NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Friday Night

Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) & Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 28th, 2014

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

#2 Michigan vs. #11 Tennessee – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Indianapolis, IN) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Tennessee was not supposed to be in this position. It barely found its way into the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the Volunteers had to travel to Dayton last Wednesday to take on Iowa to even advance to the round of 64. Tennessee got by the Hawkeyes in overtime and that was only the beginning of its winning ways. In Raleigh, Cuonzo Martin’s squad was able to throttle Massachusetts and take advantage of Duke’s stunning loss to Mercer by dismantling Bob Hoffman’s Bears in the round of 32 to advance to the Sweet 16. Leading the way thus far for Tennessee has been the spectacular play of forward Jarnell Stokes. The junior has been nothing short of dominant in the team’s recent run, as he is averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds in his last three games. The Volunteers have also received a lift from guard Josh Richardson. The junior, who averaged 10.1 points per game in the regular season, has stepped up his play in the tournament, as he is averaging 19.3 points per contest. As a team, the Volunteers’ performance on the rebounding glass has aided tremendously in taking them to the Sweet 16. Tennessee has been an excellent rebounding team all season and its rebounding prowess was never more on display than in Sunday’s victory over Mercer. The Volunteers had a sensational 41-19 rebounding advantage over the Bears in the winning effort.

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Michigan will take the court in Indianapolis after a relatively easy first weekend in Milwaukee. The Wolverines cruised to a 17-point victory in the round of 64 over an undermanned Wofford squad before wearing down Texas in a 14-point victory. John Beilein’s team has been an outstanding perimeter shooting offense and that has carried over into the postseason. The Wolverines hit a combined 21 three-pointers in the two victories. Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas hit seven of those 21 triples an was the team’s leading scorer in each victory. Michigan’s frontcourt has been seen as a concern since sophomore big man Mitch McGary was lost to a back injury in late December, but forward Jordan Morgan showed he is a capable post presence with his performances in Milwaukee. The senior averaged 12.5 points and 10 rebounds against Wofford and Texas, while living up to his reputation as a solid interior defender. In Friday’s game, it should be expected that both teams will play to their strengths. Tennessee will try to use its size advantage to the dominate the interior and Michigan will attempt to get its perimeter shooting going early and often. Texas had a great advantage over Michigan in size too, but the Wolverines were able to wear the Longhorn bigs down through a terrific transition effort and solid offensive spacing. It would be wise to expect Michigan to do the same Friday. Tennessee will keep close throughout much of the game, but the shot-making ability of Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III will ultimately be too much for the Volunteers to overcome. Two-seed Michigan will win the game to advance to its second straight Elite Eight.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Tennessee 78, #11 Iowa 65

Posted by Chris Nguon on March 19th, 2014

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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 in Tennessee’s First Four win.

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin speaks with #52 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the first round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Iowa Hawkeyes at UD Arena on March 19, 2014 in Dayton, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin speaks with Jordan McRae during the Vols’ seesaw victory over Iowa State. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

  1. Per the norm, the numbers are usually right. Going into Wednesday’s contest, virtually all advanced metrics revealed that these two teams were evenly matched and that certainly played out on the court. When one team looked as if it was going to pull away, the other team found a way to gather itself and stave off absorbing of the knock-out blow. Tennessee’s performance was absolutely gritty to the fullest effect and I am sure Cuonzo Martin is very proud of his guys. The Volunteers trailed (albeit only by a small margin) for the majority of the second half but Martin’s squad simply refused to take “no” for an answer. Tennessee was down by as much as five points in the second half but finally took the lead with 3:12 left when Antonio Barton nailed a trey. Two minutes later, the Vols re-took the lead with a bucket from Jeronne Maymon. And even though Roy Devyn Marble put the crowd in a tizzy with his game-tying jumper with 18 seconds left, the Volunteers stayed poised and controlled the entire five minutes of overtime to earn a very impressive victory.
  2. Marble’s teammates picked him up big-time, but it wasn’t enough. With the season on the line and their star standout struggling from the field, the other Hawkeyes didn’t sulk or tighten up like many teams have been known to do. Instead, players like Adam Woodbury, Peter Jok and Zach McCabe picked up the slack in the grandest of styles – keeping Iowa afloat with an array of gutty plays down the stretch until their senior leader finally found the bottom of the net. For all the hair-pulling that Iowa fans experienced this season, watching Marble’s definitive answer after the Volunteers took a two-point lead with 3:12 left must have been a sight to see. For good measure, Marble added a handful of other big plays in the final two minutes – none bigger than his jumper with 18 seconds remaining to tie the game. However, if Marble had shot better than 3-of-15 from the field (0-of-6 from three), I think even he would admit that his Iowa team wouldn’t have found itself anywhere near overtime. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #16 Cal Poly 81, #16 Texas Southern 69

Posted by Chris Nguon on March 19th, 2014

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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 in Cal Poly’s First Four win.

Cal Poly supports had plenty to cheer about Wednesday night as the program earned its first ever NCAA Tournament victory. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Cal Poly supports had plenty to cheer about Wednesday night as the program earned its first ever NCAA Tournament victory. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

  1. Throw regular season records out of the window. If Cal Poly’s week so far is any indication of what is to come, then this is going to be a memorable NCAA Tournament. The Mustangs might have ended the season six games under the .500-mark, but that did not matter on Wednesday evening. Cal Poly played with poise, aggression, and above all an inner confidence that showed in its play on the court.  With what eventually amounted to a virtual wall-to-wall lead on the scoreboard, the Mustangs were able to make school history, becoming the first team in their highly successful athletic program to win a game in the Big Dance.
  2. Aaric Murray was tremendous, but… Wednesday showed once again why its so important to have depth in the NCAA Tournament. The Texas Southern big man was as productive as ever, notching 38 points on 14-of-23 shooting and exhibiting a vast array of three-pointers, interior toughness, and just general moxie. Unfortunately for Murray, his battle-mates just couldn’t quite find their groove on either end of the court.
  3. It is rare that the first couple of minutes decide the game. In Cal Poly’s case, however, the opening 10 minutes of the first half allowed the Mustangs to catch their breath and realize that “hey, we are good enough to win this game.” Cal Poly faced an early deficit in a contest that started and ended fast offensively, but the ability to hang with Texas Southern (even though Cal Poly proved to be better) is paramount for a program that was making its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC Roundtable: Conference Tournament Preview

Posted by Mike Lemaire, Will Tucker & Ross Schulz on March 12th, 2014

As we head into the postseason, RTC AAC Microwriters Mike Lemaire, Will Tucker and Ross Schulz preview the very first American conference tournament through the prism of three key questions.

Louisville has the look of a team peaking at the right time. In the past week, they became the first team to beat SMU at home and then smashed UConn. Is there any reason to think the Cardinals won’t cut down the nets in Memphis?

  • Mike: The Cardinals deserve to be the odds-on favorite for the AAC Tournament because of the way they have played down the stretch but they certainly aren’t bullet-proof. They proved that at the beginning of the month when they lost to Memphis and scraped past Cincinnati by one point. Montrezl Harrell and Russ Smith are two of the best players at their positions in the country and the Cardinals are more balanced than the Bearcats or anyone else for that matter. But if Chris Jones and Luke Hancock struggle and the opposition lock down Smith and Harrell, the Cardinals could lose to a team with more to gain.
Will the defending champs notch the first AAC crown as well?

Will the defending champs add the first ever AAC crown to their impressive resume?

  • Will: The Cardinals continue to be a very poor free throw shooting team, and players they’ve traditionally considered automatic from the stripe are trending in the wrong direction. Russ Smith, whose free throw accuracy has decreased from 80 to 70 percent this season, hit 6 of 11 in the past three games, while Luke Hancock – an 82 percent shooter – has completed only 10 of 17 over the same time frame.

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Closing out the Ivy League: Harvard Victorious, But Didn’t Come Easy

Posted by Michael James (@mrjames2006) on March 12th, 2014

Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.

The end result was expected, but that’s about all that went as planned in the Ivies this season. Harvard claimed the league crown, a result that had been deemed inevitable by the national media since it was clear that Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry were returning to campus as fifth-year seniors. Its four-game victory margin appears commanding but was hardly so, as it took until March to finish off both a Columbia team projected to finish last in the Ivy media poll and a Yale squad which began Ivy play outside Ken Pomeroy’s top 200. Meanwhile, Penn, the popular preseason pick to be the Crimson’s number one contender, beat three teams ranked in the Top 275 all season.

As expected, Kyle Casey and Harvard earned the Ivy League crown. (Boston.com)

As expected, Kyle Casey and Harvard earned the Ivy League crown. (Boston.com)

Princeton lost its best player since the turn of the century in Ian Hummer, but sprinted out to a 9-1 start that had Twitter abuzz with chatter about a #2BidIvy. Then, it proceeded not to win a Division I game for more than a month during an 0-4 start to the Ivy campaign, only to rebound and finish third with 20 victories for the fourth time in five years. Brown lost two entire backcourt spots off a team that finished 224th in Pomeroy last season but proceeded to get half of its total team minutes from freshmen and rose all the way to the fringe of the top 150. Dartmouth looked like a legitimate sleeper before losing All-Ivy center Gabas Maldunas for the season, but bookended a seven-game Ivy losing streak with shocking sweeps of Penn and Princeton and Brown and Yale.

So, yes, in the end the NCAA bid went to Harvard, but that simple narrative fails to do justice to what was an entertaining and surprising 2013-14 campaign.

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Previewing the Atlantic 10 Tournament

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on March 12th, 2014

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.

Everything’s Gonna Be OK

The unasked question at Media Day last October was how the conference would fare without Temple and Xavier (not to mention Charlotte and Butler). In the 17 seasons since John Calipari left Massachusetts, the Owls or the Musketeers won (or shared in) 10 conference regular season titles, won eight conference tournaments, collected 25 of the 56 NCAA bids, and represented with at least one entrant in all but a single postseason (2005). Their last season in the league had more whimper than bang, so the remaining 13 members have to build their future without the name recognition and traditions that those programs contributed to the whole. If this season is the foretelling of things to come, though, the A-10 will be in great shape over the long run. Stellar non-conference play by George Washington, Massachusetts and Dayton, along with strong showings from Virginia Commonwealth (albeit disappointing by preview standards) and Saint Louis have put the conference in a no-man’s land between the basketball-first conferences (the West Coast, the Missouri Valley, C-USA and Mountain West) and the conferences that sit atop Division I. Whether the chosen metric is the RPI (ranked #6), Ken Pomeroy (ranked #8), Sagarin (ranked #8) or Dunkel (ranked #8), the Atlantic 10 is clearly positioned closer to the elite conferences than the other 25. Anticipating between four and six NCAA bids, the conference is about to kick off the second edition of its tournament at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, and ready for the limelight.

With a bevy of quality coaches, including Shaka Smart and Jim Crews, the A-10 is trending upward.

With a bevy of quality coaches, including Shaka Smart and Jim Crews, the A-10 is trending upward.

Four, Five… or Six?

The consensus of season previews anticipated that Virginia Commonwealth, Saint Louis and Massachusetts would catch the Selection Committee’s attention, but by the eve of conference play, two more — Dayton (12-3) and George Washington (12-2) — had joined them to assemble a group that potentially could equal last season’s record five bids (matched twice before). Massachusetts and Dayton faltered in conference play, but the Minutemen were secure enough by mid-January that the slippage has translated into a #7 seed line this week. A 1-5 start put Dayton out of the field of 68, but a 6-1 February followed by a 3-0 (so far) March has moved Archie Miller’s squad back into the conversation as a possible First Four (#12 seed) candidate. As for VCU (#8), St. Louis (#6) and GW (#8), all appear to be secure enough that an early round exit from the conference tournament should not jeopardize their NCAA bids. St. Joseph’s, despite a mediocre 9-4 (eventually 10-4) non-conference record, compiled an 11-3 A-10 record and appeared to be squarely in the field. An 0-2 closing put the Joe’s at 11-5 and back into a possible round one game in Dayton. The Hawks will need a win or two this week to bolster their resume.

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Battle of Basement in Pac-12 Features Coaches Heading in Opposite Directions

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on March 7th, 2014

Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is a national columnist for Rush The Court. He filed this report after USC and Washington State played Thursday night in Pullman, Washington.

What do you expect when you watch two teams who are in the bottom half of their conference in nearly every rate statistic, the two bottom teams in offensive and defensive efficiency, two teams that have combined for three wins since January? Let’s just call this one “aesthetically challenged” and leave it at that. Whether it’s giving up an and-one off an inbounds play or airballing a free throw, there was nothing that made Washington State look good in its 79-68 home loss to rebuilding USC on Thursday night. Having taken a 36-35 lead into halftime and starting the second half with an 8-0 run including three-pointers from guards DaVonte Lacy and Dexter Kernich-Drew and a dunk from forward D.J. Shelton, the Cougars looked to be on track for an easy victory against a Trojans team that hadn’t won since January 22. But USC came out with a 1-2-1-1 zone press that disrupted Washington State’s flow, and a 15-2 USC run turned the tide of the game.

It's been a up-and-down first year for Andy Enfield, but the Trojans did pick up a solid road win Thursday evening. (AP)

It’s been a up-and-down first year for Andy Enfield, but the Trojans did pick up a solid road win Thursday evening. (AP)

“We knew that they would press at some stage,” Kernich-Drew said. “We got lazy.” In the 12 minutes following the Cougars’ 8-0 run, the Trojans turned a 44-35 deficit into a 70-53 lead, capped off by a three-pointer from USC guard Byron Wesley, who finished with 31 points and 10 rebounds. From there, head coach Andy Enfield’s team weathered a too-little-too-late run and held on for its  first road victory since Valentine’s Day 2013 at Stanford. (Back then, Enfield was just a coach at a small Division I school that nobody had heard of unless they were die-hard fans of accurate free throw shooters.) The victory gave USC the tiebreaker for 11th place in the Pac-12, with each two-win team far adrift of the rest of the conference.

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Conference Tournament Primer: West Coast Conference

Posted by Michael Vernetti on March 6th, 2014

Michael Vernetti is the Rush the Court’s correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

Tournament Preview

There are some new contenders, some elevated expectations and the hint of upset in the air. But, in the end, will it add up to someone other than Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s winning the WCC Tournament title next Tuesday and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament? Those two have played in the championship game for the past five years – Gonzaga winning three – and the first change in 2014 is that they will not repeat that engagement. The Gaels and the Zags are in the same half of this year’s bracket; their clash, if it comes, will be in the semifinals on Monday, and only one will emerge to contend for the championship.

1

The replacement of Saint Mary’s by BYU as the tourney’s second seed and the emergence of San Francisco as a legitimate championship contender is the first major change in the tournament makeup. BYU and San Francisco tied for second place behind Gonzaga in the conference standings, with BYU earning the second seed by virtue of a sweep over San Francisco, and Saint Mary’s limped in at fourth. The other major change is a requirement that all teams in the tournament play at least three games. Gone is the WCC’s controversial practice of granting the first and second finishers a bye to the semifinal round. For the last five years, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s had only a semifinal game to contend with before squaring off for the title.

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on March 5th, 2014

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.

If the Season Ended Today

Table01140305

The conference standings are ordered by winning percentage (in conference play through Tuesday) using the rules to determine conference tournament seeding applied to order those with identical marks. The efficiency differences are used here to identify those teams that might be under- or over-seeded for the conference tournament. Virginia Commonwealth closed out a 4-3 February by beating conference leader Saint Louis by 11 to open March, If this run continues, the Rams might be peaking at exactly the right time. Saint Louis’ two-game losing streak (to Duquesne by seven AT THE CHAIFETZ! and to Virginia Commonwealth by 11) will not jeopardize its conference standing. The Billikens hold a tie-breaker over Saint Joseph’s should they drop one of their two remaining games. The damage, beyond their pride, was taken by their projected NCAA Tournament seed line. Touted as a #3 for much of February, many bracketologists moved Saint Louis down to the #4 or #5 seed line as a result. Dropping their last two games would be problematic for head coach Jim Crews’ squad. The highlighted teams (Virginia Commonwealth and George Washington) have the highest conference efficiency differences of any team grouped in their respective side of the latest version of the conference tournament brackets (see below), yet neither holds the #1 or the #2 seed. The brackets below show how the conference tournament would be seeded if the season ended on Tuesday. Read the rest of this entry »

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Redemption for Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State Last Night Against Kansas

Posted by Eli Linton on March 2nd, 2014

Eli Linton is a RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday night’s game between Kansas and Oklahoma State.

Before Saturday night’s critical matchup between Kansas and Oklahoma State, the two teams were headed in opposite directions. Oklahoma State, which had been touted as a preseason favorite for both the Big 12 championship and a Final Four run, collapsed in February. A seven-game losing streak and the suspension of Marcus Smart threatened to make this season one of the biggest disasters in school history. Kansas, on the other hand, was once again riding its sensational talent to its 10th straight conference title. While the Cowboys were simply hoping to be find a way into the last four in the Big Dance, Kansas had its sights set on the Final Four. But on Saturday night, it was Marcus Smart’s team that found redemption, just when it seemed they had let the season slip away.

A big second half was the difference for Marcus Smart and the Cowboys. (AP)

A big second half was the difference for Marcus Smart and the Cowboys. (AP)

A lot of deserving criticism has been leveled at Smart for the part he played in the Cowboys’ downfall, but on Saturday he was the best player on the floor, leading the Cowboys to a come-from-behind 72-65 win. After a one-point, 0-of-7 first half line, Smart put up 20 points, four assists, two steals and just a single turnover in the second stanza. “Our focus was different tonight,” said Smart. “Losing those seven straight games opened our eyes. We were extra-focused tonight.” It was the biggest win of the year in the most desperate time for the Cowboys. Already on the NCAA bubble, another loss would have been devastating, but this quality win over #5 Kansas will likely earn them a bid. I am sure bubble talk was a conversation they were hoping to avoid to start the year, but they will take it and move forward. In a stroke of irony, Kansas was still able to clinch the Big 12 title outright thanks to both Texas and Iowa State losing earlier, but according to Bill Self, there will be no celebration.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on February 27th, 2014

Michael Vernetti is the Rush the Court’s correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

Looking Back

Perris Blackwell is pulling down rebounds for Washington, De’End Parker is leading Cal State San Marcos to the top of NAIA ranks, and Cody Doolin is plotting his comeback next year at UNLV. But Rex Walters has commanded a resolute Gang of Six anchored by senior forward Cole Dickerson to propel San Francisco to the brink of second place in the WCC with an outside chance of tying for the title. By holding off hapless Saint Mary’s and still-struggling Pacific at home last week, the Dons moved to 11-5 in conference play and into a virtual tie with BYU for the second spot (the Cougars have a half-game lead by virtue of having played one more game). If the Dons sweep Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount this week in Southern California and BYU and Gonzaga stumble in their final contests, Walters’ embattled troops will have pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in WCC history.

It is still a slight possibility that Cole Dickerson and USF could record an improbable conference crown. (ISI Sports)

It is still a slight possibility that Cole Dickerson and USF could earn itself an improbable conference crown. (ISI Sports)

Gonzaga paved the way for this potential outcome by dropping both its road contests last week, first to an aroused BYU in Provo, and then to a scrappy San Diego at the Jenny Craig Pavilion. The Zags’ lack of depth was a factor in both losses, as Mark Few has narrowed his rotation to exclude anyone besides Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower, Jr. in the frontcourt. Providence transfer Gerard Coleman, Louisville transfer Angel Nunez and two freshmen are anchored on the bench as the Zags plow unsteadily towards another conference championship and a top seed in the WCC Tournament, opening March 6 in Las Vegas. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on February 26th, 2014

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.

If the Season Ended Today

Table01140226

The conference standings are ordered by A-10 winning percentage (through February 25), using the rules to determine conference tournament seeding applied to order those with identical marks. The efficiency differences do not match the conference standings, but that is not unusual. A few of the larger differences, however, do stand out (note the shadings). Massachusetts, George Washington, Virginia Commonwealth and St. Bonaventure in particular are out of place relative to the teams above and below them. Those efficiency differences, especially if the standings hold through the end of the regular season, could play a larger than expected role in the conference tournament. Note the brackets below represent the seeds if the conference tournament were seeded based on results through Tuesday.

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