Kentucky’s Improbable Journey Rolls On: Three Takeaways

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 6th, 2014

The cardiac ‘Cats did it again. Aaron Harrison continued to make the late-game extraordinary look routine and Kentucky’s unlikely NCAA Tournament run lived to see yet another day. The only thing now standing between the Wildcats and the program’s ninth National Championship is UConn on Monday night, but the #8 seeded Wildcats will be a favorite to knock off the Huskies and complete the six-game sweep. With an eye towards Monday night, here are three quick takeaways from Kentucky’s semifinal victory over Wisconsin.

Kentucky Will Play For The Program's Ninth National Title On Monday Night

Kentucky Will Play For The Program’s Ninth National Title On Monday Night

  1. James Young was aggressive and effective attacking the basket. Young is far from a one-dimensional player, but with more three-point attempts than two-point attempts to his name this season, there have been times when the freshman’s role has been reduced to that of a jump shooter, almost exclusively. This was not the case against the Badgers. Young scored a game-high 17 points, and only three were earned from behind the arc. Nine of his 11 field goal attempts came from two-point range, and Young showed off a more varied offensive game in getting into the lane often and to the free throw stripe almost as frequently (he went 6-of-7 on free throws). His floor-stretching ability will again be crucial on Monday night, but a Young capable of manufacturing points in different ways is a scary proposition moving forward.
  2. Alex Poythress may never be the player everyone hoped he would be when he arrived in Lexington, but he has become a key role player on this team. Poythress played 29 minutes last night, had eight points (4-of-4 FG) and seven rebounds, and even did a nice job defending Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky when called upon. His offensive game is still unrefined, but as an athletic energy guy off the bench who can guard almost every position, Poythress has real value for the Willie Cauley-Stein-less ‘Cats. Expect another heavy dose of the sophomore on Monday night, as he would appear to be a perfect defensive match-up for UConn’s DeAndre Daniels. Read the rest of this entry »
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Final Four Previews In-Depth: Florida Gators

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 4th, 2014

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As part of our ongoing NCAA Tournament coverage, RTC is unveiling a detailed look at each of the Final Four teams throughout the week. Kentucky, Wisconsin and UConn have already released. Today: Florida.

Back on December 2, college basketball pollsters would have told you that Florida was the worst of the four teams still standing in this NCAA Tournament. #12 UConn beat the 15th-ranked Gators that night, and both Kentucky (#3) and Wisconsin (#8) rested comfortably among the top 10 teams in the nation. Things have changed quite significantly in the months since. As a result of 30 consecutive victories since that loss in Storrs, Florida now enters the Final Four as the prohibitive favorite to cut down the nets, while their three Final Four mates have lost a combined 24 times since the Gators have. It’s been a relentless and astounding string of success for Billy Donovan’s team, but the Gators know that their winning streak will mean far less if it fails to reach 32 games. The ultimate validation is available in North Texas, and Florida appears poised and ready to snatch it.

Before The Winning Began In Earnest, Billy Donovan Had To Navigate His Team Through A Slew Of Early Season Personnel Losses

Before The Winning Began In Earnest, Billy Donovan Had To Navigate His Team Through A Slew Of Early Season Personnel Losses

Pre-NCAA Tournament Capsule. Florida, picked to finished second in the SEC in the league preseason poll, began the season with a rather discombobulated roster. Scottie Wilbekin started the year suspended, Chris Walker was ineligible, and newcomers Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and DeVon Walker all missed time due to injuries. There were even times when Billy Donovan didn’t have enough healthy bodies to scrimmage five-on-five in practice, which made the Gators’ 11-2 non-conference record (which included victories over Kansas, Memphis, and Florida State) a good, if not great, beginning to the season. But Florida was just getting started. With Casey Prather emerging out of nowhere as an All-American candidate and Wilbekin shedding character issues to become one of the best two-way floor generals in the country, Florida ripped off 21 straight victories to seize the SEC regular season and Tournament crowns, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. Not everything was easy – five of those SEC wins came by five points or fewer – but the Gators posted the most impressive regular season in college basketball this season. They were rightfully awarded the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, and entered the Big Dance on a 26-game winning streak.

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Debut of Turner’s “Teamcasts” Offers New Twist on Final Four Saturday

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 3rd, 2014

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Despite the participation of familiar programs Kentucky, Florida, Connecticut and Wisconsin, Final Four Saturday will look a little different this weekend. For one, games will be televised on a network other than CBS for the first time since 1982 (TBS), but the CBS/Turner partnership didn’t stop there in its overhaul of National Semifinals programming. We took inventory of the newfangled approach when it was announced back in November, but the introduction of “Teamcasts” – two additional, school-specific telecasts to air on TNT and truTV simultaneous to TBS’ national broadcast – will become a reality on Saturday evening. If successful, the idea could lead to even more specialization in coverage down the road (merits of a journey down this path could be debated), but for now, Teamcasts should provide all viewers – both bipartisan and neutral – a healthy, optional alternative to the national coverage they are used to consuming during the Final Four.

If You Tired Of Jim Nantz And Co. Calling The Final Four Action On TBS Saturday Night, Don't Use The Mute Button Before Checking Out The "Teamcasts" On TNT And TruTV

If You Tired Of Jim Nantz And Co. Calling The Final Four Action On TBS Saturday Night, Don’t Use The Mute Button Before Checking Out The “Teamcasts” On TNT And TruTV

The TBS telecast should still pull in the majority of Final Four viewers, but it will be interesting to see just how significant a segment shift their television sets to the team-specific broadcasts elsewhere. A smattering of fans without a team in the Final Four will undoubtedly use their remotes for the occasional change-of-pace offered by the Teamcasts, but I question how many Kentucky, UConn, Florida or Wisconsin fans will even make the switch. Hearing Jim Nantz, Steve Kerr and Greg Anthony discuss your team can pleasantly solidify the magnitude of the moment your team finds itself competing in — whether you enjoy listening to that trio or not. Following along with a more familiar, school-specific crew may offer thoughtful, precise insights, but it might also make the Final Four experience feel a bit more ordinary than it would with the national crew.

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Shabazz Napier’s Maturity Fuels a Final Four Run to Remember

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 2nd, 2014

The lasting takeaway from the tournament that began UConn’s 2010-11 season is the same memory that defined the NCAA Tournament that ended it: Kemba Walker’s brilliance. The year of Kemba may have reached a crescendo in March and early April three years ago, but it began back in November 2010, when Walker’s three-day, 90-point bender propelled the unranked Huskies to an unexpected Maui Invitational title. Lost within that preseason title run was our then-insignificant introduction to Connecticut freshman Shabazz Napier. The Massachusetts native has never been short on confidence, but back then, his self-assurance served only to speed up the game around him. Napier went 7-of-22 from the field in Maui, committed more turnovers than assists, and was a largely inconsequential element of the Huskies’ early-season championship run.

UConn Is Headed Back To The Final Four, In No Small Thanks To Their Experienced, Mature Floor General Shabazz Napier

UConn Is Headed Back To The Final Four, In No Small Thanks To Their Experienced, Mature Floor General Shabazz Napier

Of course, almost any Husky not named Kemba could have fallen into that category – both in Maui and beyond — but Napier’s opening act at the school was a representative dose of a freshman season in which reckless play and poor decision-making turned him into quite the efficiency drain. On the season, Napier shot under 33 percent from three-point range, made just 42 percent of his two-point attempts, and posted an astronomically high turnover rate of 22.3 percent. For the sake of reference, the freshman’s ball-dominating teammate, Walker, had a turnover rate nearly half that of Napier that season (11.6 %). Comparisons to NPOYs aren’t always the fairest, but either way, the statistical breakdown of Napier’s freshman year is incapable of hiding the immaturity that he brought with him to Storrs. He ended that season as a national champion and a key piece of UConn’s future, but significant refinement was needed for Napier to ever realize his potential.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Elite Eight Saturday

Posted by Bennet Hayes & Andrew Murawa on March 29th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent, and Brian Otskey (@botskey) is the NCAA Tournament’s East Region correspondent. Make sure to also follow @RTCMidwestRegion and @RTCEastRegion for news and analysis from Indianapolis and New York City throughout the weekend.

#1 Florida vs. #11 Dayton — South Region Elite Eight (at Memphis, TN) — 6:09 pm ET on TBS.

One was an obvious pre-Tournament pick to be in this Regional Final, the other a barely noticeable #11 seed that few expected to escape the second round, but both Florida and Dayton are now just 40 minutes away from a berth in the Final Four. Having convincingly rolled through Albany, Pittsburgh, and most recently, UCLA, the #1 seeded Gators enter this Elite Eight tilt as deserved heavy favorites (our friends in the desert list Florida as 10-point favorites). Dayton turned heads in their efficient ousting of Stanford on Thursday night, but as legitimately solid as the Flyers have looked over the past two weeks (and for that matter, past two months), nobody in their right mind will be picking Dayton to extend their Tournament stay beyond Saturday afternoon. I fall into that “right mind” group (I think) in liking the Gators to move on, but this is not a mission-impossible for Dayton.

Can Devin Oliver And The Flyers -- Some Way, Somehow -- Find A Way To Shock Florida On Saturday?

Can Devin Oliver And The Flyers — Some Way, Somehow — Find A Way To Shock Florida On Saturday? (Getty)

For the Flyers to shock the world, a number of things need to go right. With another bigger, more physically imposing opponent staring Archie Miller’s undersized troops dead in the eye, another competitive effort on the glass is a good place to start. Stanford outrebounded the Flyers by percentages, but Dayton held their own on the backboards, especially on the offensive glass (10 offensive rebounds). Another key to the victory over the Cardinal was the constant harassment of Stanford star Chasson Randle, who was never allowed to get going in what finished as a 5-21 night from the field. Neither Scottie Wilbekin nor Michael Frazier is a perfect Randle clone, but absolutely necessary is finding a way to disrupt the rhythm of the Gators backcourt as they did to the Stanford star. Frazier especially, for my money’s worth, is the most important Gator on the offensive end. When his saccharine stroke is resulting in made three-pointers, the Florida offense is borderline unguardable.

Finally, Dayton needs to arm their slingshot with any heavy underdog’s favorite stone: The three-point shot. You have to make shots to win games like this, and while the Flyers have averaged a respectable seven and a half made threes in their last two wins, their season average of 37.5% from three-point range would indicate that there should be room for inflation in that category. A big effort out of leading scorer Jordan Sibert (43% 3FG) is crucial.

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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 25th, 2014

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Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent, which begins Thursday night at FedEx Forum in Memphis with Dayton vs. Stanford followed by UCLA vs. Florida. Look out for the West Regional Reset later today and the East and Midwest Resets tomorrow. Make sure to also follow @RTCSouthRegion for news and analysis from Memphis throughout the week.

As usual, Billy Donovan has his Gators right in the thick of the title chase. (Getty)

Billy Donovan Is On The Verge Of Orchestrating Yet Another Florida Final Four Appearance. Is There A Team Remaining In This South Region That Can Disrupt The Gators’ March To Dallas? (Getty)

New Favorite: #1 Florida. Nothing has changed on this front. The Gators looked as overwhelming as ever in their third round defeat of Pittsburgh, and with only one other top-nine seed remaining in the region, the NCAA Tournament’s #1 overall seed is in fantastic shape to make its way to Dallas. The Sweet Sixteen match-up with UCLA won’t be easy, but more on that later – the Gators are still the South region’s clear favorite.

Horse of Darkness: #11 Dayton. This quadrant offered plenty of candidates for the honor, but with apologies to Stephen F. Austin (only one win) and Stanford (too familiar a brand), the Dayton Flyers advancing to their first Sweet Sixteen since 1984 makes for the South Region’s best Cinderella story. We make loyal Flyer fans pretend like the First Four is a big deal annually – and their love of basketball prevents them from failing in this pursuit – so it’s only fair that they finally get something to cheer about from their own team. On February 1, Archie Miller’s club (1-5 in the Atlantic 10 at the time) wasn’t even one of the top eight teams in their own conference, but after a late-season surge and this unexpected Tourney run, the Flyers will play on Thursday for a chance to be one of the final eight teams left standing in all of college basketball. What. A. Turnaround.

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NCAA Tournament Analysis: Saturday Games

Posted by Bennet Hayes, Brian Otskey, Andrew Murawa & Walker Carey on March 22nd, 2014

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Half of the field is already gone, and as fun as Thursday and Friday were, it’s time to get down to the business of crowning a national champion. Here’s our analysis of all of Saturday’s games.

#1 Florida vs. #9 Pittsburgh — South Region Third Round (at Orlando, FL) — 12:15 PM ET on CBS.

Lamar Patterson And Pittsburgh Had Little Trouble With Colorado In Their Tournament Debut, But A Far Stiffer Challenge Awaits Them In The Tournament's #1 Overall Seed, Florida

Lamar Patterson And Pittsburgh Had Little Trouble With Colorado In Their Tournament Debut, But A Far Stiffer Challenge Now Awaits: The Tournament’s #1 Overall Seed, Florida.

Albany made things interesting for a while against Florida, but the South region’s top seed took control down the stretch to advance to the round of 32. The Gator’s third round opponent, Pittsburgh, made sure that their Tournament advancement was never in doubt, running out to a 13-0 lead on Colorado en route to a 77-48 rout of the Buffs. Impressive performance from the Panthers, but a second round blowout has never entitled anyone to a bye into the Sweet 16; Jamie Dixon’s team will have their work cut out for them on Saturday. Still though, this is a winnable game for Pitt. The Panthers are a #9 seed in the bracket, but Ken Pom’s rankings have them as the 15th best team in the country, and they actually share a lot of the same traits that have made Florida successful this season. Neither squad plays fast (Florida is 314th in adjusted tempo, Pitt 296th), but both teams are in the top-25 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and each collects caroms at a clip that puts them in the top-60 in the country in rebounding percentage on both ends. Neither team boasts an especially glaring weakness, although three-point shooting is not a big part of the game-plan for either side. Looking at the Pittsburgh stats page can be intoxicating; the Panthers really do look like a top-15 team on paper. An inability to close out games has been the largest roadblock for the on-court version of the Panthers to emit the same appearance, but there’s no reason why they can’t finally win one of those close ones on Saturday. Pitt’s Lamar Patterson and Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin will not spend much time directly matching up today, but expect the bulk of the offense to flow through these two players. Patterson hasn’t been fully commended for what’s been a breakout senior season, but he’ll have his shot at some national recognition against the Gators. Outplaying Wilbekin would give Pittsburgh a great chance at moving on, but Wilbekin – and his gritty supporting cast – is where I’ll place my faith. I think Scottie does enough to keep Florida playing basketball next weekend, and in a game that may feel more like a Sweet 16 matchup than a third round game, Florida moves on.

The RTC Certified Pick: Florida

#4 Louisville vs. #5 Saint Louis – Midwest Region Third Round (in Orlando, FL) – at 2:45 PM EST on CBS

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Thursday Afternoon

Posted by Andrew Murawa, Bennet Hayes, Brian Otskey & Walker Carey on March 20th, 2014

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And so it begins. Today at exactly 12:15 PM in Buffalo, New York, the 2014 NCAA Tournament as we all know it will officially tip off, setting in motion a chain of events that will undoubtedly bust most people’s brackets by mid-afternoon. Nevertheless, the anticipation for the best two weekdays in all of sports is over. Savor it. Embrace it. Respect it. Let’s get things started with an analysis of all of today’s games, beginning with the afternoon slate of eight contests.

#6 Ohio State vs. #11 Dayton — South Region Second Round (at Buffalo, NY) — 12:15 PM ET on CBS.

Aaron Craft And The Buckeyes Have Had A Difficult Time Putting The Ball In The Hoop This Season; Can They Score Often Enough To Knock Off In-State Foe Dayton?

Aaron Craft And The Buckeyes Have Had A Difficult Time Putting The Ball Through The Hoop This Season; Can They Score Often Enough To Knock Off In-State Foe Dayton On Thursday? (AP)

You could ignore the fact that Dayton and Ohio State are separated by 70 miles of Ohio interstate, that the Flyer’s leading scorer is an Ohio State transfer, that Thad Matta has never had any interest in scheduling a regular season game with UD, and this game would still be one of the most intriguing matchups of the first round. Or you could, of course, take account of all those things and declare this the game to watch in the round of 64. Former Buckeye Jordan Sibert will be a marked man on Thursday afternoon, and not just because he used to don the scarlet and gray. Sibert (43% 3PT) leads a proficient Flyer offense that excels beyond the arc; Dayton has made 38% of their three-point attempts this season. Aaron Craft receives plenty of recognition for his defensive abilities on the perimeter, but Shannon Scott is nearly Craft’s equal when it comes to on-ball defense, and both will strive to make Sibert and the rest of the Flyers’ life difficult. Similar resistance is unlikely to be provided by a Dayton defense that is less than elite, but can the Buckeyes take advantage? Ohio State’s scoring struggles this season have been well documented, but look for LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith to get just enough done offensively for the Buckeyes to seize this battle for Ohio. Either way though, subplots abound.

The RTC Certified Pick: Ohio State

#2 Wisconsin vs #15 American – West Regional Second Round (at Milwaukee, WI) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV

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NCAA Game Analysis: First Four – Tuesday Night

Posted by Bennet Hayes & Walker Carey on March 18th, 2014

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The First Round/Opening Round/Play-In Games/Mild Annoyance of the NCAA Tournament begins tonight, getting under way at 6:40 PM tonight on truTV (go ahead, try to remember where that channel is again). From 68 to 16 in the next six days… let’s analyze the first two games this evening.

#16 Albany vs. #16 Mount St. Mary’s — South Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 6:40 pm ET on truTV.

Sam Prescott And Mount St. Mary's Will Look To Continue Their Improbable  March Run In Dayton On Tuesday Night

Sam Prescott And Mount St. Mary’s Will Look To Continue Their Improbable March Run In Dayton On Tuesday Night

It may be too late to fill in that blank space under Florida in the brackets floating around the office, but Mount St. Mary’s and Albany will battle Tuesday night for a space in the official field of 64. The First Four foes took a similar path to Dayton: Both bumbled through 9-7 league seasons, earned the #4 seed in the conference tournament, then won three games (including one over the regular season champion) to advance into the field of 68. It was the same route for the Great Danes and Mountaineers, but they drove different vehicles along the way. Albany relied on a stout defense – particular against the two-point shot – and timely three-point shooting to claim the America East crown, while Mount St. Mary’s sprinted through a NEC Tournament final where the Mounts averaged 1.28 points per possession in a 17-point win at #1 seed Robert Morris. If Mount St. Mary’s (32nd nationally in possessions/game) can maintain that quick tempo against the Great Danes, they have to like their odds of advancing, but Albany (313th in possessions/game) will be doing everything possible to play a game featuring 65 possessions or fewer. KenPom gives the Great Danes a slight edge to seize victory in the NCAA Tournament opener, but we’ll put our faith in Mount St. Mary’s to move on to face Florida. Not only did the Mountaineers emerge from a tougher conference, but their up-tempo attack should allow them to fully capitalize on the adrenaline rush that the national spotlight will surely provide.

The RTC Certified Pick: Mount St. Mary’s

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Bracket Prep: South Region Analysis

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on March 17th, 2014

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Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), Midwest (11:00 AM), South (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).

You should also check out our upcoming RTC Podblast with Bennet breaking down the South Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

South Region

Favorite: #1 Florida (32-2, 21-0 SEC). The Gators are the clear front-runner to win the South region, and after winning their last 26 games, should also be the presumptive favorite to cut down the nets in Dallas. Winning four games in a row to reach the Final Four is never an easy chore, but the field’s #1 overall seed has all the necessary ingredients to make a fourth final four run under Billy Donovan.

Billy Donovan And Scottie Wilbekin Are Both Huge Reasons Why Florida Enters The NCAA Tournament As The #1 Overall Seed

Billy Donovan And Scottie Wilbekin Are Both Huge Reasons Why Florida Enters The NCAA Tournament As The #1 Overall Seed

Should They Falter: #2 Kansas (24-9, 15-5 Big 12). The Jayhawks’ case is a tricky one. With Joel Embiid, Kansas is easily the scariest #2 seed in the field and a serious threat to win it all; but the Jayhawks are far more difficult to quantify without their gifted freshman big man. Nothing is definite with Embiid’s prognosis, but if healthy and able to play, Kansas would only be the slightest of underdogs in an Elite Eight rematch with Florida. The outlook gets a little gloomier if the future trumps the present for the potential #1 overall pick in April’s NBA Draft (the one named Joel), but Andrew Wiggins’ recent offensive explosions still make Kansas a threat to run deep in this Tournament. Don’t forget that they will have a nice home court advantage in St. Louis for rounds two and three, and that crutch could help the Jayhawks advance to the second weekend without too much fuss – with or without Embiid. It’s still Bill Self and KU; don’t make the mistake of believing Joel Embiid’s health will be the sole determinant of the Jayhawk’s fate.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Colorado (23-11, 12-9 Pac-12). There are no egregious examples of overseeding in this region, but Colorado stands out as the South’s most overvalued team. #3 Syracuse and #5 VCU may also have been generously awarded an extra seed line, but as currently constructed, the Buffs deserved to be closer to the cut-line than their #8 seed would suggest they actually were. Since Spencer Dinwiddie went down on January 12, Colorado managed only a .500 record in the Pac-12 and rarely looked competitive in outings against the upper echelon of the league. They are just 64th in KenPom’s rankings (only NC State is worse among at-large selections), and each of their three wins since February 19 was earned by the narrowest of margins (quirky note: all had final scores of 59-56). Askia Booker has remade himself in Dinwiddie’s absence and Tad Boyle deserves a ton of credit for navigating CU through the storm and into this field, but Colorado is just not one of the 32 best teams in college basketball.

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Bracket Prep: Florida, Virginia, Michigan State

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 17th, 2014

Championship Week has found its close, but here are a few final short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket this week. None of these titans really needed the “automatic bid” portion of their Tournament title gift package, of course, but with each figuring to play a key role in the weeks ahead, here’s what you need to know about a trio of Championship Week’s final victors.

Florida

Billy Donovan And The Gators Are SEC Champions Twice Over, But Florida Has Their Sights Set On A Greater Prize

Billy Donovan And The Gators Are SEC Champions Twice Over, But Florida Has Their Sights Set On A Greater Prize

  • SEC Champion (32-2, 21-0)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #2/#3/#3
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +16.1
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #1

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. In the final minutes of basketball before the 2014 NCAA Tournament bracket was unveiled, Florida survived Kentucky to claim the SEC crown, complete their 21-game conference sweep, and keep alive a 26-game win streak. Quite a tidy going away package for the Gators, who will enter the Tournament as a #1 seed and among the two or three favorites to cut down the nets in Dallas. The one-point victory Sunday was only the fifth time this season that the Gators have won by three points or less – a testament to the workmanlike attitude that has extended this win streak time and time again.
  2. The Gators led the SEC in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Defensive weaknesses are hard to spot with the Gators, but despite the high overall level of offensive efficiency, there is a weak spot or two that opponents will seek to exploit. Florida’s free throw shooting is shaky (66.2% as a team, 295th nationally), and even primary ballhandlers Scotty Wilbekin (72%), Casey Prather (68%) and Kasey Hill (63%) are anything but sure things at the charity stripe. Three-point shooting isn’t a concern for Florida at first glance – they shoot 37% as a team, 73rd best in the country – but Wilbekin (58 3PM, 40%) and Michael Frazier (107 3PM, 46%) have combined to make over 70% of the team’s three-point field goals. The rest of the team shot just 27% from distance, so if an opponent can find a way to take away looks from either Wilbekin or Frazier – especially the latter, who is strictly a perimeter shooter – things could get pretty one-dimensional for the Gator offense.
  3. Florida is the perfect example of a team that used the entire season to grow into an elite squad. For much of November and December, Billy Donovan was just trying to keep proverbial head above water with his team, as pieces shifted in and out of the Gator lineup. Wilbekin, Prather, Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and Chris Walker all missed time for various reasons, but save for road losses at Wisconsin and Connecticut (and no shame in those, either), the Gators kept on winning. Prather grew into an unlikely All-American candidate, Wilbekin has staked his claim as the best point guard in America, and Frazier is now second to none when it comes to perimeter shooters. None of these things happen without one of the best coaches in the game pressing all the right buttons from the sideline, but Donovan has spent the last four months constructing a team poised for even greater things in the NCAA Tournament. And after winning 26 games in a row en route to a sweep of the SEC titles, that, my friends, is saying something.

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Bracket Prep: UCLA, New Mexico, New Mexico State

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 16th, 2014

As we move through the final stages of Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners. 

UCLA

Steve Alford's Hire Was Met With Resistance Last Spring, But Less Than Twelve Months Later, He Has The Bruins Back On Top Of The Pac-12

Steve Alford’s Hire Was Met With Resistance Last Spring, But Less Than Twelve Months Later, He Has The Bruins Back On Top Of The Pac-12. Next Stop: NCAA Tournament.

  • Pac-12 Champion (26-8, 15-6)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #21/#16/#16
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +13.8
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #4-#5

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. In making Arizona look mortal for the first time all week in Vegas, UCLA became Pac-12 Tournament champions and earned the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. UCLA has now scored 75 points against the Wildcats in both meetings this season, and since Michigan is the only other Wildcat opponent to score 70+ points on Sean Miller’s team, it’s an achievement worth noting. If you can score on Arizona, you can score on anyone, and UCLA looks likely to accomplish just that in the Tournament. Each member of Steve Alford’s eight-man rotation is capable of scoring in double figures on any given night, paced by leading scorer Jordan Adams (17.2 PPG, 2.7 SPG). The high game totals that the Bruins’ quick pace generates obscures what has actually been a pretty decent defensive effort (UCLA has the 49th best defense in the country according to Ken Pom), but there’s no hiding that it’s the hyper-efficient offense that makes the Bruins go.
  2. Kyle Anderson (14.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 6.6 APG) is a joy to watch on the court, but it might be even easier to appreciate him on KenPom.com, especially if you like to spend Saturday nights poring through free throw rates and true shooting percentages. The All-Pac 12 selection and Pac-12 Tournament MOP ranks in the top-500 in a whopping 12 of 15 individual categories on the site, with the only average categories being percentage of shots taken (who cares), offensive rebounding percentage, and turnover rate. Figuring out how many players have a similar variety in their statistical profile would take quite a while, but it’s difficult to imagine any player in college basketball even having ten of their fifteen categories among the top-500. He’s as proficient at cleaning the glass as he is setting up teammates, equally likely to knock down a three as he is to a shot block a shot. There will be only one Kyle Anderson is the 2014 NCAA Tournament, and that absurd Ken Pom stat-line is testament to just how diversely special he has been all season.
  3. Steve Alford is a massive part of the UCLA narrative heading into this NCAA Tournament. Alford has done a wonderful job in Westwood this season, but don’t think it’s nearly enough for him to outrun his shaky Tournament resume. Seeing is believing, and the latter will only happen with Alford after the former occurs.  The reticence to trust the UCLA head man stems from Alford’s 3-6 Tournament record at Iowa and New Mexico, a mark that includes exactly zero Sweet Sixteen appearances and one nice ugly upset to #14 seeded Harvard just twelve months ago. Do you want to believe in Alford already? Hang your hat on the differences between this UCLA team and the eleven previous ones he coached at Iowa and New Mexico, because only one of those teams (2004 Iowa) finished among the top-100 teams in possessions per game (and still just 66th). The Bruins are currently 14th in the metric, and there’s little doubt that this is the most up-tempo, offensively efficient basketball team that Alford has ever coached.

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