A Closer Look at Next Season’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Posted by Brad Jenkins on May 6th, 2014

Late last week we learned the match-ups for next season’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge. When the two major conferences collide again in early December 2014 it will be the 16th year of the made-for-ESPN event. The ACC holds a 10-3-2 edge in the all-time series, but has not won the event in five seasons (2008-09). The league won the first 10 challenges; the Big Ten won the next three (2009-11); and each of the two most recent events have ended in ties. Television networks and times for each game will be announced later, probably in August, but for now let’s take a closer look at the event as a whole and some of the more interesting match-ups.

Monday, December 1

  • Nebraska (19-13, 11-7 B1G, 2-1 Challenge) @ Florida State (22-14, 9-9 ACC, 6-9 Challenge)
  • Rutgers (12-21, 5-13 AAC, 0-0 Challenge) @ Clemson (23-13, 10-8 ACC, 9-5 Challenge)

Previous Challenge Meetings – None

Frank the Tank Presents Interesting Matchup Problems for the Wildcats (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin will host Duke in the 2014 ACC-Big Ten Challenge. (Getty)

Tuesday, December 2

  • Syracuse (28-6, 14-4 ACC, 1-0 Challenge) @ Michigan (28-9, 15-3 B1G, 5-8 Challenge)
  • Ohio State (25-10, 10-8 B1G, 7-6 Challenge) @ Louisville (31-6, 15-3 AAC, 0-0 Challenge)
  • Pittsburgh (26-10, 11-7 ACC, 1-0 Challenge) @ Indiana (17-15, 7-11 B1G, 5-8 Challenge)
  • N.C. State (22-14, 9-9 ACC, 6-8 Challenge) @ Purdue (15-17, 5-13 B1G, 7-6 Challenge)

Previous Challenge Meetings – 1999 N.C. State 61-59 (@ Purdue); 2004 N.C. State 60-53 (@ N.C. State)

  • Illinois (20-15, 7-11 B1G, 7-8 Challenge) @ Miami (17-16, 7-11 ACC, 2-5 Challenge)
  • Minnesota (25-13, 8-10 B1G, 7-8 Challenge) @ Wake Forest (17-16, 6-12 ACC, 10-3 Challenge)

Previous Challenge Meetings – 2001 Wake Forest 85-79 (@ Wake Forest)

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Digging Into Next Year’s ACC Match-ups

Posted by Brad Jenkins on April 28th, 2014

Late last week the ACC released its 18-game conference match-ups for each of the 15 men’s basketball teams in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. Here’s a link to the announcement, which includes ACC commissioner John Swofford’s comments on the changes. With Louisville replacing Maryland as a member next season, ACC leadership wisely chose to move away from a scheduling model that set games years in advance with little to no regard for attractive television match-ups. As the clearest example, the ratings success of both Duke-Syracuse games last season ensured that those programs will play twice again in 2014-15. Good move! The league will also reward a newcomer (Louisville) with a first year bonus of home games against all three tradition-rich Triangle programs. Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State each visited Syracuse and Notre Dame in their first seasons as new members, while Pittsburgh hosted Duke and N.C. State. In another smart move, the league will match Louisville and North Carolina twice in 2014-15. In 2015-16, the four highest profile programs will swap doubles partners, as Duke will face Louisville twice and North Carolina will meet Syracuse two times. For a league vying to become a dominant basketball force in coming seasons, these are all smart long-term moves.

Pitino Has Louisville Easily on Top of This Group (Getty Images).

Rick Pitino and Louisville Will Have a Tough First Year ACC Schedule (Getty Images).

Let’s now take a look at which schools may have the easiest or toughest conference schedules next season. Before we can compare them in any meaningful way, we must first rank the teams in groups based on how good we think they will be next year. Of course it’s all guesswork at this point, but without doing too much detailed analysis, here are the four different groupings of teams (“A” being the best) as we see them right now.

AllGroups1

To compare schedules we will just look at the teams each school plays twice, as that really represents the main difference in these schedules. For each team in Group A, we will assign four toughness-points, Group B teams are worth three, and so on. We’ll do our comparisons by group to see which teams have it better or worse compared to teams of the same relative strength. Each group table lists the teams in order of easiest schedule, showing the teams they play twice and the toughness-points that total in the far right column.

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2013-14 ACC Season Review – Part III

Posted by Brad Jenkins on April 11th, 2014

Now that the 2013-14 season is all over, let’s take a look back at how each ACC team performed. We will do so in three parts, dividing the league into groups of five teams based on ACC Tournament seeding. For each school, we’ll compare its actual season results with preseason expectations, and point out the surprises in each case — both the pleasant and unpleasant. Finally, we will take a quick peak at the short- and long-term prospects for each program. In Part III today, we’ll look at the top five finishers in the conference. The top four teams were expected to be the class of the league, and they were, even though the final order was somewhat surprising. The big disappointment came in the postseason, when only ACC champion Virginia made it to the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend.

1) Virginia (30-7, 16-2 ACC) – NCAA (L: Regional Semi-Finals)

Virginia claimed the ACC crown. (credit: Robert Willett / Raleigh News & Observer)

Tony Bennett led Virginia to its second ever ACC Championship. (credit: Robert Willett / Raleigh News & Observer)

Led by ACC Coach of the Year Tony Bennett, the Cavaliers had one of the best seasons in school history. They won the ACC regular season race for the first time since 1981, captured their second ACC Tournament title (the other was in 1976), and tied the 1982 team for the highest finish (#3) in the season’s final AP poll. The team was not overly impressive early, as they entered conference play with a 9-4 record and coming off a 35 point pounding at the hands of Tennessee. But at that point, Virginia regrouped and only lost three more times – on the last possession at Duke; in overtime at Maryland; and finally in the Sweet Sixteen to Michigan State in one of the most hard-fought games of the entire Tournament.

  • They were who we thought they were. We knew that defense would be the calling card for this Virginia team and it was in a big way. The Cavaliers only allowed 91 points per 100 possessions in ACC play, which was a remarkable eight points better than anyone else.
  • We didn’t see this coming. The main questions for this team at the beginning of the year concerned the backcourt. Could they find an effective point guard among the young candidates on the roster? And how would Malcolm Brogdon play after missing the previous season due to injury? Freshman point guard London Perrantes played well above expectations, running the team with the savvy of a veteran and making the ACC’s all-Freshman Team. Brogdon was incredibly consistent and his all-around play resulted in a spot on the all-ACC first team, as voted on by the league’s coaches.
  • What the future holds. Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell will be missed for their leadership and production. ACC Sixth Man of the Year Justin Anderson and effective reserve Anthony Gill should move right into the starting lineup, though, so the keys for next season are to build depth and hope to duplicate the great chemistry and unselfish play of this year’s squad. The program looks to be in great shape for the near future, as Bennett has proven that his style can work at the highest level.

2) Syracuse (28-6, 14-4 ACC) – NCAA (L: 3rd Round)

This year was a tale of two seasons for the Orange. Syracuse started the season 25-0 and were ranked #1 in the country for three weeks, winning so many games on the last possession that even Jim Boeheim admitted they were lucky. Their luck ran out in game #26 when lowly Boston College came to the Carrier Dome and knocked off the Orange in one of the shockers of the year. Including that loss, Syracuse would close the year by only winning three of its last nine games. Injuries exposed the team’s lack of depth, and the Orange went into a prolonged shooting slump, probably due to wearing down.

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2013-14 ACC Season Review – Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins on April 10th, 2014

Now that the 2013-14 season is all over, let’s take a look back at how each ACC team performed. We will do so in three parts, dividing the league into groups of five teams based on ACC Tournament seeding. For each school, we’ll compare its actual season results with preseason expectations, and point out the surprises in each case — both the pleasant and unpleasant. Finally, we will take a quick peak at the short- and long-term prospects for each program. In Part II today, we’ll look at the middle-of-the-pack, teams that finished #6 through #10 in the league standings. This includes the team that overachieved the most compared to expectations, and one that was disappointing in its last season in the league.

6) Clemson (23-13, 10-8 ACC) – NIT (L: Semi-Finals)

Clemson is Off to Surprising ACC Start Led by K.J. McDaniels. (Photo: Ken Ruinard)

If Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels returns next year, the Tigers may contend for an upper level ACC finish.
(Photo: Ken Ruinard)

Clemson came in to this season with low expectations, picked to finish #14 in the ACC media’s preseason poll. But led by all-ACC first teamer K.J. McDaniels, the Tigers’ came within a whisker of making the NCAA Tournament. Only an extremely weak non-conference schedule tarnished their resume. Of course when Brad Brownell set that schedule up, he was probably more concerned with building a young team’s confidence heading into a stronger ACC with the additions of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame.

  • They were who we thought they were. During his four years at Clemson, Brownell’s squads have been much better defensively than offensively. This year was a perfect example with the Tigers finishing fifth in the league in defensive efficiency and #13 in offensive efficiency.
  • We didn’t see this coming. In his junior year, McDaniels exploded into a star on both ends of the court. He accomplished the rare feat of dramatically improving his offensive efficiency (ORtg – 111.4) while also increasing his usage (28.6%). As a sophomore, those numbers were 102.4 and 23.0, respectively. In addition, McDaniels was voted the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
  • What the future holds. If McDaniels returns for his senior year, the Tigers will return basically intact and be expected to compete for a high finish in the ACC. If McDaniels enters the NBA Draft instead, Clemson will have even a harder time scoring than they usually do. For long-term success, Clemson must recruit more talented offensive players. It will also be interesting to see if Brownell will look to toughen up that non-conference slate next year. Perhaps McDaniels’ decision will impact that too.

7-Tied) N.C. State (22-14, 9-9 ACC) – NCAA (L: 2nd Round)

As often happens with Mark Gottfried teams, N.C. State played better than expected after losing five of their top six players from the prior year. Of course, that one returnee, T.J. Warren, turned out to be pretty darn good. Actually, Warren had a tremendous season and carried the Wolfpack all the way to a surprising NCAA Tournament bid. After a First Four win over Xavier in Dayton, N.C. State was looking good against #5 seed St. Louis before a monumental collapse brought the Wolfpack’s season to a screeching halt.

  • They were who we thought they were. With a team as young as this year’s Wolfpack, ups and downs were going to be expected. That was reflected in some extreme performances. N.C. State lost six home games during the season, but posted four ACC road wins and also beat a good Tennessee squad in Knoxville. Sometimes, the inconsistent play showed up within the span of a single game, such as blown late leads at Syracuse, versus North Carolina at home, and of course against St. Louis. Read the rest of this entry »
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2013-14 ACC Season Review – Part I

Posted by Brad Jenkins on April 9th, 2014

Now that the 2013-14 season is all over, let’s take a look back at how each ACC team performed. We will do so in three parts, dividing the league into groups of five teams based on ACC Tournament seeding. For each school, we’ll compare its actual season results with preseason expectations, and point out the surprises in each case — both the pleasant and unpleasant. Finally, we will take a quick peak at the short- and long-term prospects for each program. In Part I today, we’ll start with the teams with the most room for improvement, the bottom five of the league. Three of these teams are changing head coaches, and another will probably do so next year if that team finishes in this group again.

11-Tied) Georgia Tech (16-17, 6-12 ACC) – No Postseason

Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory lost out on one, maybe two important prospects recently. (Icon Sports Media)

Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory will be on the Hot seat in 2014-15. (Icon Sports Media)

The Yellow Jackets were #11 in the preseason ACC media poll so they finished as expected, but with Notre Dame and Boston College having disappointing seasons, they could have threatened to do better. No doubt, it was troubling to see teams with seemingly equal or inferior talent (namely, Clemson and Miami) finish above Georgia Tech in the standings. In fairness, Brian Gregory’s team was dealt a bad blow when Robert Carter Jr. missed the first 10 ACC games with a knee injury, as Georgia Tech dropped seven of those games and never recovered.

  • They were who we thought they were. Coming into the season, Georgia Tech’s offensive firepower was suspect, and that turned out to be the case as they finished #14 in the league in offensive efficiency.
  • We didn’t see this coming. After effective freshman campaigns, the sophomore trio of Carter Jr., Marcus Georges-Hunt and Chris Bolden were expected to make strides in production, but that didn’t happen. They only raised their combined scoring averages from 28.0 PPG as rookies to 28.5 PPG this season.
  • What the future holds. Probably no ACC head coach will have his job on the line more than Gregory next year. If the Yellow Jackets don’t make the NCAA Tourney it will likely be his last in Atlanta. It won’t be easy with the loss of three key seniors, including center Daniel Miller who was selected third team all-ACC. Next year’s junior class holds the key to the next couple of seasons, with the aforementioned trio of Carter Jr. Georges-Hunt, and Bolden needing to produce.

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ACC in the NIT: Florida State and Clemson Advancing With Solid Backcourt Play

Posted by Brad Jenkins on April 1st, 2014

The 2013-14 NCAA Tournament will not be something that ACC fans will remember fondly, with only Virginia among the 16 teams playing during the second weekend, and no ACC team advancing to the Elite Eight or beyond. But at least the league has two teams in the NIT Final Four, right? OK, that’s not something that the historically great ACC would normally celebrate, but sometimes you just need to take what you can get. Tonight at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Clemson (23-13) will take on SMU (27-9) at 7:00 PM ET, followed by Florida State (23-13) vs. Minnesota (23-14). The winners will meet for the NIT Championship on Thursday night, giving the ACC a pretty good chance to bring home at least one postseason trophy this season.

Clemson is getting solid backcourt play from Damarcus Harrison. (Photo: Rex Brown/IPTAY Media)

Clemson is getting improved backcourt play from Damarcus Harrison.
(Photo: Rex Brown/IPTAY Media)

Outside of first team all-ACC player K.J. McDaniels, Clemson has struggled offensively for much of this season. It’s no secret that Brad Brownell has been looking for some consistent scoring from just about anybody, but particularly from the perimeter. The good news is that the Tigers are finally getting some help for McDaniels in the form of their two wings. Junior Damarcus Harrison and sophomore Jordan Roper have stepped up their scoring during Clemson’s three-game NIT run. The two have combined to average 24 points per game on their way to New York, after collectively averaging only 14 points per game in the team’s previous 32 games this season. That 10-points per game improvement may not sound dramatic, but to a team that struggles scoring, it’s a huge boost. Harrison was the key to Clemson’s NIT quarterfinal win over Belmont last week, scoring 14 of his 16 points in the second half as the Tigers rallied from a late five-point deficit to win the game. Including Clemson’s one-point loss to Duke in the ACC Tournament, Roper has now scored in double figures in four straight games, and has been perfect on all 11 of his free throw attempts during that span.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Virginia 78, #8 Memphis 60

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 23rd, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

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.

Virginia Has No Superstars but Plays Great as a Team. (Photo: Gerry Broome/AP)

Virginia Has No Superstars but Plays Great as a Team, Especially on Defense.
(Photo: Gerry Broome/AP)

  1. Virginia got back to being Virginia. In the first half of Friday night’s contest with Coastal Carolina, the Cavaliers were not themselves, falling behind by 10 and trailing by five at the half while allowing the Chanticleers to shoot 52 percent. They tightened things up in the second half of that game and carried that familiar stingy defensive play into tonight’s round of 32 match-up with Memphis. In the first half tonight, Memphis managed only 20 points in 32 possessions and shot a dismal 26.7 percent. For the game, the Tigers were held to 40.7 percent shooting and managed just 0.91 points per possession, their third worst offensive performance of the season. In addition, the Cavaliers’ offense was sharp and balanced as usual. Virginia had five players score in double figures and they shot well in all areas – total field goals (56%), three-pointers (45%) and free throws (81%).
  2. Memphis could not speed up Virginia enough. Coming into the game there was a stark difference in each team’s preferred pace of play. Virginia ranks among the slowest teams in the country, while Memphis would rather play an up-tempo style. Whichever team could control the pace was going to be more comfortable and have the best shot at winning. In Friday’s win over George Washington, Memphis had 15 fast break points and did alright in that area again tonight with 18. But for the most part, Memphis was handcuffed here by the shooting disparity. It’s hard to set up a full-court press if your opponent rarely needs to inbound the ball after a made basket. And it’s also difficult to get out on the fast break when you’re constantly taking the ball out of the net on the other end.
  3. The battle of the boards went to Virginia. This was a big key to the game coming into Sunday, and it turned out to be critical. In a strength-versus-strength match, Memphis entered as one of the nation’s best teams (#29) in offensive rebounding percentage. The Tigers were up against a Virginia group that ranked seventh nationally in defensive rebounding percentage. This battle was decided during the pivotal first half, with Memphis shooting so poorly that there were 22 caroms available on that end of the floor. The Cavaliers stepped up and grabbed 19 of those to take away what the Tigers’ do best. For the game, Virginia allowed the Tigers to grab only 19 percent of their misses, and the Cavaliers ended with a sold +12 edge in total rebounds.

Star of the GameJoe Harris, Virginia. The senior Harris led the balanced attack with 16 points, including nine in the first half when Virginia broke the game open.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Tennessee 83, #14 Mercer 63

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 23rd, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

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.

Coach Cuonzo Martin's Tennessee Team Was Dominant In Two Raleigh Wins. (Coach Cuonzo Martin's Tennessee Team Was Dominant In Two Raleigh Wins. (Coach Cuonzo Martin's Tennessee Team Was Dominant In Two Raleigh Wins. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Led by Josh Richardson Saturday night, Tennessee rolled on to the Sweet 16. Cuonzo Martin’s squad was dominant in two Raleigh wins. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

  1. Tennessee dominated in the paint. The Volunteers have two wide-bodies in the post and they made good use of them tonight. In the first half, Tennessee hammered the Bears on the glass, holding an incredible +20 edge in total rebounds in route to a 42-27 halftime lead. With eight minutes to go in the game, Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes had 16 rebounds and the entire Mercer team had nine. In Friday’s big upset over #3 seed Duke, the Bears found success attacking the weak Blue Devil interior to the tune of +16 in points-in-the-paint. But against the rugged Volunteers, that edge went to Tennessee by a convincingly margin (+12). Stokes has become one of the most impressive performers in this year’s Tournament, sporting averages of 20.3 points and 15.0 rebounds in the three Tennessee wins.
  2. Mercer needed this to be a close game going down the stretch. Coming into the game, the Bears had a decided edge in close game performance, but they just couldn’t get the score tight enough in the second half for that to matter. Part of the reason that Tennessee is rated so highly by possession-based computers — despite a less than gaudy 23-12 record coming into the game — is that the Volunteers have won a lot of blowouts, but have lost all five games decided by five points or less on the season. By contrast, Mercer went 8-2 in close games, which includes winning five of its six overtime contests during the year. Down by 19 early in the second half tonight, the Bears got the lead down to 11 with just over two minutes left, but were never close enough to put any real game pressure on Tennessee. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #1 Virginia 70, #16 Coastal Carolina 59

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 22nd, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

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.

With Harris leading the Cavaliers, VCU could struggle to find its typical turnover-forcing rhythm (USA Today).

Joe Harris and Virginia Avoided History by Rallying to Beat Coastal Carolina(USA Today).

  1. History was almost made and almost repeated. Coastal Carolina came very close to being the first #16 seed to knock off a #1 tonight. The Chanticleers, champions of the Big South Conference, took it to the ACC champions in the first half. Virginia trailed by as many as 10 points and went into the break staring at a 35-30 score in favor of the overwhelming underdogs. For old-time ACC fans, today brought back memories of a similar situation that is known as “Black Saturday.” In the 1979 NCAA East Regionals held in this same city of Raleigh, Duke and North Carolina both fell in huge upsets in back-to-back games.
  2. For the first time in a long time Virginia did not look like Virginia. On the way to winning the ACC regular season and tournament titles, the Cavaliers went 19-2 with the only losses coming on a last possession lucky-bounce three at Duke, and an overtime loss at Maryland. Throughout that long stretch of games, Virginia has been a model of consistency, mostly winning with defense and rebounding. But in the first half tonight, a different Cavaliers team showed up. Against a Virginia defense that allows only 38.5 percent shooting for the season, Coastal Carolina made 52 percent of their first half attempts. Things were even more surprising on the boards. The Cavaliers did not grab a single offensive rebound in the game and finished tied in total rebounds (28 each). Virginia actually won with its offense in the second half tonight, shooting 65 percent and making 6-of-10 from three point range. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #8 Memphis 71, #9 George Washington 66

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 21st, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

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.

 Josh Pastner has Memphis in the Third round for the Second Straight Year. (Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

Josh Pastner has Memphis in the NCAA Third Round for the Second Straight Year.
(Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Memphis’s veteran backcourt controlled the game until late.  Chris Crawford got the Tigers off to a good start, hitting three threes in the game’s first eight minutes. Although he didn’t score again, Crawford had a nice floor game, finishing with six assists and zero turnovers. Joe Jackson played well, finishing with 15 points and six assists, until near the end when he was very shaky handling the ball during George Washington’s rally. Michael Dixon Jr. was the Tigers’ best player down the stretch and hit the biggest shot of the game, a three that put Memphis up five with two minutes to go. It must be concerning though that Memphis was unable to control the big men of George Washington. Isaiah Armwood and Kevin Larsen combined for 37 points on 16-of-22 shooting, mostly at point-blank range.
  2. George Washington just didn’t have enough firepower. The Colonials attacked well inside for most of the game but got very little from the perimeter. Larsen, a sophomore native of Denmark, was particularly strong around the basket in the first half, scoring 12 points on perfect 5-of-5 shooting. In the second half it was the senior Armwood doing the damage with 15 points after the break. Leading scorer Maurice Creek had a tough night, only scoring nine points, all in the second half, while shooting an icy 2-of-13 from the field. The Colonials could have used their second leading scorer on the year, sophomore Kethan Savage, but after playing only one minute (in last week’s Atlantic 10 Tournament) since injuring his foot in January, Savage was unable to go tonight.
  3. The rebound battle was a draw. Coming into the game, both teams were among the nation’s top 66 in offensive rebounding percentage. Memphis was the clear winner on the glass in the first half, holding the offensive rebound edge by a wide margin (+8). George Washington turned things around in the second half though, claiming the edge on the offensive glass (+9). For the game, we’ll award Memphis the split decision, since the Tigers ended up with a slim advantage in second chance points (+1). Looking towards a possible Sunday game with Virginia, Memphis must be more consistent in this area as the Cavaliers are one of the better rebounding teams in the nation.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Tennessee 86, #6 Massachusetts 67

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 21st, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

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.

Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes Has Been a Dominant Inside Force in the Tournament. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes Has Been a Dominant Inside Force in the Tournament. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

  1. This looked like a mismatch coming in, and it was. Maybe it wasn’t that way according to seed, but most basketball followers could see this one coming. It’s also a win in the “New vs. Old” computer systems battle. Coming into the game Ken Pomeroy had Tennessee ranked #9 and Massachusetts at #50, while the RPI had the Minuteman rated #21 and the Volunteers in a tie for #40. Clearly the NCAA Selection Committee put more stock in the RPI when it came to seeding these two squads. It also proves that playing in the First Four isn’t such a bad thing, despite the travel issues. With this victory, Tennessee becomes the fourth team in as many years to win at least one more NCAA Tournament game after playing in the First Four.
  2. Turnovers have been a problem all year for Massachusetts. Coming into the game, the Minutemen hoped that their turnover offense (#213 in the NCAA) would get a break matching up with a Tennessee defense that ranks even worse (#256) at forcing miscues. But that edge went to the Volunteers in a big way during the crucial first half of this one. Massachusetts gave the ball away 10 teams in the first 20 minutes, helping Tennessee build a huge edge in points-off-turnovers (+9). Despite the loss, senior Chaz Williams closed out his fine career by leading the Minutemen to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. He finished with 12 points and five assists, but committed five turnovers, including four of those in the pivotal first half. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #14 Mercer 78, #3 Duke 71

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 21st, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

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.

Mercer guard Langston Hall (21) and other Mercer players celebrate after the second half of an NCAA college basketball second-round game against Duke, Friday, March 21, 2014, in Raleigh, N.C. Mercer won 78-71. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Mercer guard Langston Hall (21) and other Mercer players celebrate after the Bears shocked Duke Friday afternoon. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  1. It’s better to have great young talent than good experienced talent, but not always. Mercer had a huge experience edge coming in with five senior starters in its lineup. Their poise and execution were at a high level almost the entire game, and in the end that was just enough to overcome the disparity in talent. The talent gap was most apparent on the offensive boards where Duke dominated with a +13 advantage. But the Bears were better in all of the fundamental stats, winning the turnover battle (+4) and shooting much better from the field (by nearly 20 percent). For most of the contest Mercer got the shots they wanted and were the more fundamentally sound team. The Bears were also the calmer-looking group down the stretch, perhaps aided by the confidence gained in winning five overtime games this year.
  2. Duke’s defense was historically bad this year. For most of the game Mercer was able to execute its half-court offense and get good shots, especially at the rim. And as was the case for much of the season, Duke couldn’t defend without fouling. We all knew that interior defense would be a weakness for them this year, but most thought that the Blue Devils would make up for that with great perimeter pressure. That did not turn out to be the case. Some think Duke had a harder time than most adjusting to the enforcement of rules protecting offensive players from defensive hand-checking, as well as making it harder to draw charges. That may be part of it, but it its more likely that this group just doesn’t have the mindset to dig in and stop people. Read the rest of this entry »
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