 3-0 in the Big 10 in an easy home win over the Wildcats (now 0-3).
  • UNC 108, Charleston 70. Carolina rebounded from its first loss of the year with a huge second half against Charleston, putting all five starters into double figures (led by TH’s 24/7, of course).

Set Your Tivos: 01.07.09

January 7, 2009

Tonight’s a special night at the East Coast RTC headquarters, as I will intently be watching a game on ESPN based on a little column I wrote a few days ago. The results of this game (more specifically how one player does) will lead to one of two options:

(1) He will go off and the site will be bombarded by hateful comments by people questioning my manhood and my intelligence.

(2) He will pull a 7-for-25 or something similar and the site will be silent. It’s not really right, but that’s just the way these things work. I guess I can be like a superstar walking out of an opposing stadium enjoying the sweet sound of silence. [Note: This doesn’t mean I would enjoy seeing Curry struggle. It would just add some validity to my theory.]

Anyways, onto the games. . .

tivos

7 PM
Davidson at #2 Duke on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Even though Duke is the obvious favorite here and the Goliath to Davidson’s, uh, David, I think the Wildcats have more pressure on them going into this game. They have had 2 shots at the big boys (Oklahoma and Purdue) and came up short both times including a beat-down at the hands of the Boilermakers. Even with a win over West Virginia, the Wildcats non-conference resume is a little weak for a team that came into the season ranked 20th in the nation after their scintillating run last March. If they lose this one, they can forget even getting a 6 seed. This isn’t a death knell for the Wildcats season (see last year), but it would be disappointing for Bob McKillop’s crew after coming into the season with such high expectations. To get a win at Cameron, Stephen Curry will need to have a huge game (40+ points) and get some help from Andrew Lovedale, who will probably have his hands full with Kyle Singler. In addition, McKillop will have to hope that the Blue Devils have an off-night beyond the arc like they did in their only loss this year. As you know the Blue Devils have a much more balanced attack led by Singler with help from Jon Scheyer, Gerald Henderson, and Nolan Smith. One of the interesting things to watch for early in the game will be the mobility of Smith, who will be guarding Curry and is coming off a knee injury. If Smith isn’t up to the task, the task of guarding Curry will be left up to blogosphere whipping boy Greg Paulus. If that is the case, I will be taking back my earlier prediction for Curry for tomorrow night.

The Cameron Crazies will be out in full force
The Cameron Crazies will be out in full force

#21 Louisville at South Florida on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: The Cardinals will be riding high after their rollercoaster win over intrastate rival Kentucky on Sunday afternoon. They should be careful though going into the Sun Dome where the Bulls nearly beat then #11 Syracuse in a 59-54 game despite a horrendous night from Jesus Verdejo (3/17 FG including 0/10 from 3). Rick Pitino will be expecting a more consistent performance out of freshman sensation Samardo Samuels, who only had 4 points and 1 rebound in 11 minutes due to foul trouble. I’m sure Pitino will be praying for another solid performance from Edgar Sosa, who responded to Pitino’s interesting motivational techniques (reminiscent of my high school coach threatening to put all of us on JV before every game) with a season-high 18 points including a game-winning 3 with 2.8 seconds against Kentucky. Like usual, Louisville has the talent to run away with this game, but the question is whether they will continue to play down to the level of their competition.

7:30 PM
#15 Marquette at Rutgers on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: Honestly, this isn’t a particularly exciting game, but it should be fun to see if Rutgers finds the Golden Eagles below the level of their typical competition (last 3 games vs. last week’s #1 UNC, #2 UConn, and #3 Pittsburgh). The Golden Eagles are only considered the 15th best team in the country. You gotta love the Big East this year.

9 PM
College of Charleston at #3 UNC on Fox Sports South: See if the Tar Heels, currently in last place in the ACC, can dig its way out the cellar. Don’t say we didn’t warn you about the Tar Heels.

Gonzaga at #24 Tennessee on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: That’s not a typo. The Bulldogs, who were once ranked 4th in the country, are no longer ranked. I’m not sure what to make of Gonzaga. After being the underdog for so many years, they suddenly became a favorite, but have continued to disappoint and frustrate the nation each March after repeated failures to live up to their NCAA tournament seed. This year, they rose to their 2nd highest ranking ever (spent 2 weeks at #3 at the end of the 2004 regular season) before going into a freefall losing their last 3 and 4 of their last 5 games. To be fair, those 4 losses have been by a combined 18 points and included 2 road games and an overtime loss to then #2 UConn. Despite that, there’s no reason that a national title contender should go through a stretch like that. The Volunteers will be looking to bounce back from a tough loss at Kansas. The key to this game will be on the inside with Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism battling against Josh Heytvelt and Austin Daye.  If the Volunteers are able to control the paint, they will have a good shot at knocking off the Bulldogs, who will also need some help from their perimeter guys (Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray, and Jeremy Pargo).


Behind the Lines – Week 4

January 6, 2009

btl-header

 

Obsessed With Sports will be providing coverage to RTC throughout the season.

Tuesday, January 6

Connecticut(5) at West Virginia(22)

Behind the Line: WVU is on fire and have covered their last 3 games while Uconn has failed to cover their last 2.

Ohio St. at Michigan St(12)

Behind the Line: The Buckeyes have dropped their last 3 against the spread while the Spartans have done the exact opposite.

Wednesday, January 7

Davidson at Duke(2) 

Behind the Line: Similar to the first game, Davidson is not so hot while Duke is scorching. Davidson has dropped 4 straight against the spread and Duke has covered their last 3.

Gonzaga at Tennessee(25)

Behind the Line: Two teams that are not playing their best ball. The Zags have lost 3 straight and the Vols are coming off a loss at Kansas. Tennessee is undefeated at home while Gonzaga is just 1-2 on the road. Both of these teams score a lot of points. Combined, 6 out of their last 9 games have gone to the over.

Thursday, January 8

Wright St. at Butler(20)

Behind the Line: Wright State is 7-7 this season and are 1-5 on the road. However, they have covered their last 4 games against the spread albeit against lesser competition. Butler has covered 4 of their last 5 games. There is a possibility that the line could be friendly due to these occurrences.


Set Your Tivos: 01.06.09

January 6, 2009

With most conference schedules starting to get into full swing, I thought I would start doing Set Your Tivos daily with a weekend edition to cover the games on Saturday and Sunday.

7 PM
#5 UConn at #22 West Virginia on ESPNU: Just another night in the Big East for the Huskies, who responded to last week’s  loss to Georgetown with a 80-49 beatdown over an exhausted Rutgers team. Tonight, Jim Calhoun’s Huskies go to Morgantown, WV to face Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers. Joe Alexander is gone, but Alex Ruoff and Da’Sean Butler have stepped up to fill the void. The Mountaineers have been impressive this season with wins over Ohio State (on the road), Iowa, Ole Miss (on the road), and Cleveland State. However, their lack of a solid interior presence could mean a big game for Hasheem Thabeet IF (big if) the Huskies decide to use him. If A.J. Price and the Huskies utilize Thabeet, they should roll in this one.

Just give Hasheem the damn ball!
Just give Hasheem the damn ball!

Ohio State at #12 Michigan State on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: The Spartans are finally starting to show the form that earned them an early-season #5 ranking. Honestly, outside of this being a league game, I don’t really expect this one to be close just based on the momentum these two teams have (along with the continued absence of David Lighty). Of course, since it’s a league game, I’ll probably be completely wrong. In either case, this game will be worth watching to see what kind of shape the Buckeyes are in. I don’t think they will be able to beat the Spartans in East Lansing if Raymar Morgan and Kalin Lucas are playing well, but it should be entertaining to watch.

9 PM
#7 Texas at Arkansas on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: A week ago I wouldn’t have even thought about watching this game and I think the Longhorns may have been just as disinterested. However, with the Razorbacks victory over Oklahoma on New Year’s Eve this game has suddenly become more interesting. I’m not quite sure what to make of the Razorbacks who lost to Missouri State back in November, but haven’t lost since before Thanksgiving. The key to the game will the play of Michael Washington, the Razorback center who played national POY favorite Blake Griffin to a virtual standstill on New Year’s Eve. It will be interesting to see the match-up at the 5 as Rick Barnes will likely counter with Connor Atchley, who has the outside game to take Washington away from the post. I’ll also be intrigued to see what Arkansas does to neutralize A.J. Abrams after Willie Warren went for 35 points against the Razorback guards.

Alabama at #11 Clemson on Fox Sports South and ESPN Full Court: I’m interested in this game more to see if the Tigers are legit. It just seems like they always start the season off undefeated amassing a 15-0 record before falling apart and usually missing the NCAA tournament. However, this year they managed to win a few good out-of-conference games (Temple along with road wins at Illinois, Miami, and South Carolina). The Crimson Tide will need big games out of their backcourt of Alonzo Gee, Ronald Steele, and Senario Hillman if they want to pull off the upset. The Tigers will need to start winning games like this if they ever want to break into the ACC elite and compete with UNC, Duke, and Wake Forest for a league title.

#14 Purdue at Penn State on The Big Ten Network: The Boilermakers will be looking to rebound after opening Big Ten playing with an OT loss to Illinois. Prior to that, the Boilermakers had been playing very well with a big win over Davidson. They will have to do it against the Nittany Lions who also are coming off a loss (at Wisconsin). The game will likely come down to how each team’s top 3 players play. The Boilermakers will be relying on E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, and JaJuan Johnson while the Nittany Lions will count on Talor Battle, Jamelle Cornley, and Stanley Pringle (possibly the only college basketball player in the nation who would be advised to stay out of the library).

Banned from Penn State libraries
Banned from Penn State libraries

Is Stephen Curry Overrated?

January 4, 2009

Since his 40 point explosion in Davidson’s first round victory over Gonzaga last March, college basketball fans have been bombarded with the Stephen Curry lovefest that has been spearheaded by Dick Vitale and ESPN. The WWL and other hoops aficionados loves to point out that Curry was ignored by every major school including Virginia Tech, the alma mater of his father NBA All-Star Dell Curry. Like every other basketball fan we love the way Stephen plays and his sweet stroke from the perimeter that has been augmented by a surprising ability to get to the hoop and finish. Since last March, it has been hard to find anybody that would be critical of the baby-faced assassin from Davidson, but here at Rush the Court we like to let our minds not our hearts analyze the situation.

Like many NBA scouts, I have had my reservations about anointing Stephen the next great NBA player much to the chagrin of some Davidson fans. However, I continued to marvel (see my post minutes after Davidson knocked Gonzaga out of the NCAA tournament in the first round last year) at his ability to put up numbers despite the best efforts of the opposition (with the exception of the antics of Jimmy Patsos). After watching his performance against Purdue (5/26 FG), his third sub-par game this year against quality (BCS-level) competition, I started to wonder if all those BCS conference coaches and NBA scouts may have been on to something. So I started to crunch the numbers, which led to some very surprising results.

Read the rest of this entry »


Stat Nerds of the World, Unite.

December 29, 2008

If you know anything about us here at RTC, you know that we love numbers.  We love breaking down game stats and looking for secrets in the offensive and defensive efficiency ratings that will help us better understand why Team X is playing so poorly or why Team Y is much better than their ranking.  We also love statistical oddities – little factoids of generally meaningless but still interesting data that we can bring up at RTC office parties and cocktail functions so that we’ll seem edumacated and wicked smart about the ins and outs of college basketball.  Or at least so that we can impress Dickie V when we next run into him at a spring training Rays game.  Yeah, that.

stat-nerds

So here are a few of the statistical items that we find interesting as we approach conference season – perhaps you will also.  (all stats furnished by basketballstate.com)

  • These guys had better avoid foul trouble. UAB’s Robert Vaden, Texas’ AJ Abrams and Virginia Tech’s AD Vassallo each average over 36 minutes per game for their teams.
  • Get these men the ball! Among players scoring 15+ ppg, St. Joseph’s Ahmad Nivins (74.2%), Kentucky’s Patrick Patterson (71.5%), Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin (67.9%) and Michigan St.’s Raymar Morgan (65.3%) are burning up the nets.
  • Double-Double Trouble. Of the 19 players averaging double-figure rebounds, all of them also average double-figure points.  But only two of them are 20/10 guys – Blake Griffin (23/14) and Notre Dame’s Luke Harongody (23/12).  Patrick Patterson is just a whisker shy of 20/10 (19.6/9.5).
  • Betcha Didn’t Know That…
    • Stephen Curry leads the nation in scoring (30.0), but Tyler Hansbrough puts up the most points per 40 minutes (34.4)
    • North Dakota State’s Ben Woodside, he of the 60-pt explosion two weeks ago, is #2 in the nation in assists (7.6 per game).  Or that Davidson’s Mr. Curry is 12th nationally in dime-dropping.
    • Kentucky guard Jodie Meeks is averaging 24.2 ppg so far this season.  The last Wildcat to average that many points per game was Dan Issel in 1969-70 (33.9).
    • VMI’s brother tandem Travis and Chavis Holmes are 1-2 nationally in pilfering the ball (4.0 and 3.7 spg).
  • Tempo Free Stats.
    • UNC is the most efficient offensive team in the nation (1.19 points per possession), but did you know that Purdue is the most efficient defensive team around (0.79 ppp)?
    • The tops of the ACC and Big East have extremely efficient teams on both ends of the court – UNC, Wake Forest, Duke, UConn, Pittsburgh and Georgetown all have large differentials (approaching or above 0.3 ppp) resulting in an extra point every three or four possessions down the court.
    • The slowest paced “good” team is Wisconsin, with 61.4 possessions per game.  UNC, unsurprisingly, is averaging 79.3 possessions per contest.
    • Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and West Virginia own the boards, each team getting at or nearly 60% of the available caroms.  It’s difficult to find a “good” team that can’t rebound the ball, but Creighton is the best candidate for this award, only getting its Blue Jay hands on 48.2% of rebounds.
    • Notre Dame only turns the ball over one of every eight possessions (13%), but Kentucky gives it away nearly a quarter of the time (24%) and has still managed to go 10-3 thus far.  Incidentally, the Irish also rarely foul opponents (#1 in the nation with only 11.8 per game).  Tennessee, with all of its reaching and grabbing pressure defense, garners 21.3 fouls per game.
    • Georgetown, Connecticut, Xavier and Oklahoma live at the foul line, each getting a quarter or more of its points from the charity stripe.  Illinois, on the other hand, only gets about 14% of its points from the line.
    • The best offensively efficient performance by one team in a legit game this season so far was UNC  vs. Notre Dame, where the Heels averaged an astonishing 1.53 ppp in that demolition.

Got any others?  Feel free to pass them along in the comments!


A John Stevens Holiday Wish List

December 23, 2008

John Stevens is a featured columnist for RTC.  His columns appear on Tuesdays throughout the season.

I can’t believe how I soaked my parents when I was a kid.  Right after Thanksgiving they’d start asking me to make a Christmas list so they could just go ahead and start buying me everything on it and I’d have yet another memorable holiday.  My sisters did the same thing.  True, we were good kids; we racked up enough academic and athletic achievements during the rest of the year to keep them stocked in stories to bore the crap out of their friends and the rest of the extended family with, but looking back on it, we were really lucky.  Still are.

These days, when Christmas rolls around, my wants are not of games for my Atari 2600, or life-size Shogun Warriors, or the like.  Today, I only ask for one thing for the holidays, and that is Time.  I want to sit in the recliner at our home in the country with a drink in one hand and a remote control in the other, my brain awash in college basketball images, Christmastime tournaments and match-ups lighting up my television screen until I can hardly remember my own name.  There will be family time, present-opening time, time for playing with the nieces and nephews of the family.  All of that is fantastic and it can’t be beaten.  But this year I’m especially looking forward to having the time to just devour Mom’s cooking, forget what my next obligation is, stay warm from the marrow-cracking cold outside, and enjoy some college hoops as we close the book on non-conference play for this season.

Santa is Checking John's Wish List

Santa is Checking John's Holiday Wish List

But make no mistake.  I’m a giver, as well.  I don’t just want those things above for myself, I want them for everyone.  And as I got a headstart on things this past Saturday by watching some freaking amazing games, I couldn’t help but wonder – what would be my college basketball wish list for this year?  Hey, sounds like a column idea!  So, here goes.  Six things I want inside the world of college basketball for this season.  Why six?  Because I say so.  I even ranked them for you.  You’re welcome.

John Stevens’  Holiday Wish List

#6.  Davidson to find other options. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE watching Stephen Curry and his lightning-quick release go nuts for 42/8/10, and I don’t want to minimize the work by Andrew Lovedale (13.5 and 10.1), for whom I actually feel a little sorry.  Its not easy being Salieri, is it?  Those are solid numbers and yet almost nobody knows this guy’s name.  But after him there’s just not a lot going on.  I think this is something we all suspected but didn’t want to admit because we’ve been mesmerized by Curry’s game, and we wanted to think this Stephen could lead this team to heights even loftier than last season.  That is yet to be disproved, but the Purdue game this past Saturday was damning.  Davidson’s tournament chances hinge on other options emerging when Curry is smothered by excellent defense like he was this past weekend, or when he’s just plain having a tough shooting night.  ESPN’s Pat Forde had a great article about this topic yesterday, incidentally.  We’ve seen what Curry can do as a virtual one-man show.  Now I’d like to see other fellows step up and for the team to go even farther even if it means that Curry might take a hit on his scoring average.

(Will settle for:  more amazing feats by Curry; no matter how deep Davidson’s tournament run, Curry is that enjoyable to watch.)

#5.  A nice airplane companion for my Vegas trip in March. I haven’t taken that many flights in my life, but the ones I have taken have been pretty lengthy and there’s only been one case where I had an enjoyable neighbor in the seat next to me.  I was flying to California this past Summer to attend a friend’s wedding and the fellow to my right just happened to play Division I college hoops about 40 years ago.  He told me stories of games he played against Wooden’s UCLA and Rupp’s Kentucky; the secret, behind-the-scenes stuff was amazing, some of the best sports stories I’ve ever heard.  I sat there motionless and listened until he got tired and actually had to take a nap.  But that was my only pleasant experience so far, as far as who I’ve had next to me on a plane.

We’ve all been there, haven’t we?  You’re sitting there in your seat as the plane loads, watching who’s coming down the aisle, and every attractive girl who approaches you’re thinking, “Come on, come oooooon…” but then you end up getting some foul-breathed 400-pound pet store employee who didn’t have time for a shower that morning and wants to talk to you about how his life totally changed after he saw The Blair Witch Project.  I don’t care if you’re single, married, or whatever, if you’re a male and you’re flying alone on a long trip, it’s the same.  We all want the Padma Lakshmi or Robin Meade look-alike, or maybe the stray USC Song Girl, to slide into the neighboring empty seat, look at us with puppy-dog eyes and whisper to us about how she’s “the bad girl of the team” but, alas, doesn’t have a place to stay in your destination city.   Hasn’t happened yet.  Maybe someday.

Keep Dreaming, John...

Gals Like Her Don't Sit in Coach...

(Will settle for:  the plane to land in one piece, both coming and going.)

#4.  A Final Four for Gonzaga. I’m not affiliated with the place in any way – didn’t go to school there, never have even been to the state of Washington, though I’d love to visit – so here’s my thinking on this.  I’m hearing more and more alleged college hoop pundits using the terms “high mid-major” and “low mid-major” to denote a certain cadre of teams that…well, I probably don’t have to explain it.  A few years ago there were just mid-majors.  A few years before that there were just the big time programs and the rest of the world.  I kind of miss those days.  Now we have teams that actually feel insulted when you call them a low mid-major when they think they’re a high mid-major, and so forth.  That’s pure crap.  Gonzaga was the first team to really relish the “mid-major” moniker since I’ve been into this sport and they’ve certainly put in their time.  Mark Few has always come off as a perfectly nice guy and quite honestly his teams, without exception, play a brand of basketball that’s always been fun to watch for me, even though I can’t point to one particular thing that makes it so.  We’re long past the honeymoon phase with Gonzaga, meaning that it was one thing when they did well in the tournament while nobody was looking, but for over a decade now we’ve come to expect more from the Zags.  It’s important that they get to a Final Four when people actually expect something from them – like maybe this season.  I specifically admire Josh Heytvelt’s comeback and Austin Daye’s a pleasure to watch.  A Final Four would also move Coach Few more toward that elite level of coaches, which is due for a new member.

Another reason:  go back a few years to another Vegas trip.  Some of the boys and I are in the front row of a standing-only section of one of the sportsbooks watching the end of a game; the start of Gonzaga’s first game of that tournament was a couple of minutes away.  The Gonzaga supporters – and there were well over a hundred of them – gathered behind us and were definitely a polite crowd, meaning no pushing or jockeying to steal a spot in front of us, or anything.  And they certainly came prepared to support their team.  They were a fun lot, and definitely social.  Many of them started conversations with us and we shared a few beers and so on.  Pretty cool, eh?  Well, I noticed that from where I was standing, just behind and to the right of me was a pretty dark-haired girl in a big Gonzaga sweatshirt and an almost-empty beer in her hand.  I figured I’d maybe talk to her before the game started, so I turned to say hello, when, at that very millisecond, she takes a deep breath and, at a deafening volume, belts out:  “GOOOOOON-ZAG-UH BAAAAAAS-KET-BAAAAAALLLLL!!!!”  The crowd behind her echoed this offering.  I thought, “OK, she’s cool, probably knows the game, definitely loves her team.  Here we go…” and I turned around again.  What does she do?  She lets fly another, “GOOOOOOOOOON-ZAG-UH BAAAAAAS-KET-BAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!” at twice the original volume.  The crowd behind her really began frothing.  I was impressed on one hand but hoped she would be able to at least carry a conversation or scream another cheer.  I never really found out, because for the next two hours, at random times she would scream this same cheer, in the manner of the Detroit Pistons’ announcer Mason.  I never heard her say anything except that as she kept pounding those beers.  So, maybe if Gonzaga finally gets to a Final Four, this girl, wherever she is, will feel that her yelling has done its job and she can now preserve her voice, or learn another cheer.  In all seriousness, they were good fans, and they deserve a Final Four.

This Was Not Her

This Was Not Her

(Will settle for:  an iTunes gift card.)

#3.  Eric Devendorf to get this nonsense settled and rejoin his team. According to the ESPN.com article, Devendorf’s suspension for introducing his hand to a female student’s face earlier this year is that he has to complete 40 hours of community service before he can ask to be reinstated as a student by Syracuse University and resume his place on the basketball team.  The spring semester on the Syracuse campus starts January 12th and the Orange(men) have a game two days later at Georgetown.

Devendorf has said all the right things in the press since this incident, and he seems genuinely contrite.  He probably knows that to sock a female student in the jaw with the heel of your hand for any reason is the move of a black-belt douchebag and I’d speculate he understands the need for punishment.  Fine.  40 hours.  I say get it done as fast as you can, Eric.  Do a Monday-through-Friday, eight hours a day.  Better still, do four ten-hour days.  By getting it done quickly, you get it over with, and you send a message to your teammates that you really can’t wait to get back on that squad, if they’ll have you.  You’re showing them that you want to miss as little game and practice time as possible.  That ruling, in point of fact, came down on December 19th, which means that by the end of today you could been DONE with this if you’d have chosen the ten-hour-day option.  Whatever schedule you can set – the point is, get it done as fast as you can.  You’ll impress your teammates, you’ll fulfill your obligation, you’ll send a message to your coaches, and I bet you’ll return to the Carrier Dome to more cheers than anything.  Your team is good, but they’re better with you there.  Despite their curious history in the NCAA Tournament, they are a dangerous team this year and I wouldn’t want to be the guy responsible for Syracuse fans wondering how good they could have been.

(Will settle for:  Nothing.  This one’s not negotiable.)

#2.  An end to the objectification of Miss Erin Andrews. That’s right.  I’m going to be the champion for Miss Andrews’ cause.  I think it’s high time that we recognize the hard work this woman puts into actually being a journalist, interviewing coaches at halftime when they’re more annoyed than anything and don’t want to convey any real information to the viewers.  It’s thankless, and I for one want to say a big Thank You to Miss Andrews.  And on top of all that, she has to do it while most of the viewers are wondering how snug her shirt is or how high her heels are, probably not even hearing what she’s saying.  I can’t even fathom the catcalls she must endure from horny college kids while she’s just trying to do her job.  I even hear that some sports blogs actually use any possible reason to post pictures of her on their sites, hoping to generate cheap pageviews.  I am appalled!  Who, I ask you, WHO would do such a thing?!?  Anyway, I think we need to do a better job of showing her how much we love her reporting as well as her…*sigh*…looks.  And, I dunno, if Miss Andrews feels like talking about this subject with me, she can use the e-mail link for this site located at right, and perhaps we can discuss it over dinner.  Not that I said all that stuff above for that reason, or anything.

I Have No Objection to this Photo of Miss Andrews

I Have No Objectification to this Photo of Ms. Andrews

(Will settle for:  Not taking a beating.  You see what I’m doing there, right?  Remember that kid back in, like, the 8th or 9th grade who was friends with all the girls because he sucked up to them like crazy?  You know the guy, he always thought he could parlay that ill-gotten friendship into something else if he wanted (even though the girls knew it would never happen) once he got to high school, and he liked to rub your nose in it a little.  I ALWAYS wanted to administer a beating for the ages to that guy.  If you see what I’m doing with my above paragraph about Erin, you’ll exempt me from a similar throttling.)

(Will also settle for:  ESPN to make some airtime for another Andrews, namely Thea, who I always dug in a major way even though Cold Pizza was an abomination.)

And finally, the number one item on the John Stevens Holiday List for 2008 is:

#1.  A Duke fan to admit that…it’s getting to be a little much.
Well, this should be good.  It all started with those American Express commercials a couple of years ago where Coach K talked about how he doesn’t just prepare you for basketball, he also prepares you for life, etc.  Then I’m sitting watching the amazing United States victory over the Europeans in the 2008 Ryder Cup on TV earlier this summer and what do I see?  A smiling Krzyzewski on my TV screen doing a lead-in to the coverage about every hour; I mean, it’s a GOLF tournament.  And it happened in Louisville, which means that among college basketball coaches, Rick Pitino would have been a more appropriate choice.  It’s an event that Coach K’s mug should have been nowhere near.  In my opinion, the most mind-blowing example of the Coach K free pass is his weekly hour-long talk show on Sirius XM, called “Basketball and Beyond with Coach K,” now entering its fourth season.  It’s basically an hour of Coach K hanging out with special guests, talking about basketball, talking about life in general, talking about whatever he wants.

Many people have argued that these appearances by Krzyzewski constitute a recruiting advantage, and it’s a tough argument to refute.  He seems to be the only coach out there doing it, though it should be said that he’s probably the most desirable spokesman out there, as far as coaches go.  But honestly, in addition to everywhere else he shows up, the guy’s got an hour of satellite radio time every week where he kicks it with famous friends and espouses his opinions on just about everything – including subjects that might even come up during, oh, I don’t know…in-home and/or campus recruiting visits?

To be sure, I don’t know if these things provide much of a recruiting advantage; let’s be honest, even without Coach K’s extra appearances there’s a lot about Duke that sells itself.  We all know the place’s academic reputation, and the basketball program had reached elite status long before Krzyzewski started with the commercials/promos/radio shows/etc.  But the problem is that other coaches certainly don’t get to do these things.  Yes, Krzyzewski has created these opportunities through his achievements as a college basketball coach.  But let’s say Coach K retires tomorrow and Sirius XM decides to give a show to only one coach – say, Ben Howland, or Roy Williams, or Billy Gillispie, or Jamie Dixon.  It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the NCAA stepped in and nixed it, saying it provided an unfair advantage.  As chronicled by this very website, the NCAA chooses to apply its disciplinary bitch-slap in such strange and uneven ways at times – but THIS, a weekly hour-long pulpit for a coach – ANY coach – to freestyle about any subject he wants to millions of people – is allowed?  The NCAA claims to try to keep things fair, to keep the playing field even.  Is that what we’ve had for the past few years with Coach K preening himself as the official brand face and name of college basketball?

So that’s my number one wish for this holiday season.  One single Duke fan to admit that their coach, despite his successes, might just be getting away with something.  In the meantime, enjoy this clever YouTube spoof of Coach K’s AMEX ads.

(Will settle for:  a winning Powerball ticket.  I’m more likely to actually get that.)

Happy Holidays, everyone!


ATB: Weekend Review

December 22, 2008

afterbuzzer1

What a Saturday! We hope you had as much on Saturday as we did, sitting around in our sweats in front of a family member’s HD flatscreen while the wind pushed thermometers to nearly zero outside.  If there was ever a day for lazing around and watching nothing but college hoops, this was it.  And the games did not let us down.  From Minnesota to Gonzaga/Arizona St. to Xavier to Steph Curry, there were upsets, great finishes, shocking blowouts and a struggling all-american for good measure.

Game of the Year (to date). Connecticut 88, Gonzaga 83 (OT). For our money, the Connecticut-Gonzaga game in Seattle was the game of the year thus far.  Each team brought NBA-level talent and NCAA Tournament intensity to this one, and it took an extra period to finish it off.  We really felt as if we were watching a March game in December.  Both teams ran out to leads where they appeared the far superior team, and both teams made huge plays to get back into the game, capped off by a simply astounding three to send the game into OT by AJ Price (where he was floating left and had a man right in his face upon the release).  For large portions of this game, Gonzaga looked like a F4 team, with Austin Daye’s captivating talent (13/5) all over the court, Josh Heytvelt’s steady interior play (15/3) and Jeremy Pargo’s timely forays (16/4 assts) into the paint (not to mention Steven Gray’s 23/7/4 assts off the bench).   The Zag D held UConn to 43% shooting, while hitting half of its own shots, and yet, UConn showed a resolve and toughness that we haven’t seen out of a Calhoun team since Emeka Okafor left campus.  The Huskies really had no business pulling this game off, especially since big man Hasheem Thabeet spent the last fifth of the game on the bench in foul trouble, but team leader AJ Price (24/10 assts) kept finding penetration into the lane for easy looks and trips for his teammates to the foul line.  This was a take-notice game – we’ve been down on UConn until now because we still weren’t sure they had the chemistry and resolve to win six tough games in March.  Now we’ve taken notice.  UConn will go as far as Price takes them, and that could be all the way.  It wouldn’t surprise us at all to see a rematch of this game in Detroit in April.

Upset of the Weekend. Minnesota 70, Louisville 64. Ok, Louisville is officially the most disappointing team in America right now.  We sensed something was wrong with them the last couple of times we watched them play (and that’s not even including the WKU loss), but the Minnesota game proved to us that this is a team without a soul right now.  The Cards have enough pure talent to compete with any team in college basketball, but they don’t seem to want to give the effort that it takes to do so.  And the Edgar Sosa situation has every hallmark of another exceptional talent crawling into a hole and dying under Pitino’s tutelage (we’re channelling Rodrick Rhodes here) – it’s amazing just how ineffective he has become.  As for Minnesota, they’re now 11-0 and this was the signature win the Gophers needed to announce that Tubby Smith is once again building a competitive program.  The Gophers played hard, held Louisville to 38% shooting, and made all the right plays down the stretch to secure the win (when UL crept back within four pts).  Tubby has now won his last four games against his mentor, and suddenly the Big 10 is looking a lot stronger than it did a month ago.

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Behind the Lines – Week 3

December 20, 2008

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Obsessed With Sports will be providing coverage to RTC throughout the season.

Welcome to the Week Three edition of Behind the Lines. On a weekly basis, we will cover the betting lines that stand out from the week that was in college basketball. This week I am going to do something a bit different. I am going to preview the potentially best upcoming games this week including analysis based on recent previous games played.

It is a slow week except for tonight, which is definitely an exception. There are some great games on tap.

Saturday, December 20th

Michigan St(22) at Texas(5)

Behind the line:  This will be Michigan St.’s first big road test. Texas has shown they they will let opponents stick around in games; a dangerous thing to do with Michigan St.

Arizona at UNLV

Behind the line:  UNLV is going to be favored here (a very small favorite), making this a friendly betting line.

Davidson(20) at Purdue(18)

Behind the line: Davidson will be getting a little more than a handful of points on the road. They certainly have the potential to win the game outright. They have proven they can play on the road as they played @Oklahoma and covered.

Connecticut(2) vs Gonzaga(7)

Behind the line: Gonzaga is actually going to be favored. Personally, I think this UConn team is very good and as underrated as a #2 can be. UConn getting points, definitely a friendly line.

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Set Your Tivos: Super Saturday Edition

December 20, 2008

Super Saturday is a term usually reserved for the final Saturday of the US Open where the two men’s semifinals and the women’s final are played, but this Saturday of college basketball trumps any day at Flushing Meadows (unless we could somehow get a Kournikova-Ivanovic final). Normally I would cover all the interesting games on the docket, but today is so good that I’m only going to cover the ones featuring ranked teams matched up against each other.

No naps this Saturday afternoon

No naps this Saturday afternoon

The Undercard: On any other Saturday, these games would be the headliners, but today they are merely an appetizer to get you ready for the even bigger match-ups to follow.
#22 Michigan State at #5 Texas at 2 PM on CBS: Tom Izzo’s Spartans come into Saturday badly in need of a victory against a quality foe. Although Michigan State comes in with a respectable record of 7-2, they have been underwhelming and certainly nowhere near the level they were predicted to be coming into the season (AP #5 back on November 24th). On the other side, the Longhorns have been surprisingly strong with their only loss coming against Notre Dame (81-80) in what was the best game of the Maui Invitational. Texas has responded well to the setback with wins over 2 ranked teams in December (UCLA and Villanova). The last time Michigan State played a team of this caliber was in their much-anticipated match-up against UNC (clearly Texas isn’t quite at that level), they were blown off the court in a virtual home game. Tom Izzo will need a big game from Raymar Morgan and hope that his defense can contain A.J. Abrams and Damion James if he hopes to steal one in Austin.

#20 Davidson vs. #18 Purdue at 4 PM on CBS: Both teams are all but assured of NCAA tournament bids. However, neither team has a signature win yet. Davidson certainly has the marquee value with national POY contender Stephen Curry, but they lost their only game against a ranked team (82-78 at #14 Oklahoma on November 18th). While the Wildcats can hardly be faulted for losing a road game against Blake Griffin and the Sooners, it still leaves them without a win they would need to merit a potential 5 seed or better. If they are unable to win today in Indianapolis, their only other chance to beat a top 25 team will be on January 7th against Duke at Cameron (ESPN might be hyping that game a little bit in the time leading up to the BCS title game). The Boilermakers are in a similar situation albeit without a star anywhere close to the level of Curry. The Boilermakers lost their only games against ranked teams back-to-back (87-82 in OT against Oklahoma on November 28th and 76-60 at home against Duke on December 2nd) and after tomorrow they don’t have a game against a currently ranked team until February 3rd against Ohio State. This game will likely come down to how well the Boilermakers can contain Curry (31.9 PPG and 6.8 APG) and limit his sidekick on the inside Andrew Lovedale (13.9 PPG and 10.7 RPG). The Boilermakers will counter with a much more balanced attack (4 players averaging between 9.9 and 15.6 PPG).

National POY?

National POY?

#11 Syracuse at #21 Memphis at 6 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: The Orangemen (other than Jim Boeheim) responded well to their crushing loss at the buzzer on Monday night. However, they will be without Eric Devendorf for at least 2 games so Jonny Flynn will have to hope that Paul Harris and/or Arinze Onuaku can pick up the slack as John Calipari will almost certainly be focusing on Flynn on the perimeter. The Tigers could use a quality win here as they have lose both of the games they have played against quality opponents (Xavier and Georgetown). Tyreke Evans and Shawn Taggert will need to play well, but this is a game that the Tigers should win.

The Title Bouts: These games are as good as you will find any time this season (in-conference or out-of-conference) until we get to March.
#7 Xavier vs. #6 Duke at 2 PM on CBS: Although this game is a “neutral” site game and quite far away from North Carolina, East Rutherford, New Jersey has become a de facto home for Coach K and the Blue Devils over the past 20 years. Despite that edge, I don’t think Coach K will be starting his bench (including everybody’s favorite whipping boy Greg Paulus) like he did in the Blue Devils last game against UNC-Asheville. Sean Miller didn’t have quite the same luxury in Xavier’s last game as they had to fight hard to beat crosstown rival Cincinnati 76-66 a week ago. Both teams rely on a balanced scoring attack, but the outcome of the game will likely be decided by Duke’s ability to hit the 3. The Blue Devils don’t shoot a particularly high percentage from 3 (32% for the season), but they are such high-volume shooters (20.6 attempts per game compared to 15.3 attempts per game for the Musketeers) that it becomes a major factor in all of their games. Their only loss this year was their rematch against Michigan in Ann Arbor where they opened the game hitting 3 of their first 27 attempts for 3 point range before hitting 4 in a row late to close the gap. The key match-up in this game should be Kyle Singler versus Derrick Brown, which should be interesting to watch if Singler tries to pull Brown away from the basket with his outside shooting. This should be a close game, but look for Duke to win this one as they have had a tendency to pull out big games before conference play starts.

#2 UConn vs. #7 Gonzaga at 4 PM on CBS: This game could have very easily been a 2-4 match-up if Gonzaga hadn’t slipped up last week against Arizona in Tucson. One of the interesting subplots, which I’m sure that CBS will cover repeatedly, is that it was match-up that introduced the nation to Gonzaga basketball less than 10 years ago and propelled UConn to its first Final 4 trip. While I remember the game for its significance for Gonzaga’s program, I had completely forgotten that it gave UConn its first Final 4 trip ever (won the title that year in a nail-bitter over Trajan Langdon’s Blue Devils). This Gonzaga team is significantly different than the one you might see on ESPN Classic. They are no longer just the team that relies on exceptional skill and execution. Now they have the athletes to compete with anybody in the nation. However, UConn has been playing better than anyone in the nation not wearing baby blue so Gonzaga will have its hands full trying to keep up with the Huskies, who have a balanced scoring attack led by Jerome Dyson, Hasheem Thabeet, and Jeff Adrien. Dyson leads the Huskies in scoring at 15.4 PPG and provides Jim Calhoun with a versatile one-on-one scorer. Thabeet, his counterpart on the inside, has finally started to show some of the promise that has had NBA scouts salivating over him in the past as he has started to score on a consistent basis to compliment his always strong defensive presence. The one area that the Huskies need to improve upon if they want to compete for the national title (read: challenge UNC) is for A.J. Price to step up as an elite college PG. His 35% FG and 36% FT isn’t going to cut it in March and may even be a liability in Big East play, which may be more competitive than the NCAA tournament itself on a nightly basis. The Bulldogs have also been playing exceptionally well this year with the exception of their loss last week to Arizona last week. They also come in with a balanced attack, but they are led by PG Jeremy Pargo whose scoring is slightly down (12.1 PPG to 8.9 PPG) from the past 2 season as he has focused more on running the team (3.4 assist:turnover ratio compared to 1.8 last year). To beat the Huskies, Mark Few will need everybody–Pargo, Austin Daye, Josh Heytvelt, and Matt Bouldin–to be near the top of their games. In the end, the Huskies depth and superior interior defense will probably be too much for Gonzaga to overcome.

Tyler who?

Tyler who?


ATB: An A10 Kind of Weekend

December 14, 2008

A10 Weekend. The A10 used three televised games on Saturday to announce its presence to America, knocking off an SEC, Big East and Big 12 team in the process (two of which were effectively road games).  With the relative weakness of the Pac-10 and SEC this year, the A10 could make a run at a legitimate four NCAA bids this season.  Today’s results could go a long way in the Tourney Committee’s minds toward that end.   Great weekend for the Atlantic 10.

  • Temple 88, Tennessee 72. Every outlet in America is making the “Merry Christmas” joke, so we’ll refrain here, but suffice it to say that Temple’s Dionte Christmas stole Bruce Pearl’s cookies and blew up his sled with an explosive game where it seemed as if every shot he threw at the rim was flushing straight through.  More importantly, Temple exposed Tennessee’s defense for what it is – simply not good enough to sustain any kind of legitimate run in March.  The Owls shot a blistering 55%, led by Xmas’ 35 on seven threes, and it often appeared as if the Vol players had little interest in covering him.  The roof nearly came off the place when he hit three trifectas in a row during a personal 1:30 run to blow open the game.  Temple, who had not defeated a top 10 team since John Chaney was still on campus, celebrated with a spirited RTC, to which, we say – deserved.

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Report from Courtside of the Jimmy V Classic

December 10, 2008

Ray Floriani of College Chalktalk is the RTC correspondent for the NEC and the MAAC Conferences.  He attended the Jimmy V Classic in Manhattan last night. 

NEW YORK CITY –  A few notes from last night at the Jimmy V at the Garden. Stephen Curry is unselfish. Ok, he took 27 (44%) of his team’s 61 shots. He did hand out 10 assists and looked for his teammates as much as possible. Curry is a rare talent and when a basket is needed, Bob McKillop wants the ball in his hands. Down the stretch he thrilled the 14,000-plus crowd to one those vintage performances that will be discussed for some time. Curry hit four big shots in the final five minutes. One brought his Davidson team within one, two tied it and finally a big trey that gave the Wildcats the lead for good. Curry ended the night with a game high 27 points but was most gratified with his team’s 68-65 victory. At 9 of 27 from the floor he missed his share of shots. But he won over a new legion of fans and the admiration of media members covering his game live the first time.

Sipkin/NY Daily News

photo credit: Sipkin/NY Daily News

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