Set Your Tivos: 01.17.09

January 16, 2009

Set Your Tivos

Game of the Day #1

#12 Georgetown at #2 Duke on CBS at 1:30 PM

John Thompson III might want to think about asking the AD at Georgetown for a new schedule maker. I can understand wanting to get your team ready for the tournament, but this is ridiculous. Coming off a brutal start to their Big East schedule (Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Notre Dame, and Syracuse), the Hoyas get a respite by heading out of conference with a leisurely trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium where the Blue Devils have a 67-game home non-conference winning streak. Normally a trip to Cameron would be a major focus of any team’s season, but with the Hoyas’ recent schedule it will be interesting to see if they have anything left in the tank.

This has the potential to be an entertaining game with great matchups all over the floor. The most interesting matchup will be Greg Monroe against Kyle Singler. While Monroe has more potential and will be a higher NBA Draft pick, Singler is quite talented too and plays at a high level more consistently. I’m not sure how Duke will open up because I don’t think Brian Zoubek has a chance against Monroe, but with Monroe’s tendency to coast it might not be such a big issue for stretches of the game. The matchup will be made more interesting by the fact that Duke was the front-runner for Monroe (the #1 high school recruit at times last year) for most of the recruiting season before committing to Georgetown. If Monroe had joined Singler in the middle, Coach K could have had a legitimate title contender.

If Coach K decides to put Zoubek on Monroe, Singler will end up playing against DaJuan Summers who has really stepped up his game this year (15.1 PPG on 53.8% FG and 44.4% 3FG). Either way, it should be an interesting match-up on the inside. Singler probably has the most complete game of any of the 4 bigs in the starting lineup, but Zoubek is still the weakest link of the Duke starting lineup despite his tremendous improvement since he has been at Duke.  Singler’s ability to shoot from outside brings up another intriguing aspect of this game about whether Monroe can come out and defend Singler if necessary. The Hoyas might be best served to put Summers on Singler to keep Monroe out of foul trouble because they will need Monroe to play 30+ minutes if they hope to pull off the upset in Cameron. In the end, it might be the battle on the inside and who controls the boards that will determine outcome of the game despite the talented guards on both sides.

The backcourts also provide some interesting match-ups: Nolan Smith vs. Chris Wright, Jon Scheyer vs. Jessie Sapp, and Gerald Henderson vs. Austin Freeman. All of these are intriguing match-ups with solid players who are capable of taking over a game at any time. Keep an eye on Henderson in this one since he’s the one world-class athlete on the Duke team and he has stepped it up recently including taking over the 2nd half of the game against FSU last Saturday.

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ATB: Orange Crushed

January 14, 2009

afterbuzzer

Some mid-week news and notes

  • One of the nation’s top prospects, 6’9 Derrick Favors, decided on his hometown school Georgia Tech today.  He’ll join a long line of 1-and-dones at Ga Tech under Paul Hewitt.  Speaking of recruits, Gary Parrish spoke with Sonny Vaccaro about the Brandon Jennings Experiment, and it appears more players are interested in testing the waters in Europe next season.  What’s left unsaid in this article is how BJ’s year in Europe (where he’s not playing all that well) will impact his draft status.
  • Kansas guard Mario Little will play out the remainder of the season rather than apply for a medical hardship due to his stress fracture (leg) and hand injuries.
  • The MVC and Mountain West will start an ACC/Big 10-style Challenge next season.   Great idea.  Kyle Whelliston should be happy about this.
  • Vegas Watch breaks down his Futures Watch with eight teams in Part 1 and another seven in Part 2.
  • Seth Davis breaks down the non-conference strength of schedule RPIs to see who is in good shape and who is in trouble come Selection Sunday.

Tonight’s Big East Blockbuster (there’s seemingly one every night)Georgetown 88, Syracuse 74. Looks like nvr1983 may have been onto something earlier today in his SYT piece previewing this game when he ripped Syracuse’s schedule thus far.  The bottom line about this game is this.  When Georgetown shoots the ball from deep as well as they were today (12-21 from three), the Hoyas are nearly impossible to beat due to their system.  The discipline they show on the offensive end limits their turnovers and their players are drilled to always move the ball to find the open man.  The reason Georgetown isn’t the top national title contender, though, is because they don’t usually shoot it that well.  They’re currently ranked #205 in 3fg% at 33%, which is below the national average of 34%.  Tonight was a bit of an anomaly, but Syracuse looked significantly off its game tonight – the Orange shot the ball ok (48%) and outrebounded the Hoyas by seven (who doesn’t?), but their defense seemed a couple steps slow on their rotations and losing Andy Rautins to injury early in the game seemed to remove most of the wind from their sails (word is that Rautins will be ok).  The thing about this conference that Syracuse must remember is that any one game is simply that – one game.  Georgetown just finished a five-game stretch where they played four Top 10 teams and came out of it 3-2 – they’ll take that in spades.  Cuse, on the other hand, played four bottom-dwellers (starting 4-0), and is about to play Notre Dame, Pitt and Louisville in succession – they’ll be lucky to get a split in this four-game stretch.  Everyone in the Big East is going to lose games.  The strongest teams in March will have learned from these wars and made the necessary adjustments – that’s what Syracuse needs to take away from tonight’s loss.  Oh one final note – that Dajuan Summers and-one was unreal.

Peter Lockley/Washington Times)

(Photo Credit: Peter Lockley/Washington Times)

Upset of the Night. Colorado St. 71, UNLV 69. Ouch.  CSU came into this game 5-11 overall.  UNLV had better be careful, as they’ve now lost two in row in the Mountain West to teams they shouldn’t be losing to (TCU was the other).  The Rebs had built a solid non-conference resume with wins over Arizona and Louisville, but all of that good will has disappeared with these last two losses.

Other Games Inducing General Malaise.

  • Michigan St. 78, Penn St. 73. PSU used a furious second-half comeback to shave 16 pts off of a 17-pt lead and give MSU a huge scare, but the Spartans held on for their tenth in a row.  Penn St. is becoming a place nobody in the Big Ten wants to play.
  • Duke 70, Georgia Tech 56. Duke only hit 39% from the field but was able to completely shut down Tech’s scorers, holding Gani Lawal, Lewis Clinch and Alade Aminu well below their averages.  Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson had 19 each.
  • Pittsburgh 75, South Florida 62. The nation’s #1 team started slowly, but they pulled away in the second half – perhaps they were looking ahead to their battle with Louisville on Saturday night.  DeJuan Blair singlehandedly outrebounded USF on the offensive end (9-8).
  • Davidson 83, Elon 68. Stephen Curry dropped 6 threes en route to a 39-pt night.  He must have seen that Jodie Meeks added 2 pts/game to his average in one night and needed to secure his national lead in scoring.
  • Florida 68, Auburn 65. We caught a little of this one, and as usual, UF failed to impress.
  • LSU 85, South Carolina 68.  LSU is now 13-0 at home, 0-3 on the road.  Tasmin Mitchell blew up for 30/14 tonight.
  • Mississippi 74, Arkansas 65. Speaking of which, Arkansas has beaten Oklahoma and Texas at home, but is 1-2 on the road.
  • Creighton 73, S. Illinois 72 (OT). P’Allen Stinnett dropped 29 pts in the late comeback win for Creighton at home, which SIU apparently was trying to give away (and they did).
  • Illinois 66, Michigan 51. The Illini held Michigan to 32% shooting, including an ugly 3-14 night from DeShawn Sims.
  • Wake Forest 83, Boston College 73. Wake improves to 15-0 behind Jeff Teague’s 29 pts, setting up a huge matchup of unbeatens at Clemson on Saturday.  Check RTC’s liveblog of this game here.
  • Miami (FL) 62, Maryland 60. Another gutpunch loss for the Terps, who led 52-35 with 12+ minutes to go in the game.  Miami, behind five late threes from Jack McClinton and James Dews, roared back to take their first lead with 24 seconds remaining.
  • Texas A&M 84, Baylor 73. A&M is quietly putting together an NCAA resume, and by watching the Aggies tonight, they have sufficient talent to get there this year and do some damage.  All five starters for Texas A&M reached double figures, and they showed an array of ways to score.  Baylor has to improve on the road in the Big 12 to ever make the leap to serious contender (4 wins in the last 33 trips).

Checking in on the… Big East

January 14, 2009

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

Give me an honest answer. What do you think is a more impressive accomplishment? Winning the Big East regular season title, winning the Big East Tournament, or reaching the Final Four?

Me? I’m going with the Big East regular season title. Every single time you step on the court in this league, it is a dogfight. It’s ridiculous what these teams go through. Take a look at the next six days for Syracuse: they head to DC on Wednesday to take on Georgetown, return back to Syracuse to face Notre Dame on Saturday, then travel to Pittsburgh to face the Panthers for Big Monday. Three games against top 15 teams in the span of six days culminating in a date with the #1 team in the country. And that isn’t an uncommon occurrence this year. Every team does it at least once (Running the Gauntlet, we’ve gone over this kiddies). The only conference that can match a run like that is the ACC, and that would have to mean one of Wake Forest, Clemson, Duke, or UNC plays the all of the other three. Tennessee playing Kentucky, Florida, and Arkansas in the span of a week just isn’t quite the same thing.

What I love about this year’s version of the Big East is the unpredictability. I could legitimately see four different teams winning the regular season title and three others that, if they get hot, could reel off six or seven straight wins and end up on top. Before league play started, it was UConn. Then they lost to Georgetown on opening night, and the Hoyas became the team to beat. Then Pitt rolled through DC to become the new and current favorite. Who is next? Pitt plays Louisville and Syracuse this week. If one of those two knocks off the Panthers, are they the favorite of the week?

The more I think about it, winning the Big East tourney title may be a tougher feat than reaching a Final Four as well. For the first time, all 16 teams will be headed to Madison Square Garden to participate in the conference tournament, which just so happens to be the number of teams that play in each regional in the NCAA’s.

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Behind the Lines – Week 5

January 14, 2009

btl-header

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

Wednesday, January 13th

Temple at Pennsylvania

Behind The Line:  Temple has covered their last 3 games, all coming against lesser competition. On the other side, Penn has failed to cover 4 straight times.

Baylor (21) at Texas A&M

Behind The Line:  The line is going to be very small on this one. Baylor has not covered their last two cakewalks and are just 1-1 on the road. A&M is 10-0 at home and has covered 2 of their last 3. The time they did not cover was in a loss @ Oklahoma St

Thursday, January 14th

Xavier (16) at Rhode Island

Behind The Line:  Xavier has covered 3 games in a row while Rhody has failed to do so in their last 2 attempts. Xavier fares well on the road. Xavier has won @ Cincinatti, @ Virginia and against Memphis on a “neutral” site.

North Carolina(6) at Virginia

Behind The Line:  UNC is just 2-4 in their last 6 games against the spread. However, UVA is not much better, in their last 6 they are 3-3.

Saturday, January 16th

Wake Forest (3) at Clemson (9)

Behind The Line:  Although these two teams are undefeated, based on the spread their last few games have much different results. Wake has covered their last 3 while Clemson is 0-2-1 in their last 3 games.

Notre Dame (13) at Syracuse (8 )

Behind The Line:  Notre Dame is only 2-2 on the road this season. They have a loss @ St. Johns and a loss in OT earlier this week @ Loiusville. ‘Cuse has been able to cover in 4 of their last 5 games.

Georgetown (12) at Duke (2)

Behind The Line:  The Hoyas have failed to cover their last 3 games while Duke has covered 3 of the last 5 games they have played.


Set Your Tivos: 01.14.09

January 14, 2009

Set Your Tivos

Game of the Night
#8 Syracuse at #12 Georgetown, 7:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: It’s hard to believe that these two powerhouses are only the 3rd and 4th highest ranked teams in their own conference. [Calm down ACC folks. I realize that you have 4 teams ranked ahead of Georgetown, but the ACC doesn’t even come close to the Big East in terms of depth. Look for the next ACC team in the top 25. There are none.] Looking at these teams, I still have a hard time believing that the Orangemen can compete with Pittsburgh, UConn, or Georgetown if all of those teams are playing up to their potential. However, Jim Boeheim has his team playing solid basketball and is one miracle 60-footer away from being undefeated (or at least being in OT to stay undefeated). Syracuse has been able to do this despite the distraction created by the suspension of Eric Devendorf for assaulting a female student as noted extensively here at RTC. Boehiem has been able to do this thanks to solid play from Jonny Flynn (seen below getting away with the most blatant charge that wasn’t called that you will ever see) and Devendorf (when not interacting with the co-eds) on the perimeter and Paul Harris and Arinze Onuaku on the inside. The embarrassingly weak early schedule (SOS: 56th in the nation) has certainly helped the Orangemen have a gaudy record.

Tonight the Orangemen will face their first true test against the Hoyas on the road. Unlike Syracuse, Georgetown has already faced a difficult schedule (SOS: #2 in the nation behind only 6-10 Oregon) including 3 brutal games in the Big East (road games at Connecticut and Notre Dame and at home against Pittsburgh). While the Hoyas lack the depth inside (or thugs according to JT2), they will have the most talented player on the court playing for them on the inside in Greg Monroe who has shown glimpses of brilliance this year. Having seen him in person at the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving Break, I can definitely see why he has NBA scouts drooling, but at times he appears too passive at times to dominate games. While neither Harris nor Onuaku can match Monroe’s talent, it will be interesting to see if he can match their intensity the entire game. The other key match-up will be how DaJuan Summers, Chris Wright, and Austin Freeman do against Flynn and Devendorf on the perimeter although I’m not sure how John Thompson III will utilize Summers if Boeheim opts for his patented 2-3 zone. I’m not sure what to make of his experiments with man-to-man, but I would venture that he will go with the more familiar now that he is finally playing some solid teams. I’m guessing that Georgetown has too much talent, the home court, and experience from playing actually competition to lose this game. Syracuse should be able to keep it close until the final 5 minutes when the Hoyas should pull away.

Others to Watch
#2 Duke at Georgia Tech, 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: This has trap game written all over it. Duke just came off a win at FSU, which has shocked Duke several times this year, and the Blue Devils have a nationally televised showcase at Cameron against the aforementioned Hoyas on Saturday. Georgia Tech is mediocre enough (9-6) that the Blue Devils may overlook them, but just talented enough that they could shock Duke particularly since the game will be played at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The key thing to watch here will be how the Yellow Jacket bigs–Gani Lawal (16.8 PPG and 10.0 RPG) and Alade Aminu (13.5 PPG and 9.4 RPG)–do since interior play will continue to be Duke’s Achilles’ heel (except when they go 3 for their first 27 from 3-point range). If Lawal and Aminu can dominate inside against Kyle Singler and Brian Zoubek, Paul Hewett just may be able to pull out the win.

#3 Wake Forest at Boston College, 9 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: RTC will be at this game (look for the male equivalent of Erin Andrews typing away on his keyboard) to bring you the latest scoop on Wake Forest, the most intriguing team in college basketball. Even after the Demon Deacons win at BYU to end the Cougars nation-leading 53 game home winning streak, there remained a healthy skepticism of Dino Gaudio‘s young squad. However, after they held off everyone’s national title favorite UNC people have really started to come around on this team (I don’t think their rise of 1-2 spots in the polls reflects the magnitude of the change in perception). On the other hand, Boston College may be the most confusing team in the nation. After pulling off one of the bigger upsets of the season (and ending the media’s speculation of an undefeated season for UNC), the Eagles followed it up with a loss at home against Harvard and then to Miami. While the loss to Miami (preseason #17) is excusable, the loss to the Crimson isn’t. Wake will try avoid a letdown similar to the one BC had by relying on Jeff Teague, James Johnson, and Al-Farouq Aminu. Teague will likely be guarded very closely after his explosion against UNC. Wake also hopes to get a big contribution out of Chas McFarland, who was last seen outsprinting Ty Lawson down the court for a crucial lay-up on Saturday. If the Eagles are going to rebound for their back-to-back defeats, they will need a huge game out Tyrese Rice along with solid contributions out of Joe Trapani and Corey Raji. Much like the Duke-Georgia Tech game, this is one to watch to see if the favorite is looking ahead to their next game, which is also a monster match-up for Wake (against undefeated Clemson).

#21 Baylor at Texas A&M, 9:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: A match-up of two lightly regarded teams with impressive records (13-2 and 14-2, respectively). These two teams are my pick to compete with Kansas for the #3 spot in the Big 12 this year. Baylor appears to have recovered from the Dave Bliss fiasco and comes into the game with a top 25 ranking. They have done this with their entire starting 5 averaging double figures, but the unquestioned leader of this team is Curtis Jerrells who will need to have a big game tonight to get a win on the road. Looking through their results so far, I’m having a hard time finding any good wins. A win at College Station would mean a big jump for the Bears in the eyes of the voters. I think a lot of people forget just how good Texas A&M was last year. They were one blown call against UCLA away from potentially forcing OT in the Sweet 16. The Aggies will rely on a balanced attack with Josh Carter, Donald Sloan, Bryan Davis, and Chinemelu Elonu to try and defend their home court.

#24 Michigan at Illinois, 8:30 PM on The Big Ten Network: It looks like a year after his program looked like it was going implode after the Eric Gordon recruiting disaster, Bruce Weber has his team headed in the right direction. Tonight he will try to avenge one of the Fighting Illini’s 2 losses (the other was by 2-points to undefeated Clemson). This should be a close game as the Wolverines won by 10 at Ann Arbor a little over a week ago. Outside of the big guys from each team (Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims for Michigan and Mike Davis and Demetri McCamey for Illinois), my player to watch tonight is Alex Legion, who has shown signs of becoming a big-time scorer since his mid-season addition to Illinois after his transfer from Kentucky.


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)

Week 6 Blogpoll

January 8, 2009

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

week-6-blogpoll-010809-v2

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Checking in on the… Big East

January 7, 2009

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

We are just a week into Big East play, and it is already obvious how much fun this conference is going to be. UConn was supposed to be the best team in the country outside of UNC, but the Huskies lost their Big East opener to Georgetown. At home. And loss isn’t quite the right word. Embarrassed is better. Once everyone was firmly entrenched on the Hoyas jock, they went out and lost back-to-back games to Pitt and Notre Dame. Pitt is the new #1 team in the country, but the Irish were coming off a loss to … St. John’s?

No one is going to make it through this league unscathed. I’d be surprised if anyone finished the season with less than five Ls in league play. If you are one of the nine ranked teams (yes, nine Big East teams are currently ranked), then there are three things you will need to do if your plan on reaching the NCAA tourney:

1) Win your home games. With so many quality teams in the league, defending your home court will guarantee you at least a .500 record in the league. Regardless of your opponent, the top nine teams will almost universally be the favorite when playing at home which leads me to my second point.

2) Beat the teams you are supposed to beat. The top nine (and maybe ten if you include Cincy) are going to beat up on each other all season. I doubt the committee is going to want more than a quarter (8 of 31) of the at-large bids to go to one conference. So if all nine (or ten) want in, they need to take care of business against the South Floridas and DePauls and Rutgers.

3) Pray! Like I said, I doubt that the NCAA wants to have one conference send so many teams to the tourney. If nine Big East teams are going to make it, they will need to catch some breaks during the season. The top four in the ACC need to run through the league (UNC didn’t help on Sunday losing to BC – did anyone else notice that win sent BC from unranked to #17?). The top three in the Big XII need to roll. Likewise for the Pac Ten, Big Ten, and SEC (well, only Tennessee in the SEC). Teams like Davidson, Gonzaga/St. Mary’s, Butler, Xavier, and Memphis need to win their conference tournaments. Essentially, they need to hope that there are as few teams on the bubble as possible.

When it comes down to it, every Big East team is going to have an opportunity to knock off numerous top ten and top twenty teams during the conference play. If any of them finish league play below .500 and without a marquee win in conference, then frankly, they probably are not good enough to deserve a bid.

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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.

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.


Bracketology- Never Too Early Edition III

January 4, 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.

Some notes before you check out the bracket:

  • You’ll notice I have Oklahoma, a 1-loss team from the Big 12, as a #1 seed over undefeated Wake Forest from the much more strong ACC. The reasoning for this is simple: 1) I take into account what will happen in the future in terms of conference champions, and I have the Sooners projected to win the Big 12 regular season and conference tournament, giving them a huge boost before Selection Sunday and 2) it’s simply unrealistic to have three #1 seeds from the same conference. Although Wake Forest is undefeated and Duke/UNC have 1 loss each, their SOS sits at a dismal #224 with their best wins vs. Baylor and @ BYU, while Duke and North Carolina have more quality wins and better computer numbers. If I’m ranking the top four teams in the nation, Wake is there. But a team finishing in third in the ACC (where I have them projected, could change) simply cannot receive a #1 seed. Sorry Deacon fans.
  • Once again, both Michigan State (#2), Tennessee (#3) and Memphis (#5) are slightly over-seeded for the same reason as Oklahoma. I have those teams winning their respective conference titles.
  • Hard to believe, but Mike Montgomery’s California Bears have earned the right to a #4 seed with their wins @ UNLV, @ Utah and home this week against Arizona and Arizona State. I spent like 15 minutes trying to find the last 4 seed.
  • Notre Dame took the hardest shot, slipping to a #7 seed with their bad loss at St. John’s. That Texas win looks excellent, but they need to take care of at home to avoid a 1-2 Big East start.Georgetown
  • Boston College‘s stunning upset of North Carolina launched them to a #9 seed from the Last Team In.
  • On my bracket, Syracuse and Louisville could meet in the second round. The committee would obviously not let that happen, but I’m leaving it to avoid switching teams to seeds they don’t deserve.
  • George Mason took over the Colonial bid from Virginia Commonwealth while Saint Mary’s (13-1) earned the automatic bid from the West Coast Conference (Gonzaga is still in the field). With Illinois State’s thrashing of Creighton, they claim the Missouri Valley auto bid and jump a few seeds, while Creighton barely misses the field. UNLV now has the Mountain West bid with BYU still making the field. Stephen F. Austin, Oakland, Pacific and Morehead State are also new additions. Arkansas jumps into the bracket with their outstanding record and huge home win over Oklahoma.
  • In the end, four spots remained for 13 teams. Edgar Sosa’s buzzer beater gave Louisville the very last spot, edging out Miami (lacked quality wins), Creighton, Oklahoma State (best win was Rhode Island) and, speaking of which, Rhode Island. Also in consideration were South Carolina (beat Baylor this week but still has a 304 SOS), Washington (lacked quality wins), Utah (bad losses) and Arizona (what happened?). USC almost sneaked into consideration before losing to Oregon State. Yikes.

Last Four In: Louisville, LSU, Missouri, Florida State
Last Four Out: Miami (FL), Creighton, Oklahoma State, Rhode Island
Next Four Out: Washington, Utah, South Carolina, Arizona

bracketology-010409

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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

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Checking in on the… Big East

December 31, 2008

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

Big East play has officially begun! For each and every team in this conference, you can essentially throw out their non-conference games because they are guaranteed at least seven games against top 25 teams (or eight, can someone please explain to me how West Virginia is not one of the top 25 teams in the country?). Get hot at the right time, reel off five or six straight wins during the right part of your schedule, and you can thrust yourself directly onto the bubble.

Granted, that is MUCH more easily said than done. As you will see, every team in this conference has a run where they will play four or five top 25 teams in the span of two weeks. Because it was a slow week (thanks Santa, but you did get me Fifa ’09 so you’re not all bad) and more than a few teams didn’t play, I am going to be giving you what I like to call “Running the Gauntlet” (patent pending), which is the string of three or four or five (or sometimes even nine) games which you will only see in happening in the Big East.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Darryl “Truck” Bryant, West Virginia

Statistically speaking, Truck had far from the best week in the conference, even on his own team. In the Mountaineers’ only game (a blowout of Ohio State) Truck finished with 11 points and 2 dimes. But it is more than his performance, it is the importance of his play to this West Virginia team. It looks like there is a real possibility that Joe Mazzulla will be out for the season, meaning that Truck is basically the only PG Bob Huggins has on his roster right now. West Virginia does not need Truck to carry this team. In fact, they are probably better when he is blending in more than standing out, so to speak. What they need from him is tough defense, ball control, and the ability to make a big shot or big play when WVU needs it. He did that perfectly against Ohio State. The Mountaineers did not play all that well against the Buckeyes, but in the second half when they were pulling away, Truck was in the middle of everything. He had a couple tough finishes on drives to the basket, he scored a few times on a fast break, and on a team that struggles to move the ball at times, he orchestrated a beautifully run offense (especially in the second half) against a pretty good OSU zone. You want a good comparison for this kid? Think Levance Fields as a freshman.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Georgetown

The Hoyas played just one game this week. It just so happened that game was a win over UConn, the #2 team in the country. The Hoyas thoroughly dominated the Huskies throughout. If there was a word that defined the Hoyas performance, it was execution. JT3 had the perfect game plan against UConn. His Hoyas controlled the pace of the game by running through their offensive sets, then exploiting any UConn break down defensively. And when they attacked, they scored just about every time, especially down the stretch. UConn just couldn’t get any stops. If it wasn’t a back door cut, it was an open jump shot or a drive to the rim, which resulted in either a lay-up or a trip to the foul line (the Hoyas hit their last 18 free throws in the second half). Last week I told you I was finally coming to terms with the fact that Greg Monroe was not going to be a star just yet. Well, against UConn, Monroe proved why he had so much hype coming out of high school. He knocked down two threes, but was able to put the ball on the floor and go by Hasheem Thabeet when the big fella came out to guard him. He made three gorgeous back door passes, two of which came off the dribble. He blocked shots, and even ripped AJ Price at half court, which led to an and-1 lay-up. The most impressive part about Monroe right now is that he does all of this within the Georgetown system. The Hoyas still have some depth problems (the only starter that didn’t play 35 minutes against the Huskies was Monroe, and he was in foul trouble during the second half), but if guys like Jason Clark, Omar Wattad (side note: I think the best sign I have seen this year came at the Georgetown-Memphis game when some fan held up “Let’s Get Wattaded”), Julian Vaughn, and Henry Sims can provide anywhere between 8-15 minutes a game each, the Hoyas should be ok because of the pace they play at.

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Rush The Court on… Rushing The Court

December 30, 2008

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

In college basketball terms, the arrival of January means that it’s time to, as Zack de la Rocha said, “rally ‘round the family.”

Wearing red -- is Zack a Louisville or Davidson fan?
Wearing red — is Zack a Louisville or Davidson fan?

(Photo credit:  stereogum.com)

Ah, yes…it’s time for conference play.

The importance of conference play doesn’t have to be explained to anyone reading a college basketball blog.  My personal favorite aspect of conference play is that any given team’s biggest rival is often found in their conference, but within a conference, you can make any game a rivalry game.  The ACC, for example, doesn’t necessarily have to be defined by the Duke-UNC hatred.  Sure, that’s the biggest ACC example but I guarantee you that Wake Forest and Clemson can find enough reasons in their history to hate each other, and when it’s time to play, those reasons will definitely be remembered.  It doesn’t matter if you’re from a BCS conference, mid-major, or bottom-dweller.  Take two teams from any conference in the land, put them in a gym, and it’s like putting two young blonde up-and-coming Hollywood starlets in front of a camera.  The competition is fierce and ruthless.  They can always find a reason to scratch each other’s eyes out.

It seems to have abated in the past couple of seasons, perhaps due to tighter security, more restraint among fans (I doubt that one), whatever; but floor-rushing has been a practice that college basketball fans have made their very own through the years.  Yeah, I know fans often take over the field after a big college football win but it’s just not the same.  Most fans storming a college football field have one goal in mind, and that’s bum-rushing the goal posts, or to be near the goal posts as they are upended.  These days, football stadiums have the “retractable” goal posts that can be intentionally lowered by event staff if they are threatened.  College basketball has no such equivalent.  Plus, at a football game, it’s several THOUSAND students/fans against, at most, a few hundred security guards who aren’t about to (except for a few documented extreme cases) resort to any real physical force to keep the storm from happening.  Look at a basketball arena when there’s a pending rush; there are true stare-downs happening between fans and security.  None of us here at Rush The Court would ever advocate putting anyone in real danger in the name of a floor-rush, but the point is – it’s just harder to take over a basketball court.  And watch it when it happens; it’s much more dramatic than that of a football game.  In a football stadium, for the most part, there is an initial rush of fans and then the rest come slowly funneling out, and the whole of the field is almost never even covered.  On a basketball court, it looks almost viral.  The fans absorb the playing surface within seconds.  It’s just cooler.

This is not the type of Rush were talking about.
This is not the type of Rush we’re talking about.

(Photo credit:  mediabistro.com)

The question is begged, then.  When is it appropriate?  Since this site is called Rush The Court it only seems sensible that we have an opinion on this, and it only seems sensible that we force that opinion on others in the manner of any self-appointed authority.  In this case, however, I feel that the definitive work on the subject was written by ESPN.com’s Pat Forde in the beginning of this article from 2006.  It’s a great set of provisions, and there’s almost nothing I’d change about it except to add Kansas to the list of schools that have at least three national titles (not the case at the time of the original article), and therefore put them under Forde’s Old Money Principle.  Here’s a quick summary of Forde’s rules:

I. Old Money Principle. If your program has 3 or more titles, you should never rush a court.  The only allowable exceptions apply ONLY if your team has fallen on hard times AND 1) you beat a #1-ranked and/or undefeated opponent at least halfway through the year, 2) you defeat a top-5 team at the buzzer with a shot measuring 25 feet or more, 3) you’re hammered and can’t recall how many titles your program has or your opponent’s rank, or 4) you see Ashley Judd in the stands and you’re taking the shortest route to her.  Rush The Court (and probably Pat Forde) understands – but advises even MORE caution – if there is some overlap between items 3 and 4, there.

I know its a hockey jersey.  You complainin?
I know it’s a hockey jersey. You complainin’?

(Photo credit:  UKHockey.com)

II. Upper-Middle-Class Principle. If your program has multiple national titles you may only rush the court if you defeat one of the above leviathans and only with a buzzer-beater.  Exceptions:  if your titles predate Texas Western’s title (1966), you can rush if you beat a top-5 team (Ancient History Exception), or if your titles came before the 3-pointer was introduced, you can only rush after a “dramatic win over a top-ranked team.” (Semi-ancient History Exception)

III. Middle Class Principle. If your major-conference program has had SOME basketball chops and “takes itself seriously,” then you can only rush after defeating a top-5; beating a truly hated, unbeaten, in-conference rival; ending a period of extended futility/frustration against a rival; or clinching a conference championship.

IV. Lower Class Principle. If you play in a mid-major or low-major conference and you beat a BCS conference team, you may rush.  Exceptions are Gonzaga, Memphis, or “any other school whose program is [bigger] than its conference profile.”

V. Bottom Feeder Principle. A case of true gigantic discrepancy between programs; Forde cites an example of South Dakota State beating Wisconsin as being a permitted rush.

So far this year we are aware of two major examples where a court has been rushed.  Using the Forde Protocol, we will evaluate them now.

Case 1:  #4 Duke at Michigan, 6 December 2008.

Michigan does not qualify for evaluation by rules I and II because they only have that 1989 national title (note that rule II necessitates “multiple” titles), but without question is subject to rule III (Middle Class Principle).  Because they defeated a top-5 opponent, we feel that Michigan’s exuberance was not in excess, and the rush was warranted.  Michigan’s 12/6/08 rush is approved.

Case 2:  Arkansas at Missouri State, 22 November 2008.

Missouri State is a Missouri Valley Conference team, currently ranked 8th in conference RPI at RealTimeRPI.com, only two spots below the SEC.  It certainly qualifies as at least a mid-major conference and therefore puts Missouri State subject to evaluation under rule IV (Lower Class) even though I think the names of these Principles might need adjusting.  We know Arkansas’ status as an SEC school, so in this regard, Missouri State’s enthusiasm was in no way overdone, and therefore Missouri State’s 11/22/08 rush is approved.

Another reason I like the Forde Protocol is that not only does it leave just enough room for discussion in some areas, but it also respects the importance of conference play in that it does not leave much room for the approval of a court-rush on a non-conference opponent.  But as much as I think Syracuse should be feared this year (especially now that Devendorf has been reinstated), I HAVE to show you this video of a court rush from last season that would NEVER have been approved by the Forde Protocol or even the most liberal criteria…

This happened on February 16, 2008.  It was a normal conference game against Georgetown, ranked #8 at the time, a team who already had four losses.  And this was a ‘Cuse team that would go on to win 21 games.  Given the chance, we would have stomped that court-rushing into a whimpering, bloody submission.  This brings up another important aspect about taking over the floor – if you do it, despite the fact that you just won a game, are you not acknowledging that you are somehow subordinate to the team you’re rushing?  This should definitely keep teams in the major conferences from rushing the court except in the most extreme circumstances.  I have friends on both sides of the Duke-UNC rivalry who say that they would NEVER consider rushing the court after a win over the other side because they want to show that it just “isn’t a big deal” to beat the other program.  Even if Georgetown were ranked 5th in the game referenced above and therefore Syracuse’s court rush should have been approved by rule III, if you’re a Syracuse fan, would you want to send that message to Georgetowners?  Keep in mind, the Forde Protocol isn’t there to tell you WHEN to rush…only when it is permitted.  You don’t HAVE to do it.  Upon further review, perhaps rule II should include teams that have won at least a single national title.

This is the time of year when we’re more likely to see fans and students come down out of the stands in celebration, because the teams they support are fighting against their family members and the emotions run high.  So enjoy conference play, and if you decide to rush your home court after a big victory in the next few months, be ready, because we’ll be watching — and more than ready to pass judgment.

(All videos:  www.youtube.com.  And if those first two don’t already make you fired up for March, then you have problems I can’t fix.  –JS)