Final Four Fact Sheet: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 28th, 2016

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

How The Tar Heels Got Here

Roy Williams Leads North Carolina to the Final Four for the 19th Time in School History (USA Today Images)

Roy Williams Leads North Carolina to the Final Four for the 19th Time in School History (USA Today Images)

East Region Champions. North Carolina faced little resistance from Florida Gulf Coast in the first round and then used a strong second half against Providence to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in Philadelphia. Once there, the Tar Heels throttled Indiana on the strength of a 1.42 points per possession effort. In the regional final, North Carolina answered a spirited charge from Notre Dame midway through the second half by dominating the paint in pulling away for a 14-point win.

The Coach

Roy Williams. This is Williams’ eighth Final Four appearance in 28 seasons as a head coach, the fourth-most all-time behind Mike Krzyzewski, John Wooden and his mentor, Dean Smith. Williams has faced his share of criticism over the last couple of years given the academic scandal involving North Carolina, but his team has successfully blocked out that distraction this season. Williams is moving towards the end of his tenure as a head coach (some retirement rumors have been floating around) and his team will head to Houston as the clear favorite to cut down the nets for what would be Williams’ third national championship at his alma mater.

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NCAA Regional Reset: East Region

Posted by Brian Otskey 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 North Carolina. What do you mean, ‘new favorite?’ The Tar Heels enter the Sweet Sixteen as they began the Tournament, the heavy favorite in this region. Roy Williams’ team dispatched Florida Gulf Coast before turning on the afterburners in the second half against a good Providence squad to break open what was a close game. In a region with the #5-#7 seeds all still alive, North Carolina is an even heavier favorite to make an appearance in Houston on April 2.

Roy has to be pretty happy with how things are working out in the East Region

Horse of Darkness: #6 Notre Dame. It may have taken a little luck of the Irish to get by Stephen F. Austin in the Second Round, but Notre Dame survived and showed it is capable of a deep run in two games in Brooklyn. Against Michigan the Irish locked down defensively in the second half and they responded well in the face of a Cinderella in the game against the Lumberjacks. Defense is still a concern here but you cannot ignore this team’s ability to put points on the board. Mike Brey is an underrated coach and had his team in a regional final last year too. You never know what can happen in a single elimination situation and the Irish already have a win over North Carolina to their credit this season.

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Notre Dame 76, #14 Stephen F. Austin 75

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 20th, 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.

Rex Pflueger’s only basket of the game sent Notre Dame to the Sweet Sixteen. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)

  1. One Shining Moment. Welcome to the montage, Rex Pflueger. The California kid tipped in Zach Auguste‘s missed shot with one second remaining to send Notre Dame to the Sweet Sixteen. It was a classic example of this tournament creating an iconic moment for a player not many people have heard of. It was Pflueger’s only two points of the game and his first made field goal since Notre Dame’s regular season finale against North Carolina State on March 5. For the time being, Pflueger saved Notre Dame’s season. We will see his one shining moment on video for years to come.
  2. Notre Dame won this game in the paint. The Fighting Irish scored 52 of their 76 points either in the paint or from the foul line as they took advantage of a substantial size edge. Auguste led the way, but the Notre Dame guards did a fantastic job getting into the paint and creating for both themselves and teammates. It is incredibly difficult to win games in this tournament when a team is passive offensively, and the Irish were the antithesis of passive this afternoon. Notre Dame was aggressive and efficient en route to shooting 56.9 percent from the floor for the game. A lot of that had to do with Auguste and his team’s dominance around the rim.
  3. What more can you say about Stephen F. Austin? The Lumberjacks put on quite a display this week in Brooklyn. On Friday night they took out a West Virginia team that many experts said could contend for a spot in the Final Four. They beat the Mountaineers at their own game and today they were one missed defensive rebound away from making the first Sweet Sixteen appearance in school history. Thomas Walkup is a special player who got better in each of his four years in Nacogdoches. He had 21 points today after scoring 33 two nights ago against West Virginia, performances that nearly carried his team to the second weekend. With the Lumberjacks losing Walkup, Demetrious Floyd, Clide Geffrard, Trey Pinkney and Jared Johnson to graduation, the focus now will turn to head coach Brad Underwood and whether or not he stays with the program. He will likely be mentioned as a candidate for the open Big 12 jobs at Oklahoma State and TCU. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #2 Villanova 87, #7 Iowa 68

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 20th, 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.

Villlanova's Offense Carved Up Iowa Today (USA Today Images)

Villlanova’s Offense Carved Up Iowa Today (USA Today Images)

  1. This isn’t the same Villanova team. The Wildcats look ready and determined to continue their NCAA Tournament run. Having now relieved the pressure of getting to the NCAA’s second weekend for the first time since 2009, Villanova removes that distraction and can focus completely on getting ready for Miami next week in Louisville. Jay Wright’s group has all the intangibles: chemistry, leadership and momentum. While its style of play is similar to last year’s group, this Villanova team is more talented and versatile. The three-point shot remains a key part of its attack, but added experience and an ability to get to the rim make this team better and more capable of advancing.
  2. Villanova doesn’t get enough credit for its defense. The Wildcats have ranked among the nation’s best defensive teams over the last four years but the story has repeatedly been about coming up short in the postseason. With that monkey now off their back, maybe they will have some attention paid to their consistently elite defense. It was on full display in the first half today as Iowa was completely shut off from the basket. The Hawkeyes shot just 40 percent from the floor overall and 7-of-18 (38.9 percent) from two-point range in a game that was decided by halftime. Villanova has shut down opponents all year (seventh in defensive efficiency) and that’s what will determine how far it advances.
  3. Shout out to Nicholas Baer. The Iowa walk-on had 15 points off the bench for Fran McCaffery’s team, the lone bright spot for the Hawkeyes on an otherwise rotten day. Baer saw 25 minutes of action, his second-highest total of the entire season. Even in a blowout loss, this had to be nice for Iowa fans. Baer is a skilled forward who will no doubt be offered a scholarship, and McCaffery has indicated as much already this season.

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Notre Dame 70, #11 Michigan 63

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 18th, 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.

Notre Dame Used a Great Second Half Performance to Come Back and Win (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Used a Great Second Half Performance to Come Back and Win (USA Today Images)

  1. Notre Dame locked down on defense when it had to. Defense has never been the Fighting Irish’s calling card under Mike Brey but they came up with stops when it mattered most tonight. Notre Dame, ranked 172nd nationally in defensive efficiency, held Michigan to 22 points in 20 minutes after halftime after surrendering 41 in the first half. Michigan attempted 20 more shots than Notre Dame but made the same number of field goals (25). It was an impressive display in a pressure-cooker environment by a team not accustomed to that style of play.
  2. VJ Beachem couldn’t miss. Literally. The Notre Dame junior went 7-of-7 from the floor, including a number of huge shots in the critical final minutes of the game. Notre Dame ran its offense so well in the second half and Beachem was the primary beneficiary. He put together simply an outstanding performance on a national stage.
  3. Michigan’s crucial final possession was botched. Trailing by three with under 20 seconds remaining, Michigan was forced into a poor possession where Zak Irvin attempted to bail the Wolverines out with a deep three. Notre Dame defended it well but the rule change where coaches can no longer call live-ball timeouts played a factor here. John Beilein clearly saw that possession falling apart in real time, but he couldn’t do anything about it. Irvin missed and Notre Dame secured the rebound, and effectively, the game.

Star of the Game: VJ Beachem, Notre Dame. As mentioned above, Beachem had an outstanding game. His shot-making ability down the stretch was the difference.

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Rushed Reactions: #14 Stephen F. Austin 70, #3 West Virginia 56

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 18th, 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.

SFA Celebrates a Huge NCAA Tournament Win (USA Today Images)

SFA Celebrates a Huge NCAA Tournament Win (USA Today Images)

  1. West Virginia was exposed. The Mountaineers have made a living all season by forcing turnovers. Tonight, West Virginia really struggled to turn Stephen F. Austin over, as the Lumberjacks did an outstanding job protecting the basketball. The Mountaineers created only seven SFA turnovers and more damningly, were outscored 29 to 4 in points off turnovers. West Virginia dominated on the backboards, but the 25-point deficit in the points off turnovers category proved insurmountable. It didn’t help that West Virginia lost its composure midway through the second half, which allowed the Lumberjacks to hammer the final nail in the coffin. It was rare this season, but Bob Huggins’ team is average at best when it can’t turn the opponent over. The Mountaineers just do not score the ball consistently enough in the halfcourt to overcome a lack of transition opportunities.
  2. Why was Stephen F. Austin a #14 seed? Did the Lumberjacks look like one of the worst teams in the field to you? Not a chance. Score one for KenPom, who had Stephen F. Austin rated 33rd in his metrics, which should translate to a 9-seed. Thomas Walkup could play significant minutes for almost any high major team in the country, and Brad Underwood sure can coach. He should be a hot name on the coaching market, especially with two Big 12 jobs opening up recently. Any potential seeding injustice doesn’t matter now, however — the third-seeded Mountaineers are heading home.
  3. Stephen F. Austin’s weaknesses were offset by West Virginia’s weaknesses. Coming into the game, the Lumberjacks were averaging 12 turnovers per game and had middling free throw rates. In this matchup against West Virginia, none of this was a big deal. The Mountaineers put their opponents on the free throw line more often than anyone during the regular season, while also turning the ball over at a high rat — both traits played right into the hands of the Lumberjacks. It always comes down to matchups in this tournament, and this was a good one for Underwood’s team, who exploited West Virginia’s weaknesses in cooking up the upset.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Iowa 72, #10 Temple (OT)

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 18th, 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.

Iowa Escapes to Live Another Day (USA Today Images)

Iowa Escapes to Live Another Day (USA Today Images)

  1. Iowa showed great resiliency. Entering this game with five losses in its last six games, it was a positive sign for Iowa to come out strong in the first few minutes. Even more impressive was Iowa’s ability to win this game in overtime after fouling a three-point shooter in the final seconds. When Temple’s Quenton DeCosey hit three free throws to send the game to overtime, the expectation of many was for Iowa to fold and Temple to spring the upset (think: Little Rock). That turned out not to be the case and Iowa now moves on to a Second Round matchup with Villanova. It was gut-check time for the Hawkeyes and they clearly answered the bell.
  2. That said, Adam Woodbury pushed off. In real time, it looked like Iowa’s center cleared out considerable space on his game-winning rebound and tip-in. Replay only confirmed this fact. If called properly, Temple would have received free throws on the other end with only a couple of ticks left on the clock. It was a game-changing no-call with the outcome of the game hanging in the balance. Credit Temple coach Fran Dunphy and his players for taking the high road in the postgame press conference.
  3. Did Iowa get its mojo back? This question likely won’t be answered until Sunday’s game against Villanova. Head coach Fran McCaffery struck a positive, upbeat tone after the game, no doubt looking for some positive reinforcement after what has been a brutal month. Iowa survived and advanced which has to give it some confidence going forward, but the Hawkeyes only shot 35 percent for the game and were outrebounded by 11. Its saving grace was turnovers as Iowa gave it away only three times in a 45-minute game. That alone is incredibly impressive and a similar result on Sunday should keep Iowa in the game against Villanova.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Villanova 86, #15 UNC Asheville 56

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 18th, 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.

Villanova Easily Handed Its Business Today (USA Today Images)

Villanova Easily Handed Its Business Today (USA Today Images)

  1. This was a complete and total rout. After a fairly slow start, Villanova broke this game open in the latter stages of the first half. After leading at the break by 14 points, the Wildcats kicked it into overdrive in using a 24-10 run spanning halftime to cement it away. Villanova looked in complete form on both ends of the floor as it shot 58 percent to UNC Asheville’s 37 percent. Five Wildcats scored in double figures and the 86 points represented one of Villanova’s most efficient offensive outings of the season.
  2. Daniel Ochefu looks healthy. After fighting his way through an ankle injury at last week’s Big East Tournament, Villanova’s senior center looked great today. Ochefu posted 17 points and 10 rebounds on 7-of-9 shooting, his eighth double-double of this season. If his team is to advance to the second weekend for the first time since 2009, Ochefu must play an important role. On a team that’s fairly undersized, he needs to be a force in the middle in order to protect the rim and open up the wings and driving lanes. When Ochefu is playing well and commanding a double team, Villanova’s offense is dynamic and difficult to defend.
  3. Villanova effectively tested two styles of play today. In the first half the Wildcats bombed away from three-point range and that allowed UNC Asheville to hang around. Villanova attempted 17 threes before the break but cut that down to only 11 attempts after halftime. In the second half there was more of an emphasis to get the ball inside either through Ochefu or dribble penetration. Villanova has long been criticized for the high volume of three-point shots it takes (24th nationally this year) but it is one of the best teams in two-point percentage as well. If the Wildcats can work the ball inside with Hart’s penetration and Ochefu’s skill set on the low block, they can advance deep in this NCAA Tournament.

Star of the Game: Daniel Ochefu, Villanova. Ochefu has struggled in fighting through an ankle injury since a great performance in a win over Marquette on February 27. He had totaled only 24 points over Villanova’s last five games before today’s 17-point effort, and the senior appeared to have gained back a lot of the mobility lost with the injury, although he still had a large ice pack taped to his ankle after the game. Villanova can’t win a national championship without a healthy Ochefu so his play today is a great sign.

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Bracket Prep: East Region

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2016

bracketprep22

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, Brian Otskey (@botskey) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

East Region

Favorite: No. 1 North Carolina (28-6, 14-4 ACC). Although this region is loaded from top to bottom, the ACC regular season and tournament champions are the clear favorite. Roy Williams has one of the nation’s most talented teams with seniors Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige leading the way. Contending with Johnson is a nightmare for most teams. A relentless rebounder who averages a double-double, Johnson is one of the nation’s most efficient players. Carolina has weaknesses — namely three-point shooting and three-point defense — but the way it utilizes great athleticism to speed up the game makes the Heels hard to beat.

UNC

The ACC regular season and tournament champions are the favorite to take the East Region. (Photo: Todd Melet)

Should They Falter: No. 4 Kentucky (26-8, 13-5 SEC). Yes, we’re going to roll with the Wildcats here. John Calipari’s team has made Final Fours from lower seeded positions — most notably in 2011 and 2014. This is not a vintage Kentucky team by any means, but it is highly talented and Coach Cal has proven that he can push the right buttons in March. College basketball is a guards’ game and Kentucky has that in spades with Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe. The lack of a major threat inside and occasionally spotty defense are definite concerns, but Kentucky has the talent and athletes to get by North Carolina in a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup.

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Ismael Sanogo is the Key to Seton Hall’s Success

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 13th, 2016

When Ismael Sanogo committed to Seton Hall in July 2013, few outside of those within the program took notice. Here was a player who chose a struggling Seton Hall team four months removed from a 3-15 Big East season (its worst in 28 years) over the likes of recent Final Four participant VCU, George Mason, Saint Joseph’s and Pennsylvania. At that moment, any of those schools could have looked like better options to a 17-year-old Sanogo. He could have seen more playing time as a freshman in a conference like the Atlantic 10 or pursue an elite education from an Ivy League school. Instead, the local kid from Newark decided to stay home and commit to Kevin Willard’s struggling Big East program.

USA TODAY Sports

Ismael Sanogo has developed into a major contributor as a sophomore for surging Seton Hall. (Credit: Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports)

The initial scoop on Sanogo was a wiry defense-first tweener who needed time to develop his body and offensive game. At 6’6″ and 185 pounds, Sanogo needed to bulk up in order to contribute at the college level. Fast forward to his 2014-15 freshman season and “Ish” would not find himself getting off of Willard’s bench very often. Sanogo received an average of only 5.3 minutes per game in just 18 of Seton Hall’s 31 games as the Pirates lost nine of their last 10 games after beginning with a 15-6 record. It was an ugly end to a once-promising season as outside distractions and chemistry issues sunk the Pirates’ ship.

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Rushed Reactions: Seton Hall 87, Xavier 83

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 12th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways:

Khadeen Carrington starred in another Seton Hall victory. (Credit: (USA Today Sports Images)

  1. Derrick Gordon changed the tide in the first half. Seton Hall’s lone senior created havoc on the defensive end with his deflections and hustle plays all over the floor. He was everywhere and set the tone for the Pirates, who used a 24-12 first half run to take control of the game. Gordon was one of the most important acquisitions on the transfer market this offseason and has provided Seton Hall with the leadership it desperately needed after last season’s collapse. His hustle and will to win were on display again tonight and made a huge difference in the outcome. His experience and selfless play is invaluable to a talented but still quite young group of Pirates.
  2. Seton Hall matched Xavier’s toughness and physicality. The Musketeers are known for their relentless, hard-nosed brand of basketball. Tonight they encountered an opponent more than willing to play just as tough and just as physical, and Xavier didn’t react well to that. In particular, the Pirates got under the skin of J.P. Macura and Jalen Reynolds; both players picked up technical fouls and eventually fouled out. The physicality of the game played right into Seton Hall’s hands as it turned up the defense and held Xavier to 34.9 percent shooting for the game. It was an impressive display by a young team that doesn’t seem have fear of any opponent.
  3. Seton Hall is a dangerous NCAA Tournament team. The Pirates are clicking on all cylinders right now. Their defense has been strong all year and ranks among the top 15 nationally in adjusted efficiency, but the difference maker has been an improved offense. Seton Hall struggled earlier in the year with stagnancy, but their chemistry and ball movement has improved by leaps and bounds over the course of the last five weeks. That’s due in large part to Isaiah Whitehead‘s stellar play, but also a result of increased contributions from complementary players like Desi Rodriguez and Khadeen Carrington. Seton Hall will win games with its defense and rebounding, but the added offensive punch makes them a legitimate threat to make the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend.

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Big East Tournament Takeaways: Thursday Evening Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 11th, 2016

A great day at Madison Square Garden ended in exciting fashion with Seton Hall’s gutty victory over Creighton in the nightcap. A long day of basketball yesterday sets up two terrific semifinal matchups tonight when No. 1 Villanova faces No. 4 Providence and No. 2 Xavier meets No. 3 Seton Hall.

Marquette (20-13): The result of Marquette’s game with Xavier was clear after the first few minutes, as the Golden Eagles looked out of gas after a grueling game on Wednesday night and never matched the Musketeers’ intensity. Marquette has been a work in progress all year with so many young players to integrate into the program, and that remains true heading toward what may become a NIT bid. Any extra games this year will be good for a group lacking in any sort of postseason experience.

Xavier's Intensity Far Outpaced Marquette (Photo: USAT Sports)

Xavier’s Intensity Far Outpaced Marquette (Photo: USAT Sports)

Xavier (27-4):  Chris Mack’s team was fired up from the start last night and never relented. It was an impressive offensive display from a Xavier team that has been well-balanced all season. Trevon Bluiett (24 points on 14 shots) led the way offensively, but the most important takeaway here may be the energy Xavier stored for use in the rest of the tournament. The Musketeers didn’t have to use nearly as much effort as its next opponent, Seton Hall, or even possible championship game opponents Villanova and Providence. When you’re playing the same number of games as days in the event, conservation of energy is important. Xavier may reap the benefits of yesterday’s easy victory in providing a stockpile for the next two nights.

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