‘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.

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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.

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RTC Final Four Tidbits: 03.29.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 30th, 2010

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

Michigan State (Tom Hager)

  • Big Surprise: Tom Izzo will not be leaving Michigan State for an Oregon team that finished 7-11 in the Pac-10.
  • Butler may have the advantage of the home crowd in Indianapolis, but Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens believes that MSU may have a large portion of the crowd pulling for the Spartans as well.
  • According to the New York Times, the harder Durrell Summers worked on his defensive game, the easier his offensive production has come by.
  • Seth Davis says that toughness, a category that MSU excels in given their rebounding ability, is the most important asset to have on a team at this time of the season.
  • Delvon Roe is expected to be in the starting lineup despite a knee injury.  According to the team trainer, Roe has an unbelievable pain tolerance.

West Virginia (Ryan Restivo of SienaSaintsBlog)

  • West Virginia, the Wall Street Journal noted, overcame a slow start to make the Final Four.
  • Are there any stars in this year’s Final Four?
  • Bob Huggins is not sure if Truck Bryant will be ready to go on Saturday. “I don’t have any idea,” Huggins said. “We’re not going to go today and we really won’t know until we see what he can do (Tuesday) and Wednesday and how he progresses.” However, Huggins told USA Today that they will explore every opportunity to play Bryant.
  • West Virginia’s odds are interesting for this year’s Final Four.
  • Mike DeCourcy writes that John Beilein’s holdovers and Huggins’ players combined to take this team to the next level.

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Diary From Salt Lake: West Regional

Posted by rtmsf on March 30th, 2010

RTC was in Salt Lake City, Utah, for the West Regional over the weekend.  Here are some of the sights, sounds and impressions of the town, the games and the goings-on while we were there.

SLC Sits Right Next to Those Imposing Mountains

The Trip There.  You have to love air travel sometimes.  Not so much the security lines, the crying children always scheduled one row behind me or the petulant TSA morons who keep stealing my Right Guard deodorant gel, but the whole concept of it.  At 12:30 pm, I was sitting in my office next to the deep blue waters of the Pacific; by 5 pm, I was sitting in a green seat in Utah’s Delta Center EnergySolutions Arena watching the West Regional Semifinals tip off between Syracuse and Butler.  When air travel works with such efficiency as that, it still amazes me.  Too bad it’s so infrequent these days.

When I landed, I noticed two things immediately.  Everything was white: the air, the mountains, even the people.  Ok, especially the people.  I think the only two nonwhite folks I encountered in SLC the entire weekend were my cab drivers to and from the airport.  It’s fairly clear with such a glaring lack of diversity in the area why NBA stars in particular look at signing with the Jazz as equivalent to hoops purgatory.  Well, except the white ones (Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur, Kyle Korver, etc.).  The other thing I noticed was that it was cold.  As in still-winter type of cold.  Snow was on the mountaintops that tower right over the downtown, and here I was with a lightweight hoodie as my only form of jacket.  I should have probably checked the weather report before I left, but I made the self-centered presumption that every place is like where I am now, right?  And if it’s not, it most definitely should be.

Jazz Heroes Stockton & Malone Outside the Arena

Thursday Night Games.  Tickets were aplenty outside the arena for this set of games.  The closest school (K-State) was over 1,000 miles away, and the tip was right after 5 pm local time.  That said, once I entered the arena, the place looked nearly full.  It seats about 20,000 and the announced attendance both days was in the 17-18,000 range .  I couldn’t get an immediate sense as to which school brought the most fans because it appeared that there were smatterings of orange (Syracuse), purple (K-State), navy blue (Xavier) and black (Butler) around the arena, but more than anything else, I noticed red everywhere.  Quickly checking the google to see if any of these four schools had red anywhere in their complementary color schemes and finding not, I decided that this warranted further investigation.

It turns out that many of the red hats, shirts, coats and so on were emblazoned with a strange word called “Utah,” which makes a lot of sense considering that the UofU campus is a mere two miles up the hill from downtown, but was completely lost on me because I couldn’t factor in that the Utes didn’t make the Tournament this year.  I didn’t expect that they’d have so many fans who just wanted to watch some good basketball.  I ran into that all weekend long here.  The good people of Utah LOVE their basketball.  From the youth league level all the way up to the Jazz, they’re extremely supportive of the sport and have a keen appreciation and knowledge of the game.  This is in stark contrast to some of the other neutral-site venues where I’ve visited this year and it barely even registers with the locals that there’s something called March Madness going on down the street.  In fact, I’d wager that the majority of attendees in the ES Arena over the weekend were simply folks from the surrounding area who wanted to watch the games.  I can only imagine the homecourt advantage that BYU would have held there had they gotten past Kansas State in the second round.

Two of the More Interesting Getups We Saw in SLC

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Aldrich Leaves Kansas Leaving Us Wanting More

Posted by nvr1983 on March 29th, 2010

In one of the least surprising announcements of the past few weeks, Cole Aldrich announced that he would forgo his senior season at Kansas and enter the NBA Draft. While Aldrich had a relatively disappointing season (a 3rd team All-American and a flame out in the 2nd round against Northern Iowa) he will still cash in on NBA millions as he is an almost certain top 10 pick (10th overall pick gets $1.87 M per year). The big question with Aldrich is not his ability (almost nobody questions that he could be a legit NBA center especially with how weak the position is right now), but we wonder how effective he will be when he often struggled to assert himself in big moments for the Jayhawks even when he had Sherron Collins, one of the best point guards in the country, bringing the ball up the court every night. His numbers were solid (11.3 PPG, 9.8 RPG, and 3.5 BPG–ok, the blocks are impressive), but hardly the stuff you would expect from a junior who was projected at one point in the season to be a top 5 pick. If Aldrich can’t dominate against inferior opponents with a great point guard, how will he do against NBA centers who are every bit as big as him when he won’t be playing with a point guard who is significantly better than his opponent. While we certainly enjoyed watching Aldrich play during his time in Lawrence, we have this gnawing feeling that he never really reached his potential there and can only hope he does so at the next level.

A force in the middle that left us wanting more

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ATB: Selected Thoughts on the Final Four Teams

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2010

We’re down to the Four.  Here are some of the thoughts we had about the last couple of days of games while looking ahead to next weekend in Indy…

Forget the Seedings, These Teams Are Good. With a #1, #2 and two #5 seeds making the Final Four this year, the immediate reaction is that we’ve got a wide-open bracket with the potential for a true Cinderella to cut down the nets this year.  Closer examination, however, reveals that all of the four teams left standing were thought pretty highly of in the preseason.  In both the AP and Coaches Polls, Michigan State was ranked #2 behind Kansas, while Duke, West Virginia and Butler all populated the top ten as well (Butler was #11 in the AP).  So while it may have taken some time for Izzo’s Spartans to get it together (like seemingly every year), they eventually did and they’re playing well enought to be a worthy Final Four participant; the same is definitely true for Butler, penalized by the pollsters and Selection Committee for early losses in November and December, but who is playing as well as anyone left right now.  It’s difficult to lose the mindset that a team is a Cinderella or not based on its Tourney seed, but the truth is that these four teams are all playing like #1 and #2 seeds and they have the talent to back it up.

You Can't Get Rid of This Guy (DFP/J. Gonzalez)

Izzo the Stray CatTom Izzo is like the stray cat in your neighborhood that you can’t get to stay off your front stoop no matter how hard you try.  Just when you think he’s out of your hair for good, he shows up again with that Cheshire grin belying his belief that he’s the luckiest dude alive.  Six Final Fours in twelve years is one better than it was last year (five in eleven), and yet everyone acts completely shocked and amazed that he’s back in the Four with much the same group of players.  How weak are people’s memories?  This is what Izzo does — this trip will make the second time that his team  has reached the final weekend as a #5 seed — and it’s not a mere coincidence.  Everyone knew that he had the talent this season (see above re: preseason ranking), but all of the turmoil surrounding player roles and injuries led people (including us) to believe he wasn’t going to be able to find the combinations to get it done again.  Here’s a bracketing lesson for all of us next year and the years beyond that: Wherever Michigan State is seeded, just put the Spartans in the Final Four and don’t look back.  Your odds are much better doing it that way than actually trying to analyze the matchups and break down the games.  Izzo is a March master, and how anyone can doubt this guy’s abilities is beyond comprehension.

Butler is No George Mason.  To a casual fan, he sees that Butler is in the Final Four this weekend and he’s thinking George Mason all over again.  This lazy thinking is a serious mistake.  Mason was an #11 seed who benefited from catching two teams by surprise in the first two rounds, followed by veritable home games in DC against another Cindy Wichita State in the regional semis and an uber-talented but frustratingly underachieving UConn team in the regional finals.  They deserve all the credit they can muster for winning those games, without question, but things broke well for them to make the run possible.  Butler had to play and beat the top two seeds in its region to make the Final Four this year, and they did it by forcing both Syracuse and Kansas State to bend to their style of play and make numerous atypical mistakes.  Butler’s defense subjugated two of the most efficient offenses in America into their worst performances of the year, and that’s no more a coincidence than Izzo above still having games to play.  Andy Rautins, Scoop Jardine, Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen (combined 20-52 FGs) are undoubtedly still having nightmares of Butler defenders securing temporary eminent domain over their jockstraps.  The key takeaway here is that Butler will defend Michigan State just like the others, and if they can find enough offense themselves through Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack and friends, they are plenty good enough to continue to advance.

Butler Can Win This Thing, Folks (IndyStar)

Bob Huggins, White Knight. One thing we noticed traveling around over the weekend was that every hoophead around the country was unilaterally rooting for West Virginia to take out John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday night.  In the sports bar we were in during that game, Syracuse, Butler, K-State and Xavier fans were teamed up pulling for the Mountaineers.  We’ve picked up similar anecdotes from around the country since then — nobody wanted Kentucky to win that game.  We believe that this sentiment derives from a general feeling that Calipari is a dirty coach who cheats to get his players, but the irony of everyone outside of the Bluegrass backing Bob Huggins wasn’t lost on us.  Since when is tHuggins Huggins the white knight here to save college basketball from agents, cheaters and bags full of money?  Surely people remember his endless problems at Cincinnati with players failing to graduate, numerous asundry brushes with the law, and failing to exert institutional control?  No?  Look, we get that people don’t like Calipari and, by proxy, Kentucky; but isn’t Huggins quite possibly worse given the history of lawlessness on his teams?

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Final Four Team-By-Team Previews: Butler

Posted by zhayes9 on March 29th, 2010

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. We begin the dissection with the hometown Butler Bulldogs and their quest to cut down the nets in the shadow of their campus.


Nored, Hayward and Mack lead Butler/ Indianapolis Star

Crucial Tourney Moment(s): Butler faced two potentially back-breaking moments during their West regional bouts with Syracuse and Kansas State. Wesley Johnson and Denis Clemente both nailed second half threes that relinquished healthy Butler leads. Rather than follow the script of most Cinderella’s at this stage in the season, Butler battled back from both setbacks with clutch baskets from unsung heroes Willie Veasley and Ronald Nored. Their stingy halfcourt defense buckled down, forced turnovers and shut down both Johnson and Clemente down the stretch of both contests.

Advantage Area: Butler employs a stingy and disruptive halfcourt defense, one that permits you to run your sets but rarely allows dribble penetration, effectively doubles against screens to limit open looks against opposing guards and forces a plethora of turnovers. Butler frustrated a Syracuse offense running on all cylinders into 18 turnovers on Thursday. Butler also crashes the boards with all five of their players on the floor, evident by guard Shelvin Mack garnering nearly four rebounds per game. The Bulldogs ranked sixth in the country during the season limiting offensive rebounds for their opponents. They may be able to neutralize the backboards against Michigan State, usually an area of strength for Tom Izzo’s teams. An even stiffer test follows in this area with either Duke or West Virginia.

Potential Downfall: Butler could have a difficult time defending in the post. Matt Howard, a forward known for his propensity to commit fouls, and Gordon Hayward, a more perimeter-oriented player who does manage to hold his own down low, are Brad Stevens’ tallest players at 6’8. If Howard is forced to the bench, the only other option Stevens can point to is solid defender Avery Jukes. It’s a position of definite weakness on the defensive end and Kansas State’s Curtis Kelly exploited the flaw quite well during their Elite 8 battle. Unfortunately for Butler, each of the other Final 4 teams excels in the paint, especially Duke and West Virginia should the Bulldogs advance. West Virginia is one of the tallest teams in the nation and Duke hits the boards with ferocity as any viewer of their regional final matchup with Baylor can attest.

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That’s Debatable: Looking Back at Regional Weekend

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2010

We did this last week and it seemed to work pretty well, so let’s do it again.  Here are five questions from the past weekend’s action with a look ahead to the Final Four. Each of the below polls will allow comments, so let’s build some discussion through there.

Q1: What Was the Biggest Surprise This Weekend?

We’re going with Mazzulla on this one.  He came into the game averaging a bucket per contest, yet he shredded the Kentucky defense for easy layups multiple times over the course of WVU’s win over the Wildcats.  Many of the others were also surprising, and if we had to choose a #2, it would probably be Butler defeating Syracuse and K-State.  Not so much because we don’t believe in the Bulldogs (we do!), but just because how methodically they shut down the guards of both of those elite teams.

Q2: Butler: Cinderella or Legit Championship Threat?

We’d be more inclined to think they were a legitimate championship threat if they didn’t have to face a team in Michigan State that thrives on street fight defense.  It’ll be just another day at the Big Ten office for the Spartans in playing the Bulldogs, and there’s no way that Tom Izzo will allow his team to look past them.

Q3: Was JP Prince’s Foul on Raymar Morgan Legit?

Yeah, it was.  We’ve slowed it down a few times and there was enough arm in addition to ball there to warrant the call.  The mistake was letting MSU beat the Vols down the court to the blocks.  If UT had gotten back better, they might still be playing.

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30 Days of Madness: Dwight Stewart’s Heave From Sixty Feet

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 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: 1995 NCAA Final Four – Arkansas vs. North Carolina

Context: At the 1995 Final Four, Arkansas came in as the defending national champions but conventional wisdom had the North Carolina team consisting of all-americans Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace as the favorite.  For a half, it appeared that UNC was the better team, frustrating the Arkansas shooters and holding a seven-point lead just prior to the half.  After forcing a Hawg turnover with just 3.6 seconds remaining in the half, UNC threw the ball length of the court over the heads of everyone, resulting in a bounce off the opposite backboard and ending up in Arkansas’ hands.  One quick pass to 6’9 center Dwight Stewart upcourt, and a push shot from sixty feet, and suddenly Arkansas fans didn’t feel so bad about their position heading into the halftime break.  This momentum helped Arkansas take control behind Corliss Williamson’s strong second half, and the Hawgs ultimately returned to their second consecutive national championship game two nights later.

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RTC Final Four Tidbits: 03.28.10

Posted by THager on March 28th, 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.

Michigan State (Tom Hager)

  • Michigan State’s victory on Sunday is not without controversy.  Tennessee’s J.P. Prince, who committed the crucial foul with less than two seconds left, went over to the scorer’s table after the game and said that he did not believe there was a foul.
  • Although this is Tom Izzo’s sixth trip to the Final Four in twelve years, he makes sure not to take it for granted.  According to Izzo, reaching the Final Four is the greatest aspect of coaching because of the work involved in getting there.
  • The trip to the semifinals is even more impressive considering former MSU star Magic Johnson did not even believe that this was a Final Four team a month ago.
  • Perhaps the reason for Izzo’s success is his perfectionist attitude.  During one point in the game on Sunday, Draymond Green asked if he could make a mistake, and Izzo told him not at this crucial time of year.
  • Kalin Lucas is still the hero for Michigan State, as fans chanted his name and players carried him up to the rim to cut the nets.

Duke (Patrick Sellars)

  • The Washington Post looks at the brotherhood of the Duke Blue Devils in this article. Coach K has a team back in the Final Four for the first time since 2004.
  • Was Scott Drew’s coaching inexperience exposed in the Elite Eight matchup Sunday? Here is a look at how Drew may have cost Baylor the game and a shot at the Final Four.
  • Everyone is happy in Durham. Jon Scheyer said “It’s a dream come true. To get that win, we had to work our butts off for it, and it felt great.”
  • There was a lot of emotion in the Baylor locker room after their loss on Sunday. It was a sad end to a dream season. “You don’t want it to end,” a teary-eyed Tweety Carter said, “and you want to do whatever it takes to make it go on.”

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