Morning Five: 06.21.16 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on June 21st, 2016

morning5

  1. USC has taken a series major hits this off-season with several players leaving school earlier than expected, but Andy Enfield got an excellent consolation prize on Friday when Duke transfer Derryck Thornton Jr. announced that he would transferring to play at USC. Thornton, who was a five-star recruit in the class of 2016 before agreeing to reclassify and come to Duke a year early, was unhappy with his role in Durham despite averaging a respectable 7.1 points and 2.6 assists per game, but saw his playing time diminish as the season progressed leading to accusations that Thornton had been promised that Duke would build its offense around his skill set when he decided to come to Duke a year early. Thornton, who also reportedly was considering Kansas, Washington, and Miami, will be available to play for the Trojans in the 2017-18 season after sitting out his transfer year.
  2. Charles Matthews might not be the same caliber recruit as Thornton was, but his decision to transfer to Michigan after a year at Kentucky is still a big boost for the program. Matthews, a four-star recruit out of high school, averaged just 1.7 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 0.4 assists while playing 10.3 minutes per game as a freshman. In most programs a player could expect to see more playing time as players in the rotation graduate or leave school for various other reasons, but at Kentucky (and in some sense Duke now) that is far from guaranteed and Matthews probably saw the writing on the wall. After sitting out this season, Matthews will have three more years of eligibility left and should find a bigger role on a Michigan roster that will give him more opportunities to find playing time.
  3. Speaking of USC, the end of Pat Haden‘s time at athletic director cannot come soon enough for its boosters as new allegations have surfaced that Haden may have directed funds from a scholarship foundation toward USC preferentially and paid himself and other family members with large sums of money from the foundation. While directing money towards USC seems unethical at best, paying himself and family members such large sums of money (reportedly almost 10% of the foundations entire endowment for working essentially an hour a week) seems to be going into a more nebulous area that might merit a deeper investigation.
  4. When Shaka Smart took over at Texas last year the big question was how he would be able to recruit particularly in the state of Texas. As Seth Davis notes in his look at how Smart recruits, he appears to be off to a very good start. While it would seem like Smart would be able to recruit easily at Texas with a national brand behind him as a young, dynamic, African-American coach, but the reality is that he is recruiting a very different type of player at Texas than he did at VCU, which makes the process much different. If Smart is able to make that transition, there is no reason that he will not be able to make Texas into a national power.
  5. Over the summer you will will hear plenty of people criticizing AAU basketball and the culture surrounding it, but that pales in comparison to the stuff that goes on at some of these prep schools/basketball academies. As Luke Cyphers and Teri Thompson note in their story on Faith Baptist Christian Academy North (GA), some of the individuals running these schools prey on these teenagers who often come to the United States on student visas in the hope of getting an education and potentially a career playing basketball, but are often lied to about what they are coming to and then exploited in hopes of capitalizing on their basketball abilities. We would like to think that this story is an isolated case, but we suspect that this type of stuff happens more often than that.

Bonus: With all the stuff going on this past Sunday, it would have been easy to not realize that it was the 30th anniversary of the death of Len Bias. We won’t get into the impact it had on NBA history (basically imagine that the Warriors had won the title this year and then added a “can’t-miss talent”), but it was a defining moment in basketball history and led to some major changes at Maryland that impacted the basketball program in many ways (we touched on it a bit in our interview almost six years ago with Lefty Driesell). The Washington Post has an excellent piece on the 30th anniversary of his death, but we encourage you to watch the 30 For 30 on Bias as it also touched on the societal impact of his death in relation to drug laws.

Morning Five: 04.27.16 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 27th, 2016

morning5

  1. On Monday, North Carolina received a revised Notice of Allegations from the NCAA regarding alleged violations in its Afro-American Studies department. The 13-page document lists five Level 1 violations and overall does not differ that much than the original Notice of Allegations. Two key differences are that the amended Notice of Allegations no longer lists either the football or men’s basketball programs as it seems to focus instead on the women’s basketball program and it also no longer mentions impermissible benefits related to those classes leading some analysts to speculate that neither of the school’s revenue-generating programs will be touched. The other major change is that the original document covered the period between 1993 through 2011 while the new document only covers the period between the fall of 2005 to the summer of 2011, which would mean that UNC’s 2005 title would not be touched although the 2008 title could theoretically be vacated although enrollment in the classes in question were considerably lower than what it was for the 2005 team. As you probably know by now, this is far from the end of this case, which will probably drag on for several more years. At this point it seems likely that the NCAA will not hit UNC with any severe sanctions. To be fair to the NCAA, this should be more of an accreditation issue and we doubt that UNC’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, will pull its accreditation as it has already put the school on probation.
  2. One of the more interesting subplots of the early entry process this year has been the maneuverings of Memphis forward Dedric Lawson who entered the Draft then withdrew his name before putting his name back in. These rapid decisions have led some to speculate that Dedric has been using the prospect of leaving Memphis for the NBA as leverage against new coach Tubby Smith in order to get Dedric’s father, Keelon, a spot on Smith’s staff after Memphis changed coaches. When news came out that Keelon, previously an assistant coach at Memphis, had accepted a position as Director of Player Development, many writers expected that the NCAA would block the hiring because its rules do not allow anybody associated with a student-athlete to be hired as support staff within two years of that student-athlete enrolling in the school. However, as Rob Dauster pointed out [Ed Note: Yes, we are as surprised as you are] the NCAA is expected to pass Proposal No. 2015-30 tomorrow that would make the move permissible as the associated individual would only have to be at a school for two academic years on the countable coaching staff before he or she could move from a countable coach to a member of support staff. We suspect that no program will be as interested in how the NCAA’s Division I Council votes tomorrow as Memphis will be.
  3. With so many players declaring for the NBA Draft without signing with agents it is a waste of time to list all the early entries. Looking at the players who didn’t submit their name under the early entry list is more interesting with the most notable of these names being Cal center Ivan Rabb, who will return to Berkeley despite being a borderline lottery pick this year after a freshman season where he averaged 12.5 points (on 61.5% from the field) and a team-high 8.6 rebounds per game. With Cal already losing Tyrone Wallace and Jaylen Brown, Rabb’s return will help Cal remain in the upper-tier of the Pac-12. An extra year of development could also make Rabb a top-10 pick even with what is supposed to be an extremely strong incoming freshman class is.
  4. Frank Martin’s offseason just got a lot better yesterday when former Delaware guard Kory Holden announced that he would be transferring to South Carolina. Holden, a 6’2″ guard who averaged 17.7 points and 4.2 assists last season, was one of the most coveted transfers available and had attracted interest from schools such as Baylor, Kansas, Seton Hall, and Virginia Tech. Holden is a traditional transfer meaning that he will sit out next season and be eligible to play in the 2017-18 season at which point he will have two more seasons of eligibility remaining. Given the differences between the CAA and the SEC (yeah, go ahead and make your jokes) the extra year to practice and watch higher level competition will probably help him and make the transition easier.
  5. We are still a little over a month away from NBA teams drafting college players, but with the NBA regular season over and the NBA coaching carousel already underway there are already plenty of rumors about the NBA poaching some prominent college coaches. The most enticing opening on the market right now is in Los Angeles after the Lakers fired Byron Scott after another atrocious season. While the Lakers roster is nothing to write home about (unless you want to complain), it is in Los Angeles, which is enticing both for a coach and his family (especially compared to some of these college towns) and for potential free agents. Plenty of college basketball coaches have been mentioned, but the two that make the most sense to us are Jay Wright and Kevin Ollie. We have seen Roy Williams, Tom Izzo, and John Calipari mentioned, but all three are either much older/established where they are, have health issues, or already turned down huge offers from the NBA. Wright leaving might seen like an odd choice coming off a title, but his stock will never be higher and if the NBA doesn’t work out he will be a hot name at the college level whenever he is available. Ollie is an even more interesting name as his program isn’t on quite the high that Villanova is right now, but he also has a national title on his resume and more importantly significant NBA experience including playing with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden in his last year at Oklahoma City, which we suspect would be enticing to the team’s executives with all three of those players having expiring contracts in the next few years.

Rushed Reactions: #2 Villanova 77, #1 North Carolina 74

Posted by nvr1983 on April 4th, 2016

RTC is providing wall-to-wall coverage of the NCAA Tournament again this season. Make sure to follow us @rushthecourt throughout Final Four weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Kris Jenkins Made History With His Buzzer-Beating Championship Winner (USA Today Images)

Kris Jenkins Made History With His Buzzer-Beating Championship Winner (USA Today Images)

  1. A Shot For The Ages. After a lackluster Saturday night of national semifinals we were treated to an excellent game for the first 39 minutes of action, but it was the final 93 seconds during which the game went to another level. It started off with Marcus Paige hitting a deep corner three to cut Villanova’s lead to three, followed by Brice Johnson cutting it to one with a layup. Josh Hart then made four straight free throws sandwiched around a ridiculous Marcus Paige strip/reverse layup to again cut the lead to one point. Hart’s third and fourth free throws made it a three-point game again, leading to Paige hitting an off-balance, double-clutch three-pointer to tie it with 4.7 seconds left. That alone would have been an all-time shot if it hadn’t been followed up by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hitting a buzzer-beating three to win the championship that we are still having trouble believing went down.
  2. Arcidiacono and Booth steal the show. The pair combined to score 36  points (a career-high 20 for Booth and 16 for Arciadiacono) on 12-of-16 from the field including 4-of-5 from three-point range. More importantly, it was the timeliness of their surges that kept Villanova afloat both early (Arcidiacono) and late (Booth). Booth in particular picked a great time to have the best performance of his two-year career on the Main Line, as his career-high in points (20) was the recipe for a success for a team that didn’t get huge nights from its typical offensive stars.
  3. North Carolina’s three-point barrage. Coming into the game it was supposed to be Villanova that would shoot the lights out from the outside. Instead a Tar Heels team that entered the contest shooting a putrid 31.9 percent from three-point range this season managed to go 7-of-9 from beyond the arc in the first half to stake a 39-34 lead (despite being outscored 18-12 inside the paint). They ended up shooting a scorching 11-for-17 on the evening, tying their season-high from three-point range (they went 11-for-20 against Indiana in the Sweet Sixteen), but it wasn’t enough to losing the battle of the paint (their supposed strength) and Jenkins’ dagger.

Star of the Game. Phil Booth, Villanova. We were ready to go with Joel Berry II here — a player who went off with 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting including 3-of-3 from three in the first half — but he followed that up with just five points in the second half. Instead we are going to go with Booth, who came into the game with a career high of 16 points in a game against East Tennessee State (a slightly smaller stage). He poured in 20 points going 6-of-7 from the field including 2-of-2 from three while making all six of his free throws. Unlike Grayson Allen last year, this performance was completely unexpected as he wasn’t a highly regarded recruit and we don’t expect him to turn into an All-American next season. Regardless, this night was his.

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National Championship Preview: North Carolina/Villanova Will Win If…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine & Bennet Hayes on April 4th, 2016

Only one game remains this college basketball season, and it tips off in about six hours. What needs to happen for North Carolina and Villanova if they expect to win a National Championship in Houston later tonight? Here are the keys to victory for both sides.

North Carolina Will Win If…

Brice Johnson and North Carolina must rule the interior on Monday night.(Photo: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

Brice Johnson and North Carolina must rule the interior on Monday night.(Photo: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

  • The Tar Heels’ front line imposes its will. Five North Carolina regulars are 6’8” or taller, a fact that will matter even more than usual against a Villanova team with a de facto starting power forward (Kris Jenkins) who is just 6’6”. The Wildcats will have their hands very full with Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and the rest – particularly on the backboards. Jay Wright has found plenty of advantages to exploit with his smaller lineup, but there’s no denying that the undersized Wildcats will be playing at a significant disadvantage when the ball comes off the rim. Villanova ranks 209th and 134th nationally in offensive and defensive rebounding percentages, respectively, and gave up 19 offensive rebounds to Oklahoma on Saturday (about the only thing the Wildcats didn’t do well). No shift in offensive philosophy is needed tonight, but expect North Carolina to wage a full-blown assault on its offensive backboard.
  • Joel Berry is effective offensively. Senior Marcus Paige is usually noted as the most effective barometer for the Tar Heels’ offense, but it has been the play of Berry this season (not Paige), that has more closely correlated with the overall success of North Carolina. Berry has averaged 12.6 points and 3.8 assists per game this season, but has managed only 9.8 PPG and 2.2 APG in UNC’s six losses. He had eight points, 10 assists and seven rebounds on Saturday against Syracuse; finding a way to have a similarly significant impact against Villanova’s tenacious perimeter defense will take a lot of the pressure off the UNC frontcourt.
  • They make Villanova take difficult three-point shots. Carolina’s length is sure to bother a Villanova team that has excelled inside the arc this season (the Wildcats rank second in the country in shooting 57.3 percent on two-point field goals), so expect them to rely on the three-point shot even more than they normally do. Forty-three percent of Villanova’s field goals come from behind the arc, (29th highest mark in the nation), and while they don’t shoot an outstanding percentage from there (35.9%), nearly every Villanova regular is a threat to convert — six Wildcats have made at least 23 three-pointers this season. North Carolina has not defended the arc well this season – the Heels rank 247th nationally in allowing opponents to shoot 35.9 percent from three – but must be able to challenge Villanova’s shooters tonight.
  • They don’t turn the ball over. The North Carolina recipe for offensive success, in its most succinct form, is to limit turnovers and collect offensive rebounds. Doing the former will not be easy against a pesky Villanova team that will surely look to utilize its disruptive 1-2-2 press, but it will be no less important. The more field goal attempts that go up, the more offensive rebounds that will be available to a North Carolina frontcourt that is the Tar Heels’ biggest advantage in this game.

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The RTC Interview Series: One on One With Grant Hill

Posted by Chris Stone on April 4th, 2016

RTC interviews one on one

Tonight’s National Championship game between North Carolina and Villanova will be televised on TBS, the first time in the event’s 78-year existence that the it will air on cable. Ahead of the finale to March Madness, Rush the Court got a chance to speak with Turner Sports analyst Grant Hill, one of the game’s announcing crew along with Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Tracy Wolfson. Hill is a two-time NCAA champion, a three-time Final Four participant and an 18-year NBA veteran. We spoke with the basketball icon about what it means to call this event, his experience playing in the Final Four, and the matchup between the Tar Heels and the Wildcats. This interview has been edited for clarity. 

Rush the Court: You played in three title games while you were at Duke (1991, 1992, 1994) and now you’re calling the first title game to ever air on TBS. I’m curious what that’s like for you and in a broader sense what it’s like for the network.

Grant Hill: For me, it’s great. I’ve really loved everything about the tournament from the time I was nine years old. I still recall the first Final Four I ever watched, which really sparked a love of the game of basketball and a desire to want to play it back in 1982 when North Carolina beat Georgetown. Then to be fortunate enough play in three Final Fours, three championships, and then now to come full circle and be able to broadcast it, it’s just a tremendous honor and privilege. For us, this is history in the making. The first time a cable network broadcast the NCAA Tournament final. I’ve been exposed to it for the last three years in a couple of different roles, but it’s been great and I’ve enjoyed the combination of both networks’ resources in putting these games on, culminating with this weekend’s Final Four on TBS. It’s exciting and I’m really looking forward to tomorrow night.

Grant Hill played in three Final Fours while at Duke. (Credit: Duke Sports Information)

Grant Hill played in three Final Fours while at Duke. (Credit: Duke Sports Information)

RTC: We have a Final Four with a lot of upperclassmen playing in it. How did your experience at the Final Four change from when you were a freshman to when you were a senior? What was that transition like?

Hill: I think I played important roles in both Final Fours, from freshman year to senior year. My freshman year, I was a young pup. I was a neophyte. It was my first experience and I really leaned on the leadership of our coach, but also our upperclassmen. They had a responsibility as leaders to lead, for lack of a better word. Then, I had that same role my senior year. Part of that is it’s not just what you do in the game, but it’s what you do prior to the game, preparation during the weekend, during the Final Four. It’s what you do throughout the season. It’s what you do in the offseason prior to that year. Everything is about living up to the championship standard and that responsibility is really on your shoulders as captains, as seniors, as guys who’ve been through it, good and bad. It’s upon you to help create an environment that is conducive to winning. It was something that we lived with every day and you did everything you could. From the time that we assembled as a team in the summer prior to school starting, everything as a leader is about getting yourself ready for this stage and so understanding that, you only get that from experience. You only get that from success and failures and it’s hard as a freshman to be able to know what that’s about. As much as I watched it, as much as I was able to go to a couple Final Fours as a fan in the 80s, not until you’re in it and not until you get a taste of it do you really understand what exactly it’s all about. So, experience, you can’t teach that and we’re seeing that here. We’ve seen it throughout the season. That’s been the theme of college basketball. You look at both teams. They’re senior-led.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 83, #10 Syracuse 66

Posted by nvr1983 on April 2nd, 2016

RTC is providing wall-to-wall coverage of the NCAA Tournament again this season. Make sure to follow us @rushthecourt throughout Final Four weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Brice Johnson and UNC are where we expected them to be

Brice Johnson and UNC are where we expected them to be

  1. After having issues earlier this year North Carolina is where they were expected to be. This hasn’t been the smoothest ride for the Tar Heels, who started the year at #1 in the polls before dropping out of the Top 10 following two early road losses. Despite that they have managed to put the pieces together to develop into the juggernaut we thought they could be. Since February 6, they have only lost two games (a ridiculous one-point home loss to Duke where they stopped going to a dominant Brice Johnson and a five-point road loss to a Virginia team that ended up earring a #1 seed itself). They still have their issues (like their inability to hit 3s reliably), but they find themselves exactly where we expected them to be when the season started: playing for the national title on the first Monday in April.
  2. Syracuse couldn’t make its magic happen one more time. Lost in all of Boeheim’s vitriol has been what an improbable run this has been for the Orange. Sure, they got a huge boost when Middle Tennessee State beat Michigan State (ok, they got a huge hand even before that when they were allowed in the NCAA Tournament with a questionable resume), but they played out of their mind in the last two rounds coming up with huge rallies to stun both Gonzaga and Virginia to get to the Final Four. They weren’t one of the four best teams in the country this season, but that shouldn’t diminish the magical run they had getting to Houston.
  3. Monday night will be a contrast in styles. By now it should be pretty obvious what UNC’s strength is (interior play) and what Villanova’s strength is (perimeter play). We will have more on this between now and Monday night, but it will be fascinating to see the contrast with Villanova essentially having nothing inside beyond Daniel Ochefu and North Carolina being inconsistent from the perimeter to put it mildly.

Star of the Game. Joel Berry II. He often goes overlooked with Brice Johnson’s spectacular interior play and Marcus Paige’s experience, but Berry was phenomenal tonight with 8 points, 7 rebounds, and 10 assists with only 1 turnover.  Read the rest of this entry »

Rushed Reactions: #2 Villanova 95, #2 Oklahoma 51

Posted by nvr1983 on April 2nd, 2016

RTC is providing wall-to-wall coverage of the NCAA Tournament again this season. Make sure to follow us @rushthecourt throughout Final Four weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways:

Villanova Put Together the Most Dominant Final Four Victory in History (USA Today Images)

Villanova Put Together the Most Dominant Final Four Victory in History (USA Today Images)

  1. This wasn’t going to be a repeat of the December 7 blowout. Any reasonable observer knew not to take too much from Oklahoma’s 23-point win in Pearl Harbor. In that game, Villanova shot an atrocious 4-of-32 from three in a performance that was so bad that even Kobe Bryant would have told them to stop shooting. Tonight they put on a performance that would have made Steph Curry blush. They went 35-0f-49 from the field (71.4%) including 11-of-18 from three (61.1%) while Oklahoma could only muster 19-of-60 (31.7%) and 6-of-27 from three (22.2%). All those numbers led to a record margin of victory in the Final Four (44 points) and the biggest difference in a rematch outcome this millennium (67 points).
  2. Tonight was not Buddy Hield’s night. The RTC NPOY shot only 4-of-12 including 1-of-8 from three-point range for nine quiet points along with just two assists (to his credit he did have seven rebounds). People will point to the dome effect in Houston as a factor, but it’s hard to use that as a crutch when Villanova shot the lights out in the same environment. In the end, this is just what sometimes happens in a single-elimination tournament. Even the best players have bad nights. Unfortunately for Hield, none of the other Sooners stepped up to counter the Wildcats’ performance for the ages. This game shouldn’t (and hopefully doesn’t) diminish what Hield has accomplished in his four years in Norman, nor should it lead to a conversation about the limits of his NBA future. Just take some time to appreciate what he has done for the Oklahoma program and how he conducted himself both on and off the court.
  3. Villanova was relentless. The tenor of the game was a bit unusual. Oklahoma only led for 3:42 with their biggest lead coming just 23 seconds into the game on Hield’s only made three-pointer of the night. After that, it was a series of runs by Villanova that put the game out of reach. The runs weren’t what you saw in some other historic Final Four blowouts like UNLV’s 30-point victory over Duke in 1990; rather, the Wildcats were more methodical in their dismantling of Oklahoma. In the end, Villanova crushed Oklahoma’s spirit, which is not something we expected from such a senior-laden squad.

Star of the Game. Josh Hart. Much like the rest of the Wildcats, Hart was ruthlessly efficient scoring 23 points on 10 of 12 shooting and adding 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals with no turnovers. Hart is Villanova’s star, but was widely overlooked this season when the postseason awards and honors were handed out. Now he may get the last word.

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Final Four Previews: Syracuse/North Carolina Will Win If…

Posted by Brian Otskey & Bennet Hayes on April 2nd, 2016

The Final Four tips off later today, so it’s time to break down the upcoming games by determining what it will take for each team to win. Yesterday we previewed the early battle between Oklahoma and Villanova, tipping off at 6:09 PM ET. Today we review the Syracuse-North Carolina nightcap, scheduled to tip at 8:49 PM ET. RTC’s Brian Otskey (North Carolina) and Bennet Hayes (Syracuse) with the honors.

Syracuse Will Win If…

Syracuse is One of the Most Unlikely Final Four Entrants Ever (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Syracuse is One of the Most Unlikely Final Four Entrants Ever (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

  • North Carolina misses three-point shots…and Syracuse rebounds them. The Tar Heels killed Syracuse on the offensive glass in their last meeting (19 offensive rebounds to Syracuse’s 22 defensive rebounds), which severely mitigated the damage done by North Carolina’s anemic perimeter shooting (6-of-25 from three-point range). UNC is fully capable of struggling to make three-point shots again (it shoots just 32 percent on the season), but Syracuse must hold its own on the defensive glass this time around. There’s a reason the Orange rank 337th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, but expect Jim Boeheim to emphasize constant awareness and early box-outs when the Tar Heels hoist a long-range attempt.
  • They make three-point shots. There’s no avoiding the fact that Syracuse isn’t a good offensive team. Michael Gbinije has been the lone consistent source of offensive production this season, and even he has looked tired at times during this NCAA Tournament. However, there are a handful of players capable of getting hot from the perimeter. Senior Trevor Cooney is prime among them (35% 3FG), but Malachi Richardson, Tyler Lydon and Gbinije himself would all boost Syracuse’s chances if they are able to knock down shots tonight. No need to think too hard here – the three-point shot will always be an underdog’s greatest equalizer.
  • An Orange freshman is the best player on the court. North Carolina is nearly a 10-point favorite in this game but it’s possible that Syracuse will have two players drafted before any Tar Heel this June. Lydon and Richardson are freshmen with rapidly rising draft stocks – particularly the former – and each is capable of having a huge impact on Saturday. Hoping they will be the best player on the floor against a team with talented veterans like Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige is asking a lot, but both freshmen have shown glimpses that suggest they are more than capable. Heck, Richardson has already dominated the ACC Player of the Year (Malcolm Brogdon) for a half in this Tournament; why can’t he or Lydon produce a similar feat against the Heels?

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Final Four Previews: Oklahoma/Villanova Will Win If…

Posted by Brian Goodman & Tommy Lemoine on April 1st, 2016

We’re a little more than 24 hours from the Final Four, so it’s time to break down the upcoming games by determining what it will take for each team to win. Let’s start with the early battle between Oklahoma and Villanova, tipping off at 6:09 PM ET on Saturday evening. RTC’s Brian Goodman (Oklahoma) and Tommy Lemoine (Villanova) with the honors.

Oklahoma Will Win If…

Buddy Hield and the Sooners look to reverse the trend of poor shooting at the spacious NRG Stadium. (Getty Images)

Buddy Hield and the Sooners look to reverse the trend of poor-shooting teams at spacious NRG Stadium. (Getty Images)

  • It overcomes NRG Stadium’s reputation as a challenging shooting environment. Though the sample size isn’t overwhelming, teams have historically shot below their averages in the expansive confines of this year’s Final Four venue (as detailed last year by Ken Pomeroy and expanded upon earlier this week by Yahoo!‘s Jeff Eisenberg). The Sooners and Wildcats are notoriously reliant on jump-shooting, but what you may not know is just how eerily similar the two teams are in this fashion. Per hoop-math.com, 67.4 percent of Villanova’s field goal attempts this season have come away from the rim, and Oklahoma is just below the Wildcats in that category at 67.2 percent. Though it’s hardly earth-shattering, sometimes these things are simple: Whichever team solves the puzzle of performing well in spite of a tougher shooting environment will prevail, and with three Sooner regulars connecting from long range at rates of 42 percent or better, Oklahoma should have the slight edge.
  • It wins the battle of the interior. Should both teams struggle to find the range at NRG Stadium, inside play will become much more important to the outcome, and Oklahoma will have to answer some questions there. Ryan Spangler logged 10 points and eight rebounds against Texas A&M, but he hasn’t had a very good NCAA Tournament otherwise. The same can be said for rim-protector Khadeem Lattin, who went for 10 points and a pair of blocks against the Aggies, but has blocked just four shots in the Sooners’ other three tourney games. Though he’s technically a guard, freshman Christian James, a Houston native who emerged with a pair of quality outings in Anaheim, may be called upon to help inside as the Sooners look to best Daniel Ochefu and Kris Jenkins.

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2015-16 RTC National Player of the Year: Buddy Hield

Posted by Walker Carey on April 1st, 2016

This college basketball season was the “year of the senior.” Seniors like Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, North Carolina’s Brice Johnson, Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff, Kansas’ Perry Ellis, and Iowa State’s Georges Niang were all yesterday named to the RTC All-America Teams. They each put together amazing seasons in lifting their teams to outstanding regular season success and NCAA Tournament berths. As excellent as those players were, however, there was one senior who stood out among the pack. That player is Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield. In this era of the one-and-done superstar, it might be cynical to view a senior winning the National Player of the Year award as something approaching a career achievement award. But while Hield put together a successful first three seasons in Norman, he saved his best for last this year. The dynamic shooting guard averaged an incredible 25.4 points per game while shooting 50.4 percent from the field and a very impressive 46.5 percent from three. In an offense completely centered around Hield’s explosive offensive skills, Oklahoma averaged a robust 80.4 points per game.

Buddy Hield is the 2015-16 RTC Player of the Year  (Getty Images)

Buddy Hield is the 2015-16 RTC Player of the Year (Getty Images)

Hield put together many sensational games this season, but two performances in particular come to mind as the most memorable. In a January 4 epic triple-overtime Big 12 battle between Oklahoma and Kansas, the casual college basketball fan became acquainted with Hield’s heroics. The All-American finished the evening in Allen Fieldhouse with a career-high 46 points on 13-of-23 shooting, along with eight rebounds and seven assists. It was such an amazing effort that Kansas fans gave Hield a standing ovation, and one that will be remembered in Norman and around the college basketball world for years to come. The other memorably outstanding performance came in the Elite Eight when Hield’s star power led the Sooners past #1 seed Oregon and into the program’s first Final Four in 14 years. The senior contributed 37 points on 13-of-20 shooting and 8-of-13 from behind the three-point line. Oklahoma will face a staunch test when it takes on Villanova in the Final Four Saturday night, but it would be unwise to discount the Sooners’ chances of advancing whenever a star like Hield is involved.

2015-16 RTC National Coach of the Year: Jay Wright

Posted by Walker Carey on April 1st, 2016

The 2015-16 RTC National Coach of the Year Jay Wright has been a winner throughout his 15-year tenure at Villanova. He has led the Wildcats to 11 of the last 12 NCAA Tournaments and the program has taken home four Big East titles under his guidance. Even with all that winning and a Final Four appearance in 2009, the veteran coach has received some criticism in recent years because of several early NCAA Tournament exits. In 2014, Villanova entered the NCAA Tournament with a 28-4 record and was viewed as a dangerous #2 seed. That buzz fizzled out quickly, though, as the Wildcats were sent packing by eventual national champion Connecticut in the Round of 32. The next year it appeared Villanova was in even better shape to make a deep run. Wright’s group compiled a sterling 32-2 regular season that included a 15-game winning streak heading into the NCAAs. That did not matter much, though, as the Wildcats were once again bounced in the Round of 32 — this time at the hands of streaky NC State. With a mostly veteran squad returning this season, Villanova looked once again ready to combine a strong regular season with deep advancement into the NCAA Tournament.

Jay Wright is the 2015-16 RTC Coach of the Year  (AP)

Jay Wright is the 2015-16 RTC Coach of the Year (AP)

Villanova completed its first mission with relative ease, taking home another Big East regular season title and entering the NCAA Tournament with a 29-5 record as a #2 seed. Wright’s Wildcats easily exorcised their first weekend demons two weeks ago in Brooklyn by routing #15 seed UNC-Asheville and #7 seed Iowa. Even with those two impressive wins, pundits still doubted the team’s legitimacy heading into its Sweet Sixteen game with #3 seed Miami (FL). Villanova easily proved those doubters wrong, as it blew the Hurricanes off the floor en route to a 92-69 victory. But even that rousing victory did the Wildcats no favors with their critics. An Elite Eight victory against overall #1 seed Kansas appeared unlikely, but Wright’s veteran squad took the challenge and battled forward to a 64-59 victory. The regional-clinching win sent the Villanova program back to the Final Four for the first time since 2009.

The Wildcats will face a difficult test on Saturday when it faces Oklahoma and NPOY candidate Buddy Hield. The Oklahoma guard is a dynamic scorer with a proven ability to take over a game every time he takes the floor. Villanova is going to have to play a sound defensive game to contain Hield and emerge with the victory. Luckily for Villanova fans, Wright has shown a steady touch with this group all season long and you better believe it will be ready for the challenge. Our RTC National Coach of the Year will know what buttons to push and put his team in a position to win if it executes reasonably well. It is only the latest version of what he has been doing since he began patrolling the sideline at Villanova all those many years ago.

2015-16 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on March 31st, 2016

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what’s to come during the season. There will always be players who will fail to live up to expectations and there will always be relatively unknown types who will unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our outfit of seven RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams back in November; nobody could have guessed that only eight of the 15 players chosen would live up to the hype: Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon, LSU’s Ben Simmons, Providence’s Kris Dunn, Utah’s Jakob Poeltl, Kentucky’s Jamal Murray, and Iowa State’s Georges Niang. Hield and Simmons were the only two players projected to be first-teamers and ended up there. The seven other players who did not make our postseason team are Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer, Wichita State’s Ron Baker, Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere, Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, North Carolina’s Marcus Paige and Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes. All turned in varying degrees of productive seasons but were surpassed in achievements by the names that rose to the top of our list. Here are the 2015-16 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America

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  • Buddy Hield, Senior, Oklahoma (consensus) (25.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 50.4% FG, 46.5% 3FG). Hield has wrapped up his collegiate career in dynamite fashion. After bypassing the NBA Draft last spring, Hield noted, “I just can’t wait to see what Coach Kruger has in mind for next year. I know we’re going to be a really good team.” Suffice it to say Hield was correct, as the Sooners are headed to their first Final Four since 2002. The explosive senior scorer has led the way all season with possibly no performance greater than the one he turned in during Oklahoma’s Elite Eight victory over Oregon. Hield finished the night with 37 points on a blistering 13-of-20 shooting from the field and an extremely impressive 8-of-13 outing from behind the three-point line. This college basketball season has been marked by uncertainty, but with Hield in tow, it is probably smart not to doubt Oklahoma’s chances in Houston this weekend.
  • Denzel Valentine, Senior, Michigan State (consensus) (19.2 PPG, 7.8 APG, 7.5 RPG, 46.2% FG). There was likely not a more complete player in college basketball this season. Valentine did it all for the Spartans and it seemed like the senior really stepped his game up in big spots throughout the regular season. He turned in an iconic triple-double in Michigan State’s early comeback victory over Kansas and came through with a 30-point performance in a February home victory over eventual Big Ten champion Indiana. While the Spartans saw their season end in a shocking upset to Middle Tennessee State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Valentine’s incredible campaign should not be discounted in any way.
  • Brice Johnson, Senior, North Carolina (consensus) (17.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 61.6% FG). Given North Carolina’s lofty postseason expectations, it is not entirely unexpected that the Tar Heels are headed to the Final Four as the favorite to cut down the nets on Monday night. What has been a bit unexpected, though, is the rise of Johnson from a good player as a junior to a bona fide star as a senior. Johnson’s improvement over the course of his career has been so great that Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams has referred to his senior as the most improved player he has ever coached. To provide a glimpse of just how important Johnson has been to North Carolina’s run to Houston, consider the fact that he has recorded at least 20 points and grabbed at least 10 rebounds in each of his team’s last three games.
  • Malcolm Brogdon, Senior, Virginia (18.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 45.7% FG). Virginia has been one of the most successful programs in the country over the last three seasons. It took home the ACC crown in both 2014 and 2015, and it earned a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament this year. A major reason behind this success has been Brogdon’s ascension into stardom. Brogdon’s fantastic senior campaign led him to being named both the ACC’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year – becoming the first player to win both awards since the defensive honor was introduced in 2005.
  • Ben Simmons, Freshman, LSU (19.2 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 4.8 APG, 56.0% FG). It is not often you see a player turn in a first team All-America season on a team that finished 19-14 and did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but this is that situation. The freshman entered the season with an unbelievable amount of hype, but somehow amid the hoopla, he handled it quite well. Simmons led LSU in points, rebounds and assists, and was clearly the team’s best player all season long. Simmons has already made it known that he is headed to the NBA Draft, but his lone season in Baton Rouge should be remembered for his consistently great on-court performances.

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