NCAA Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Friday

Posted by Bennet Hayes & Tommy Lemoine on March 27th, 2015

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The Sweet Sixteen continues with four more compelling games tonight in Houston and Syracuse. Here are this evening’s previews.

#2 Gonzaga vs. #11 UCLA – South Region Sweet Sixteen (at Houston, TX) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

A new year brings new players like Kyle Wiltjer, who no doubt will play a huge role in Friday's matchup. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

A new year brings new players like Kyle Wiltjer, who no doubt will play a huge role in Friday’s matchup. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Nobody forgets the tears. Nine years and three days ago, UCLA induced a very public display of emotion from Adam Morrison. The circumstances that led to the devastation were far from ordinary – the Bruins erased a 17-point second half deficit and scored the final 11 points to down the Zags and advance to the Elite Eight – but it’s the singular image of Morrison, keeled over on the floor with blue Gonzaga jersey pulled over his face, that has persisted longest in the memory banks of March. Now, almost a decade later, the two teams renew March pleasantries for the first time since Morrison’s college career came to that tearful end. The differences between this matchup and the last are too numerous to list, but there is one key similarity: Gonzaga again has a team widely perceived to be capable of winning a national title.

Mark Few’s team has made just one Sweet Sixteen since 2006, and that team (in 2009) needed only to beat a #12 and a #13 to get there. Needless to say, Gonzaga Final Four prospects haven’t been this bright since Morrison was in uniform. This Bulldog team is nearly as explosive as the ’06 bunch (emphasis on nearly: that team was #1 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency), but points now originate from a wider variety of sources. Six Zags average at least eight points a game, and every Gonzaga regular owns an offensive rating in excess of 110. In the first two rounds, Gonzaga averaged 86.5 points per game and posted points per possession marks of 1.23 and 1.30 against North Dakota State and Iowa, respectively. Unlike in past years, the Zags we see this March look remarkably similar to the ones we watched all season. Good news for Mark Few; bad news for UCLA. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Thursday

Posted by Walker Carey & Andrew Murawa on March 26th, 2015

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While the early round upsets and Cinderella stories are what make the NCAA Tournament unique to any other sporting event in the country, there is always something to be said about the best competing against the best. No more might that be true than this season’s Sweet 16, which feature arguably a legitimate “Top 16″ team pool … and it all gets started today. Here are four previews of Thursday’s games:

#3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wichita State – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Cleveland) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren't often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren’t often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

The Irish and Shockers will meet Thursday night in what should be a very entertaining battle between two of the country’s best perimeter teams. Notre Dame and its four-guard lineup boasts one of the best scoring offenses in the country. USBWA first-team All-American Jerian Grant is one of the best offensive guards in the country. His scoring ability and ball distribution skills definitely makes him a player to watch each time he takes the court. For Notre Dame, sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson and sophomore guard Steve Vasturia have each made a name for themselves this season. Jackson has greatly matured as Notre Dame’s floor leader on offense and his ball pressure on defense has been a greatly under appreciated facet of his game. Vasturia is the only Irish starter that does not have a scoring average in double figures, but his knack for hitting big shots coupled with some tenacious defense against some very good players (see his performance from last Saturday against Butler’s Kellen Dunham) has contributed to Notre Dame reaching its first Sweet 16 since 2003. When you think of the great glue guys in the country, Irish swingman Pat Connaughton has to be one of the first players who comes to mind. The captain has been an essential asset all season from his three-point shooting to his defensive rebounding to his overall leadership, Connaughton has been the heart of the Irish attack.

Wichita State is equally as talented on the perimeter. Junior point guard Fred VanVleet has had as good of an NCAA Tournament as anyone thus far, as he thoroughly outplayed Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell in the round of 64 before having his way with Kansas guards’ Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham in the round of 32. The other two Shockers perimeter players — Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton — each bring a unique skill set that have lifted the team all season. Baker has a knack for leading the scoring effort and hitting big shots. Cotton is an elite defender and his athleticism results in him constantly being a slashing threat on the offensive end. This is going to be a very fun game and you have to figure that both team’s perimeter groups will get theirs. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Sunday

Posted by RTC Staff on March 22nd, 2015

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For the majority of programs around the country, making the Sweet 16 is the start of what would be considered a “successful” season. While many of the programs set to participate in today’s Third Round have aspirations that extend well beyond the final 16, making it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament has always been a mark of accomplishment. After today, eight teams will punch their ticket to next week. Here are eight preview’s of Sunday’s games.

#2 Virginia vs. #7 Michigan State – East Region Second Round (at Charlotte, NC) – 12:10 PM ET on CBS

Virginia faces Michigan State for the second-straight March. (Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports)

Virginia faces Michigan State for the second-straight March. (Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports)

The good news for Virginia is that Justin Anderson – still recovering from a broken finger – looked more like his old self against Belmont on Friday, scoring 15 points on 4-for-6 shooting and earning several trips to the free throw line. The bad news is that its vaunted defense allowed the #15-seeded Bruins to shoot 59 percent from two-point range and hang around for most of the afternoon. Michigan State, meanwhile, made relatively easy work of Georgia. Which makes one wonder: Is an upset a-brewin’ in Charlotte? Belmont found success by using its three-point barrage to spread out the Cavaliers’ Pack-Line defense, then exploiting the resultant lanes. The Spartans – while not quite as deep-ball oriented – attempt over one-third of their shots from behind the arc and hit nearly 39 percent of the time. On top of that, Tom Izzo’s club is very effective on both the offensive and defensive glass, led by rejuvenated forward Branden Dawson (12 PPG, 9 RPG). If Michigan State can stretch the defense, penetrate those openings and create second-chance opportunities, it might be able to find success against America’s second-most-efficient defense. Unfortunately, if Anderson takes another step forward, that might not be enough. With the 6’6” wing knocking down perimeter jumpers and attacking the lane on Friday, Virginia scored 1.22 points per possession – its most since February 28th – and looked much closer to the patient-but-efficient offense that dominated opponents in December and January. No matter how well the Spartans spread the floor, they are never going to score at will against Tony Bennett’s defense – no one does – so their ability to get stops will become crucial. But if Anderson is earning trips to free throw line and scorching from behind the arc, I’m not sure Izzo’s bunch can get enough stops to win this game. Expect Michigan State to stay within striking distance for 35-plus minutes, but count on Anderson to make the difference in the end.

The RTC Certified Pick: Virginia

#1 Duke vs. #8 San Diego State — South Region Third Round (at Charlotte, NC) — 2:40 pm ET on CBS

Steve Fisher is Leading This Year's Aztecs to Unexpected Success (Getty Images/K. Horner)

Steve Fisher vs. Coach K? Sign me up! (Getty Images/K. Horner)

Duke and San Diego State will play for the first ever in what highlights as an extremely intriguing matchup. The Aztecs were clinical in discarding St. John’s Friday night, even showing an unusual accuracy from three-point range (9-of-22 on threes). When Steve Fisher’s team can find ways to score the basketball – from three-point range or elsewhere – they become a difficult team to beat. There is little inconsistency to the Aztecs’ efforts on the defensive end, where they regularly cause intense trauma to opponents. That defensive activity is what should have Coach K’s attention right about now. Duke guards Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones stand 6’2” and 6’1”, respectively; no Aztec guard is shorter than 6’3”, and wings like Winston Shepard (6’8”) and Dwayne Polee (6’7”) will also take turns harassing Duke’s pair of star guards. The Blue Devils did manage well against Virginia and their bigger group of guards, but San Diego State presents a longer, more athletic challenge than even the Cavaliers. Of course, the question on the flip side is one that has long plagued the Aztecs: How will SDSU score points? Duke’s defense has taken nights off this year, sure, but there should be some trust that Coach K can devise a game plan capable of removing easy-bucket opportunities. The Aztecs’ best bet may be a continuation of the long-range prowess they displayed Friday night. There are guys on the roster who can knock down those deep shots – Quinn, Shrigley and Polee prime among them. Can they hit enough to complement the terrifying SDSU defense?

San Diego State would be a more appealing pick to pull the stunner if this game were not being played in Charlotte. As is, they are faced with defeating a #1 seed in a virtual road game, a proposition that even the strongest of stylistic matchups can fail to enact. Duke should be scared – the Aztecs are a truly scary matchup in this spot – but expect San Diego State to fall a shot or two short of swinging the upset. Duke will leave the home cooking behind in advancing to Houston.

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Saturday

Posted by RTC Staff on March 21st, 2015

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The last time this crew of programs laced up the sneakers, they provided us with a slate to remember. From last-second thrillers to overtime upsets that came out of left field, Thursday was quite simply one of the most electric opening days in NCAA Tournament history. Could history repeat itself? Here are eight previews of Saturday’s games.

#11 UCLA vs. #14 UAB — South Region Third Round (at Louisville, KY) — 12:10 PM ET on TBS.

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet 16. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet Sixteen. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Steve Alford has finally figured out this NCAA Tournament thing. All you have to do is put together an entirely mediocre season, inexplicably make the Tournament field (and avoid the First Four while you are at it), have the refs blow a call in the final 20 seconds of your opener that propels your team to victory, then find a #14 seed waiting for you in the third round. That’s all! What a charmed five days it was for the Bruins, whose season suddenly has meaning. Thursday wasn’t so bad for UAB, either, as the Blazers toppled Iowa State in what should go down as the biggest upset of the second round (apologies to Georgia State). Two double-digit seeds now face off with a bid to the Sweet Sixteen on the line. UCLA does not play as quickly as Iowa State does (the Bruins are 113th in the country in possessions per game), but UAB will try to recreate the muddle that was Thursday’s game with the Cyclones. The Blazers dominated the glass (outrebounding Iowa State by 15), enabling them to survive their unimaginative offensive (41% field goal shooting and 3-of-18 shooting from three-point range). UCLA’s Kevon Looney and Tony Parker are unlikely to submit to a similar assault on the backboards in this game, so Jerod Haase’s team may have to promote other strengths. The problem for the Blazers is that there really aren’t many. They don’t shoot the ball well from the field, turnovers are frequently an issue, and their work on the defensive end has been average at best this season. All this isn’t intended to make UCLA out to be an unbeatable monster of a team (they aren’t), but at least on paper, UAB just is not that great a team. They did find a way to get it done against a team better than UCLA on Thursday, and the Bruins, as mentioned, are very far from perfect themselves. But while anything is possible, a return to expectation (albeit a smaller one than we had two days ago) should be in the cards here. Steve Alford and UCLA, say hello to the Sweet Sixteen.

The RTC Certified Pick: UCLA

#1 Kentucky vs. #8 Cincinnati – Midwest Region Round of 32 (in Louisville, KY) – at 2:40 PM EST on CBS

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati's frontline fair any better? (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati’s frontline fair any better? (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Unbeaten Kentucky was not at its best Thursday, but it did not really matter as it still cruised to a 79-56 victory over Hampton. While Kentucky — as a whole — was a bit uneven against the Pirates, freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns turned in a phenomenal performance. Towns was clearly the best player on the court all evening, finishing with 21 points (8-of-12 FG), 11 rebounds, and three blocks in just 25 minutes of action. Sophomore guard Andrew Harrison and freshman guard Tyler Ulis were also very good in the victory, as they totaled a combined 25 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Even though Hampton is not considered an offensive juggernaut, Kentucky’s defensive performance was still impressive. The Pirates were held to just a 17-of-59 (28.8%) shooting performance, and only one player converted more than two field goals. Meanwhile, Cincinnati showcased its great resiliency in its win over Purdue on Thursday. The Bearcats trailed by seven with with 48.5 seconds to play before going on a 10-3 run to force overtime where they ultimately prevailed with a 66-65 victory. Cincinnati does not have any stars, but it received strong contributions from sophomore guard Troy Caupain (10 points and four assists), junior guard Farad Cobb (14 points), and junior forward Coreontae DeBerry (13 points). The Bearcats frustrated Purdue with tenacious defense all night, as the Boilermakers were just 26-of-72 (36.1%) from the field, including 4-of-26 (15.4%) from the perimeter. Cincinnati has played hard all season under some less than ideal circumstances, and its coaches and players deserve credit for making it this far. Unfortunately for them, this run will come to an end at the hands of Kentucky on Saturday. The Wildcats just have way too much talent across the board for this to really even be all that close. Expect Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein to establish themselves early and lead Kentucky to the Sweet 16 with a comfortable victory.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Evening

Posted by RTC Staff on March 20th, 2015

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In what was certainly one of the most competitive and jam-packed “opening” days in NCAA Tournament history, Friday’s slate of games will have a hard time following Thursday’s remarkable act. However, today offers a fair share of fascinating matchups as well. Here is a preview of Friday’s evening games.

#8 Oregon vs. #9 Oklahoma State – West Region First Round (at Omaha, NE) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS.

The game plan is simple when playing Oregon: Stop Joe Young. (USA TODAY Sports)

The game plan is simple when playing Oregon: Stop Joe Young. (USA TODAY Sports)

For the Ducks, it all begins and ends with Pac-12 Player of the Year Joseph Young. A deadly shooter, Young is stroking it at 36.1% from three (a career-low), 50.3% from two and 92.6% from the free throw line. He’s adept as a pull-up shooter from deep, a catch-and-shoot guy coming off a screen or on the bounce and on the attack. He’s scored 20 or more 17 different times this season. In other words: stop Young, stop the Ducks. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they don’t appear to have a ready-made matchup for Young, unless they put 6’6” Le’Bryan Nash – ostensibly a power forward on this team – on him. On the other end of the court, the Ducks can throw a combination of Dwayne Benjamin, Elgin Cook and Dillon Brooks at Nash – the ‘Pokes leading scorer – and feel relatively comfortable, while they’ll let Young, or any of their other fresh guards, chase Phil Forte off screens and try to limit his clean three-point looks. In the end, the Cowboys are more reliant on three-point shooting, while the Ducks can score in all three ranges. Unless Forte and senior Anthony Hickey get super hot from deep, the Ducks should have the edge

The RTC Certified Pick: Oregon

#1 Duke vs. #16 Robert Morris – South Region Second Round (at Charlotte, NC) – 7:10 PM ET on CBS.

Robert Morris sprung a mild upset in Dayton on Wednesday, knocking off favored North Florida in impressive fashion. To further extend their season, the Colonials will need another unexpected victory, but quite obviously, this upset may be slightly less attainable. Duke has had their share of recent struggles in the Tournament’s second round, but stubbed toes against foes such as Mercer and Lehigh can only offer RMU so much solace. Jahlil Okafor dominated small-conference foes in November and December – the Colonials, like almost every team in America, has no player capable of slowing Duke’s freshman star. Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones have proven virtually unstoppable as a duo: stopping one is possible, but forcing poor shooting nights from both is rare. The Colonials made only 4-of-16 three-point field goals against North Florida but have shot the three-ball well this season (37.7 percent). Getting hot from long range would be a great way for Andy Toole’s team to begin the task of hanging around in this game. To finish that chore — even if it ends in defeat — Robert Morris will need to pitch a perfect game. This is the life of a #16 seed, and while it’ll be Duke moving on to face the winner of San Diego State-St. John’s, Robert Morris should head home with heads held high, a proud season in the books.

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Afternoon

Posted by RTC Staff on March 20th, 2015

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In what was certainly one of the most competitive and jam-packed “opening” days in NCAA Tournament history, Friday’s slate of games will have a hard time following Thursday’s remarkable act. However, today offers a fair share of fascinating matchups as well. Here is a preview of Friday’s afternoon games:

#2 Kansas vs. #15 New Mexico State – Midwest Region (from Omaha, NE) — 12:15 PM EST on CBS.

New Mexico State has not lost since January 17 and will enter Friday’s action looking to pull a stunner against the second-seeded Jayhawks. The Aggies are led by their freshman big man Pascal Siakam, who caused problems for WAC big men throughout the season. Siakam carries averages of 13 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and he will look to mix it up against the Kansas frontline. New Mexico State, as a team, has been a very formidable defensive unit throughout the season, as it is 18th in the country in points per game allowed. Unfortunately for Kansas, its frontline depth took a bit of a hit earlier this week when it became known that freshman forward Cliff Alexander would definitely miss the NCAA Tournament due to a pending NCAA investigation. Sans Alexander, the Jayhawks still have some talent in the post with the strong play of junior forward Perry Ellis and the late season emergence of redshirt sophomore Landen Lucas. While Siakam’s play in the post could keep things close for a little while, expect Kansas’ perimeter play, led by point guard Frank Mason and swingman Kelly Oubre, to be the key as the Jayhawks will comfortably advance to the Round of 32.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kansas

#7 Michigan State vs. #10 Georgia — East Region First Round (at Charlotte, NC) — 12:20 pm ET on truTV.

Michigan State will battle Georgia in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Michigan State will battle Georgia in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Michigan State comes in hot after rolling to the Big Ten Tournament championship game and nearly edging Wisconsin. The Spartans are ranked 17th overall by KenPom and have become a substantially better offensive team over the course of the season, especially with a healthy Branden Dawson (12 PPG, 9.1 RPG) in the lineup. The senior forward looked like his old self in the Big Ten Tournament, averaging nearly 16 points, eight rebounds per game and locking down on the defensive end. The Spartans are at their best in transition and should push the tempo against the defensively stingy Bulldogs, a lengthy team which held opponents to the nation’s 15th-lowest effective field goal percentage this season. Although Tom Izzo’s bunch has become less-reliant on three-pointers as the year’s progressed, it wouldn’t hurt for Denzel Valentine (41.8% 3PT), Bryn Forbes (42.4% 3PT) and Travis Trice (36.6% 3PT) to knock down some perimeter shots, considering Georgia’s especially-stout interior defense (43% 2PT). On the other end, the Bulldogs do one thing especially well – attack the basket – which should keep them afloat against a Michigan State team that sent teams to the free throw line at the Big Ten’s third-highest rate. Junior guard Charles Mann (highest free-throw rate in the SEC) and his backcourt mates will get to the stripe. The Spartans are more well-rounded and should win this one, but count on a slimmer margin than some have suggested.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Game Analysis: First Four – Wednesday Night

Posted by Tommy Lemoine & Bennet Hayes on March 18th, 2015

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The First Round/Opening Round/Play-In Games/Mild Annoyance of the NCAA Tournament continues tonight, getting under way at 6:40 PM tonight on truTV (go ahead, try to remember where that channel is again). From 66 to 16 in the next five days… let’s analyze the final two play-in games this evening.

#16 Robert Morris vs. #16 North Florida — South Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 6:40 pm ET on truTV.

North Florida Will Play Their First Division 1 Postseason Game Wednesday. Don't Be Surprised If They Parlay Their Debut Into A Friday Matchup With Duke.

North Florida Will Play Their First Division I Postseason Game Wednesday — Don’t Be Surprised If They Parlay Their Debut Into A Friday Matchup With Duke. (ActionNewsJax.com)

Robert Morris, tournament champions of the NEC, will take on Atlantic Sun regular season and tournament champions North Florida in Dayton tonight. This game will play undercard to the “Dayton in Dayton” drama (co-starring Boise State) set to unfold later. The winner will make the move into the 64-team bracket to take on Duke in Charlotte on Friday. Robert Morris had to know it was headed to Dayton the moment the Colonials upset St. Francis (NY) and earned the automatic berth, but North Florida might be surprised at its appointment in Dayton. After a 23-11 season that featured a December victory at Purdue, the Ospreys are now the first Atlantic Sun team to ever receive the First Four assignment. An RPI in the 160s had to be the incriminating component of the North Florida resume, even as their KenPom ranking of #127 values them ahead of an Eastern Washington team that netted a #13 seed. The Ospreys’ big lineup – five of seven regulars are 6’6” or taller – will serve them well against the smaller Colonials, but it’s 6’1” Dallas Moore who makes North Florida go. The all-Atlantic Sun performer averaged 15.4 points and 3.9 assists per game in leading UNF to that pair of Atlantic Sun titles. Expect Moore and the Ospreys to look by the bracketing slight and embrace the unique opportunity that a First Four can offer. Just three days after accepting the program’s inaugural NCAA Tournament bid, North Florida should be in good shape to snag its first Tournament victory.

The RTC Certified Pick: North Florida

#11 Boise State vs. #11 Dayton — East Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 9:10 pm ET on truTV.

Dayton gets to play at home in tonight's First Four. (ESPN.com)

Dayton Plays at Home in Tonight’s First Four. (Getty)

These teams are very similar in two notable respects: Both overcame key personnel losses early in the season and both were rooked by the Selection Committee. Dayton – which dismissed two of its most important frontcourt players back in December – somehow became the last at-large team above the cut-line, despite most bracketologists projecting the Flyers as a #8 or #9 seed. As a result, Boise State – which lost shooting guard Anthony Drmic less than one month into the season – must now win a true road game (at University of Dayton Arena) in order to advance. If this matchup were played on a neutral floor, it would be hard to figure which squad has the edge; the Broncos and Flyers are ranked 39th and 40th in KenPom, respectively, and each sits firmly among the top-75 teams in America in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Boise State’s Derrick Marks (19.3 PPG) will be the best offensive player on the floor, a supremely talented scorer with a vastly-improved outside shot (44% 3FG), while Dayton boasts an entire lineup of guys adept at beating opponents off the dribble and earning trips to the free throw line (third-highest free throw rate in college hoops). Considering the Flyers’ utter lack of depth and relatively short turnaround, Boise State would probably have the slight leg up under normal circumstances. But home court advantage is a very real thing, and Dayton fans come out in bunches. Look for Archie Miller’s group to ride that support to its fourth NCAA Tournament victory in the last two years.

The RTC Certified Pick: Dayton

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Atlantic 10 Postseason Previews

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on March 17th, 2015

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vbtnblog.

Sunday, Sunday

As expected, the Atlantic 10 sent six teams to the postseason: three to the NCAA Tournament — Davidson, Dayton and Virginia Commonwealth — the other three to the NIT — George Washington, Richmond and Rhode Island. VCU benefited the most, not just with the championship and accompanying automatic bid, but in seemingly finding some of the answers that Shaka Smart has been searching for much of the season.

Archie Miller might be the most important returnee of the entire A10 conference. (AP)

Will the home court advantage give a slightly tired Dayton team the boost it needs? (AP)

NCAA Bound

Dayton head coach Archie Miller was reluctant to admit that the cumulative effect of a 33-game schedule may have played a role in his Flyers’ blowout loss to Virginia Commonwealth in the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship game on Sunday. “These guys, they have battled hard all year so it’s kind of hard to say we are finally tired. I don’t think we played tired.” He later tacitly acknowledged that sophomore point guard Scoochie Smith, who carried a good deal of the offensive burden through Dayton’s three-game run in Brooklyn, may have been feeling it. “He may be the one guy I look and say from a legs perspective he had some really good looks and was short on all of them, so hopefully we get Scoochie back.” The Selection Committee essentially said to the Flyers, “You get to open the Tournament at home! On three days rest” — a classic good news/bad news punch line. Their opponent, Boise State, will traverse a time zone to make the game. Smith, along with consistent play-makers Kendall Pollard and senior Jordan Sibert, should win this game, and after another two-day layoff and a bus ride to Columbus, will face #6 Providence, another uptempo team with a short bench. Read the rest of this entry »

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Atlantic 10 Tournament: Second Round Review

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on March 13th, 2015

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Making Their Case

The forecasters say three conference teams — Davidson, Dayton and Virginia Commonwealth — are comfortably in the NCAA Tournament’s field of 68. Meanwhile three other teams — George Washington, Rhode Island and Richmond — are projected as a #4 seed or higher in the NIT. In an ironic twist all too common for the Atlantic 10, the #1 seed in the conference tournament, Davidson, holds the lowest projected NCAA seed (#11) while the highest projected NCAA seed, Virginia Commonwealth (#8), fell to fifth in the conference race. While the projected NIT contingent are all comfortably “in,” none appear on anyone’s NCAA “First Four” or “Next Four Out” lists. Short of a win on Sunday, the destination for those three teams will not change.

Jordan Price (#), who scored a game-high 28 points Thursday afternoon against UMass, will likely need to show that type of production again against Davidson. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Jordan Price (#21), who scored a game-high 28 points Thursday afternoon against UMass, will likely need to show that type of production again against Davidson. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

For the nine teams not penciled into either of the premier postseason tournaments, Wednesday and Thursday at the Atlantic 10 Tournament have become the moment of truth. Saint Louis and George Mason did not make it out of Wednesday night. It also ended poorly for a Massachusetts team that came out on the short end of a 77-69 game against La Salle. When asked about a potential CBI or CIT bid, UMass coach Derek Kellogg declined. NIT or bust. For Saint Joseph’s, last year’s tournament champion, the season ended at the hands of St. Bonaventure. With a 13-18 record, Phil Martelli’s Hawks will recuperate on Hawk Hill and plan for next season. The Bonnies must continue to win in order to work their way into the postseason conversation. They could steal an NIT bid if they can gather two more top 100 wins (which they will have to do to advance to the Sunday game). Taking down Dayton and then either George Washington or Rhode Island should do. Having compiled an 0-4 record versus that competition, however, and with star point guard Jaylen Adams sidelined, the odds are good that they will watch the game from the comfort of their dorms in Olean, New York. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Down the Stretch They Come

Posted by Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso) on March 2nd, 2015

We’ve arrived at the final week of the regular season and now more than ever it is crystal clear just how many Big 12 teams will make the field of 68 (yeah, right). Anywhere from five to potentially eight teams could hear their names called by CBS Sports’ Greg Gumbel on Selection Sunday, but it’s reasonably safe to say that these five teams — Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, West Virginia and Baylor — are virtual locks. Two maybes and a long shot from the Big 12 have quite a bit of ground to make up, though, between now and the conference title game in 12 days in Kansas City. Let’s take a deeper dive look at each of those three bubble squads.

  • Oklahoma State appears to be in the best position. The Cowboys were able to notch some quality wins by beating Kansas and sweeping Baylor while also taking both games from bubbling Texas. To assure Oklahoma State’s status in the field, one of two things needs to happen. They could beat TCU and lose to West Virginia (finishing at 8-10 in league play) before winning one game in the Big 12 Tournament. After all, that is what happened a season ago. The second option is to simply win in Morgantown on Saturday, a much-tougher task. That separates this team from continuing insecurity and a sure thing.

    Travis Ford and the Cowboys are (Getty)

    Travis Ford and the Cowboys have a big week ahead of them. (Getty)

  • Texas’ situation is a little more complicated. The Longhorns sit at four games under .500 in the league with a dismal 6-10 record. Despite the ongoing Big 12 benefit of playing Tournament-caliber teams both home and away, the Longhorns have only registered one victory in 11 tries against those teams. They need to beat both Baylor tonight and Kansas State on Saturday. If the Big 12 Tournament started today, the Horns would be the #8 seed and open play against a pesky TCU team. If they were able to advance to the semifinalss with two wins, that should be enough to get them in. If they don’t do that, there’s a chance we could see a revamped roster and new head coach in Austin this fall.
  • Two weeks ago, ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan made the claim that Kansas State arguably has the most interesting at-large NCAA Tournament resume in quite some time. While an at-large now seems out of the question, their chance to nab the league’s automatic bid is still certainly in play. K-State’s NCAA chances are the easiest (or hardest) to draw out. Basically, win all of the games. All. Of. Them. One more loss would give the Wildcats 16 defeats on the season, and it’s hard to imagine the Selection Committee would reward an at-large bid to a team with that many losses. Georgia rolled off four wins in four days to win the 2008 SEC Tournament, and, fortunately for Kansas State, most of the teams they’d likely face in Kansas City next week are teams it’s already beaten.

Will the Big 12 get all three teams in? Probably not! But two of these clubs might! Is is Championship Week yet?

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “A lot of the talk surrounding Kansas’ games lately has actually been centered on its opponents. The losses at Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Kansas State in addition to Isaiah Taylor’s last-second drive on Saturday have dominated the conversation, but there hasn’t been nearly as much air time and ink given to how well Perry Ellis has played for a team desperate for frontcourt production. Over his last five games, the junior (yes, junior, Rick Barnes) has averaged 22.4 points per game on 57.5 percent shooting to go along with 8.0 rebounds per contest. If he can keep up his torrid pace, the Jayhawks may not miss the suspended Cliff Alexander so much after all.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  2. Oklahoma — 7 points (Brian & Chris — 2nd, Nate — 3rd) Comment: “After starting conference play 3-4, the Sooners have won eight of their last nine games. Four outings against TCU and Texas Tech have bolstered their record as they prepare to face Iowa State and Kansas in the season’s final week.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  3. Baylor — 8 points (Nate — 2nd, Brian & Chris — 3rd) Comment: “It looks like Scott Drew has created some separation between he and Bob Huggins in the Big 12 Coach of the Year race. It’s fascinating to see him take a team many viewed with average talent to become an absolute match-up nightmare in March.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso) Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on February 25th, 2015

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Where They Stand

The conference regular season is two weeks away from finishing. Using possession-based offensive and defensive efficiency differences, three distinct tiers in the Atlantic 10 have emerged. The top five teams (see table below) — Davidson, Dayton, Virginia Commonwealth, Richmond and Rhode Island — have separated themselves from their nine conference-mates by an efficiency margin that will not disappear over the next four games. Richmond and Rhode Island present “Nitty Gritty” profiles that read “NIT” rather than “NCAA,” and Massachusetts, lodged in the middle tier but possessing a winning conference record and an non-conference schedule strength ranked second in the league, will test eyeballs and gut-checks. Those three aside, however, the conference records and efficiency margins are behaving more than in seasons past. This is not the conference that sent six teams to the NCAAs last March, but lacking any clear locks (Virginia Commonwealth might be the only team that could lose out and still draw an at-large invitation) the A-10 has three solid candidates for the NCAA Tournament and three more bubble teams. Reviewing the remaining games indicates that bids for the bubble will most likely come at the expense of the conference’s three strongest candidates.

Table01150223

These Teams Can Make the NCAA Tournament If…

  • Virginia Commonwealth (21-6, 11-3) – The Rams have to stay healthy and not lose to George Mason (RPI #221). Losing Briante Weber was a blow, but the recent two-game skid happened while senior wing Treveon Graham, coach Shaka Smart’s penultimate go-to guy, was sidelined with a ankle sprain. The three-game bounce back came with Graham in the lineup. In a one possession game when a score is necessary Smart will give Graham the ball and call for a clear out. VCU’s offense and defense took a step back during much of the season, but Graham’s numbers (usually coupled with one from an assortment of complementary parts, especially Mel Johnson and Moe Alie-Cox) have been strong enough to carry the team against most opponents on most nights. With one of the more challenging four games slates remaining (Richmond, Dayton, Davidson and George Mason have a combined conference record of 31-25, 0.554), the priority is to not lose to GMU. A 3-1 finish (24-7, 14-4) is probably optimistic, but anything less would put the Rams into tie-breakers with at least one other conference team. VCU holds the tie-breaker over Rhode Island (the most likely tie), but a loss to Dayton would give the Flyers the tie-breaker and should the loss come to Davidson, the Rams and Wildcats would have to muddle through the next set of tie-breaker rules to determine the #1 seed in Brooklyn. The Rams have been a regular fixture in the conference tournament championship game since joining the conference in 2012, but have yet to win either the regular season (and take the #1 seed in the tournament) or the tournament championship game.

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Checking in on… the Ivy League

Posted by Michael James (@ivybball) on February 6th, 2015

Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @ivybball.

Looking Back

  • Home Unsweet Home – We’re over a quarter of the way through the 2015 edition of the 14-Game Tournament and an alarming trend just will not yield. Home teams are just 6-9 (0.400 – lowest of any conference in the nation) in league games thus far this season with both Cornell-Columbia and Harvard-Dartmouth splitting their travel partner series by winning on the other’s home floor. While Yale managed to sweep its travel partner showdown with Brown, it followed the same pattern, blowing out the Bears in Providence by 18 before trailing Brown at the final media timeout at home only to come back and win by four. The Ivies also rank last nationally in two other categories that many equate with a game’s appeal – offensive efficiency and percent of close games. Teams are scoring just 0.96 points per possession in league play (over five points per 100 possessions worse than the national average) and have combined for just two close games in 15 tries (13%).

    Despite Yale's best efforts, the Ivy League as a whole has been struggling to put the ball in the hoop. (AP)

    Despite Yale’s best efforts, the Ivy League as a whole has been struggling to put the ball in the hoop. (AP)

  • Channel Surfing – It took until just a couple weeks before the first back-to-back weekend in league play, but the Ivies finally locked down their television deal for the 2014-15 campaign. Five league games will be shown on CBS Sports Network, starting with Dartmouth’s visit to Yale this Friday, while another six will be shown on the American Sports Network, which is a syndicated network, using deals with other stations to carry its product to market. While the deal was a late victory to keep Ivy games on television after the NBC Sports Network deal expired last season, neither of the league’s two marquee matchups between Harvard and Yale will be featured on CBS Sports Network and the first meeting this Saturday will be relegated to Ivy League Digital Network.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Yale (15-6, 4-0 Ivy) – After a rough end to the non-conference slate saw the Bulldogs drop three of four tight contests, Yale has taken three-straight games in league play – all of which were within a possession or two after the final media timeout. More importantly, though, the Bulldogs have already survived three of their seven league road games and now get six of their next eight at home, as they attempt to put the title chase out of reach before visiting Harvard in the season’s penultimate game. While the 4-0 Ivy start has been impressive, there are some underlying concerns. Yale has allowed opponents to shoot 37 percent of their shots from three and has benefited from an unsustainable opposition hit rate of just 27 percent. Also, the Bulldogs are doubling up their opponents on free throw rate – a metric that was far less lopsided in non-league play. Yale is getting 31 percent of its points in Ivy play from the free throw line, which would be tops in the nation and a greater than four-standard deviation outlier if it occurred over the whole season. Read the rest of this entry »
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