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)

Bracketology: Never Too Early Edition IV

January 11, 2009

Zach Hayes is RTC’s resident bracketologist.   He’ll be regularly out-scooping, out-thinking and out-shining Lunardi over the next three months.

Conference play is beginning to heat up (what a game between Wake Forest and North Carolina on Sunday night) and that means the bracket is starting to become a bit less muddled. This week saw 10 teams trade places in the bracket and a major shift amongst the top four seeds. I used RPI, SOS, record, conference record and wins vs. RPI top 1-50 while evaluating the true bubble teams by their individual resumes. Please leave any thoughts/gripes in the comments.

Quick notes:

  • By now you know the routine: I factor in conference tournaments for the automatic bids. Meaning that while Tennessee probably doesn’t deserve their 5-seed, I have them projected to win their conference tournament. That results in three extra wins prior to Selection Sunday and a seed boost. This used to apply for Oklahoma (1), California (3) and Michigan State (3), but now you can make the argument those are proper seeds regardless of the conference championship. Memphis (6), Gonzaga (7) and San Diego State (9) do receive the slight boost.
  • The top seeds are much more clear this week with the #1’s going to Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Duke and Oklahoma. North Carolina drops to 0-2 in the ACC and a 2 seed, joining undefeated Clemson and one-loss Connecticut and Syracuse. Not too much debate there. Projected Big 10 champion Michigan State garners a 3-seed, while the Cal Bears huge 3OT victory in Seattle mean they move ahead of UCLA as the projected Pac-10 champion. The other 3-seeds are Georgetown and those Bruins.
  • Arkansas had a golden opportunity to claim the projected SEC champion berth, but fell at home in a stunner to Mississippi State. Tennessee at 1-0 remains in that position with their squeaker over Georgia.
  • Dayton barely sneaks into the field as my Last Team In, carrying two wins over the RPI Top 50 (most notably Marquette), while Kentucky’s best win is a squeaker over 8-seed West Virginia. Oklahoma State’s 21 SOS, 2 wins over the RPI Top 50, 12-3 record and conference victory over Texas A&M on Saturday carry them barely into the bracket. Maryland (bad loss to Morgan State but have those quality wins over both Michigan schools) and Florida State (riding that win over Cal, also beat Florida) also sneak in.
  • Illinois State’s bad loss at Indiana State, along with a 251 SOS, mean they’re removed from the field. Boston College had a terrible week after their monumental upset in Chapel Hill, losing to Harvard and Miami at home, dropping the Eagles out. Missouri losing at Nebraska was a crucial defeat.

Last Four In: Dayton, Oklahoma State, Maryland, Florida State
Last Four Out: Kentucky, Illinois State, Boston College, Missouri
Next Four Out: Creighton, Stanford, Arizona, South Carolina

bracketology-011109

Multiple bids per conference: Big East (9), Atlantic Coast (7), Big 10 (7), Big 12 (6), Pacific 10 (4), SEC (3), Mountain West (3), West Coast (2), Atlantic 10 (2).

Automatic bids: Binghamton, Xavier, Wake Forest, East Tennessee State, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, Weber State, VMI, Michigan State, Long Beach State, George Mason, Memphis, Butler, Cornell, Siena, Miami (OH), Morgan State, Northern Iowa, San Diego State, Robert Morris, Morehead State, California, Navy, Tennessee, Davidson, Stephen F. Austin, Alabama State, North Dakota State, Western Kentucky, Gonzaga, Utah State.

New additions: Binghamton, East Tennessee State, Long Beach State, Miami (OH), Morgan State, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma State, Robert Morris, San Diego State, Weber State.

Dropped out: Belmont, Boston College, Illinois State, Missouri, LSU, Oakland, Portland State, Stanford, Quinnipiac, Vermont.

Read the rest of this entry »


Checking in on the… WCC

January 9, 2009

Michael Chin is the RTC correspondent for the WCC. 

WCC Conference Action opens this week. After what can only be characterized as a mediocre non conference season, the eight west coast teams will begin play on Friday. Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are heads and heels above the rest of the competition, the Gaels sporting an impressive 13-1 record and GU coming out 9-4 after playing the most brutal non conference schedule in the country. Other than the two headliners only Portland has exceeded expectations this season, posting a winning record going into action this weekend.

Looking towards March, I would say that if Saint Mary’s or Gonzaga do not win the conference tournament, don’t expect both to get a bid to the Dance. Although both teams may be deserving, the bottom half of the conference is simply terrible. Loyola Marymount hasn’t even won a game yet. With that said, here are some things to watch for over the conference season:

(1) Which Gonzaga team comes out to play?

When the Bulldogs are playing confident, as they did against Tennessee last night, they can play with anyone in the country. Between Stephen Gray, Austin Daye, Matt Bouldin, Josh Heytvelt, and Micah Downs, they have as many scorers and perimeter threats as anyone in the country. Additionally, this team has shown they have some heart, playing team defense without a force in the middle. However, as Mark Few has said himself, the Zags are thin down low. If their confidence takes a shot, they could be in for a few upsets and a surefire loss to the Gaels. However, if they hit their stride, and continue to stroke it, as they are capable of doing, watch out.

Read the rest of this entry »


Week 6 Blogpoll

January 8, 2009

Here we go (through Mon. night’s games)…

week-6-blogpoll-010809-v2

Read the rest of this entry »


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).


Vegas Odds: Season Edition Vol. 2

January 6, 2009

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

The college basketball world is still dumping the cooler on Boston College after the Eagles’ improbable victory over North Carolina on Sunday night.  So, things have changed, right?  It looks like the Tar Heels have come back to the pack, yes?  The season is a true competition again.  Anyone can win.  It’s a level playing field. 
 
Sure it is.
 
Charlotte Observer

You'd Think Losing to BC Would Tighten the Vegas Odds (photo credit: AP/Gerry Broome)

But wait…that win by B.C. meant a lot; it got the Eagles their first Top 25 ranking in about two years.  It means that even if UNC wins out, they still can’t be considered for membership into the Greatest Teams Of All Time pantheon.  They started their ACC campaign with a big fat ‘L.’  It showed every college basketball team in the nation that the Heels are indeed mortal, that the almost holy image they’d accrued was not valid.  Everyone everywhere is talking about how much this Boston College victory was worth. 
 
You know what it was worth in Las Vegas45 bucks. 
 
In terms of winning the national championship, that is.  If you’re “daring” enough to put your money on North Carolina now that they’ve suffered a loss, compared with those who put their money down before Sunday, you’d win exactly $45 more. 
I’m not taking anything away from Boston College’s achievement.  The Dean Dome — especially this year — has been considered a virtual venus fly-trap for any team presumptuous enough to actually show up for a game against UNC; Boston College knew that and still went in and got the job done.  It’s true, they really did knock this imposing edition of the Tar Heels right out of the running for admission among the greatest college basketball teams of all time (a fact I’m sure UNC fans are tired of hearing about by now), a spectre that had indeed been following them around since Hansbrough, et al, told the NBA draft to stick it last year.  B.C. deserves major props, make no mistake.
 
But I’m looking at this through Vegas’ eyes.  And from their viewpoint, this still isn’t even a race. 
 
If we observe the latest odds (refer to the first edition of the odds watch if you forgot how the money line works; in short, the +(x) means you get back $(x + $100) on a $100 bet), we’ll see that even after this home loss, UNC is still at +220, a change of only $45 from the previous +175.  The next contender?  Connecticut at +1000, and Big East brother Pittsburgh at +1200.  But look at the margins between UNC and the closest competitor before AND after the loss.  Before the B.C. game, they were $625 ahead of the next team on the list.  Now?  After this supposedly devastating loss?  $780 ahead of UConn.  In other words, compared to before the Boston College game, they’re even farther ahead of the closest team(s) in their rearview mirror. 
vegas-odds-vol-2 
I began thinking about how this could possibly be the case, but it didn’t take much reflection to figure it out.  As noted above, UNC has been given a steady diet of “one-of-the-best-of-all-time” talk for about six months now.  I don’t know how the coaching staff has handled this — maybe they embraced it and wanted their players to be cocky, or maybe they tried to keep their players more focused on immediate (i.e. game-to-game) goals, who knows.  Either way, the players have still been aware of it, no question.  But now it’s gone.  They’re not playing for immortality.  They’re not playing for as big a piece of history as before, but playing for an ACC title, a Final Four, and a national championship is still playing for history.  The 2008-09 Tar Heels are parallel to a pitcher who threw four perfect innings with a big lead but just had their perfect game/no-hitter broken up with two out in the fifth.  You threw a good first half, but now just worry about getting the win.  If you can keep from doing something stupid, you’ll probably get it.  If I were a UNC basketball player, I’d be pissed that my team won’t go undefeated and that I probably won’t be on one of those “all-time” teams.  But now I can concentrate on the real task at hand, and that’s winning a national title.  All that other stuff’s gone.  And before the comments pile up accusing me of being too pro-Heel, I’m not.  I don’t come from there and I have nothing to do with that program.  But I don’t see any other way to look at it.  Sometimes a loss like this can bring some clarity.  And I think the folks making the odds in Vegas agree.
 
I’ve got to point out some other values on the new list, though.  I still think winning $1200 on a $100 bet is a pretty good deal for the current #1 team in the nation, Pittsburgh.  Hell, Vegas will still basically triple your money if you bet on the Tar Heels and they win it.  I’m pretty damn surprised that Duke (+1600) hasn’t pulled ahead of Tennessee, Gonzaga, and the freaking FIELD (+1400, +1500, and +1500, respectively).  Wake Forest is still extremely attractive at +3300 (previously +5000), and about the farthest I’d go down on this list is Syracuse (+4000, previously +3000), but as I’ve said, I have a Syracuse affliction this year.  I can’t put my finger on it, but every time I watch them, I get the feeling that they’re about three seconds away from reeling off about 20 straight wins.  I’ll understand if others don’t get that, because I can’t explain it myself.  I also wouldn’t be surprised if they got bounced in the first round.  I’m still trying to figure that team out.
 
But the lesson here is at the top, my friends.  Boston College (+6000)  is to be applauded for going into such a vaunted place and defeating a team that was being groomed for legend.  They deserve their shiny new ranking.  And sure, they reminded us that anything can certainly happen in a single-elimination scenario.  But through the eyes of the Vegas oddsmakers, there isn’t a whole lot of reason to get excited.  This is still like Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont.  They’re not just better than the competition — even despite a loss, they’re widening the lead.

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.


ATB: New Years Weekend Wrap

January 5, 2009

afterbuzzer

Since the ATB writers have been in a self-induced coma as a result of last week’s NYE festivities (hey, it’s hard living in your mom’s basement), rather than rehashing a bunch of stale games from Wed-Sun, we thought it’d make more sense to just hit some highlights and trends of things we’re watching as the haze continues to wear off from our vision and the strange burning sensations subside.

Some News & Notes.

  • Is Tubby Smith on the short list of coaches looking at Arizona?  Maybe the Tubbster realized that, yes, those icicles on your c#&k really do stay there for six months of the year, and as such, Tucson is looking pretty tasty.
  • Former Hoosier and UAB carpetbagger Armon Bassett ended up transferring to Ohio U.  He will be eligible after next fall’s quarter.
  • Kyle Whelliston is awesome.  Seriously.  The Mid-Majority founder and resident subversive in the college hoops world discovered a clear trend showing that the BCS teams are playing each other more often during the out-of-conference slate, and the mid-majors less.  He thinks this is good for the mids, but we’re not so sure.  The mids really need those opportunities to shine that beating S. Florida and Oregon St. UCLA and Duke provide.
  • The Dagger had a great year-in-review wrapup article over at Yahoo Sports, as well as a look at what college hoops might look like if the BCS was running things over here.

The Big East is insane this year. In just the last three weeks, we’ve seen UConn look like the most likely hurdle for North Carolina through its clutch win in Seattle vs. Gonzaga.  Then we jumped on the Georgetown bandwagon after the Hoyas proceeded to go up to Storrs and thump those Huskies behind a balanced offensive attack and its standard sticky defense.  Only for our mis/pre-conceptions to be challenged again when Pittsburgh chose to use this weekend’s matchup in DC at Georgetown to manhandle (manhandle?  try superman-handle…  the Panthers had more o-rebs – 18 – than the Hoyas had total – 17) the same team that looked so fantastic against UConn five days prior.  We really don’t know what to make of this league with these performances.  Given the way things have gone so far, Pitt should now be in position to get its bell rung by UConn in Western Pa.  We just don’t know.  One thing we think we can say without too much hedging is that UConn, Georgetown, Pitt, and possibly Notre Dame, Syracuse and Louisville (if those three ever get it completely going), are the best top six to a conference we’ve ever seen.  It’s likely that all six of those teams would win the SEC and compete with UCLA for the Pac-10 crown.  In 1995, the ACC had a really strong top four, but nothing like this group.  As for Georgetown,  we noted after the UConn game that their lack of strong bench production could end up biting them in the arse down the stretch, and it was absolutely exhibited here (2 pts).  This will ultimately be the Hoyas’ downfall, as their 29-game homecourt winning streak was snapped when Pitt went on a 17-4 run to blow open a 40-40 tie game.  As much as we love Greg Monroe, he was schooled by the savvier Dejuan Blair, who dropped 20/17 on the bigger player.

Monday update:  Notre Dame 73, Georgetown 67. Notre Dame defeated Georgetown at home tonight, keeping their 44-game homecourt (and 19-game conference) winning streak alive.  This occurred a mere two days after the Irish laid a leprechaun egg against St. John’s in NYC.  Just like that, Georgetown is now 1-2 in the conference, when one week ago tonight they looked like the team to beat.  Wow.

Is the SEC surging? It’s probably too little, too late, for the SEC to save its sinking sunk RPI in time to matter much come Selection Sunday, but the last few days of games showed that the league may have some fight left in it, following up on Arkansas’ upset of Oklahoma and pulling off a few key wins in games that its teams would have lost in November or early December.  Consider the following scores:

  • South Carolina 85, Baylor 84. SC is one of the definite surprise teams of this season, proving once again that Dave Odom has been the luckiest man alive to have bilked multiple schools of millions of dollars by passing himself off as a legitimate head coach.  Getting a win over a ranked team in a true road game is something the SEC hadn’t done all year.  Until Friday night.  Shooting 54% and putting all five starters in double-figures helps.
  • Florida 68, NC State 66. We probably shouldn’t be giving too much love to a team that allowed its marginal ACC opponent to shoot 59% on its home floor, but hey, an intersectional win is a win!  Nick Calathes saved the day with 24 of his 34, including the go-ahead jumper with 11 seconds left, coming in the second half.
  • Alabama 88, Georgia Tech 77. Bama will be as good as Ronald Steele is and he was excellent on this night (23/10), echoing memories of his healthy first two years in Tuscaloosa.  Ga Tech appears to once again be going nowhere fast.
  • Mississippi St. 82, Houston 65. MSU simply took control of this game, holding an 8-2 Houston team to 28% shooting in the process.
  • Vanderbilt 78, Massachusetts 48. Wow, a complete obliteration of UMass in Amherst by a team that had really shown next-to-nothing so far this year.  Derek Kellogg has lost that team.
  • Louisville 74, Kentucky 71. Yeah, it’s an L for the SEC, but Kentucky has been playing better ball lately and took Louisville to the brink before Pitino whipping boy Edgar Sosa dropped a 25-foot three to win the game with 2.6 seconds remaining.  There may not be a better inside/outside duo than UK’s Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson (50/18 in this game).

Most Impressive Win of the Weekend. Wake Forest 94, BYU 87. It was televised to all of six people in America on The Mountain network, but Wake going into the viper’s pit known as the Marriott Center in Provo where the Cougars had won their last 53 games against all comers was very impressive.  This was especially so given that Wake was teetering in the mid-second half before their assassin Jeff Teague (30/4/4) and muscle man James Johnson (22/15) took over the game, as the tired BYU players starting coming up short on their shots.  What’s the difference between this Wake team and some others (most notably, the Chris Paul teams) in the recent past?  This Deacon squad plays defense.  Whether it’s by design or simply the absurd athleticism that three potential lottery picks in the starting lineup (Teague/Johnson/Aminu) provide, their length and size bothers teams, and as a result, the Deacs are currently the fifth most efficient defensive team in America.   The UNC-Wake game next Sunday in Winston-Salem looms large to see just how good this Deacon team can be.

What Has Happened to the Zags? Utah 66, Gonzaga 65. It’s almost as if that loss to UConn two weeks ago took all the wind out of the sails of the Zags.  Since that game, they’ve lost at home to Portland St. and now away at Utah in a game they had multiple chances to win.  Next they’re at Tennessee on Wednesday before WCC play starts.  Meanwhile, conference foe St. Mary’s is cruising along at 14-1, although against admittedly lesser competition.  As for the Zags, there is top ten talent on this team, and they need to stop feeling sorry for themselves because they lost a heartbreaking game.  Jeremy Pargo in particular needs to get his team’s attention and back on the right track, and Austin Daye needs to improve his shot selection (a 6’11 guy shouldn’t be shooting 44% from the field); otherwise, America’s favorite “underdog” from the Pacific Northwest will once again disappoint in March.

USC is the Most Confounding Team in America. USC 83, Oregon 62 & Oregon St. 62, USC 58 (OT).  USC once again has several future NBA Draft picks on its roster, but as has been a trend in recent years for the Trojans, they are just as likely to shock you with an efficient evisceration of an opponent as they are to simply not show up for the engagement at all.  Case in point was the Oregon two-fer last weekend.  On Friday night, the Trojans went into Oregon’s Macarthur Court (one of the tougher venues in the Pac-10, even in a year when Oregon is clearly down) and completely humiliated the Ducks with a +21-pt second half (probably its best half of the year).  Then, riding that wave of success, USC visited Oregon St. on Sunday – remember, the Beavers went 0-18 in the Pac-10 last season – and managed to hand OSU its first conference victory in 683 days.   If anyone can explain this team, let us know.

Some Other Scores That Caught Our Eye.

  • UNLV 56, Louisville 55. Of course, this was prior to the victory over their nemesis on Sunday, but the Louisville bugaboo of poor shooting (29.6%), weak guard play and a seeming lack of focus allowed UNLV (w/o Wink Adams) to come east and steal a victory.  After this game, Edgar Sosa reportedly was asked to transfer by Coach Pitino – he responded with his best game in two years against Kentucky (18 pts).
  • Marquette 79, Villanova 72. Someone send us an email when you can figure out just how good either of these teams actually are.  Both are two-loss guard-oriented teams that have similar RPI profiles (#29 and #30), capable of a major upset at any time, but not quite strong enough to reach the top tier of the Big East.
  • Arizona St. 90, Stanford 60. Has a BCS team ever defeated another BCS team by 45 points at home, only to lose by 30 points in the next week to another BCS team at home?  That’s a 75-pt difference for you mathemagicians out there.  Stanford followed up this blasting with another home win against Arizona on Sunday, so maybe the Cardinal just had a bad game against Herb Sendek’s team.
  • Xavier 84, Virginia 70. XU really needed to win this road game against an ACC team (even a likely bottom-dweller) to convince folks that their rough two game stretch against Duke and Butler last month is behind them.
  • Illinois St. 86, Creighton 64. ISU stamped itself as the team to beat in the MVC with this big home win on Saturday.  Now 14-0, the Redbirds used a huge second half to blow the game open led by Osiris Eldridge’s 20/9.
  • Michigan 74, Illinois 64. This was a big win for John Beilein’s UM squad, because the Illini have been playing extremely well of late.  Amazingly, after only two games, only Wisconsin and Michigan St. are unbeaten (2-0) in the Big Ten race.
  • Duke 69, Virginia Tech 44. A 13-point second half will not get it done in Cameron.  Although Duke is #2 now, we still don’t believe in them in the long term.  Only five points came off of their bench in this game.
  • California 81, Arizona St. 71. If this keeps up, Mike Montgomery will have to be in the conversation for NCOY.  Two days after demolishing Stanford, Arizona St. got outhustled and outplayed in the second half (Cal shot 68% behind Jerome Randle’s 26/10 assts).  This was two nights after putting away Arizona, 69-55.  Monty has this program competing way ahead of schedule.

On Tap Tuesday. check our now-daily Set Your Tivos feature for the games to watch tomorrow.


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 »


Week 5 Blogpoll

January 1, 2009

Here’s this week’s blogpoll.  Keep in mind that the votes were tallied including games through Monday night only…

blogpoll-123108

Read the rest of this entry »


Set Your Tivos: New Year’s Eve Spectacular

December 30, 2008

I’ll be honest with you. This doesn’t even come close to Super Saturday from a couple weekends ago, but it’s certainly better than watching all the specials about how your retirement account fell apart this year or some mediocre college football teams play in a meaningless bowl games that nobody has ever heard of. It certainly should be enough to distract Big Ten fans away from their teams getting blown out in the bowl games. In any event it will get the rest of you ready for Dick Clark at midnight. . .

Noon ET
#15 Michigan State at #21 Minnesota on the Big Ten Network: Both teams are riding high after impressive victories on Super Saturday. The Spartans (9-2) have rebounded from a slow start including a blowout loss to UNC (doesn’t seem that bad any more. . .ok losing by 35 in a virtual home game is really bad) to reel off 5 straight wins including a win against Texas on the 20th. Meanwhile, Minnesota (12-0) has been playing consistently good basketball–quality wins over Virginia and an overrated Louisville team–all year despite coming into the season with modest expectations from the media. While the Spartans are more of a known quantity with a number of marquee players, the Gophers are more of an unknown as their soft early season schedule (only Louisville was a RPI top 100) is the reason they are 12-0 yet only ranked #21 in the country. The key to this game will likely be Spartan sophomore PG Kalin Lucas who comes into the game boasting a better than 6.5:1 assist to turnover ratio. If he continues to play at that level, Tubby Smith will have a tough time matching Tom Izzo and the Spartans.

2 PM ET
#3 Pittsburgh at Rutgers on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: The Panthers are heavy favorites in this game, but we’ll be more interested in how the Scarlet Knights are performing in the middle of the toughest 3 game stretch in college basketball history (#1 UNC then #3 Pitt then current #2 UConn in the same week). Jamie Dixon should have his guys ready for this game after UConn’s loss to Georgetown a couple night earlier, but you never know with college kids particularly ones who probably went home for the holidays and spent time around people who praised them even more than what they normally hear at school. This is definitely an “upset alert” game, but we think the UConn loss should be enough to keep Levance Fields and the Panthers on their toes.

– Wisconsin at #24 Michigan on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: At first glance this would appear to be a mismatch with the Badgers being unranked and the Wolverines receiving a lot of attention from the media this year, but this game should be very close. Most of you know about the Wolverines (10-2) with losses to Duke (avenged) and Maryland, but the Badgers (9-3) come in with a pretty strong resume too–a blowout loss against UConn along with 2 close losses to Marquette and Texas (by a combined 8 points). Despite their strong starts, both teams still have work to do if they want to guarantee themselves a ticket to the NCAA tournament. As usual the Badgers come in without a true superstar, but have a very balanced attack with 5 players averaging between 7.8 and 12.6 PPG. The Wolverines rely on their stars–Manny Harris (19.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and 5.1 APG) and DeShawn Sims (17.2 PPG and 9.2 RPG). I figure the Wolverine fans (and Manny Harris) should be enough to put their team over the top in the Big Ten opener.

4 PM ET
– Iowa at #23 Ohio State on the Big Ten Network: Unfortunately we don’t think we will be seeing Mr. Trillion (Mark Titus) make an on-court appearance because this also figures to be a close game. The Hawkeyes (10-3) haven’t been world-beaters, but they should put up a pretty good fight if Anthony Tucker can rebound from his recent suspension and play up to his early-season form. The Buckeyes looked absolutely awful in their last game a 76-48 loss to West Virginia, which dropped them 10 spots in the polls. If the Buckeyes expect to rebound and contend for a Big Ten title, which they have the potential to do, they will need freshman B.J. Mullens to start playing like the big-time recruit he was out of high school. At the very least, Thad Matta needs Mullens to start playing like the 7-footer that he reportedly is. Seriously, 4.0 RPG in 17.7 minutes per game against mediocre competition isn’t going to cut it for someone who has been hyped as a potential lottery pick. If Mullens can raise his game, he and Evan Turner should be enough to make them contenders for the Big Ten title.

6 PM ET
– UNLV at #18 Louisville on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: I would use an “upset alert” on this one, but with the way Rick Pitino’s boys have been playing this year they haven’t played well enough for me to consider another loss an upset. Louisville has the talent to blow out UNLV, but to date they haven’t shown the ability to translate that talent into performance this season. UNLV certainly hasn’t been playing great this year, but their pressing defense has started to pay dividends recently with a big win over Arizona. Normally a team as talented as Louisville shouldn’t have trouble with a trapping defense of the level of UNLV’s (saw it on Christmas Eve on a replay of the Southern Utah game on Mountain TV–don’t ask), but it might just be enough pressure to rattle a team that appears to be as mentally weak as Louisville. My prediction: Let’s just say I have a strong suspicion that Rick will be giving another long speech after this one.

8 PM ET
#17 Gonzaga at Utah on CBS College Sports: As much as I would like to make this a game about 2 teams (sorry Utah), this game is really all about Gonzaga. The Bulldogs, who were ranked 4th in the nation a couple weeks ago, have lost 3 of 4. We’re willing to let the loss to UConn go (we called it the “Game of the Year (to date)” at the time, but neither team has done much lately to help with that claim), but losses to Arizona and Portland State have basically knocked Gonzaga out of contention for a #1 seed this year. However, Mark Few still has a chance at a #2 seed and spot in the West Region if Jeremy Pargo, Matt Bouldin, and company can get back in gear.

10 PM ET

-#1 UNC at Nevada on ESPN2. This is a true road test for the Heels, but it looked better on paper a month ago than it probably will be tonight.  The Wolfpack, with Luke Babbit, Armon Johnson and Brandon Fields, appeared to be ready to compete for another WAC championship and an NCAA bid coming into the season, but they have been nothing short of a disappointment so far, losing to pretty much every good team they’ve played.  Still, there is talent here, and if UNC is looking ahead to hanging out in the seedy casinos afterwards, Nevada could use their homecourt advantage to make a game of this one.  It’s worth keeping an eye on as you lift your glass to toast the new year in the east.


Bracketology- Never Too Early Edition II

December 28, 2008

Zach Hayes is RTC’s resident bracketologist.   He’ll be regularly out-scooping, out-thinking and out-shining Lunardi over the next three months.

Rather than wallow in my own pity after my Patriots were knocked out of the playoffs, it’s my duty here at RTC to provide our readers with another Monday morning bracketology. While the week was somewhat quiet due to the holiday, there were some significant upsets (Portland State!) and big wins (Texas winning in Madison) to shake up the bracket from last week’s edition. Once again, I took a still-developing RPI with a grain of salt and factored in non-conference SOS, but mostly I’m just digging through each team’s schedule to find quality wins/bad losses and comparing them to the other teams in the field for seeding.

As always, I mixed in a few upsets in the bracket for fun.

Some quick notes about the bracket:

  • You might be thinking that Tennessee, Michigan State and UCLA are overseeded. While that may be true, I had to factor in each of those teams winning their respective conference tournaments before Selection Sunday, meaning they’d garner three significant wins and take the conference title.
  • The four 1-seeds remained the same from last week: North Carolina, Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Oklahoma (I added the individual regions to the bracket and seeded these four teams closest to home).
  • Texas received the final 2 seed with their road win over Wisconsin, slightly edging out Notre Dame.
  • Baylor edged Syracuse for the final 4 seed. Baylor has a nice win over Arizona State and hung with Wake Forest while Syracuse’s three big wins- Florida, Kansas, Memphis– are all overrated.
  • Biggest jump goes to Butler (10 to 7) while the biggest drop goes to Xavier (3 to 6). Butler won at Xavier on Monday.
  • Kansas also took a three seed drop from 8 to 11 after their second half collapse at Arizona. Much like Illinois over Missouri, that was a very important game for a Kansas team looking for a signature win.
  • Maryland continues to be boosted by their two wins over Michigan and Michigan State
  • Portland State moves from a 15 seed to 14 seed with their shocking win over Gonzaga, with the Zags dropping to the last 3 seed on the table

rtc-bracketology-122808

Conference Winners: Vermont, Xavier, North Carolina, Belmont, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Portland State, VMI, Michigan State, Cal State Fullerton, VCU, Memphis, Butler, Cornell, Siena, Miami (OH), Hampton, Creighton, BYU, Quinnipiac, Austin Peay, UCLA, Navy, Tennessee, Davidson, Lamar, Alabama State, North Dakota State, Western Kentucky, Gonzaga, Utah State

Last Four In: California, Boston College, Kansas, Dayton

Last Four Out: Kentucky, Miami (FL), Cincinnati, Louisville

Departures: Murray State, Stetson

Arrivals: Austin Peay, Belmont

Bids per conference: Big East (8), ACC (7), Big 10 (7), Big 12 (6), Pac 10 (5), SEC (3), MVC (2), WCC (2), Atlantic 10 (2), MWC (2).

Not much change from last week in terms of the teams in the field. Next Sunday it could shake up a bit with all of these key bubble games:

Key Bubble Games for 12/29-1/5:

  • Cincinnati at Memphis, 12/29- This would be a stellar win for Cincinnati, who are currently in the last four out.
  • Seton Hall at Syracuse, 12/30- The Hall probably need wins over Syracuse and West Virginia to climb back into the picture.
  • George Mason at Dayton, 12/30- Big game for Dayton in the bubble picture. If Mason should win this game, I may replace Vermont with the Patriots.
  • Oklahoma at Arkansas, 12/30- Arkansas has a shiny record and zero good wins. This would qualify.
  • Northwestern at Penn State, 12/31- Reaching here a bit, but you never know this early.
  • UNLV at Louisville, 12/31- Louisville needs this game at home for a win over an NCAA team.
  • USC at Oregon, 1/2- If USC wants to start creeping back, winning at Oregon is a good start.
  • South Carolina at Baylor, 1/2- See Arkansas for South Carolina.
  • Arizona at California, 1/2- Huge bubble game for both teams.
  • Missouri at Georgia, 1/3- The Tigers cannot afford to slip up here.
  • Tennessee at Kansas, 1/3- Believe it or not, KU is on the bubble. A win over 2-seed Tennessee would go a long way towards securing a bid down the road.
  • NC State at Florida, 1/3- See Kansas for Florida. They’re lacking quality wins.
  • Charlotte at Maryland, 1/3- If Maryland slips up here, they could be out of the field.
  • West Virginia at Seton Hall, 1/3- Seton Hall needs this one at home.
  • Washington at Washington State, 1/3- Washington State dropped from consideration for this bracket. This is the first step in working their way back.
  • Creighton at Illinois State, 1/3- HUGE game in the Missouri Valley.
  • Cincinnati at Marquette, 1/4- Cincinnati with another chance for a big win here.
  • Kentucky at Louisville, 1/4- Biggest bubble game on the slate this week.
  • Virginia Tech at Duke, 1/4- Virginia Tech can creep back into consideration if they can spring a huge upset at Cameron.
  • Arizona State at California, 1/4- California is barely in. A win over Arizona State gives them more comfort.
  • Arizona at Stanford, 1/4Another big bubble game for Arizona.

Week 4 Blogpoll

December 26, 2008

Here we go with Week 4’s Blogpoll…

2008-09-week-4-blogpoll

Read the rest of this entry »


ATB: Lumps of Coal for Xavier and Gonzaga

December 24, 2008

afterbuzzer1Bad Santas. Portland St. 77, Gonzaga 70. Santa Claus made an early visit to the environs of Cincinnati, OH, and Spokane, WA, tonight, but instead of leaving toys and treats for the tots of Xavier and Gonzaga Universities, respectively, he left a couple of lumps of coal and another undisclosed brownish substance in their stockings.  AP #7 Gonzaga and AP # 14 Xavier, both coming off of devastating Saturday losses (in different ways), were unable to shake off their hangovers from losses to UConn and Duke and instead dropped home games tonight that sent shocks throughout mid-major America.   The more surprising upset of the two took place out west, where Gonzaga was thoroughly outplayed by the scrappier, guttier Portland St. Vikings.  PSU was led by 5’6 Jeremiah Dominguez, who hit seven threes for a sick line of 25/6/5 assts.  Yes, a guy shorter than you outrebounded all but Gonzaga’s 6’11 Austin Daye (9 boards) and 6’10 Josh Heytvelt (8) in this game.  Portland St., who has losses to Hampton and Cal Poly on its resume, never wavered in the face of the superior athleticism and size of Gonzaga.  GU, should have come out ready to eat glass in this one, but instead they allowed their heartbreaking loss to UConn over the weekend to mentally affect their play tonight.  Would that have happened to UNC?  Pitt?  Duke?  UCLA?  Gonzaga needs to get tougher mentally.  Butler 74, Xavier 65. Wasn’t Butler supposed to be rebuilding this year?  Amazingly, eight of Brad Stevens’ top nine Bulldogs are freshmen and sophomores, whereas XU starts two juniors and one senior.  So how is it that Butler was able to come into the Cintas Center and earn a victory in a location where Xavier had won its last fifteen games?  Standard Butler-issue hardnosed defense and poise.  Butler was able to keep Xavier under control from three (7-24) while also winning the battle of ball control (-7 turnovers) in a tough game that Xavier will regret losing come March.  Matt Howard (19/14) and Gordon Hayward (19/10) both provided double-doubles, but the key stat of the game may have been Xavier’s 12-22 from the line.  The 198th best FT-shooting team in America didn’t help their cause tonight, several times failing to convert both FT opportunities down the stretch.  If Gonzaga and Xavier want to be taken seriously as “high mids” vying for the Final Four, they cannot afford to lose home games like these.

Read the rest of this entry »