Big East Evening Five: 03.28.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 28th, 2012

  1. We missed yesterday, so you are getting a double dose of Big East news this morning because we feel bad. We start with the scouting report on Louisville, based on the opinions of opposing coaches, and put together by the good folks at CBS Sports. The information isn’t exactly new if you have been following the Cardinals all season. Take care of the ball against their press, try to slow down their transition attack, keep Peyton Siva out of the lane, and you will have an excellent chance of winning the game. The good news for Kentucky is, that their defense is so good, Louisville should only be able to score in transition and off of turnovers. So assuming that Marquis Teague can handle the press, and assuming Kentucky’s athletes get back and set up defensively, they should be able to handle the Cardinals with relative ease.
  2. You didn’t think we were going to make it a whole week without a borderline insane story about the fervent passion of Louisville and Kentucky fans did you? In fact, we didn’t even make it through half the week before news broke that two fans got into a fight while awaiting treatment at a dialysis center. You really can’t make this stuff up. If you want to look on the bright side, this is part of what makes college sports so awesome. It may be a wild generalization, but fans of professional sports teams don’t care half as much about their teams as these folks in the Bluegrass State. And the passion for Alabama and Auburn football is on an entirely different level. I am setting the over/under on the breaking of more crazy stories like this at two, which won’t count fallout from the outcome of the game, which is sure to bring out only the best in both team’s fan bases.
  3. In predictable and also understandable fashion, the media has jumped all over the “hated rivals” storyline. Luckily, there is only one columnist angry enough to really put perspective on the whole rivalry, and that is noted flame-fanner Gregg Doyel. His column isn’t long, and it doesn’t make any profound points, but it does succinctly sum up just how insane this game will be.
  4.  The list of Big East players headed to the NBA Draft continued to swell yesterday as Georgetown forward Hollis Thompson announced he would forgo his senior season and hire an agent. Thompson tested the waters last season before withdrawing his name and from the looks of John Thompson III‘s comments, this decision is hardly surprising. The real question is whether Thompson will end up drafted. I understand the move, because his stock isn’t likely to rise dramatically even if he has an excellent senior season, but right now he looks like he will need to get lucky to stick with a team. He does have the skill set and size to be an NBA small forward, but he hardly dominated collegiate competition, so how can he be expected to make an impact at the next level?
  5. Our pal Jeff Goodman over at CBS Sports has released his initial transfer list and there are some interesting names worth noting. First, the list is what alerted me to the news that Notre Dame guard Alex Dragicevich is transferring out of South Bend, a blow to Mike Brey’s program which was going to rely more heavily on his outside shooting next season. The list also reminded me of one of the more interesting Final Four storylines and that is that Louisville forward Jared Swopshire already announced he won’t be back next season, but for now he is playing meaningful minutes on a team eyeing a national championship. Thanks to playing time and the scholarship numbers game, Swopshire will be looking for a new home. But for now, we are sure he is relishing the position he is in.
  6. Speaking of Goodman and transfers out of the Big East, soon after the list was published, Goodman tweeted that Providence sophomore Gerard Coleman was a likely candidate to transfer out of the program. Assuming Vincent Council stays in school and both highly touted freshman guards arrive on campus in time for next season, the Friars’ backcourt was looking awfully crowded. But if Coleman does indeed transfer, coach Ed Cooley loses quite the luxury. Coleman’s play tailed off in the second half of the season, but he is a quality scorer and is physical enough to give Cooley a legitimately dangerous three-guard lineup. On the other hand, his departure will open up more playing time for Ricardo Ledo and Kris Dunn, which can really only be a good thing, assuming the duo is as good as advertised.
  7. As an unabashedly biased Villanova fan, I have spent a good deal of words explaining that Wildcats’ guard Maalik Wayns would be silly to enter the NBA Draft this season, so it’s only logical that Wayns made it final recently, announcing plans to hire an agent and forgo his senior season on the Main Line. Look, players enter the draft for a litany of reasons, so saying he made a stupid decision without knowing his true reasons is rather presumptuous of me. That said, Wayns is looking like a second-round pick at best, and a great senior season probably could have given his draft stock a much-needed shot in the arm. Despite his penchant for taking terrible shots and making questionable decisions, Wayns would have been a huge help to ‘Nova’s rebuilding efforts next season, but now they will need to look elsewhere for that leadership.
  8. Not everyone in West Virginia is spitting on the Big East on their way out the door. Charleston Gazette columnist Mitch Vingle penned a letter to Big East basketball that reads like a breakup letter from a guy who is already regretting the split. He uses some personal reflections mixed with classic personalities from the conference to show plenty of awesome things about the conference and its rich basketball history. The sad thing is, the Big East will miss West Virginia too. Yes, of course they will miss their football tradition and revenue, but the Mountaineers are a quality basketball program, and no amount of SMU and Central Florida will change that. The Mountaineers made their choice, choosing money over tradition, and now so many of us will be left to cling to memories that may never happen again.
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Thad Matta: Great Recruiter… and Coach

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 28th, 2012

Tom Izzo’s teams rebound the ball and play tough defense. Bo Ryan trains his players to adhere to a disciplined offensive system for every minute of the game. Matt Painter seems to be cut from the same wood as his former coach and Big Ten icon, Gene Keady. He instills confidence and toughness into his team, regardless of the talent level. Tom Crean is a dynamic recruiter and has the advantage of being at one of the blue-blood programs. Every established coach in the Big Ten has a specific brand of basketball associated with them. What about Thad Matta? What separates him from the rest?

Thad Matta deserves credit for player development and management.

For years, Matta was known as just a dynamic recruiter – a coach who can consistently bring in a top 25 class of freshman, most of whom would not stick around for more than a year or two in college. Nobody was surprised to see Greg Oden leave for the NBA but few expected Mike Conley and Daequan Cook to join him after just one season in Columbus. Matta recruited the likes of B.J. Mullens and Kosta Koufos, both centers who took their talents to the NBA but didn’t really pan out at the next level. Even though Matta led the 2006 class to the 2007 Final Four, the run was largely just credited to the talent on the team, not necessarily his coaching prowess. But after a second Final Four in six seasons, that image needs to change. Thad Matta is more than just a recruiter; he has shaped himself into a dynamic coach as well. Let’s examine his career at Ohio State to understand why he should be considered a complete coach in college – one who can recruit and is excellent at molding his team into a cohesive unit based on the talent available.

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Final Four Numbers Game – Who Has the Historical and Statistical Edge?

Posted by EJacoby on March 28th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

All week long we have read and will continue to read about the specific breakdowns of each upcoming Final Four matchup. Check out our own Zach Hayes’ previews here and here for the on-court analysis. One of the other important factors to keep in mind on an enormous stage like the Final Four, though, is the experience and preparedness of the players and coaches from each team. Coaches will tell the media that they prepare for the National Semifinals just like it’s any other game, but we all know that the circus and spotlight surrounding the postseason finales, in any sport, can be trying on the competitors. That’s why we put so much emphasis on “big-game players,” the “clutch” factor, and coaches who can win the “big one.” Here’s a look at how each team shakes out historically on the biggest stage and whether or not that will play a factor:

Rick Pitino is the Most Experienced Coach at this Year's Final Four, Including a 1996 National Title (Getty Images)

Coaching

  • Rick Pitino is the most experienced and successful head coach in New Orleans, as Pitino is making his sixth trip to the Final Four with three different schools. He has compiled a 3-4 record in the Final Four up to this point, which includes a National Championship with Kentucky in 1996 and a return to the National Title game the following season (Kentucky 1997), that time with a loss. His 1987 Providence1993 Kentucky and a 2005 Louisville teams all lost in the National Semifinals.
  • Bill Self has caught flak for several early NCAA Tournament upsets, but he got the full job done during his one visit to the Final Four in the past, when the 2008 Kansas Jayhawks won the National Title, giving Self a 2-0 record at the Final Four.
  • Thad Matta brought his 2007 Ohio State team to the National Finals before a loss to Florida, making his record 1-1 all time at the Final Four. He’s looking to best Bill Self in each coach’s second trip to the National Semis.
  • This is John Calipari’s fourth trip to the Final Four, with three different schools, where he is a combined 1-3 in the past. Kentucky detractors need to find something to nitpick about the overwhelming favorites, and Cal’s inability to win it all is a key criticism. His 1996 Massachusetts team and last year’s Kentucky (2011) team both lost in the National Semifinals, while the 2008 Memphis team beat UCLA before falling to Kansas in the National Championship.

Programs

  • Kentucky is making its 15th appearance in the Final Four, seeking its 8th National Championship and first since 1998.
  • Kansas is making its 14th appearance to the Final Four seeking its 4th National Championship. The Jayhawks have the most recent title, coming in 2008.
  • Louisville makes its 9th all-time appearance in the Final Four in search of its 3rd National Championship. The first two came during the Denny Crum era in 1980 and 1986.
  • Ohio State is making its 11th appearance in the Final Four but is seeking just its 2nd National Title. Its only National Championship banner is from 1960 under Fred Taylor.

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Past Imperfect: Kentucky-Louisville & the Dream Game

Posted by JWeill on March 28th, 2012

Past Imperfect is a series focusing on the history of the game. Every two weeks, RTC contributor Joshua Lars Weill (@AgonicaBoss|Email) highlights some piece of historical arcana that may (or may not) be relevant to today’s college basketball landscape. This week: the original Dream Game between Louisville and Kentucky.

It was bound to happen someday. Despite Kentucky’s clear antipathy toward playing in-state archrival Louisville, there was going to come a time when it was simply unavoidable. That time finally came, was forced to come actually, on March 26, 1983, in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the Mideast Regional final, with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

No knowing observer was unaware of the possibility of a Bluegrass clash when the brackets were unveiled. Just a year prior, a similar tournament setup had been quashed when Kentucky was upset by Middle Tennessee State. This time around, the Wildcats got through, finishing off Bobby Knight’s Indiana squad, while Louisville was the one in trouble. After trailing significantly, the Cardinals edged Arkansas – coached by fairly-soon-to-be Kentucky coach Eddie Sutton — on a last-second tip-in. With both teams locked in to face each other, the pregame hype and buildup began.

Both teams, and their fans, were amped up for the 1983 Midwest Regional Final.

Media outlets immediately began to call the matchup “The Dream Game” or even, more simply, “The Game.” The players did their best to try and avoid providing any potential bulletin board material, but to limited effect. Wildcats backup forward Bret Bearup acknowledged the “thing that must not be said:” “Anybody on either side who says he hasn’t been thinking about this matchup since the tournament started is just saying what he’s supposed to say so he won’t get in trouble. I say what I’m not supposed to. I’ve been dreaming about this game. This is great stuff. ‘Course now I’m in big trouble.”

But while Louisville entered the game ranked No. 2 to Kentucky’s No. 12, at least one major participant felt that it was the mighty Kentucky program that had more to lose.

“The pressure is on Kentucky,” Louisville coach Denny Crum said in advance of the game, before needling the Big Blue Nation a little bit. “Our record is better the last 10 years. They have a chance to carve into our success.”

By tip-off, all the pregame discussions now past, everyone was ready. Tickets were at a premium and 12,489 showed up at the University of Tennessee’s Stokely Athletics Center for the game. Always eager to join a spectacle, Kentucky governor John Y. Brown wore a unique half-red, half-blue blazer to the affair.

Once the game finally got underway, it was Kentucky that broke quickly from the gate. Led by deft outside shooting by Jim Master and Derrick Hord, who each hit three early shots, the Wildcats raced to an early advantage, reaching a 23-10 lead just 10 minutes into the game. Louisville was playing tight, missing 16 of its first 20 shots.Crum’s roster was stacked, though, and the Cardinals’ talent began to show itself at last. Brothers Rodney and Scooter McCray found space underneath the basket and between them scored 12 of Louisville’s next 16 points. When Charles Jones hit a lay-up just before halftime, the UK lead was down to just seven, 37-30.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.28.12 Edition

Posted by WCarey on March 28th, 2012

The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.

Kansas

  • Heading into his second Final Four in four seasons, Kansas head coach Bill Self is the lowest paid of the four coaches who will be in New Orleans this weekend. Of the group, only Self and Louisville head coach Rick Pitino have won titles.
  • While Kansas reserve forward Kevin Young’s contributions might not show up in the box score, but Bill Self and Young’s teammates acknowledge the energy Young brings to the court.
  • Barry Hinson has served as Kansas’ director of basketball operations for the past four seasons and on Wednesday afternoon, the former Missouri State head coach will be introduced as the new head coach at Southern Illinois.
  •  The unorthodox triangle and two defense helped lead KU to its second Final Four in four seasons. In basketball, defense can win championships and Bill Self is well aware of this notion.

Louisville 

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The Final Game: How a Star and a Walk-On Finished Their Careers in Kansas City

Posted by dnspewak on March 28th, 2012

Danny Spewak is a Big 12 Microsite writer. He wrote this piece after covering the first two days of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City.  You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.

One senior exits the court at the Sprint Center with 53 seconds remaining, walking gingerly toward his coach as an entire arena stands to applaud his four years of contributions. He will be remembered in college for playing more minutes than any player in program history — 4,322 to be exact. He is a former high school legend who set a state record for most points in a single season, once totaling 61 points in a single contest. He is a star and always will be. A name nobody around his parts will or could ever forget.

A night earlier, another senior enters the court at the Sprint Center with 21.2 seconds remaining on the clock, jogging toward his teammates as a few supporters in the stands politely applaud his four years of contributions. He will be remembered in college for hardly ever playing any minutes — 111 to be exact. He is a former high school point guard who won a 2008 state title without even scoring five points per game for his team, a man who has never been a star and never will be. A name most people around his parts will immediately forget.

T.J. Franklin and Keiton Page played their last games in Kansas City, Mo. (Photos by Oklahoma Sooners and NewsOK.com)

From a statistical standpoint, Keiton Page and T.J. Franklin could not possibly be any different. At the same time, they could not possibly be more alike. They are two seniors beloved by their teammates and coaches. They are two seniors considered within their respective programs as unquestioned leaders, guys who always say and do the right thing. They are two seniors who represent the best of college athletics.

This is not a story just about a household name and a walk-on. It is a story about two seniors who saw their careers end in the span of 24 hours in Kansas City, Missouri. A story about what it’s like to pour your entire life into one sport and see it all evaporate in the matter of two hours. A story about how Page and Franklin are entirely different and yet entirely the same. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 03.28.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 28th, 2012

  1. Despite all the struggles that the Pac-12 went through this season, the conference came into Tuesday night with the most teams of any conference in the nation still playing basketball. Unfortunately, none of those teams were in the NCAA Tournament, with two in the NIT and one in the CBI. And, the results last night trimmed the number of Pac-12 teams to just two. Stanford is among those two, as it took care of business in the matinee at Madison Square Garden, knocking off Massachusetts 74-64 behind 13 second-half points from sophomore wing Anthony Brown, part of his game-high 18. However, in the nightcap, Washington fell in overtime to Minnesota, nixing the chances of an all-Pac-12 final. Terrence Ross led the Huskies with 21 points, but now UW fans have to hold their collective breath as they wait to see if he and/or freshman Tony Wroten will enter their names into the NBA Draft, as expected. The Gophers move on to face the Cardinal for the NIT title on Thursday night.
  2. While Pac-12 teams are shut out of this weekend’s Final Four in New Orleans, there is some representation in the weekend’s festivities, as Oregon’s Devoe Joseph and California’s Jorge Gutierrez will both play in the Reese’s Division I College All-Star game on Friday. Meanwhile, Duck fans will also be able to root for Olu Ashaolu in the State Farm Slam Dunk content, on Thursday night.
  3. Despite a difficult season but as we expected all along, there does not appear to be any forthcoming changes in the head coaching positions at any of the Pac-12 schools. Still, every time a new position opens up, certain Pac-12 coaches are mentioned in connection with those jobs. Dana Altman’s name was floated in relation to the Nebraska job, Johnny Dawkins has been suggested as a possibility at Illinois, as has Lorenzo Romar, and now Tad Boyle is rumored to be a possibility at Kansas State. Luckily, most fan bases around the conference can see right through these rumors. The Husky Haul takes umbrage at the idea that Romar’s name gets mentioned seemingly every time any other big position comes open. And likewise, The Ralphie Report laughs off the notion that Boyle is going to walk out on a young and talented Colorado team with a bright future. While either of those guys may leave their respective institutions at some point in the future, Illinois and Kansas State are not going to be the places to steal them away.
  4. There is a possibility, however, that there could be some shakeup on the Colorado bench. In the wake of Tim Miles’ move to Nebraska, Colorado State is in search of its next head coach. Assistants Jean Prioleau and Mike Rohn could each be considered by CSU for its open position, and while Boyle is in no hurry to see either one of them go, he would “love for them to get an opportunity.” There has been a lot of talk about Weber State head coach Randy Rahe landing at CSU, but until the coaching carousel stops spinning, either of Boyle’s main men could be candidates elsewhere.
  5. Lastly, we’ll wrap up a Colorado-heavy Morning Five by pointing you to The Ralphie Report’s third part of its look ahead to next year’s Buffalo team. This part focuses on the six newcomers to the program, making up a Top 25 recruiting class for Boyle. The argument begins as to who is the most anticipated of these newcomers; is it Josh Scott, the 2012 player of the year in Colorado, or maybe Xavier Johnson, another southern California kid stolen by Boyle out from under the noses of UCLA and USC? Maybe it is super bouncy forward Wesley Gordon who could be an excellent backup to Andre Roberson, or versatile wing Chris Jenkins? Xavier Talton is the team’s fifth recruit, an in-state combo-guard who may be a work in progress, while Boyle just added guard Eli Stalzer, a teammate of Johnson’s with the reputation as a pure point guard. With plenty of talent returning for the Buffaloes, getting contributions from a few of these guys could turn CU into a national player next season.
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Big 12 Morning Five: 03.28.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on March 28th, 2012

  1. We mentioned Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich as a possible replacement for Frank Martin yesterday, and a media outlet in Bloomington now claims he may be on the Wildcats’ short list. Despite his lack of an NCAA Tournament berth, Jankovich makes a lot of sense. Forget for a moment even that he’s a former point guard for Kansas State. Beyond that tie, he also learned the ropes from Bill Self as an assistant, and his tenure at Illinois State hasn’t exactly been rocky. In fact, it’s been relatively successful. Here’s a decent comparison: when Oklahoma State hired Travis Ford, he had only reached an NCAA Tournament at Eastern Kentucky. Ford’s previous stop at Massachusetts had also only resulted in NIT appearances. Ford hasn’t yet been proven as a home-run hire, but he’s done good things in Stillwater. Jankovich could do the same in Manhattan.
  2. Adding to the mystery of the Martin situation, both he and athletic director John Currie have denied reports of a strained relationship between the two. That’s nice to hear the two men parted ways on solid terms (publicly, at least), but that leaves us even more confused. If there was no issue with the AD, why leave for a school with less tradition and an athletic program with less emphasis in basketball? It’s not a stretch to say South Carolina is the worst job in the SEC, and it’s probably one of the worst BCS-conference jobs in America. It just is. So when Martin says he just wanted a new challenge, we hope he really believes that.
  3. Watch out, Big 12, the SEC Tournament may be invading your territory. Kansas City and St. Louis could eventually be in play for the conference tournament, but there are no open slots until at least 2016. If either city lands the SEC Tournament, though, you can expect some backlash from the Big 12. We have a feeling these two conferences will not be playing nice for the next several years.
  4. Kansas is the only team in the Big 12 still playing, so we may as well throw some Final Four previews at you. This one comes courtesy of Jeff Borzello at CBS Sports. As he points out, the Jayhawks’ title chances may hinge on their ability to execute offensively. They will shut down anybody they face in New Orleans on the defensive end, but offensively, they have to show up like they did in the first half against North Carolina on Sunday. Self’s teams normally execute as well as anybody in America, so there should be no doubt that his team will be focused against Ohio State this weekend.
  5. With TCU joining the Big 12 in July, it must overhaul its men’s basketball program to keep up with the competition. Luckily, the Horned Frogs are pumping in millions of dollars to upgrade their basketball facilities, and that’s the first step toward this project. On the basketball side, they are actually not all that far behind. Coming from the Mountain West, it’s not as though TCU is foreign to the idea of good basketball, and it made strides this year with a post-season appearance.
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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.28.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 28th, 2012

  1. One coaching vacancy in the Big Ten has been filled as Nebraska welcomed Tim Miles as the newest leader of their basketball program. Miles comes with a solid resume from Colorado State, but some former players have expressed disappointment that the school wasn’t able to get a coach who moved a needle a little more. Miles was able to guide Colorado State to the NCAA Tournament this year, which is something the Huskers were unable to do, but his lack of experience at the helm of a big-time program has given some fans pause knowing that competing in the Big Ten is different than the Mountain West.
  2. Meanwhile, it appears that Illinois will soon have their man, as a deal appears imminent with Ohio head coach and former Ohio State assistant John Groce.  However, since Illinois publicly courted other candidates, including VCU’s Shaka Smart and Butler’s Brad Stevens, and came up empty; many who have been following the hiring process are wondering whether becoming the head man of the Illini is still a premiere position. Some have used the term “national embarrassment”, and while I think that is harsh, it is true that Illinois has been publicly rebuffed by a number of candidates.
  3. Michigan State has a storied basketball program, and that has led to the Spartans honoring nine former players by retiring their jersey numbers. Tom Izzo thinks that there should be a tenth jersey hanging from the rafters, and he wants that jersey to belong to Draymond Green. Green was honored as an AP All-Amerian first team member this week, and his leadership off the court and skills on the court certainly would qualify him to join Spartan lore. Izzo has noted that the leadership and chemistry from this team is not lost on the younger players, and State will be looking for a couple of leaders to fill the void left by Green come next season.
  4. With the Final Four back in New Orleans, ESPN.com decided to reminisce about some classic moments when college basketball’s premiere event was held in the Big Easy. Two Big Ten moments made the list, one being Keith Smart’s epic shot against Syracuse in 1987 and the other being Chris Webber‘s infamous timeout against North Carolina in 1993. The best and the worst of the NCAA tournament, both taking place at the same site, six years apart.
  5. Though their NCAA Tournament exit was heartbreaking, Wisconsin gave Syracuse a run for their money, and while senior point guard Jordan Taylor will certainly be missed, the Badgers will bring back four starters from a team that won 26 games this year.  It is never easy to replace a leader at the point guard position, but Wisconsin will return 71% of its scoring and 84% of its rebounding next season. The future looks good in Madison for the Badgers to again be a factor in the Big Ten.
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The Ultimate Breakdown: Ohio State vs. Kansas

Posted by zhayes9 on March 28th, 2012

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court. You can read his Louisville-Kentucky breakdown here.

It was clear from the first game of the season that everyone’s favorite breakout player, Kansas’ Thomas Robinson, was going to live up to the hype. At the same time, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, a first team All-American as a freshman and preseason All-American as a sophomore, was widely viewed as the premier big man in the country. It only took a quick glance at the calendar for December 10 to stand out: Ohio State at Kansas. Or more accurately: Sullinger at Robinson. Unfortunately, Sullinger’s body would spoil all our fun. The Buckeyes’ leading scorer sat out the visit to Allen Fieldhouse with painful back spasms and Ohio State limped to an 11-point loss.

Barring a freak accident in the next three-plus days, the Ohio State-Kansas sequel won’t lack one of its biggest stars. Sullinger is healthy and Robinson is ready, two exceptional talents and future lottery picks banging bodies in the post with a trip to the sport’s brightest stage on the line: Monday night at the Final Four. Of course, Ohio State-Kansas is about much more than two players. It’s about Tyshawn Taylor trying to take Aaron Craft off the dribble. It’s about Travis Releford chasing William Buford all over the floor. It’s about Bill Self and Thad Matta matching wits on the sidelines. Heck, I’m sure Jeff Withey will be matched up with Sullinger for a good portion of Saturday’s game.

Louisville-Kentucky may be the Final Four main event, but you may want to stick around for the after party.

Sullinger and Robinson will finally go toe-to-toe. Oh, and it's at the Final Four.

Backcourt- The much-maligned Tyshawn Taylor posted a redemptive senior season, staying out of Bill Self’s doghouse, limiting turnovers and shooting a robust 39 percent from three. Taylor is a tough cover due to his blazing speed, swift crossover and irrepressible confidence, a characteristic never more evident than when Taylor pulled up for a 3-on-1 three-pointer late in Kansas’ Elite Eight win over North Carolina despite the fact he hadn’t made a shot from behind the arc in the entire tournament. His running mate is the much-improved Elijah Johnson, a bit player turned double-digit scorer and clutch shot-maker. We might be talking about Robbie Hummel’s unprecedented run to the Final Four if Johnson didn’t bail out the Jayhawks during a Robinson/Taylor no-show in Kansas’ second-round escape against Purdue. Travis Releford is Bill Self’s go-to perimeter defender. He’ll receive the challenging task of chasing William Buford around screens for 40 minutes. Buford underachieved relative to inflated expectations this season, coming off an extremely efficient junior campaign, but ask Michigan State if he’s capable of exploding at any moment. Lenzelle Smith is essentially Johnson’s clone, a 6’4” glue guy who’s canned his fair share of clutch shots this tournament. The matchup to track is Aaron Craft, far and away best perimeter defender in the country, and Taylor with his athleticism and quickness. Taylor went 1-of-4 from the floor with six turnovers guarded by Craft in their December meeting. Slight Edge: Ohio State.

Frontcourt- Equally tantalizing are the frontcourt matchups: DeShaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger vs. Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson. Thomas is the leading scorer in this year’s NCAA Tournament, a versatile southpaw who shot a phenomenal 61 percent from two and has never met a shot he didn’t love. That irrational confidence is to Thad Matta’s benefit on the offensive end, but the kindest way to describe Thomas’ defensive effort is the anti-Aaron Craft. It’ll be interesting to see if Self shows some triangle-and-2 or zone so Robinson or Withey don’t have to chase Thomas around the floor. The scenario is similar to when Kansas faced Missouri’s four-guard attack, but there’s no Matt Pressey on Ohio State you can leave unguarded. The one-on-one scrap we all want to witness is Sullinger vs. Robinson. According to Synergy and Luke Winn’s tournament blog, Sullinger is much more efficient away from the block than Robinson. The Buckeye star is fully capable of utilizing the mid-range jumper he perfected last summer, while Robinson is a superior overall rebounder. Withey actually posted a higher block percentage than Anthony Davis, but isn’t much of a low-post scoring threat outside of dunks and put-backs. Slight Edge: Ohio State.

Bench- Much like Louisville and Kentucky, the bench simply isn’t a major factor for either side. Remember 2012 the next time somebody denounces a team’s Final Four chances because of their lack of depth. While Matta has always rejected using more than six or seven players, backup big men Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams simply holding the fort while Sullinger was on the bench for 13 minutes during the first half of Ohio State’s regional final win over Syracuse may have saved their season. It’s doubtful that Williams, backup point Shannon Scott or backup wing Sam Thompson will see more than a few minutes combined because of the stakes, unless of course foul trouble is a factor. Kansas doesn’t have a bench due to a combination of early entries, recruiting whiffs and graduation, an obstacle that renders the job Self did this season even more remarkable. Connor Teahan has the reputation of a solid shooter, but he’s canned only 34 percent from deep on the season. Kevin Young will spell Robinson or Withey. His 6’8” frame is actually a better matchup opposite Thomas. Slight Edge: Kansas.

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SEC Morning Five: 03.28.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 28th, 2012

  1. Tennessee Volunteer center Kenny Hall has been reinstated by Cuonzo Martin. “Kenny’s back in the fold,” Martin said Tuesday morning. “Kenny is a good young man, and I believe he has learned a valuable lesson and he’s ready to move forward.” Hall will rejoin team workouts after being held out of the final nine games of the season. He will join a front line that includes Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes, who both had outstanding seasons, for a promising second year under coach Martin.
  2. High school standout Shabazz Muhammad confirmed that he will decide on his college choice on April 21. He is down to five schools, but Kentucky, UCLA, and Duke are the leaders for his services. The Cats are likely to lose as many as six or seven players from their current roster, but still have a solid class coming in and John Calipari‘s success with getting freshmen into the NBA draft only helps him continue to recruit the nation’s best. Of course there are still lingering concerns about Muhammad’s eligibility.
  3. Even while Kentucky prepares for the Final Four that doesn’t mean Calipari isn’t still recruiting for next season. The Wildcats are reportedly one of at least two schools (North Carolina is the other) that has reached out to Connecticut senior Alex Oriakhi to inquire about a transfer to UK. With Kentucky’s frontline about to be decimated by the pro game, Oriakhi could play significant minutes for a team with the potential to go very deep in the NCAA Tournament again next year. Whether or not he plays next year depends on the decision by the NCAA on UConn’s appeal of its 2013 NCAA Tournament. If the Huskies win and can play in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, Oriakhi would have to sit out a year, but if they lose and are kept out, Oriakhi is eligible immediately.
  4. After Mississippi State’s season ended, Renardo Sidney is preparing to boost his stock in the upcoming NBA draft. Sidney and his agent think his draft status is fairly simple. “Right now we’re just working on losing about 30 pounds. We’re not worried about my game because my game has always been there. It’s always been about the weight. We’re working to get 30 pounds off me and see where it goes from there.” And Sidney is right. Unfortunately, he has always known weight was an issue and didn’t do anything about it while he was in Starkville.
  5. The 2011-12 Florida Gators left a lasting impression on coach Billy Donovan. “A team that was really young and immature in a lot of ways and in front of my eyes I got a chance to watch them grow up and mature competitively. To see where Patric Young was at the start of the year, in January, to see where they finished. To see before Brad (Beal) was in November and December, see where he finished. Same with Erik Murphy. Our guys grew up.” Unfortunately for the Gators, they returned to that same immature team for the final eight minutes of their Elite Eight matchup with the Louisville Cardinals.
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ACC Morning Five: 03.28.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on March 28th, 2012

  1. Durham Herald-Sun and Inside Carolina: The ACC is very involved in the race to get Connecticut transfer Alex Oriakhi. According to Jeff Goodman, Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke, NC State, Florida, Temple, Xavier, UCLA, Missouri, George Mason, Virginia Tech, Virginia and UNC Charlotte have all reached out to the rising senior big man. Additionally, Kentucky, Florida and Missouri may not be able to recruit him because the SEC has a rule against one-year transfers. I’d be a little surprised if Oriakhi ends up at North Carolina (though he should definitely wait a couple weeks to see who will be coming back) or Virginia Tech, but Duke and NC State certainly have a lot of need and Virginia would have tons of minutes too.
  2. BC Interruption: Speaking of Connecticut and Oriakhi, apparently the suits in Storrs aren’t interested in Oriakhi transferring to Boston College, according to Eric Hoffses. I haven’t seen this from any major media outlets yet, but it wouldn’t shock me to see the Huskies holding a grudge against the former Big East member. Unfortunately, Boston College is the closest to home Oriakhi could get at a major conference school, as he grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts.
  3. CSN Washington: It sounds like everyone may have jumped the gun on Sam Cassell, Jr.‘s, commitment to Maryland. That is to say, he’s not committed. But the younger Cassell definitely made it sound like he was on Twitter. This makes me think his father told him to take his time and take more visits to try and inform his final choice. I’d be a little surprised if he doesn’t end up in College Park, but we’ll have to wait to find out.
  4. Raleigh News & Observer: One assistant on Tobacco Road was tapped for a head coaching gig, but it wasn’t Chris Collins. Jerrod Haase, a longtime assistant for Roy Williams, will be moving on to coach UAB. Haase played for Williams in the mid-1990s at Kansas before joining his staff in 1999. The new question is who will replace him. Jackie Manuel and Bobby Frasor are putting some time in with the team now, but I’m not sure their couple years of experience each merits an assistant coach position already.
  5. Orlando Sentinel: The Leonard Hamilton updates have disappeared recently. First he was tied to the Illinois coaching opening; then he was receiving a contract extension. But neither has been confirmed or even furthered so far. Instead, it looks like business as usual for Hamilton, whose stoic on-court demeanor carries over to his laconic disposition when addressing things pertaining to himself. No news is probably good news for Seminole fans (as is Hamilton’s age), but here’s to hoping he stays in Tallahassee.
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