ATB: Wake Us When You’re Ready For Prime Time

January 22, 2009

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RTC corresponent Ryan ZumMallen contributed to tonight’s ATB.

#1 Falls – Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate. Virginia Tech 78, Wake Forest 71. It seemingly never fails – whenever Wake starts to get the nation’s attention, the Deacs cave like Roger McNamee in front of a Congressional hearing.  We watched most of this game, and two things were apparent from the get-go: 1) the Deacs were not sharp on either end of the court (evident by Va Tech running out to a quick 30-14 lead); and 2) it is clear to us that Wake relies too much on pure athleticism and skill rather than actual execution and know-how.  This was especially true in the last few minutes of the game when Wake continuously took forced shots and made inexplicable fouls instead of managing the clock effectively, even though the game was still in the balance.  From the 1:42 mark, Wake threw up five desperate-looking three-pointers (making none), even though the lead was never greater than six points until there was 0:14 remaining.  Additionally, the Deacs fouled Virginia Tech eight times during the same period, and even though the Hokies were missing their FTs (7-14 down the stretch), the smarter move would have been to simply play defense (remember, Wake was #2 in defensive efficiency coming into this game) and continue running the offense to get layups and dunks.  Didn’t happen.  We’re not buying the Wake was mentally fatigued argument; the Deacs need to learn some discipline to maximize their potential this year.  As for Virginia Tech, at one point in the second half they were shooting 70% for the half and 56% for the game, which shows just how effectively they were picking apart that Wake defense.   Malcolm Delaney, AD Vassallo and Jeff Allen combined for 53/21, as the Hokie won their fifth of six against Wake in the last few years.  We’re not ready to anoint the Hokies as an NCAA team just yet, but at 3-1 in the ACC and only one loss in their last nine games (@ Duke), they’re a team to keep an eye on.

Next Best Upset of the Night. Northwestern 70, Michigan St. 63. A Tom Izzo team faithfully followed tradition and lost to a team they should have beaten, allowing Northwestern forward Kevin Coble to hang 31 on the Michigan State defense in a 70-63 Wildcat victory.  MSU’s 28-game home winning streak was snapped, and the Spartans drop to 5-1 in Big Ten play while the mighty Wildcats improve to 2-4.  Wildcats Coble, Craig Moore and Michael Thompson combined to score just one point less than Michigan State.  Izzo had this to say about losing at home despite outrebounding his opponent 39-19: “That’s what happens when you don’t make shots.” Ha! Or when you commit 18 turnovers and only force seven yourselves.

More Tremendousness on a Wednesday Night.

  • Connecticut 89, Villanova 83. UConn point guard AJ Price nearly doubled his scoring average in the first half tonight, as the #3 Huskies held off a scrappy Villanova team to win, 89-83.  Price had 20 by halftime and abused ‘Nova for a career-high 29, outdueling the Wildcats’ leading scorer Scottie Reynolds – held scoreless for the game’s first fifteen minutes, and finishing with 14.  How good is the Big East right now?  A 14-4 Villanova team currently sits in tenth place with a 2-3 conference record.  If Haseem Thabeet can properly execute a dropstep at some point this season, the Huskies are right up there with Pitt as conference favorites.
  • UNC 94, Clemson 70. Avoiding upsets likes those that befell the likes of powerhouses Wake Forest, Michigan State and (of course) Bryant last night, the #6 Tar Heels continued their complete dominance over #9 Clemson with a 94-70 victory. Wayne Ellington poured in 25 on 9-15 shooting to lead the way.  The victory improved North Carolina’s home record against Clemson to… wait for it… 54-0.  For those of you who think you’ve figured out how to stop Tyler Hansbrough, I hope your idea had nothing to do with elbowing him in the teeth because THAT DOESN’T WORK. The human-like-robot-warrior just shoved in a mouthpiece and kept on trucking his way to 20 and 10.

Almost As Good As Cleveland St. Marshall 53, SMU 50. Just watch.

Better than Cleveland St. and Marshall. South Carolina 70, Florida 69. This would have never happened under Dave Odom.

51-Pick Up. NJIT 61, Bryant 51. Definitely RTC-worthy.  Check our post on this here.

Other Scores of Narrower Interest.

  • Iowa 73, Wisconsin 69 (OT). UW’s Jordan Taylor drilled a 30-foot three at the buzzer to send this game to overtime, but Iowa held on behind David Palmer’s 21/7.  Interesting stat – all five Hawkeyes hit at least one three in this one.
  • Kentucky 73, Auburn 64. Jodie Meeks watch: 31 pts (5-8 threes), 0 assists, 5 turnovers.  UK should be ranked next week.
  • Missouri 97, Oklahoma St. 95.  This was a big win for Missouri on the road tonight.  They nearly blew a 15-pt lead with four minutes remaining, as OSU missed seven chances to tie or take the lead in the last two minutes.  Mizzou has a favorable Big 12 schedule and already sit at 3-1 – this looks like an NCAA team to us.
  • Oklahoma 72, Nebraska 61. This game was much closer than the score indicates.  Blake Griffin had 27/18 as he faced constant double- and triple-teams.  Only when Nebraska had a very late scoring drought did the Sooners take over and put them away.
  • Baylor 83, Kansas St. 65. Wow, how quickly did KSU go from must-watch tv to irrelevance?  Baylor’s LaceDarius Dunn came off the bench for 33 pts on 9-12 from three-point land.  Baylor at Oklahoma should be a great one this weekend.
  • UNLV 76, BYU 70. Wow, it was understandable when BYU lost to Wake at home, but we didn’t see them losing a 13-pt halftime lead at home to conference foe UNLV three weeks later.  UNLV’s Wink Adams led the way with 22 pts for the Rebels.
  • Arizona St. 53, Arizona 47. Remember when the Wildcats would run and gun?  Things have changed in the desert.  What’s interesting about this one is that Jamelle Horne was indeed spotted on the floor in the final minute of a close game.  Yes, Russ Pennell must enjoy playing with fire.
  • Northeastern 58, George Mason 57. Northeastern got a necessary home win to tie up GMU at the top of the CAA standings (along with VCU) when Manny Adako’s layup gave them the lead for good with 25 seconds remaining.
  • Louisville 78, Rutgers 59. No RAC troubles for the Cards tonight, as T-Will dunked everything in sight on his way to 23/11/4 stls.  The Cards shot 60% as a team and are looking more and more like the team everyone thought they’d be when the season started.
  • Xavier 84, St. Bonaventure 64. XU dominated St. Bonnie from start to finish in a balanced effort (11 players scored for Xavier).
  • Davidson 83, Furman 43. Steph Curry watch:  30/5/5 stls on 12-18 (6-10 threes).  Is anyone surprised?
  • Miami (FL) 75, Florida St. 69. This was a must-win for Miami to keep itself in the race for 4th place in the ACC this year.
  • LSU 81, Mississippi St. 57. LSU is absolutely manhandling teams at home.  Too bad they have six road games remaining in the SEC.
  • Northern Iowa 66, Bradley 61. UNI continues to impress in another home win against a competitor for the MVC crown, Bradley.

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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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RTC Live: Take II (Gameday: Miami @ UNC)

January 16, 2009

Ed. note – Check out our Boom Goes the Dynamite post covering all of today’s big games until 6pm EDT tonight, when our on-site coverage of ESPN GameDay will continue.

After my first attempt at trying to live blog earlier this week during the Boston College-Wake Forest game, I decided to head down to Chapel Hill to to cover tomorrow’s season-opening ESPN GameDay game (Miami at UNC). All the big names (Dick Vitale, Bobby Knight, Erin Andrews, Digger Phelps, Jay Bilas, etc.) will be there so it should be a big night. RTC will be courtside to bring the action to you (if your big-screen HD wasn’t enough) along with answering whatever (appropriate) questions you may have for coaches, players, and TV personalities. I’ll have access to the media room, courtside reporters, post-game press conferences, and the locker rooms so if you have any questions, post them in the comment section throughout the day and I will try our best to get you the answers.

We'll be inside tomorrow night
We’ll be inside tomorrow night

One early (random) note: I ran into some of the ESPN GameDay crew a few hours ago. It looks like most of them were support staff, but I did notice that Howie Schwab was there, who technically is support staff too. I guess might be considered a F-list celebrity after his now defunct TV show “Stump the Schwab”. Apparently Howie wasn’t sure how to get to his hotel (out of respect for their privacy I’ll avoid posting it online). Being a good Samaritan, I decided to help them out since they knew the name of the hotel and I had an iPhone. I offered to look it up for them on my iPhone, but was completely ignored because apparently the Schwab is above talking to the common folk.  I guess Deadspin was right. (To be fair one of the other guys acknowledged my existence briefly then followed the Schwab.) Hopefully the other media members will be a little more receptive tomorrow night. Feel free to leave “Stump the Schwab” jokes in the comment section.

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Behind the Lines – Week 5

January 14, 2009

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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.


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)

Checking in on the… Big Ten

January 13, 2009

Josh & Mike from Big Ten Geeks are the RTC correspondents for the Big Ten Conference.

Looking Back
We are only a couple weeks into Big Ten play this season and already it is shaping up to be an exciting season. Michigan State has shaken off the slow non-conference start and is looking dominant so far including a big win over defending national champion Kansas. Likewise for Wisconsin, who lulled everyone into doubting them again before turning it on before slipping up this weekend at Purdue. Indeed, it’s been the Boilermakers, the odds-on favorite to win the conference league, that has struggled a bit out of the gate.

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ATB: Carolina Gets Teague-Bagged

January 11, 2009

afterbuzzerCarolina Goes Down Again. Wake Forest 92, UNC 89. Roy Williams may want to avoid these Sunday night FSN games in the ACC, as his Tar Heels lost for the second consecutive weekend in the showcase event (UNC only has one more scheduled – Feb. 15 at Miami (FL)).  Unlike last week when UNC lost to BC, an upset in the traditional sense of the word, we don’t consider the #4 team in America beating the #3 team (even if it’s Carolina) as much of an upset (and the Wake students should lose their ticket privileges for their ignorant, inappropriate RTC tonight).  Vegas disagreed (UNC was a 7-pt fav at tipoff), but having watched both teams several times this season, we’re absolutely convinced that Wake (not the more vaunted Heels) is the team with more NBA-level talent on its roster.  It played out tonight, as Wake’s long arms and quick defensive closeouts regularly harassed the Carolina shooters into rushed and contested shots – the Heels shot a season-worst 35% from the floor (26% from three).  This is consistent with Wake’s position as the second most efficient defense in the country – the package of length, size and quickness that players such as Al-Farouq Aminu, James Johnson and Jeff Teague bring to bear quieted the offensive skills of everyone on the Heel roster except Danny Green (22/6/5 assts). Consider that Tyler Hansbrough (3-12), Deon Thompson (3-13), Ty Lawson (4-12) and Wayne Ellington (4-13) threw up bricks from everywhere on the floor; the only thing that kept the Heels in this game was their superior work on the boards (46-35 and 17 off rebs) and 31 made free throws.  On the Wake side, Jeff Teague (career-high 34 pts) is every bit as good as advertised and he may just be the best player in the ACC this year (21/4/4 assts on 53% FG and 54% 3FG for the season) – notwithstanding the hype machine that surrounds Psycho-T’s every move.  Chas McFarland had a quietly efficient game (20/9), but the key to Wake’s victory tonight was reining in Carolina’s breakneck attack that results in easy baskets.  We recall no more than a mere handful of occasions where Lawson was able to actually push the ball into the gut of the Wake transition defense and create good scoring opportunities.  Oh, and this play by James Johnson was simply nasty…

So what does this mean – is UNC overrated?  Probably not in the sense that they’re definitely one of the top five teams in America.  But the ridiculous talk about undefeated seasons and ‘best team ever’ was egregious and irresponsible.  Carolina is an experienced, talented team, but they’re essentially the same team as last year.  Their offense remains spectacular, especially when Lawson can get them running up and down the court, but their defense is almost completely predicated on getting  on-the-fly turnovers to fuel that attack.  When they don’t get takeaways where they can run, they have to rely solely on their halfcourt defense, and as we saw tonight, it can be broken down and exposed by dribble penetration and ball movement.   What about Wake Forest – are the Deacs underrated?  As John Stevens’ showed in his column last week, there are dozens of teams ahead of Wake on the Vegas odds list, so it’s clear that the national consciousness hasn’t caught up with them yet.  But we’re looking at a team with two NBA lottery picks in the starting lineup (Teague/Aminu), the possibility of a third (Johnson), a few other nice parts (McFarland, Williams, Hale, Woods) and we’re wondering if any other team in America, Carolina included, has more talent?  Furthermore, the core of Wake’s team are sophomores and freshmen, which means this team could be markedly better by March (cf. with UNC, where we pretty much know what we’re going to get) – how good could this Wake Forest team ultimately become?  From the looks of it now, this team is clearly one of the top four in America, and probably has more upside than anybody.  The only real question is how the Deacs will perform now that the national spotlight will begin to squarely focus on their program.  This isn’t a program that has traditionally reveled in that role.

Unacceptable Rush, Wake Students...

Wake's Rush the Court = FAIL

Sunday’s Other Games.

  • UCLA 64, USC 60. This USC team is not good – they’ve lost to every halfway-decent team they’ve played (and Oregon St.) – ugh.   We’d rather have Jrue Holiday on our team than Demar DeRozan, though.
  • Alabama 65, LSU 59. We do not want to hear about LSU again until they win a game away from Baton Rouge – the Tigers are now 0-3 away from home.
  • Purdue 65, Wisconsin 52. Robbie Hummell came back from his back injury and hit four threes in a 16/5 performance.
  • St. Mary’s 66, San Francisco 54. SMC continues to roll.  Nobody seemed to see the dagger three that Patty Mills hit to win Friday night’s ESPNU game against Santa Clara at home, so we’re providing it here (start watching at 7:30).

“Boom Goes the Dynamite!”: 01.10.09 Late Edition

January 10, 2009

As we mentioned in our BGTD Early Edition today, we’re still tinkering around with a workable format for this feature.  So with the West Coast Office taking over as you easterners hunker down for the night, we’re going to try it a little differently this evening.  Let us know in the comments if you have any feedback, constructive, destructive or otherwise.

Sidenote:  is there a better value than the Fox College Sports package on your cable or dish system?  Seriously, for $5/month, you get access to dozens more college games, and at least on ours, the Big 10 Network and the CBS College Sports Network.  Great deal, and this comes from we who typically despise our cable company.

Comments Heading into the Darkness.

  • The only significant upset so far today has been spastic UMass (5-8 ) spanking Dayton (14-1) in Springfield, 75-62.
  • Staying in the A10, that St. Joe’s – Rhodie triple-OT thriller (92-86 St. Joe’s) at the Palestra must have been something.

3pm/4pm/5pm Games.

  • There was a mild upset in Lincoln as Nebraska ran out to a big first half lead and held off Mizzou down the stretch.  From what we saw, Missouri didn’t look all that interested.
  • Life on the road in the Big 10 is not going to be pleasant for the Hoosiers this year.  The Illini were only up 45-20 at the half.

6pm/7pm/8pm Games.

  • We caught a good bit of the UConn-Cincy game and continue to wonder when (if?) the Huskies will reach their lofty potential.  They seemed to do just enough to make sure that they won the game – nothing more, nothing less.  As an example, nine-footer Hasheem Thabeet had three rebounds in 29 minutes.
  • UCF might just have the ugliest home court in America.  Memphis probably isn’t going 18-0 in CUSA this year.
  • It’s amazing how much harder Cal is playing on the defensive end this year vs. last year.  The Bears pulled off the mild upset in Washington and now stand at 4-0 in the Pac-10.  The two starting backcourts combined for 120 pts in this triple-OT game.
  • We caught a bit of the Florida-Ole Miss game and the Gators looked tough (for a half).  Still don’t think the SEC has much to show this year.
  • Also caught some of the Miami-BC game, and well, let’s just say that we have no idea how BC managed to beat Carolina last weekend.
  • Ugh.  Also noticed Illinois St. lost its second in a row (after a 14-0) start to Indiana St. tonight, a 4-12 team.

9pm and Later Games.

  • Um, Arkansas can beat top 10 teams at home, but not Mississippi St.  Nice.
  • Stanford blew a lead at Wazzu, but neither of these teams look very impressive.  NIT for both.

What We Learned Today. Not a lot, actually, other than to not assume Arkansas will roll through its home schedule.  Today’s slate of games was rather uninspiring, and it doesn’t get terribly better tomorrow until 8pm, when Wake-Carolina tips off.  We love the way the Deacs have been playing lately, and they are at home, so that one could be very interesting.  ESPN should have started Gameday this weekend and made that game the focal point instead of the worthless Miami (FL) at UNC game next weekend.


Set Your Tivos: 01.10.09 & 01.11.09

January 8, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday
Noon

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

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

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

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

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

0.5 PPG


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: #1 Goes Down as BC Flies Like an Eagle Over UNC

January 4, 2009

afterbuzzer1

We felt tonight’s ATB of #1 UNC losing to Boston College deserves its own post.

Robert Willett/Raleigh News-Observer)

#1 No More (photo credit: Robert Willett/Raleigh News-Observer)

Boston College 85, UNC 78. It’s conference season, isn’t it?  In just the last seven days, we’ve now had the consensus way-better-than-everyone-else teams (UNC and UConn for those of you just tuning in) lose to conference foes.  At home.  In games where neither appeared to be the better team.  There was considerable talk in the last couple of weeks of the likelihood of Carolina going undefeated this season, and we always sorta rolled our eyes when we heard such talk.  There are several reasons for this:

  • First, it just doesn’t happen.  A hunted team like Carolina simply will not bring its A+ game every single night, no matter how good they are or how faux-slighted they feel (and how slighted can you feel when you’re being told how great you are at every turn?).  There are always a couple of games where that team will come out flat or fail to properly motivate because their press clippings have gone to their head.
  • Second, while this UNC team is stacked relative to the rest of college basketball this season and remains the prohibitive favorite to win the national title in April, the level of talent of their individual players simply isn’t so otherworldly ridiculous that other teams can’t play and compete with them.  As evidence here, we saw what Kansas with its two lottery picks (one actual and one shoulda-been) did to them in the first half of last year’s F4 game (40-12), and much of the reason behind this year’s hype is because all of UNC’s players returned to school, and the reason for THAT is that none/zilch/zero/nada would have been lottery picks had they entered  the NBA Draft last spring.  Put simply, nobody in college basketball is so talented that they can play half-assed  or have a bad game collectively and still win every game.
  • Third, Carolina plays in a conference like the ACC, and leagues like that are simply too good on a yearly basis to allow teams like UNC to run roughshod over them.  There are exceptions – we know Duke in 1999 went 16-0 in that league, and more recently, Kentucky went 16-0 in the SEC in 2003, but those teams had already lost a pre-conference game(s) so there wasn’t nearly the same pressure that an unbeaten #1 will face throughout the conference slate.  The only possibility for an unbeaten team in today’s early-entry NCAA basketball environment is something akin to what Memphis was able to do last year or UNLV in 1991 – roll through its vastly inferior conference unbeaten and (for the most part) untested.  The problem is that scenario tends to catch up with those teams during March Madness, as both of those teams in that example learned.

So what happened tonight?  It’s simple and it’s the same problem that Carolina had last year.  Their offense is unmatched by anybody in the country, but their defense sometimes takes nights off.  Against the 68th toughest schedule to date, the UNC offense is the second-most efficient offense in America, but only the 18th most efficient defense.  Most of that ranking is attributable to Carolina’s ability to force turnovers (4th in the nation), but the Heels simply don’t get enough stops  from their halfcourt defense – it ranks 60th at defending twos and 81st at defending threes – not exactly national-title defensive numbers there.  (To be fair, last year’s Heels were even worse defensively, but UNC’s schedule will only get tougher from here on out, which should negatively impact those numbers.)

Robert Willett/Raleigh News-Observer)

Let's Hope For His Sake He Didn't Get a Ticket After All (photo credit: Robert Willett/Raleigh News-Observer)

Tonight BC never flinched, shooting 45% from the field and hitting nine threes in the Dean Dome, led by Tyrese Rice’s 25/5/8 assts (who continues his torching of Carolina with 91 pts in his last three games against UNC) and Rakim Sanders’ 22/6/7 stls.  BC not only got the lead in the first half (no big deal), but they held on to as UNC repeatedly got it down to two and even in the last few minutes as BC predictably went cold and UNC made its last-ditch efforts.  Carolina didn’t help itself, though as the Heels were ice cold, especially in the second half (29%) and even more especially Ty Lawson (3-13), and the typically excellent Tar Heel free throwers (#13 nationally at 75%) only managed 5-12 in the last 8 minutes and 15-27 for the game.   Perhaps most importantly, the Heels only forced BC into 10 turnovers, and it was clear that this was something head coach Al Skinner had drilled into his players’ heads, realizing that TOs are the kindling that fuels the UNC attack.

But BC was not to be denied tonight, and #1 goes down, only slightly spoiling the juicy UNC @ Wake matchup scheduled for next weekend.  Whether BC uses this win as a springboard to a surprising season remains to be seen, as its only truly bad loss thus far was at St. Louis, but for tonight they are the giant-killers and the Eagles should be commended for taking it to the vaunted Heels in their house.  Come Monday morning, we’d expect to see BC ranked for the first time in a couple of years, and that gasp you hear from western Pennsylvania has nothing to do with the Steelers – rather, it’s Jamie Dixon’s team prepping itself for it’s school-first #1 ranking in the AP Poll.   College hoops, you gotta love it.


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 »


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.


Stat Nerds of the World, Unite.

December 29, 2008

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

stat-nerds

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

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

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