Why the Spartans Will Win It All…

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2010

We asked writers from each of the four Final Four schools to provide us with a persuasive article on why their team will win it all this coming weekend.  Joey Nowak of the State News tells us that Michigan State has one x-factor that no other school can claim: Tom Izzo. 

In picking a national champion, you can crunch every number and compare every statistic you can find. You can weigh records, odds, matchups and the history books. Champs have been chosen from everything — jerseys, mascots, school colors, height and weight, birthdays and signs of the zodiac. But the reason Michigan State will be the team cutting down the nets at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday night can be spelled out in four letters.

I-Z-Z-O.

Izzo Approaching Some Rarefied Air

The Michigan State head coach’s middle name is March. No one prepares like Izzo and his staff, no one is better on a two-day tournament turnaround and, thus, no team is ever more prepared for the NCAA Tournament than an Izzo-coached squad.  Players buy into his philosophies (defense, toughness and rebounding produce the No. 1 rebounding and No. 58 field-goal defense in the nation) and his promise of “You get me through the first game, I’ll get you through the second” rings true on a perennial basis.

Speaking of crunching stats, let’s do these: Izzo has led the Spartans to a remarkable 16-3 record in the second game of an NCAA Tournament weekend. (For those keeping score at home, that national title game everyone is talking about? That’s the second game of an NCAA Tournament weekend.)  It’s a well-known fact in the college basketball community that no other program has reached six Final Fours in the last 12 years, but it’s also crucial to note that only Izzo, UCLA’s John Wooden and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski have led any team on such a run in history.

Izzo is 35-11 in the Big Dance, good for second in winning percentage among active coaches (he passed Roy Williams with two wins this weekend) and he’s nipping on Krzyzewski’s heels for the number one spot. Should the Spartans win the title, Izzo will be the top dog.  There’s a phrase that is thrown around East Lansing that the “players play the game” and it comes down to nothing else. But with Izzo at their back, these players turn their hopes and dreams over to the man in green and he works his magic.

More Hardware Coming Back to East Lansing (LSJ/R. Sanford)

Some are calling this Izzo’s greatest coaching performance — reaching the Final Four without MSU’s leading scorer and point guard (Kalin Lucas), with their best perimeter defender (Chris Allen) hobbling with a torn ligament in his right foot and an explosive forward (Delvon Roe) playing through “ridiculous” pain with a torn meniscus in his right knee.  No question it’s up there. And with a Final Four field that has been as open as any in recent memory and a national title up for grabs, why not side with the man who continues to prove doubters wrong?

I-Z-Z-O.

Share this story

March Moment: Lest We Forget, Sometimes It’s Good Just To Be Invited

Posted by jstevrtc on March 31st, 2010

Few college basketball fans are born with their love for the game. For most aficionados, at some point on the way from infancy to college hoops fan, there is a moment. A single play, shot, player, game, or event at which point they say to themselves, “I will always have this in my life.” Because it is the time of the season that carries the most gravitas, these things often happen in March. We asked some of our friends and correspondents: what was the thing that turned you into a lifelong college basketball fan? What was your…March Moment?

Our final installment for this year has a pair of remembrances that remind us how just being part of the magic of the NCAA Tournament is something for which to be thankful. RTC correspondents Kraig Williams and Russell Burnett recount being in the crowd (and eventually on the floor) to see their teams earn automatic invites to the NCAA Tournament.  Butler may be a 5-seed but they’re still a so-called “mid-major,” and this is obviously the biggest storyline of this year’s Final Four.  These stories from Messrs. Williams and Burnett amplify how great Butler’s achievement is, and goes to show that if you think every single mid-major program in the nation doesn’t take pride in and hope from the Bulldogs’ presence in Indy this weekend, you’d better think again:

KW: I’ve always been a big college basketball fan, and fondly remember the days of filling out a bracket before I even knew how to pronounce some of the schools’ names. Growing up in Utah, I remember watching Keith Van Horn carry Utah to a championship game; I jumped on the band wagons of Duke in ’01 and Syracuse in ’03 to win bracket pools among my friends and slowly college basketball seeped into my blood. It wasn’t until last season that I had my ultimate March Moment.

As a student at Utah State University, we survived the adjustment from the Big West to the WAC only to surfer heartbreaks in the conference tournament year after year. Last season though, things were different. It was clear the Aggies were head-and-shoulders above the rest of the conference. Utah State steamrolled through Fresno State, somehow survived New Mexico State in the semi finals, and then came the dream matchup with Nevada on their home floor. Sitting outside the arena a couple hours before they would even let us in, it became apparent that this would be our night. Utah State students had the Nevada crowd nearly outnumbered, and when we got into the stadium it became clear that we would have the better team. Utah State jumped out to a 21-4 lead and the party began in the student section. After years of following the Aggies, and watching them come oh-so-close so many times, we were finally going to have a conference tournament banner to hang in The Spectrum. The clock ticked down, we shouted the “winning team, losing team” chant, and then we rushed the court in Reno like our lives depended on it. We spent the next hour or so just standing on the court, talking to the players, taking photos with the trophy, and watching our guys cut down the nets. That’s a feeling I’ll never forget, knowing that we weren’t going to be sweating bullets at home waiting to see if the selection committee would be nice enough to send us to the dance.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Expansion 96: Brace Yourselves, It’s Coming…

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2010

Folks, we need to brace ourselves for this.  If you’re at all like us, and we suspect that you are, you’ve been holding out considerable hope that the beauty of this year’s NCAA Tournament — all the great first weekend games, the four regional finals coming down to the wire, the story of small-school Butler making it back home for the Final Four — would somehow sway the powers-that-be to leave things well enough alone.  But we know people like this, and you know people like this.  What we see as perfection, like the Mona Lisa with nary a blemish, they see as an opportunity to sell more Mona Lisa tickets and merchandise.  Profit motive is ALL these people care about, and when that’s your rather obtuse worldview, bigger is always better.  The rest of it be damned.  But as one politician recently put it, it’s coming… whether we like it or not.  Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney, one of the voices of reason in previous interviews on expansion, has apparently now landed on the side of the profiteers and money men as well.  He said in an interview with USA Today that he thinks that expansion is ‘probable,’ reflecting a growing sentiment among NCAA college presidents that this is a good idea.  The NCAA Board of Directors will meet in late April and the topic is on the agenda in light of the decision to opt out of its current television contract with CBS and entertain other offers. 

Start Getting Accustomed to This Now

So even though something like 11% of people polled on SportsNation are in favor of expansion (an unscientific poll, but do you know anyone supporting this?), it’s time for all of us to take it up the arse buck up and figure out how we’re going to come to terms with this.  So in the spirit of turning the other cheek, seeing the glass as half-full and other meaningless aphorisms, we’re going to present you with five reasons that Expansion 96 will actually (ahem) make the NCAA Tournament experience better.  Blasphemer, thy name is RTC… we know.  Feel free to skewer us on the spit along with NCAA Executive Director Jim Isch (jisch@ncaa.org) if you like. 

  1. The 2010 NIT Has Been Eminently Watchable.  Getting past the joke that the NIT is the “Not Invited Tournament” and so on, the ‘junior’ tourney’s games this year have been surprisingly competitive and fun to watch as a hoops-fix during the interregnum between NCAA dates.  Since the NCAA is talking about simply synthesizing the NIT into the NCAA Tournament, the 32 NIT teams would (mostly) populate the bottom third of the new legal-paper sized bracket that everyone would carry around with them.  And although very few hoops fans other than those of the NIT teams bother to follow the games, the quality of play has improved over the past several years and it would probably make more sense to have everyone in college basketball focused on the same national postseason tournament every year rather than split between two (we’re not keen on including the CBI/CIT yet).
  2. The First Weekend Becomes the First Week.  Under the new format of 96 teams, we presume that the games would begin on Tuesday following Selection Sunday and run for six consecutive days through the following Sunday.  It would break out like this: Tuesday (16 games), Wednesday (16 games), Thursday (16 games), Friday (16 games), Saturday (8 games), Sunday (8 games).  The basketball bonanza of the opening weekend has just become the opening week, so go ahead and take off the entire thing from work.  Now, you may say along with everyone else that you’re really not interested in watching a Texas Tech-Seton Hall game because it represents two bad teams where somebody has to win, but are you telling us that you wouldn’t be intrigued by a UNC-William & Mary first round matchup?  Or UConn-Northeastern?  We’d by lying if we said that those games weren’t interesting to us, and you would be too. 
  3. The Regular Season Still Matters.  For the old-timers who lament the days when winning the regular season meant something, expansion will help make good on that issue.  No longer will teams from the smaller conferences put together great seasons only to be left out in the cold on Selection Sunday because they had a bad day in the conference tournament.  The new Tourney would include all tournament and regular season champions plus the at-larges, rewarding nearly every team that had a really good season. 
  4. The Bye is a Huge Incentive For At-Large Teams.  Presumably the best 32 teams as determined by the Selection Committee would get the first round bye to the Thursday/Friday games.  Staying above that line will be a HUGE incentive for those schools.  The possibility of winning three games in five days against quality opponents to advance to the Sweet Sixteen is far lower than it is to win two games in three days.  This will help prevent teams who are safely in the NCAA Tournament from not giving their all (“coasting”) during the end of the season and/or their conference tournament because of the possibility of slipping below a #8 seed.  And those teams who are in the #5-#12 range during the last month of the year will have considerably more to play for every night out.
  5. Potentially Better Storylines.  We all love when a Cinderella breaks through to the Sweet Sixteen.  Consider the possibility of a team rated in the bottom 32 teams winning its first game against a marginally higher-seeded opponent and then follows it up with a win against a bye team.  The third game of the week for that team will be fraught with excitement as they’ll then be facing in all likelihood a top-16 team for the right to move into the second weekend.  There will be more time to get to know these Cinderellas and support them as the Tournament builds to its opening weekend crescendo.  Additionally, there will be a greater likelihood of a #1 seed losing its first game.  The really bad small conference teams will lose in the opening round, leaving all four #1 seeds to play a marginally better team with a win already under its belt.  Rather than the MEAC team du jour, it could potentially be a dangerous BCS team like Northwestern or St. John’s this year. 
Share this story

30 Days of Madness: Phi Slama Jama Detonates on Louisville

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2010

We’ve been anxiously awaiting the next thirty days for the last eleven months.  You have too.  In fact, if this isn’t your favorite time of year by a healthy margin then you should probably click away from this site for a while.   Because we plan on waterboarding you with March Madness coverage.  Seriously, you’re going to feel like Dick Cheney himself is holding a Spalding-logoed towel over your face.  Your intake will be so voluminous that you’ll be drooling Gus Johnson and bracket residue in your sleep.  Or Seth Davis, if that’s more your style.  The point is that we’re all locked in and ready to go.  Are you?  To help us all get into the mood, we like to click around a fancy little website called YouTube for a daily dose of notable events, happenings, finishes, ups and downs relating to the next month.  We’re going to try to make this video compilation a little smarter, a little edgier, a little historical-er.  Or whatever.  Sure, you’ll see some old favorites that never lose their luster, but you’ll also see some that maybe you’ve forgotten or never knew to begin with.  That’s the hope, at least.  We’ll be matching the videos by the appropriate week, so all of this week we’re heading down memory lane at the Final Four.  Enjoy.

NCAA Final Four

Dateline: 1983 NCAA Final Four – Houston vs. Louisville

Context: This game was the most highly anticipated game of the year in 1983: Houston’s Phi Slama Jamma versus Louisville’s Doctors of Dunk.  Both teams were filled with high-flying, athletic players who liked to get up and down the court.  Houston was led by future Hall of Famers Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, while Louisville had Scooter and Rodney McCray up front as well as Lancaster Gordon and Milt Wagner in the backcourt.  This game more than any other of the post-UCLA era showcased the “attack the rim” mentality that has come to define the modern game, and it showed in the viewership (earning a then-record 14.8 television rating).  We pick up the game with Houston trailing and about to go on a spectacular 17-1 run that included six straight dunks by the Cougars (and ten in the final 12 minutes of the game).  SI’s Curry Kirkpatrick wrote at the time that the display was “breathtaking… [a] bomb of a Houston team detonated.”  Enjoy.

Share this story

Final Four Team-By-Team Previews: Michigan State

Posted by zhayes9 on March 31st, 2010

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Here are the Butler and West Virginia previews. Today we delve into Michigan State’s chances during their sixth Final Four under Tom Izzo.

It's Mr. Izzo's time of year

Crucial Tourney Moment(s): Michigan State and Maryland played a two-minute stint of basketball during their second round clash unrivaled in this NCAA Tournament. Timeouts, fouls and other stoppages were few and far between. Instead, up-and-down basketball, star players making season-deciding buckets and one backup point guards’ clinching shot at the buzzer made the difference. After Greivis Vasquez capped off a heroic late game performance with a leaner that gave the Terps the lead, it was the roundest point-forward in the land, Draymond Green, finding a streaking  Korie Lucious under the ducked head of Delvon Roe for a three-pointer that sent the Spartans to St. Louis, and, following victories over Northern Iowa and Tennessee, on to the Final Four for the second straight season.

Advantage Area: Coaching can often be overstated. After all, it’s ultimately the players on the floor and their individual decision making and skill level that decide games. Yet there’s something about Tom Izzo and his ability to construct a basketball team that peaks when the stakes are at the highest level. A Spartan team mired with chemistry issues, injuries and suspensions for most of the season has rallied around a single goal and are somehow playing into April. Everyone gives Izzo, aptly nicknamed Mr. March, full credit for the turnaround and the program’s annual success. Everyone except Izzo, of course. There are three other great coaches in Indianapolis this year, though, and the games are determined on the floor. Where the Spartans hold an advantage is their ability to run effective sets in the halfcourt, overall athleticism, capability of functioning at different speeds and the versatility of players like Raymar Morgan and Draymond Green. The second half they played against Northern Iowa on the offensive end was a thing of beauty.

Potential Downfall: There are two areas of great importance that the Spartans lack and both could prove their ultimate downfall- steady, experienced point guard play and reliable low-post scoring. Korie Lucious has done a commendable job replacing the Spartans floor leader Kalin Lucas thus far, but often surrendered careless turnovers to the heavy ball pressure of Tennessee’s Bobby Maze and Melvin Goins. No team defends as physically in the halfcourt as Butler. Both Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored are pests that force turnovers at a decent rate. Lucious shouldn’t worry about wowing anyone under the bright lights of Lucas Oil Stadium; instead, focus on taking care of the basketball and running sets, finding Durrell Summers off screens, locating Draymond Green for open mid-range shots and controlling the pace of the game. Michigan State also lacks a true low post scorer that can go toe-to-toe with Matt Howard. Delvon Roe is playing with a torn meniscus and Derrick Nix is a freshman without much experience. Should they advance, neither West Virginia or Duke possesses a consistent scoring threat on the low block.

X-Factor: Raymar Morgan is the ultimate x-factor in college basketball. When Morgan plays up to his talent level, the Spartans are a team to be reckoned with. Durrell Summers shooting stroke is also a major x-factor in Saturday’s game. Summers has been Izzo’s most valuable offensive cog in the last three games: 25-39 FG, 14-22 3pt and 66 points. The Spartans were able to knock off Northern Iowa largely because the Panthers defense dares opponents to make long jump shots and Summers delivered. He exploded onto the scene as a sophomore last March and will look to do the same this year coming off screens and hitting jumpers. With Chris Allen hobbled and Lucious worried about running the offense, it’ll be up to Summers to bail Michigan State out on more than one occasion late in the shot clock when the Butler defense imposes their will in the halfcourt.

Key Semifinal Matchup: Shelvin Mack vs. Korie Lucious. As it does so often in the Final Four, this game could come down to point guard play. The entire world will be judging Lucious on how he steps up in the absence of Kalin Lucas. It is Mack’s job to annoy Lucious as much as possible, much like Bobby Maze and Melvin Goins gave him as little room as possible to operate. It’s not just about defense for Mack, though. His game on the offensive end has made leaps and bounds from his freshman to sophomore seasons, likely due to his experience playing for the Under-19 U.S. team this summer. Mack drained 39% of his threes this season and also has a strong, built body that acts like a bulldozer attacking the basket. It’s up to the defensively challenged Lucious to contain Mack and force more of the scoring load on Gordon Hayward.

Crunch Time Performer: Tom Izzo doesn’t have one main option down the stretch like West Virginia with Da’Sean Butler or Butler with Gordon Hayward. He could diagram a play to get Durrell Summers an open look from deep, isolate Draymond Green and let him operate (ran this play late in the Maryland game), or even clear out for Lucious if he has confidence in him (ran this play late in the Northern Iowa game). And it was Raymar Morgan who found himself open down the floor against Tennessee. Rather than one player the opposing defense can focus on, Izzo has the luxury known as unpredictability. There’s nobody better in college basketball following a timeout than Izzo.

Experience: The experience factor is clearly advantage: Spartans in this Final Four. Nearly everyone that sees regular minutes played on last year’s runner up squad with the exception of Derrick Nix and Garrick Sherman. Even Lucious hit two threes in the semifinal win against Connecticut. Not to mention Tom Izzo will be coaching in his sixth Final Four, a mark only Coach K can replicate. Raymar Morgan is the Spartans team captain and will need to step up leadership-wise on the floor should Michigan State fall into a deficit against Butler.

Forecast: Many casual fans are labeling Michigan State as “lucky” they received a mid-major 5-seed in the Final Four rather than Syracuse or Kansas State, a point I respectfully dispute. Butler beat both of those aforementioned teams and will be playing in front of a plethora of navy blue-clad Bulldog fans in their backyard, much like Michigan State experienced last year in Detroit. Butler is an extremely fundamentally-sound, well-coached team with talented players that are operating at their best at the most opportune time. All of those factors also apply to Sparty, though. Should they eclipse Butler, West Virginia or Duke will pose a tremendous threat in the title game. Both the Mountaineers and Blue Devils have more talent across the board than the Spartans, especially without Lucas in the fold.

Prediction: I foolishly doubted Tom Izzo and picked Maryland, Northern Iowa and Tennessee all to beat Michigan State. I figured the shaky Spartans I watched the entire month of February would rear its ugly head at some point in the tournament and it still hasn’t happened. Michigan State simply makes winning plays in March and Izzo is the best in the business this time of year. Spartans advance to the final.

Share this story

RTC Final Four Tidbits: 03.30.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2010

Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Butler (Andrew Murawa)

Duke (Patrick Sellars)

  • The Bleacher Report puts their own spin on a preview of the Duke Blue Devils.
  • An article from the Star Tribune discusses how Duke ruined the Final Four because they are the only unlikable team in the mix.
  • Here’s an article from the Miami-Herald on why people despise Duke, and apparently it starts with Coach K. I suppose the rest of the ACC hating on Duke continues into the offseason.
  • Want to know who the best white Duke player of all time was? Well now you can! Thank God Josh McRoberts missed the list.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Comings & Goings: Oregon Chasing Tubby; Tim Floyd to UTEP – Really?

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2010

The big news today is that Oregon and Mr. Moneybags Phil Knight have made a formal offer to Minnesota’s Tubby Smith, which (you know the drill) Smith vehemently denied.  In an effort to keep Tubby in Minneapolis, the Minnesota president has gotten involved and said that they hope they can put together a contract extension that will result in Smith retiring from basketball at the school.  Another source near the Duck program says that Pitt’s Jamie Dixon has been offered the job.  We’re really not sure what Oregon is thinking here.  Sure, they want a big name, but they need to be realistic about this.  Oregon may have gobs of cash to throw at a prospective coach, but they’re not nearly as important as they must think they are.  Just within the Pac-10, this is probably the fifth best basketball job (behind UCLA, Arizona, Cal and Washington), and if you’ve ever been to Eugene it cannot possibly be the easiest place in the world to recruit mostly african-american players to.  Ernie Kent probably did as well as he possibly could do there.  The play that Knight and friends should make is to scour the nation for the hottest mid-major coach in America and throw whoever that may be (Randy Bennett?  Brad Stevens?  Ben Jacobson?) a wad of cash and the keys to the new Matthew Knight arena.  Give him four years and watch him work his tail off.  You’ve probably got a better shot at long-term success with that strategy that you would ending up with someone like Tubby who has gotten comfortable with his career arc.

Moving on to other coaching news, there were two more interesting items today.  First, former USC coach Tim Floyd has been hired at UTEP to replace Tony Barbee.  Yes, this is the same guy who as head coach at USC was responsible for the OJ Mayo fiasco and other self-reported NCAA violations that ended up costing a promising Trojan team its season.  It’s nice to see that UTEP brass thinks that Floyd will be cleared to coach when the NCAA sanctions come down next month, but mixed messages are coming out of El Paso about what the school expects to hear from the NCAA.

The other piece of news is that Boston College fired Al Skinner after thirteen seasons at the helm in Chestnut Hill.  Citing “philosophical differences,” the BC athletic director said that the information was kept quiet last week as Skinner applied for the St. John’s job that went to Steve Lavin.  Rumored candidates for the job include Harvard’s Tommy Amaker, Cornell’s Steve Donahue and Richmond’s Chris Mooney.

Seton Hall lost its third player to the NBA Draft today when guard Jeremy Hazell decided to test the waters.  Hazell averaged 20.4 PPG this year, which was third-best in the Big East but he is currently projected as a late second-rounder on the current draft boards.  One player who will not be heading to the NBA Draft this year is UCLA’s J’Mison Morgan who was dismissed from the program today.  Morgan’s complete lack of production in two years in Westwood has been nothing short of confounding — the onetime top-50 recruit scored a grand total of 36 points in the 2009-10 season.

One other interesting rumor coming out of the McDonald’s All-American Game is that Kentucky is apparently telling recruits that all five of their NBA-possiblesJohn Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson — are expected to leave for the NBA Draft.  Is UK lying to these players in the hopes that they’ll lure them into the Wildcat fold, or is there any truth to this?  Everyone expects Wall, Cousins and Patterson to be gone, but Bledsoe and Orton as well?

Share this story

ATB: NIT Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2010

NIT Semifinals.  It’ll be two teams that expected to be playing in late March this season in the NIT finals on Thursday night; it’s just that they probably thought they’d be playing in the NCAA Tournament rather than the Granddaddy of postseason tourneys.  With wins tonight, Dayton and UNC prove, however, that a disappointing regular season doesn’t have to mean that you pack it in if you’re invited to one of the lesser tourneys.  If you’re Roy Williams or Brian Gregory, you keep playing the games in the hopes that your young players will benefit from the additional reps and learn about how to win games in a tournament setting.  There’s a fair amount of precedent for this ultimately helping teams who made nice runs to the NIT finals in recent years (e.g., Baylor last year, Ohio State in 2008, WVU in 2007), so maybe we’ll see the Heels and Flyers back in the Dance next season.

  • #3 Dayton 68, #2 Ole Miss 63.  Brian Gregory is well on his way to becoming the next Dave Odom with his record moving to 6-1 in the NIT with two appearances in the last three seasons.  Dayton got 22/10 from Marcus Johnson and 9/11/5 assts from Chris Wright despite the two combining to shoot 6-23 from the field.  The team they defeated, Ole Miss, was eliminated in the semifinals for the second time in three years.  Dayton will play North Carolina on Thursday night in a game that they’d surely like to win to improve the program’s standing.
  • #4 UNC 68, #3 Rhode Island 67 (OT). Roy Williams’ team continues to gain valuable experience winning close games in a tournament setting, and his young players have the coach one step closer to his third ‘national championship’ as the top Heel.  Deon Thompson had 16/13 and Will Graves 14/7 in a defensive-minded back-and-forth contest that was ultimately decided when URI’s Lamonte Ulmer was heading upcourt after a defensive rebound and was seemingly tripped by a Carolina player but there was no call.  UNC will shoot for its second NIT title (1971) in program history on Thursday night.
Share this story

Does Home Court at the Final Four Help?

Posted by rtmsf on March 30th, 2010

With Butler’s magical run through the West Region to make its first-ever Final Four in its home city of Indianapolis, it got us thinking about whether having home court advantage this deep in the Tournament actually means anything.  It’s great to have the fan support on your side, but when you get this far into the season, all of the teams remaining have won games in hostile environments and are still standing for a more compelling reason (they’re really good!).

 

We decided to take a historical look at some situations in the last fifty years of the Final Four where we feel that there could have been a home court advantage of some kind for the Final Four and Championship Games.  We tried to limit our choices to a three-hour driving radius from the host venue, but we recognize that some fanbases will travel to the moon to see their team while others can’t be trifled with moving off the couch.  So bear with us.

A brief review found seventeen such instances in the last half-century (Butler @ Indy is #18).  Of special note is that there were only seven situations where a team got to play in its home state (including last year’s Michigan State @ Detroit situation) and only twice where a Final Four school played its games in its home city as Butler will do this coming weekend (UCLA both times).  Here’s the list of what you really want to know, and we’ll break down each instance below that to determine if we think HCA had an impact. 

Final Fours Involving Home Teams

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Final Four Team-By-Team Previews: West Virginia

Posted by zhayes9 on March 30th, 2010

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Yesterday’s Butler preview is here and tomorrow we’ll dissect Michigan State.

It's been a dream season for the senior Butler

Crucial Tourney Moment(s): The Mountaineers have experienced mostly smooth sailing thus far in the NCAA Tournament, facing three double-digit seeds and then maintaining a comfortable lead during the second half in their regional final bout with top seed Kentucky. It was a driving layup from offensively challenged Joe Mazzulla that extended the West Virginia lead to 11 and forced a John Calipari timeout midway through the second half when the Mountaineer diehards could see the Final Four in their sights. Mazzulla led the team in scoring with 17 points, extremely impressive for a kid that hadn’t scored more than eight points in a game all season.

Advantage Area: West Virginia is one of the most efficient teams in the nation when it comes to offense, defense and rebounding. The Mountaineers rank #12 in offensive efficiency, #10 in defensive efficiency and #2 in offensive rebounding percentage. Bob Huggins runs an offense that is largely dependent on running cuts to the rim and methodically wearing down an opponent for 40 minutes rather than dribble penetration, a reason why West Virginia often lets inferior teams hang around for 30 minutes before pulling away. They also boast the best late-game assassin in college basketball in Da’Sean Butler. Nobody in the Final Four will be trusted taking a crucial shot under a minute more than Butler. Duke, Michigan State and Butler also can’t come close to matching the height of West Virginia across the board.

Potential Downfall: West Virginia isn’t a particularly good jump shooting team. They don’t rank in the top-100 in two-point, three-point or free throw percentage on the season. Although they do have forwards such as Wellington Smith and Kevin Jones that can step out and drain a three, there’s no consistent long-range shooter on the roster to trust other than Butler. JC transfer Casey Mitchell was supposed to be that weapon but never truly emerged and Huggins doesn’t trust him for long stretches. Even after Mazzulla’s stunning performance in the regional final, I’d still label point guard a weakness for the Mountaineers. It was a weakness before Darryl Bryant injured his foot, and even though he may return, the sophomore point was mired in a terrible scoring slump. As long as defenders keep Mazzulla in front and don’t allow penetration to the rim, there’s no need to respect any sort of jump shot from him.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

‘Eers A Question: Mazzulla Or Bryant?

Posted by jstevrtc on March 30th, 2010

And now…quiz time!

Here’s your vignette.  You have 35 seconds to take a shot:

A week ago, the news went out that West Virginia point guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant had fractured the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot and that he’d be out for the season. There was even talk that he’d need surgery to fix the break instead of the usual regimen of ice, rest, and a bulky, annoying stabilizer boot.

Then, the Mountaineers beat Kentucky. Bryant is now medically cleared to play in the Final Four.

Using your knowledge in each of the fields of cybernetics, Bob Huggins‘ black warm-up suit collection, and the “High Risk Zone” of the fifth metatarsal bone, how do you account for the change in Darryl Bryant’s status for the games this weekend?  Please select one answer only:

  • a) Darryl Bryant’s right pinkie toe is an orthopedic and osteologic wonder.  It heals even FASTER than that stoic but awesome liquid robot from Terminator 2, and the words “Bryant Metatarsal” will now be added to our language as something representing a person’s/object’s strong point —  the diametric opposite of “Achilles’ Heel.”  As in: “That’s right, Greg Gumbel, Kentucky’s Achilles’ heels are their 3-point shooting and their perimeter defense, but the ability of Wall, Cousins, and Patterson to get close looks in the lane is their Bryant Metatarsal,” *
  • b) the injury wasn’t as bad as originally thought, and the Truck should never have been parked,
  • c) the “rest of the season” part was added because whoever sent out the press release assumed WVU would lose to UK, thereby rendering their prognosis about Bryant correct…or,
  • d) Bryant’s going to try to tough it out…because it’s the Four.

Time’s up.  If you selected a), then, like us, you’re probably hoping that this really is the case. If you chose b) or c), you’re just cynical and wrong and may show yourself out.  If you chose d), we think you’re right.

Bryant (historically) scores more, but is Mazzulla the better option? (David Smith/AP)

Bryant’s change in status should surprise nobody.  It’s easy to wonder how a guy can go from possibly needing surgery one day to being medically cleared to play the next, but there are three reasons why you could see Bryant on the floor this weekend.  First, in athletes, fixing this type of fracture with surgery instead of the ice/rest/boot combo is gaining popularity as the ideal treatment.  Second, Bryant was fitted for a special orthotic shoe-and-insert on Monday — in Durham, North Carolina, of all places — which could help to allow him to play.  Assuming the insert does not, at some point in the first half, emit a strange royal blue-colored sleeping gas to which all Blue Devils are immune (we’re kidding, Durham-area foot doctors), the device is designed to take some weight off the broken bone and reduce Bryant’s level of pain.

Third…it’s the Final Four.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Comings & Goings: Steve Lavin to St. Johns; Oregon Pursues Izzo

Posted by rtmsf on March 30th, 2010

Pete Thamel of the New York Times is reporting tonight that Steve Lavin is set to be hired at St. John’s soon, as an unnamed source familiar with the proceedings labeled today as a “productive and positive dialogue” between the two parties.  Lavin has spent the last seven seasons as a commentator for ESPN after being fired from UCLA after a disastrous 10-19 season in 2002-03.  He was reportedly close to accepting the NC State position in 2006, but ultimately decided against it to remain in television.  This is a solid hire in our view.  Lavin has name-brand recognition with high school kids who have grown up watching him on ESPN, and he’s always been a strong recruiter anyway.  So long as he can connect with NYC-area kids, he should be successful there.  St. John’s has been down for so long that merely getting to a Sweet Sixteen level of success with regularity would probably give Lavin lifelong job security in Jamaica, NY.  And we’ve always had a bit of feeling that Lavin feels he got a raw deal in Westwood, so he should be all the more motivated to prove his doubters wrong there.

The other big news today was a report out of Eugene that Oregon was prepared to offer Michigan State’s Tom Izzo the richest head coaching contract in college basketball history — greater than Kentucky coach John Calipari’s $32M/8-year deal he received last spring.  Phil Knight is backing the search financially and this squares with the rumors that UO was going to attempt to hire a big name this year.  Izzo said today that he was happy where he’s at, which is currently coaching yet another Spartan team into the Final Four.  It probably won’t be Izzo, but someone will bite on this.  The numbers are simply too large to pass up.

In other coaching carousel news, Marshall’s Donnie Jones has taken the head coaching position at Central Florida.  He replaces Kirk Speraw, who was fired two weeks ago after compiling the all-time wins record in eleven seasons at UCF.  So… does this mean that CUSA FrOY and DPOY Hassan Whiteside is going pro? His mother says that early reports of his going pro are premature and that no decision has yet been made.

We’ve already discussed Kansas center Cole Aldrich and Michigan guard Manny Harris’ decisions to go pro in other spaces, but two other prominent players announced their intentions to go pro today.  Seton Hall sophomore center Herb Pope will test the waters, but is likely to stay in the draft, and UTEP junior center Derrick Caracter will also leave school for professional opportunities.  Pope is projected as a late first rounder, but Caracter at this point is not seen as a legitimate prospect given some of his previous offcourt troubles.

Share this story