Specter of Harry Giles Still Looming Over Duke

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 7th, 2016

Mike Krzyzewski is accustomed to unexpected roster transformations. After all, when you spend over four decades on the college basketball sidelines, it is inevitable that injuries, suspensions and other roster-wreaking circumstances will occasionally arise. This season’s Blue Devils are still an early version of what they eventually will become, but Tuesday’s night’s 84-74 Jimmy V Classic win over Florida revealed a group steadily evolving into the team many expected before all the injuries began. Star freshman Jayson Tatum contributed 22 points and eight rebounds in his second career game, while fellow freshman blue-chipper Marques Bolden saw a couple minutes off the bench. The presence of each was important in dispatching a good Florida team, but even the added production of Tatum could not fully obscure the continued absence of the most decorated of Duke freshmen, Harry Giles. The Blue Devils may already have the pieces in place to win the 2017 NCAA Tournament — consider that they just beat a Top 25 team by double figures on a night where presumptive NPOY Grayson Allen went 2-of-10 — but the roster won’t feel complete, the upside not fully explored, until Giles makes his debut.

Harry Giles' Return Could Be An Early Christmas Present For Duke (Photo: Getty)

Harry Giles’ Return Could Be An Early Christmas Present For Duke (Photo: Getty)

Ten days ago, moments after Duke had dispatched Appalachian State in a post-Thanksgiving tilt at Cameron Indoor, Krzyzewski identified just how different this season had been than expected. “We had this unbelievably deep team, supposedly,” Coach K said. “And really the past month, we’ve been back to what we’ve done the last two years, where there’s no practice, you are in therapy…it’s frustrating, but you do what you need to do.” In the days since, of course, the Blue Devils have regained some degree of health. Tatum and Bolden are back in action, although Giles, who has been going through pregame warmups since a November 23 game against William & Mary, remains on the shelf. After last night’s win, Krzyzewski added, “We’re hoping before Christmas, those two games,” when asked about Giles’ potential debut. Those two referenced games are December 19 and December 21 match-ups with Tennessee State and Elon, respectively. Some have suggested that Giles’ best course of action may be to sit out the entire season, but it appears Duke expects him to be on the court sooner than later. Given Giles’ prodigious prep reputation, that development has large potential ramifications for the Blue Devils. But no matter how significant his ultimate impact becomes, Krzyzewski will also find solace in a playable and complete roster.

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Bryce Drew’s First Vandy Win Offers Blueprint For Future

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 16th, 2016

Luckily for Bryce Drew, no memorable coaching tenure has ever been defined by its first game. The good vibes surrounding the Vanderbilt program and its new coach quickly dissipated on opening night last Friday, as Marquette sprinted past the Commodores in the second half of a 24-point rout. The shaky debut raised the stakes for Tuesday night’s inter-Nashville battle between the Commodores and Belmont, as an 0-2 start and a loss to a crosstown little brother would possess the potential to leave a lasting impact on Drew’s first season at Vanderbilt. However, Drew’s veteran outfit responded to the challenge at hand, posting a ship-righting victory that may be more crucial than the calendar and opponent would suggest.

Luke Kornet was the best player on the court Tuesday night. (USA Today Sports)

Luke Kornet was the best player on the court Tuesday night. (USA TODAY Sports)

At this point, no program in America should treat a win over Belmont as a given. The Bruins have proven to be more than just a pesky mid-major for over a decade now, and they pushed another high-major team on its home floor last night. Quite certainly, Drew’s first win is one he didn’t take for granted until his team extended its lead into double figures in the game’s final minute. However, the win revealed a blueprint for how his teeam might win games moving forward. Luke Kornet was the centerpiece, scoring 20 points, grabbing seven rebounds, and harassing 2016 OVC Player of the Year Evan Bradds into an unusually inefficient 6-of-15 night from the field. On a team with little in the way of overwhelming talent, Kornet will need to be this sort of difference-maker on a nightly basis. The four upperclassmen that join him in the starting lineup are all competent complementary pieces, but junior Matthew Fisher-Davis is the only other Commodore starter with the talent to truly concern opposing SEC coaches. Given these limitations, it is not only imperative that Kornet find consistency as a focal point of the offense, but also that the group around him finds a way to make him a successful centerpiece of an elite defense. Read the rest of this entry »

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Final Four Previews: Syracuse/North Carolina Will Win If…

Posted by Brian Otskey & Bennet Hayes on April 2nd, 2016

The Final Four tips off later today, so it’s time to break down the upcoming games by determining what it will take for each team to win. Yesterday we previewed the early battle between Oklahoma and Villanova, tipping off at 6:09 PM ET. Today we review the Syracuse-North Carolina nightcap, scheduled to tip at 8:49 PM ET. RTC’s Brian Otskey (North Carolina) and Bennet Hayes (Syracuse) with the honors.

Syracuse Will Win If…

Syracuse is One of the Most Unlikely Final Four Entrants Ever (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Syracuse is One of the Most Unlikely Final Four Entrants Ever (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

  • North Carolina misses three-point shots…and Syracuse rebounds them. The Tar Heels killed Syracuse on the offensive glass in their last meeting (19 offensive rebounds to Syracuse’s 22 defensive rebounds), which severely mitigated the damage done by North Carolina’s anemic perimeter shooting (6-of-25 from three-point range). UNC is fully capable of struggling to make three-point shots again (it shoots just 32 percent on the season), but Syracuse must hold its own on the defensive glass this time around. There’s a reason the Orange rank 337th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, but expect Jim Boeheim to emphasize constant awareness and early box-outs when the Tar Heels hoist a long-range attempt.
  • They make three-point shots. There’s no avoiding the fact that Syracuse isn’t a good offensive team. Michael Gbinije has been the lone consistent source of offensive production this season, and even he has looked tired at times during this NCAA Tournament. However, there are a handful of players capable of getting hot from the perimeter. Senior Trevor Cooney is prime among them (35% 3FG), but Malachi Richardson, Tyler Lydon and Gbinije himself would all boost Syracuse’s chances if they are able to knock down shots tonight. No need to think too hard here – the three-point shot will always be an underdog’s greatest equalizer.
  • An Orange freshman is the best player on the court. North Carolina is nearly a 10-point favorite in this game but it’s possible that Syracuse will have two players drafted before any Tar Heel this June. Lydon and Richardson are freshmen with rapidly rising draft stocks – particularly the former – and each is capable of having a huge impact on Saturday. Hoping they will be the best player on the floor against a team with talented veterans like Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige is asking a lot, but both freshmen have shown glimpses that suggest they are more than capable. Heck, Richardson has already dominated the ACC Player of the Year (Malcolm Brogdon) for a half in this Tournament; why can’t he or Lydon produce a similar feat against the Heels?

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Syracuse Orange

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 29th, 2016

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Finally, Syracuse. 

How Syracuse Got Here

Syracuse unexpectedly conquered all foes in the Midwest Region. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Syracuse unexpectedly conquered all foes in the Midwest Region. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Midwest Region Champions. Syracuse took a ride through the Midwest region that few expected. The tenth-seeded Orange defeated Dayton in round one, then made the most of a fortunate second round draw by knocking off fifteenth-seeded, Spartan-slaying, Middle Tennessee State. Jim Boeheim’s team proceeded to find lightning in a bottle twice at the Chicago regional, overcoming a nine-point deficit with less than five minutes to play against Gonzaga before supplying the most shocking victory of this stunning Syracuse March run: a regional final victory over #1 Virginia in which they overcame a 15-point deficit with less than ten minutes to play.

The Coach

Jim Boeheim. No stranger to Final Fours (this will be his fifth), even Boeheim himself has to be surprised to be making the trip to Houston this week. No Syracuse team has ever entered the Tournament with a higher seed than this one, and an uninspiring regular season left little hint that a run like this was coming. Boeheim has always enjoyed a little disrespect from the media and he’s been masterful in using the “nobody believes we deserve to be here” narrative as fuel for this run. If he can use that rallying cry (or any other tactic) to grind out two more wins in Houston, this will undoubtedly go down as his greatest coaching job in a career full of them. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #10 Syracuse 68, #1 Virginia 62

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 27th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Syracuse stunned Virginia in the Midwest Regional Final to advance to the Final Four. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Syracuse stunned Virginia in the Midwest Regional Final to advance to the Final Four. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Late Syracuse surge stuns Virginia. When London Perrantes hit his sixth three of the game with 9:33 to go, the Cavaliers led by 15 points (54-39). The Orange looked tired, Virginia appeared as steady as ever, and there seemed little doubt that Tony Bennett was minutes away from his first trip to the Final Four. Then everything changed. Syracuse uncorked a six-minute, 25-4 run that lifted the Orange into the driver’s seat. An experienced, methodical Virginia team unraveled, while Syracuse’s collection of talented but enigmatic freshmen – most notably Malachi Richardson – seized the moment in forcing turnovers and converting on the opposite end. The Midwest region surprised from opening tip last Thursday all the way through to the final minutes this evening.
  2. ACC Player of the Year struggles. Malcolm Brogdon probably didn’t expect his career to end today, and particularly not in the fashion in which it did. The Cavaliers’ star made just two of his 14 field goal attempts, including just 1-of-6 from beyond the arc. Tonight was also a poor display of Brogdon’s normally paralyzing individual defense, as he struggled to contain Richardson late in the second half. Brogdon did some things well – he handed out seven assists and made all seven of his free throw attempts – but his subpar effort was an undeniably critical element of the Virginia loss.
  3. Finally time to respect the Orange. Jim Boeheim mentioned on Friday that it seemed like every Syracuse opponent in this NCAA Tournament was suddenly considered bad once they lost to the Orange. That trend will be unlikely to continue after tonight. Beating Dayton, Middle Tennessee State and Gonzaga – all seeded #7 or higher – shouldn’t be discarded as nothing, but tonight’s takedown of a national title contender has to fully validate this unexpected postseason run. They may not head to Houston as a Final Four favorite, but Boeheim’s team has proven it must be taken seriously.

Star of the Game. Malachi Richardson, Syracuse. The gifted Syracuse freshman was the key player in the Syracuse comeback, scoring 14 points in the decisive 25-4 spurt that sent the Orange into the Final Four. His three-pointer over Brogdon, the ACC Player of the Year, with three and a half minutes to play put the Orange up six and should stand as the most memorable bucket in a wild regional final. He finished with 23 points and seven rebounds.

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Rushed Reactions: #10 Syracuse 63, #11 Gonzaga 60

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 25th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion

Three Key Takeaways.

Little came easy for Michael Gbinije tonight, but the Syracuse star found a way to lead the Orange past Gonzaga. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Little came easy for Michael Gbinije tonight, but the Syracuse star found a way to lead the Orange past Gonzaga. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Gonzaga attacks Syracuse zone creatively. The Zags had great ball movement early on, which helped them build an early 18-8 lead. Guards found Kyle Wiltjer (23 points, five rebounds) on flashes to the post, Domantas Sabonis (19 points, 17 rebounds) on quickly conceived entry passes, and Gonzaga was generally patient in attacking Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone. That ball movement disappeared in the last five minutes of the first half and first five of the second, as the Syracuse length and constant pressure finally began to force a few Gonzaga turnovers. But Gonzaga emerged from a Mark Few timeout with renewed purpose, and despite shooting just one free throw in the first 37 minutes of the game, rediscovered their offensive flow. One especially effective tactic employed: the use of a quicker tempo to find Sabonis for post touches before the zone was fully set.
  2. Gonzaga meltdown or Syracuse heroics? Or both? It wasn’t pretty, but Syracuse advanced on the back of Michael Gbinije and some timely plays on both sides of the ball. Gonzaga channeled their inner Northern Iowa in coughing the ball up twice on their own side of halfcourt in the last two minutes, but give the Orange credit for creating pressure and then taking advantage of the Zag miscues. Gonzaga’s nine-point lead with 6:30 to play was erased once and for all when Gbinije came up with a loose ball and layup with 22 seconds to play to put the Orange up one. This will go down as a Gonzaga collapse, but don’t overlook Syracuse’s role in making it happen.
  3. Orange win with ugly offense. Jim Boeheim admitted that offense was a major problem for the Orange tonight. Offensive struggles are nothing new for a Syracuse team ranked outside the top 50 nationally in offensive efficiency, but tonight was an unusually ugly winning performance. Syracuse shot just 36 percent from the floor and 33 percent from long-range, while Trevor Cooney was the only player on the Syracuse roster who made more shots than he missed (5-9 from the floor). The Orange did make 14 of their 16 free throws (compared to just 4-5 for Gonzaga) and only turned the ball over nine times, eight less than the Zags.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Virginia 84, #4 Iowa State 71

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 25th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion

Three Key Takeaways.

Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia got out early and stayed a step ahead of Iowa State all night. (Photo: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)

Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia got out early and stayed a step ahead of Iowa State all night. (Photo: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Virginia blitzes Iowa State early. The Cavaliers opened on a 12-2 run that they extended to leads of 17-3 (five minutes in) and 26-9 (eight minutes in). Adding to the Cyclones’ early troubles was foul trouble for star Georges Niang, who picked up his second foul with 12:46 to play in the half. Steve Prohm would gamble in re-inserting Niang minutes later, but a tentative Niang didn’t make the Cyclones any better defensively. Getting down early is never recommended, but against a Virginia team that plays at a deliberate tempo and can be suffocating defensively, an early hole is too often a death knell. It certainly played out that way tonight.
  2. Virginia’s passing. The Cavaliers are known as a good-passing team, but their ability to share the ball was particularly excellent this evening. They assisted on a remarkable 81 percent (26 of 32) of their field goals, well above their season average of 55 percent. When Iowa State extended their pressure into the full-court with three minutes to go, Virginia repeatedly passed their way through the press for dunks, as Anthony Gill and Isaiah Wilkins had five combined dunks in a two-minute stretch. London Perrantes led the Cavaliers with nine assists.
  3. Georges Niang. As bad as Iowa State’s first half was, it would have been even worse without heavy contributions from its senior star. Niang shrugged off a pair of quick fouls to score 15 points in the opening half – just one fewer than the rest of his team combined. He opened the second half hot, too, scoring seven points in the first seven minutes. Unfortunately he also picked up two more fouls in that stretch, and headed to the bench with 13:10 to play and Iowa State on a run that had cut the Cavalier lead to eight. He returned with nine minutes to play and his team down 13, after which point Iowa State would never really threaten again. Niang finished with 30 points and eight rebounds in the final game of an outstanding collegiate career.

Star of the Game. Mike Tobey, Virginia. The Cavaliers had a number of key contributors, but Tobey supplied an unexpected lift off the bench that made a huge difference. The senior had 18 points and seven rebounds – including four on the offensive end – and was critical in helping UVA maintain a comfortable lead throughout the second half. Jameel McKay was a virtual non-factor for the Cyclones, as Tobey and the Virginia frontcourt took it to Iowa State on the glass, outrebounding them by eight, 31-23.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 21st, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

New Favorite: #1 Virginia. Michigan State’s shocking first round loss to Middle Tennessee State sent reverberations throughout the entire bracket, but especially within the Midwest Region. The loss rendered meaningless all the pre-Tournament talk about Virginia’s poor fortune in drawing the Spartans in their region, as the Cavaliers are now a clear favorite to advance to Houston. Tony Bennett’s team handled business in dispatching Hampton and Butler in the first two rounds. Getting two more victories will be no cinch, but Virginia should arrive in Chicago with no shortage of confidence.

With Michigan State out of the bracket, there's little doubt that Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia are favorites to advance to the Final Four. (Photo: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

With Michigan State out of the bracket, there’s little doubt that Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia are favorites to advance to the Final Four. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

Horse of Darkness: #11 Gonzaga. If the name on the front of the jersey wasn’t Gonzaga, this really would be a beautiful Cinderella story. With non-existent at-large hopes, a talented mid-major sweeps through its conference tournament to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament field and wins its two first weekend games as a double-digit seed. Cute story, right? Except when it’s Gonzaga, a program that has been to 18 straight Tournaments with wins in each of the last eight and is coming off an Elite Eight appearance. After beating #6 Seton Hall and #3 Utah by a combined 39 points, Mark Few’s team heads to Chicago as a dangerous team – and a likely favorite in its Sweet Sixteen matchup with Syracuse. Beating the Orange won’t be an easy first step, but if the Zags can advance to a regional final against either Virginia or Iowa State, forget their uninspiring regular season and double-digit seed line – this team has the talent and pedigree to break through to deliver the program’s maiden voyage to the Final Four. Wouldn’t that be a Cinderella story, of sorts?

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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 15th, 2016

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On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@rtcMWregion).

Midwest Region

Favorite: #2 Michigan State (30-5, 13-5 Big Ten). They aren’t the top seed in the region (more on that later), but the Spartans are as hot as any team in the nation entering the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State’s only blemish over its last 13 games is a one-point loss in overtime at Purdue, a surge that may not have earned them appropriate respect in the RPI (#11) but has done so in advanced rating systems (KenPom #3, Sagarin #2). Any Tom Izzo team is scary in March, but one led by a potential National Player of the Year (Denzel Valentine) evolves into an even more frightening tier of “opponent no team wants to face.” Oh, and their most likely challenger for the title of Midwest favorite knows this reality all too well – top-seeded Virginia has been bounced from each of the last two Tournaments by the Spartans. Michigan State is #2 in seed only in this Midwest Region.

Fresh off a Big Ten tournament title, Michigan State is as hot as any team in the field of 68. (Photo: AP)

Fresh off a Big Ten tournament title, Michigan State is as hot as any team in the field of 68. (Photo: AP)

Should They Falter: #1 Virginia (26-7, 13-5 ACC). Michigan State’s anointment as region favorite has little to do with any deficiencies exhibited by Virginia. Aside from a two-week stretch in early January in which the Cavaliers lost three of four, Tony Bennett’s team has been stellar from November to March. Like the Spartans, they too are in the top four in both the Sagarin and Pomeroy rating systems; unlike the Spartans, they have repeatedly proven capable of beating some of the nation’s best teams: Virginia owns five victories over teams that earned a #3 seed or better – four more than the Spartans. Making the Final Four could well require an exorcism of recent March demons by defeating Michigan State in the Elite Eight, but ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, and Anthony Gill form a leading trio capable of guiding the Cavaliers past any team in the field. Believe it.

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Jim Crews Era Over at Saint Louis

Posted by Joe Dzuback on March 10th, 2016

George Washington beat Saint Louis 73-65 this afternoon at the Barclays Center in the second round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The outcome was rarely in doubt, but the post game press conference with SLU coach Jim Crews was anything but business as usual. Three minutes before Crews arrived to deliver his remarks and take questions, the Billiken Athletic Department distributed a press release that began:

Saint Louis University Director of Athletics Chris May announced today that Jim Crews has been released as SLU’s head men’s basketball coach. This decision comes as the Billikens ended their season Thursday at the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship in Brooklyn, N.Y. After reviewing the 2015-16 season and talking with Coach Crews, I have decided that a change in leadership of the men’s basketball program is needed for the program to move forward in meeting our goals.

No Smiles On This Day, As Jim Crews Is Out At Saint Louis (Photo: Post Dispatch)

No Smiles On This Day, As Jim Crews Is Out At Saint Louis (Photo: Post Dispatch)

The press release arrived in the interview room two minutes after Dan Wolken broke the news on Twitter. Atlantic 10 Media Director Drew Dickerson announced no players would be available for the post game press conference only seconds before Crews, noticeably pale and subdued, entered to give his remarks. He congratulated the Colonials on a game well played and shared a number of thoughts about a career that has spanned four decades with head coaching stops at Evansville, Army and Saint Louis.

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