Morning Five: 07.26.16 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 26th, 2016

morning5

  1. We post stories of college basketball players dying way too often on this site. The latest one is Tyrek Coger, a recent transfer to Oklahoma State, who died on Thursday while participating in an outdoor team workout. Coger, a 6’8″ forward who had transferred from Cape Fear Community College, had gained some notoriety back in high school for challenging John Wall to a pick-up game, which became a popular YouTube video. Coger had struggled for a while to show his potential, but he appeared to be realizing some of it recently. Details regarding Coger’s death will not be released, but it appears to be related to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a not infrequent cause of death in men’s college basketball players which we discussed in a post in 2011. Currently, there is no recommendation to proceed with more aggressive screening in athletes, but we do wonder how many times this will need to happen before schools decide that they need to screen even if the financial numbers don’t work on a bigger scale.
  2. On Thursday ESPN formally announced its plans for the ACC Network, but to us the more interesting news was that the ACC would be expanding its conference schedule from 18 to 20 games beginning with the 2019-20 season. The obvious motive behind this is to help fill their network with original content and for some of the lower-tier ACC programs it will also bring in extra revenue by increasing the chances that they will get one of the marquee programs to visit even with an unbalanced schedule. The real question will be how schools will compensate for this on non-conference schedule. We suspect that most programs will react by scheduling even fewer tough non-conference opponents, which is unfortunate, but the reality of the business of college basketball.
  3. When videos of Mike Rice verbally and physically abusing his basketball players at Rutgers came out three years ago the media widely condemned his actions. Now with reports coming out of George Washington that Mike Lonergan may have been verbally abusing his players we have been interested to see a much more muted response. The obvious differences are the lack of video/audio evidence and the absence of physical abuse, but we also suspect that some of this is the expectation that players at a certain level will have to deal with some verbal abuse (this is also true in some workplaces). To be fair to Lonergan, several of his former players have come out to defend him against the reports from anonymous former players. We still haven’t heard anything about how the George Washington administration is dealing with this and we doubt that anything significant will happen although we do suspect that Lonergan’s relationship with athletic director Patrick Nero will probably be more strained.
  4. Many media members noted that the NCAA’s announcement that it would require future championship host cities to submit an outline of how they will prevent discrimination came out just a day after the NBA decided to change the site of its 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte due to North Carolina’s controversial HB2 law, but it seems pretty clear that the NCAA has been working on this for some time. The questionnaire (PDF here) requires the host cities to provide the NCAA with assurances that both participants and spectators will not be discriminated against. We have never delved into politics on this site, but it will be interesting to see how strict the NCAA is in its interpretation of discrimination and if/how it could influence legislation since getting to host a NCAA championship can mean millions in dollars in revenue for some cities.
  5. If you are still waiting on the NCAA to drop the proverbial hammer on North Carolina for its academic fraud we might be getting one step closer (ok, we can’t say that with a straight face). UNC has announced that will submit its response to the NCAA regarding its amended Notice of Allegations on August 1 with the response being made public the following day. We won’t go into the details of the academic fraud because at this point we almost as sick of it as UNC fans are, but we will point out that this is unlikely to be anywhere close to the end and as Andrew Carter notes in the article it is unlikely that the case will end this year.

Morning Five: 07.21.16 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 21st, 2016

morning5

  1. Conference media days are usually full of mundane questions and people trying to make big stories out of mostly irrelevant issues, but the Big 12 appears to be an exception to that this year as it announced that it has decided to explore expanding. That announcement has led to plenty of speculation as to what schools would be the best fit. With the conference expected to add either two or four schools in a bid to not only become bigger/expand its geographic footprint, but also possibly move towards having its own television network (see below), the most commonly mentioned options appear to be Boise State, Brigham Young, Central Florida, Cincinnati, Colorado State, Connecticut, Houston, Memphis, South Florida, and Tulane with BYU, Cincinnati, and Connecticut being the favorites to most observers.
  2. One of those schools that did itself no favors with the timing of release of bad news is South Florida, which is being investigated by the NCAA for academic fraud. Very few details about the case have come out yet, but it already appears to have led assistant coach Oliver Antigua, brother of head coach Orlando Antigua, to resign within hours of the story breaking. Plenty of people online have been making jokes about how the program should be better if they are cheating, but the reality is that they should be better just based on the location of where they are. Tampa is by no means a high school basketball hotbed, but there are plenty of talented players in the area including many talented two-sports players who focus on football. Much like Central Florida, the program really should be better than what it is. We will have to wait and see what they are accused of and how hard the NCAA will come down on it before seeing what kind of obstacles they will have to overcome.
  3. If you thought you didn’t get enough ACC basketball (ok, you already get enough Duke and North Carolina), you are in luck as the ACC Network is now expected to launch in 2019 as part of a report that also indicates that the league is extending its grant of rights through the 2035-36 season. The latter is interesting as it means the conference keeps all media revenue generated by the school even if it tries to leave the conference until that period. We aren’t sure how well that would hold up in court, but it would make poaching schools away more difficult if it could be enforced.
  4. In probably the most predictable recruiting announcement ever, Michael Porter Jr has committed to play at Washington. For those of you who don’t follow recruiting, Porter, who was mentioned in last week’s Morning 5, seemed like he was guaranteed to play at Washington since he is the godson of Lorenzo Romar and the school has recently hired his father to be an assistant coach. These type of package deals are nothing new (we wrote about them back in 2008 and they were going on well before that), but they continue to leave a sour taste in some people’s mouths. We are not what exactly the NCAA can to prevent them since there are certainly family members of top recruits who would be reasonable coaching hires (like if Doc Rivers had been out of coaching when Austin was being recruited), but it seems like it will continue to be a contentious point going forward.
  5. Unfortunately, we have to cover legal issues around college basketball players way too much and this week’s case is Xavier senior guard Myles Davis (10.8 points, 4.1 assists, and 3.6 rebounds per game last year), who had a protective order placed against him after his ex-girlfriend accused him of threatening her, breaking her cellphone, punching holes in a wall, and trying to break her windows. For the next three years, Davis, who denies the allegations, is barred from coming within 500 feet of the woman except on-campus where he has to stay at least ten feet away at all times. The school has not handed down any punishment for Davis yet although we doubt it will be anything substantial unless he has a history of these type of incidents.

Morning Five: 07.14.16 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 14th, 2016

morning5

  1. Larry Brown‘s decision to resign last week as head coach at Southern Methodist University should not come as surprise to those who know his history. According to reports Brown was seeking a five-year extension, but the school was only willing to offer a three-year, $10 million expansion leading Brown to resign just at the start of the start of the very important July reporting period. Fortunately for SMU they already have a coach-in-waiting in Tim Jankovich, who left a job as head coach at Illinois State in 2012 to be a coach-in-waiting at SMU and he is expected to receive a contract that is at least five years in length. Normally when someone Brown’s age (75) resigns we would expect that it would be the last we see of him, but Brown has always been different. If this is the last we see of Brown, his legacy will be a very interesting one as he is undoubtedly one of the best basketball coaches ever, but he was also one who could never stay in one place very long and also managed to be the coach at three schools who were hit with significant NCAA sanction.
  2. July might seem like a weird time for Luke Winn to come out with new Power Rankings, but as he notes we are at the point where we can reasonably expect that every significant recruit/player has committed to play somewhere or decided to transfer out of their current program. While this version of the Power Rankings is lighter on GIFs/clips and numbers than in-season versions (totally understandable since there isn’t as much new data to look at as there is in-season), it does serve as a good concise recap of where the top teams stand coming into next season. If you’re looking for those really interesting stats, we would point you to the three-point shooting of Kentucky‘s incoming guards and Purdue‘s efficiency numbers with Caleb Swanigan on- and off-court.
  3. If you happened to miss the coverage of Peach Jam, the big winners from the weekend appear to be Michael Porter Jr and Trae Young and not just because their team took home the title. According to most analysts the pair were two of the most dominant players in the entire tournament and probably did as much to boost their stock as anyone at Peach Jam. While DeAndre Ayton doesn’t seem to be in danger of losing his spot as the top recruit in the class, Porter made a strong case to be in the discussion. Of course, that probably doesn’t matter since everybody already has him penciled in going to Washington since his father was hired as an assistant coach there (ok, that’s probably more Sharpie than pencil). Young’s situation is more interesting as he is considering multiple schools with Kentucky reportedly making him one of their top targets.
  4. Jeremiah Tilmon didn’t participate in Peach Jam as he is still recovering from a dislocated shoulder, but he still managed to make news with his decision to commit to Illinois. Tilmon, a 6’10” center who is top-30 recruit in the class of 2017, is originally from Illinois even though he plays for a school in Indiana now so we guess this counts as an in-state recruit. In any event, he is the highest-rated recruit to commit to Illinois since John Groce took over in 2012. The big question now for Illinois is whether he will stay committed to the school if they struggle this year and particularly if Groce appears to be in danger of losing his job, which he could be if they have another subpar season.
  5. Outside of the obvious differences in coaching philosophies in terms of offensive and defensive sets, substitution patterns are probably the most important part of in-game coaching. Ken Pomeroy’s analysis of which coaches are most/least likely to let a player continue playing during the first half when that player already has two fouls offers an interesting look at that. While we don’t necessarily see a particular patterns (so-called “good” and “bad” coaches fall all over the spectrum) there are some pretty stark differences. The one thing that we would like to see applied to this analysis is the season-to-season variation in a coach’s tendencies, which could reflect a lack of an adequate substitute, and how this is related to percentage of minutes played by starters.

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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