RTC Live: Alabama vs. Wichita State (NIT Championship)

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2011

The NIT concludes Thursday night at Madison Square Garden with the championship game featuring Alabama and Wichita State. The Crimson Tide got by Colorado on Tuesday thanks to Trevor Releford’s game winning layup in the final seconds. As for Wichita State, they had no trouble with Washington State and cruised to a 31-point victory. Center Garrett Stutz posted career highs in points and rebounds against the Cougars and could play a major role again tonight opposite Alabama’s JaMychal Green. The Crimson Tide forward made 11 of his 16 shots against Colorado but will have to do a better job on the boards against Stutz and the taller Wichita State team. The Shockers destroyed Washington State on the boards, outrebounding the Cougars 52-25. Alabama usually does a good job on the offensive glass but will have to contend with a Shockers team allowing opponents to grab only 25.7% of their misses, third in the nation. Alabama will have to go right at the Wichita big men given their strengths as a team. Anthony Grant’s club gets the vast majority of their points inside and that’s likely where the outcome of this game will be determined. Be sure to follow along with RTC Live as we bring you what should be an exciting late March game between two teams that easily could have been in the NCAA Tournament if just a few more things had gone their way.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.31.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 31st, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

Connecticut

  • Much has been made of Kemba Walker‘s spectacular season and Jeremy Lamb‘s breakout in the tournament, but Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Alex Oriakhi share a bond that goes back to before Walker even set foot in campus.
  • Houston has been good to UConn during Jim Calhoun‘s tenure, as the city was home to Jake Voskuhl, Emeka Okafor and Hasheem Thabeet before the three players made their respective trips up to Storrs. The Huskies are looking for Houston to give them another great memory.
  • Youth will dominate Saturday’s semifinal between Connecticut and Kentucky, with a probable six freshmen combined in the two teams’ starting lineups.
  • If UConn is the last team standing in Houston, one question sure to be asked surrounds Jim Calhoun’s future with the university. And if the end of his coaching career is nigh, who might succeed him? Former Husky player and current assistant Kevin Ollie might lead that list.
  • More hardware rolls in for Kemba Walker, who was named the recipient of the Bob Cousy Award as college basketball’s top point guard, beating out Nolan Smith, Norris Cole, Jordan Taylor and Jimmer Fredette.

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Past Imperfect: Y2K Chaos hits NCAAs

Posted by JWeill on March 31st, 2011

Past Imperfect is a series focusing on the history of the game. Each week, RTC contributor JL Weill (@AgonicaBossEmail) highlights some piece of historical arcana that may (or may not) be relevant to today’s college basketball landscape. This week: the random, whacked-out, weirdo 2000 NCAA Final Four.

One Final Four team shouldn’t even be in the tournament. Another surprise team plays a grind-it-out style with no star power. A third team is a batch of mostly young kids who needed a buzzer beater to even get out of the first round. The last team at the Final Four – call it the favorite — is powered by a short point guard and a slasher who seems to be getting better by the game and a bunch of spare parts.

2011? Nope. Try 11 years earlier, when a bunch of random happened to college basketball.

It was a watershed moment for the sport. Or so we thought, anyway. Everything had changed, forever. It was the era of parity, the New World Order for basketball. There would be no kings anymore. Fear the Tulsas and the Wisconsins and the Iowa States from here on out. But other than that wacky March and early April of 2000, for the most part the college basketball world has actually been a pretty normal place ever since. Yes, there have been a few Final Four interlopers in the interim: George Mason, Indiana, Georgia Tech. But mostly it’s been a whole bunch of Duke and Florida and North Carolina and, well, Duke. But forgive yourselves if you weren’t able to accurately predict the future way back then. After all, this was right after all the world’s computers should have melted down, wreaking untold havoc on all humanity, wasn’t it?

Havoc was exactly what it looked like, though, in bracket pools everywhere in the Spring of 2000, thanks to a motley crew assembled in Indianapolis for the 2000 NCAA Final Four that was about as unpredictable as they come. Of the quartet, only Michigan State was “supposed” to be there, the only No. 1 (or 2 or 3 or even 4, for that matter) seed to even make it past the Sweet 16. The combined seeds of the four teams to reach the RCA Dome came to an astounding 22, far surpassing the total for any other single Final Four. Well, until 2011, that is.

Dick Bennett masterminded the slow-down style that Wisconsin used to reach the 2000 Final Four.

The Spartans were familiar with the Final Four, having made the tournament’s last weekend the season before only to lose to Duke. After that game, seniors-to-be Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson determined they would not be denied a second time. Of course, that’s always easier to say than it is to do. Michigan State trailed in the second half of three of its tournament games before reaching the semifinals. But each time the Spartans’ blend of experience, talent and football toughness – intentionally bred by their football-loving coach Tom Izzo – proved enough to overcome both deficit and, eventually, the opponent.

This was, in fact, the team that defined Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State. After so many Final Four appearances and so many wins, fans and pundits have come to expect Izzo’s teams to play that Izzo style of gritty bruiser ballet. But while the 1999 Spartans did leap past Kentucky and into the Final Four, it was this group in 2000 that established the base line for all the Michigan State units that followed.

But even if Michigan State was the prohibitive favorite on Final Four weekend, the underdog has upset the status quo enough times that there was no reason to take for granted the Big Ten champions would waltz to the crown.  First standing in their way was a familiar Big Ten foe in an unfamiliar place.

Today, Wisconsin is a well-known basketball school. Under coach Bo Ryan, the Badgers have competed in 10 straight NCAA tournaments and finished in the top half of the Big Ten each of those seasons. But it wasn’t always this way. It took a decidedly unconventional coach to lay the groundwork for the annual Big Ten contender we see now. Before Dick Bennett took over the reins of the Badger basketball program in 1995, it had been to one NCAA tournament since 1947. One. The markedly unflashy Bennett came to Madison, Wisc., with a record of consistent, slow-building success at Wisconsin-Green Bay. Taking over a program where basketball mostly seemed like what happened between hockey season and spring football practice,. Bennett started from scratch and built a team that might not always look pretty but whose toughness and spine would please any hockey or football fan. And most importantly, the Badgers began to win.

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CBS Dumps Jennifer Hudson for Luther Vandross

Posted by nvr1983 on March 31st, 2011

Our long national nightmare is over. Ok, maybe it was only one year, but CBS has announced that it had decided to go back to the more “traditional” Luther Vandross version of “One Shining Moment” after using Jennifer Hudson’s version last year. While fans and critics widely panned Hudson’s version for the artistic liberties she took with the song and the fact that the video featured several clips of her instead of basketball footage CBS was more kind in their assessment of her version. Harold Bryant, the vice president of production for CBS Sports, stated “Both versions are great. She [Hudson] did a great job. We just felt like we wanted to go back to Luther.”

The Vandross version is one of four (including Hudson’s) that have been used since the song was used at the end of the NCAA Tournament in 1987. The two other renditions are from its songwriter David Barrett (1987-1993) and Teddy Pendergrass (1994-1999). With this year being the 25th anniversary of the song’s introduction it appears to be an especially appropriate time to bring back the Vandross version of the song.

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Around The Blogosphere: March 31, 2011

Posted by nvr1983 on March 31st, 2011

If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to rushthecourt@gmail.com. We will add to this post throughout the day as the submissions come in so keep on sending them.

Final Four Notes

  • Feinstein On The Brink … Of Encephalic Detonation: “One definition of insanity is said to be doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Whether you agree with that or not, it is commonly used to display the logical flaws in not making changes to a given process when the process doesn’t work. John Feinstein wants to give us yet another common example of how one’s sanity can be questioned: ‘Ignore reality and maybe it will go away.’” (A Sea of Blue)
  • Enes Kanter: For Love of Wildcat-Not: “The tragedy that is Enes Kanter’s Kentucky Wildcats basketball career has gone mostly unnoticed since the NCAA declared, for the final time, that Kanter would never be able to play college basketball in the United States. I say this is a tragedy not because the outcome ruined a promising young career — it didn’t. Kanter will be fine. He will be drafted to play in the NBA in this year’s draft, and he’ll be making millions next year.  He could have already been making millions playing for Fenerbahçe Ülker in Turkey. So I use the term “tragedy” advisedly. It is really a tragedy for Wildcat fans that we didn’t get to see Kanter on the court.” (A Sea of Blue)
  • Before we go forward, a look back: Reflecting on the Huskies historic upset of Duke in 1999. (The UConn Blog)
  • Are we witnessing the final days of Jim Calhoun’s career?: “Up until the time UConn was finishing its five-day March to the Big East championship, I thought there was no chance in hell the Huskies would make a Final Four this year, let alone win the national championship. But then the run through Madison Square Garden happened and it became clear that, with a little luck, this UConn team actually did have a shot at the title. And once I started thinking about that, my mind jumped to the next logical place: What does that mean for Jim Calhoun?” (The UConn Blog)
  • As Huskies rise, Lamb emerges as UConn’s future: “The signs have been there, long before the national hype or the unparalleled postseason success. He hinted at as much early on in the season, his efficiency serving as a glimmer of hope amidst a once-successful season in a downward spiral. And he’s proven as much this March, averaging 16 points over an almost unheard of nine-game run spanning the two toughest tournaments in the nation. Now, it’s a fact: Jeremy Lamb is the next star of the UConn Huskies.” (The UConn Blog)

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RTC Final Four Snapshots: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by zhayes9 on March 31st, 2011

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Here are Butler, Connecticut and VCU. We conclude the series with the third school that John Calipari has taken to the Final Four: Kentucky.

 

It's been big shot after big shot for Brandon Knight this March

Crucial Tourney Moments: Without Brandon Knight’s late-second driving layup against Princeton, his only field goal of the entire game, the Wildcats may not be standing here today as the favorites to win the program’s eighth national championship. Survive and advance has been the mantra for the Wildcats throughout their difficult road to the Final Four. UK needed another Knight game-winner, this time a step-back jumper from the right wing on Ohio State’s ace defender Aaron Craft, to knock off the overall #1 seed in the Sweet 16. A kickout three to Billy Gillispie holdover DeAndre Liggins made the difference in UK’s second upset win on Sunday. No one can argue the Wildcats didn’t earn a spot in Houston after downing teams the caliber of West Virginia, Ohio State and North Carolina in successive fashion. One can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Knight’s shot had rimmed out and Princeton battled Kentucky into an extra session.

Advantage Area: Kentucky boasts the most scoring options of any Final Four participant, a direct compliment of both John Calipari’s ability to reload on the recruiting trail and develop three and four year program players like Darius Miller and Josh Harrellson. Knight is the best pure scoring point guard Calipari has ever had at his disposal. The star freshman is outstanding in handoff ball screen situations with Harrellson where defenders have to opt to either go under the screen and test Knight’s advanced jump shot or fight through where they’ll likely need help on his dribble penetration. Kentucky fell short of expectations last year in the NCAA Tournament largely due to a lack of outside shooting. This season, with the likes of Miller, Liggins and the ultra-efficient Doron Lamb, Calipari can spread the floor and that aforementioned help defense on Knight’s penetration opens up ample room for capable shooters. Kentucky can spread the floor, move the basketball, force help and knock down perimeter jump shots, the primary reasons for their tremendous offensive execution against North Carolina in the regional final.

Potential Downfall: The possibility of foul trouble for Josh Harrellson is a major concern. We knew Knight and Terrence Jones had some serious talent, but with Enes Kanter ruled ineligible the main concern with Kentucky since the offseason was always their frontline. Harrellson has already proven he can hold his own against two of the best big men in the country in Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller, so Alex Oriakhi isn’t a tremendous concern. But what if Harrellson picks up two early fouls and Eloy Vargas has to play 13 minutes in the first half? Kentucky has been fortunate through their run that Harrellson has stayed on the floor for 33+ minutes in every game other than the SEC Tournament final rout over Florida. While Jim Calhoun has four legitimate big bodies he can play if you count Niels Giffey, Calipari has Harrellson and Vargas. Let’s just hope the former can stay on the floor.

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Morning Five: 03.31.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 31st, 2011

  1. Despite multiple premature reports to the contrary Matt Painter decided to stay at Purdue as he turned down Missouri‘s soft deadline (note to other programs without a real draw–don’t try to play hardball when you have no bargaining power). We still aren’t sure why everybody was so concerned that Painter would leave Purdue as we can’t think of a single advantage the Missouri job wold offer over Purdue especially given the current state of the two programs. Despite the Missouri administration’s attempts to throw out big names as potential replacements for Mike Anderson we expect that they will probably end up having to hire a coach from a mid-major program or an assistant coach looking to get his big break.
  2. Along the same lines all the athletic directors out there can stop calling Buzz Williams as the Marquette coach signed an extension. Williams had been named as a potential candidate for several jobs including Oklahoma and Arkansas, but in the end he decided to stay in the Big East despite the team’s competitive disadvantage against other team’s in the conference due to its location. Details regarding the extension are not available at this time, but we are pretty sure that Williams was well taken care of by the Marquette administration.
  3. We are going to start sounding like a broken record pretty soon, but another underclassman decided to declare for the NBA Draft yesterday without hiring an agent. This time it was Boston College guard Reggie Jackson who opted to explore his NBA prospects. Unlike some of the other recent players to semi-declare Jackson is in a rather interesting position as he could potentially play his way into the first round at which point he would face a dilemma as to whether or not to leave his name in without being a guaranteed 1st round pick despite what any NBA executive might tell him.
  4. Two Penn State basketball players–Tre Bowman and Taran Buie–were charged yesterday for their involvement in a fight last month that also involved two members of the football team. Buie didn’t contribute to this year’s team as he was suspended in December while Bowman played sparingly as a freshman last year, but will probably be expected to help pick up the enormous void left by the departure of Talor Battle.
  5. The Kansas basketball team may have had a difficult day on Sunday when they were upset by VCU, but that pales in comparison to Kassie Liebsch, one of seven former employees of the athletic department involved in a ticket scam the funneled tickets to brokers and other individuals in return for financial compensation. While two of her co-defendents pleaded out and were sentenced to probation for failing to report the crime to authorities, Liebsch was sentenced to 37 months in prison as well as having to pay back nearly $1.5 million. Four of her other co-defendents are still awaiting sentencing.
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When Talking About Size, It’s Money That Matters

Posted by jstevrtc on March 30th, 2011

It’s obvious why everyone loves March Madness, but why do people particularly love it when schools like Butler and VCU make runs to the Sweet 16 and, in this year’s edition, the Final Four? For the same reason everyone loves the early-round upsets. It’s the perception of David beating Goliath, the idea that some unranked team from a little college nestled in the woods in middle America can knock off a squad long on hype and McDonald’s All-Americans from some Power Six conference team. Kentucky and Connecticut may have the majority of partisan fans in Houston this weekend, and we’re sure Butler and VCU will be represented as well as they can be, but any unaffiliated fans inside of Reliant Stadium and watching at home will be rooting for those little guys. One of the hottest topics we’ve heard on sports talk radio and read about in numerous outlets since the incredible wins by Butler and VCU over the weekend is how great it is that two small schools made the Final Four and that one of them is guaranteed to play for the national championship.

Wait…VCU? A “small” school? Maybe we need to redefine our terms.

(Dollar amounts from Basketball State, and are as of 2010.)

Check out that table. If you look at total enrollment, VCU is the biggest school in the Final Four. It’s the only school with more than 30,000 students, and of all the athletic revenues they brought in last year, they spend the second most money by percentage on men’s basketball of the four remaining teams. Butler, as you can see, spends the highest percentage of its athletic revenue on our game. So what exactly are people talking about when they use terms like “small school” and “little guy” to describe programs like VCU’s? What makes a school small in a basketball sense? How can the biggest school left in the Tournament be…a mid-major?

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It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume XVII

Posted by jbaumgartner on March 30th, 2011

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC contributor. In this weekly piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball. This week, Jesse continues his alienation of Kentucky fans, suggests Mr. Sullinger calm it down for a little bit, and wants D-Will to get his props.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…..watching 40 minutes of North Carolina-Kentucky and coming away fairly certain that it was the highest quality of play we’ve witnessed this season. Guard play, NBA talent down low, spurts both ways, a tie game with a few minutes left…wow. There’s no doubt in my mind that those were the two best teams left in the tournament, even though that doesn’t mean the Wildcats will bring home the crown.

I LOVED…..that Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart had to say that “this Final Four banner will stay.” Stay, as in not be taken away like the other two banners that John Calipari has – excuse me, HAD – on his resume. Quite a statement, that your athletic director needs to accentuate that point right after the big win. Yes, I can’t stand Cal. Sue me.

Could the Devils Have Won It All Without Him?

I LOVED…..trying to decipher the Kyrie Irving situation. Common sense said getting him back anywhere near full strength put this Duke team right back in the title picture. But after Nolan Smith struggled in the shocker against Arizona (eight points, six turnovers), you found yourself balancing the effects (Irving had 28 points). The bottom line was summed up perfectly by ESPN’s Jay Bilas. Is there any way that you justify not playing the nation’s best PG? No. And do they win the title without Irving? No way.

I LOVED…..how NC State keeps holding out hope of being a big time program again. Maybe it’s just because I spent four years in the state, but the kooks in Raleigh crack me up every time. With the Wolfpack job open, I’ve already heard “rumors” about Arizona coach Sean Miller and VCU coach Shaka Smart in connection with the job. Who in their right mind would want to go there, especially over a job like Arizona, which is a stay-there-till-you-die destination (weather, history, recruiting, etc.)? State fans are crazy, and any coach who wants to follow Sidney Lowe is crazier. If Smart lives up to his name, he’ll steer clear.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.30.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 30th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

Connecticut

  • Jim Calhoun warns that the shine will eventually wear off of prodigious coaches like Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens. One element both coaches will have to consider in potential moves to higher-profile schools down the line is whether they want to take on the balance of increased scrutiny and higher expectations.
  • The Huskies returned to campus for a couple days to recharge their batteries, but passers-by on campus are still as excited as they were on Saturday. The team arrives in Houston Wednesday night, and its rock star status can’t go to the players’ heads if they want to succeed.
  • Patrick Sellers, a former UConn assistant, left the staff in the wake of the NCAA’s investigation of the program last May. Now coaching in China, Sellers remains pumped for his former employer, and, cleared by the NCAA, can seek work at the Division-I level if he wishes.
  • Calhoun believes there are no great teams in college basketball this season, with which we agree, but gives a reason with which we disagree. Calhoun insists that the transience of college basketball’s top players hurts the game, but without those players, even if they only stay one season, the game would be far less interesting.

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RTC Final Four Snapshots: VCU Rams

Posted by zhayes9 on March 30th, 2011

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Here are his Butler and Connecticut previews. The third breakdown focuses on the most unlikely Final Four team of our lifetime: VCU.

VCU coach Shaka Smart has led the Rams from the CBI to the Final Four

Crucial Tourney Moments: The craziest part of VCU’s improbable run to the Final Four is not just that they’ve beaten five teams from BCS conferences, but that they’ve throttled their supposed superior opposition by a healthy 12 PPG. This isn’t a so-called Cinderella barely avoiding midnight time and time again, this is a sustained demolition of power programs: USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and, the most shocking of them all, Kansas. Because two of those wins were lopsided and only the Sweet 16 matchup with FSU truly in doubt as the seconds ticked down, let’s recap the sheer improbability of this run instead, summed up by these three facts: VCU has scored 1.17 points per possession during the tournament and four of their opponents ranked in the top 26 in defensive efficiency, their #185 effective FG% defense held the #1 effective FG% offense to their lowest FG% of the season, VCU’s season-high of 11 threes was eclipsed in three different games during the NCAA Tournament. I could go on.

Advantage Area: Unlike defense, VCU has been a capable offensive squad for the majority of the regular season. While their pinpoint 44% mark from deep during the NCAA Tournament is clearly higher than their season average, the Rams boast capable shooters across the board with three regular rotation players connecting on over 40% of their attempts. VCU is extremely aggressive with their dribble-drive offense that forces teams to help on penetration and risk surrendering open looks from three to the likes of Bradford Burgess, Brandon Rozzell and even versatile big man Jamie Skeen. Unlike UConn (freshman most of the time), Kentucky (freshman) and Butler (junior), the Rams boast a senior floor general in Joey Rodriguez that’s accumulated over 4,300 minutes as the orchestrator of this up-tempo attack. Even though Rodriguez likes the push the pace, he’s compiled 38 assists to just nine turnovers during the NCAA Tournament.

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Morning Five: 03.30.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 30th, 2011

  1. For most of the past two weeks we have seen Seth Davis manning a CBS/TNT/TBS/TruTV NCAA Tournament desk, but in between covering games for the four networks he has also had some time to write his regular “Hoops Thoughts” column. In this week’s column he delves into two rather controversial topics–further expansion of the NCAA Tournament and whether VCU deserved an at-large bid. There are plenty of other good things in there, but we assume that these two topics will generate the most debate.
  2. Jalen Rose has been in the news quite a bit over the past month as the result of the “Fab 5″ documentary he helped produce and the comments he made about how he felt about the Duke team that they lost to their freshman year. The first prominent Blue Devil to respond was Grant Hill in a New York Times op-ed piece and now Mike Krzyzewski has chimed in calling the remarks insulting to all African-American students while taking a shot at the Fab 5′s  ”legacy”. We are sure that Rose is probably ignoring these comments now, but what he cannot ignore is the DUI charges against him stemming from an incident on March 11th (the day before the documentary was released). We are surprised that this didn’t come out earlier and that Rose didn’t tone down his rhetoric after this happened as it was bound to become public at some point.
  3. Jordan Williams has decided to test the NBA waters by entering his name, but not signing with an agent. The Maryland sophomore does not appear to be a lock to even be drafted so we expect that he will be back with Gary Williams next season joining an intriguing incoming freshman class that should help put the Terrapins back in the NCAA Tournament. Of course, this isn’t a certainty as we have seen college players make worse decisions.
  4. While most of the rumors about coaching moves have been false alarms (including the idiotic Bob Knight-to-Purdue rumor started by Jason Whitlock) one that has been gaining quite a bit of momentum is current Boilermaker coach Matt Painter heading to Missouri. The two sides reportedly met yesterday in Orlando where Painter was on vacation and Painter will reportedly announce his decision by noon today. Based on the figures that have been reported Painter would get a slight pay raise (the $1.3 M to $2 M per year that has been reported ignores the fact that Painter got $1.9 M this year after factoring in performance-based incentives) so we are not exactly sure what would compel Painter to leave Purdue in the fertile recruiting territory of Indiana for Missouri, which is quite frankly a decent sized step down in terms of basketball prestige. Unless the difference in salary is more significant than has been indicated we don’t see a great reason for Painter to leave Missouri.
  5. Finally, we prefer not to link to “pay” articles, but sometimes we feel compelled to do so. In this case, John Gasaway of Basketball Prospectus takes a look at Butler and attempts to answer the question of whether they are good or just lucky as they are on the verge of returning to the national championship game for a second consecutive year.
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