Rushed Reactions: #9 Florida State 75, #1 Xavier 70

Posted by David Changas on March 19th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. David Changas (@dchangas) is in Nashville this weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Florida State pulled off the second improbable comeback of the day in Nashville. (Christopher Hanewinkel, USA Today)

  1. There are no words, Part II. Okay, so this wasn’t a 22-point meltdown but it had to feel just as bad for Xavier Nation. The top-seeded Musketeers led by 12 points midway through the second half, and by nine when Chris Mack decided to take JP Macura out after the senior picked up his fourth foul. That proved to be a mistake. By the time Macura returned four and a half minutes later, the lead had dwindled to just two points with just over four minutes remaining. An 11-2 run for Florida State over the final 3:11 ultimately gave the Seminoles the five-point win. They led for a total of only one minute in the second half, but it was enough to complete the stunning comeback against the region’s top seed.
  2. A bad day for the city of Cincinnati. What happened here in Nashville today borders on the unfathomable. Had we not seen the first #16 over a #1 upset in the history of the sport two days ago, we certainly would be saying that two high seeds blowing substantial double-digit leads midway through the second half is the craziest thing in years. Both games had the feel of being decided well into their second halves, in large part because neither Nevada nor Florida State looked to be offensively in sync or capable of erasing such large deficits. It will take a long time for these two Cincinnati-based programs to recover from the March 18, 2018, disaster, and it’s fair to say that fans of both schools won’t want to see Nashville again for a very long time.
  3. Florida State’s balance was impressive. The Seminoles did not shoot the ball particularly well tonight – just 43.6 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from behind the arc – but they did have five players in double figures, led by 16 from Braian Angola. More importantly, though, was their ability to come at Xavier in waves on the defensive end. Their quickness and athleticism caused problems for the Musketeers all night long, and they were able to force them into 17 turnovers as a result. They also held Xavier, which came into tonight’s game with the nation’s seventh-best offense, to only 46.9 percent shooting. Florida State’s ability to pull off the upset without playing at its best is a tribute both to its athleticism and depth of its roster.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Nevada 75, #2 Cincinnati 73

Posted by David Changas on March 18th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. David Changas (@dchangas) is in Nashville this weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Eric Musselman was beyond euphoric after Nevada’s stunning comeback (Rush the Court).

  1. There are no words. What can you say about a game like that? Cincinnati was in complete control of the contest for 30 minutes and led 65-43 with 11:37 remaining. And then it happened. Nevada chipped away and chipped away before finally pulling even at 73-all on a Caleb Martin three with 53 seconds remaining. Cincinnati never got another good look at the basket, despite bucking the usual trend and looking for a two-for-one, and Nevada’s Josh Hall converted a putback with nine seconds left to give the Wolf Pack the final 75-73 edge. It was the only time Nevada had led all day. The stunning comeback was the largest second half comeback in NCAA Tournament history and caps an incomprehensibly crazy weekend in the South Region.
  2. Nevada has to be exhausted. Eric Musselman just led his team to two incredible wins in Nashville while using only six players. The Wolf Pack now head to the Sweet Sixteen despite leading for only a minuscule handful of the 85 minutes they have played in this NCAA Tournament. And even though they had to expend a great deal of energy in coming back from two large deficits, Musselman’s team willed its way to those improbable victories. And they did it today while turning the ball over only two times. There is a reason Nevada is ranked among the top 10 nationally in offensive efficiency, and it showed here in Nashville during the course of its epic comeback.
  3. Where does Cincinnati go from here? This appeared to be the year in which a path to the Final Four was wide open for Mick Cronin’s team. Had the Bearcats held on, they would have had to get past #11 Loyola and possibly #5 Kentucky to get to San Antonio. Now, not only do they walk away with a loss to a lower seed, they must also live with letting what can only be described as a golden opportunity slip right through their fingers. Cronin has been very successful in his 12 years at the school, having reached the last eight NCAA Tournaments, but there is only one Sweet Sixteen appearance to show for it. Frustration is certain to grow in the Queen City about these annual meltdowns, and one must wonder when Cronin will have a better chance at a deep NCAA Tournament run.

Player of the Game. Josh Hall, Nevada. Sure, the easy choice here would be Cody Martin, but Hall’s big offensive rebound and game-winning bucket earns him the honor. Hall, who is the only player Musselman uses off the bench, went for 14 points (more than double his average) and six rebounds.

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Rushed Reaction: #9 Florida State 67, #8 Missouri 54

Posted by David Changas (@dchangas) on March 17th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. David Changas (@dchangas) is in Nashville this weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Michael Porter, Jr. never got to display his full capabilities in what likely will be his only college season. (Jim Brown/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Florida State’s first half defense was absolutely stifling. In the first half, Missouri made a total of five shots on its way to a 22-point deficit. Florida State has not been particularly stingy on the defensive end this season, ranking 78th in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom. But they forced the Tigers to take bad shot after bad shot, and Missouri was unable to connect on much. The defensive pressure the Seminoles put on Missouri also led to a number of easy baskets. In the second half, Missouri made a run over the first 10 minutes to reduce the deficit all the way to six, but Florida State responded with a 9-0 run to extend its lead back to 15 with just over seven minutes remaining
  2. The Seminoles were the deeper team. Florida State got points from 11 different players, and none scored more than 14 points. As Missouri made its second half surge, the Seminoles were able to weather the storm and looked fresher down the stretch. It did not help Missouri that it was without senior forward Jordan Barnett, who was arrested for DWI after the SEC Tournament and was suspended for the game. Regardless, it was clear that Florida State was the fresher team down the stretch and had more energy, which allowed it to put the game away.
  3. The MPJ effect. It was clear that Cuonzo Martin was going to go all-in with Michael Porter, Jr. in this game, and while the temptation to play a guy who is going to be a top-five draft pick was too much to overcome, Porter was simply out of gas in the second half and made a number of careless errors because of it. Porter certainly could not have been expected to go as long as he did – he logged 28 minutes for the game – and it is certainly a shame for college basketball fans that such a unique talent will have a college career that consisted of just over a couple of games. Porter’s game figures to translate well to the next level, and even in the midst of this contest, he showed flashes of why he was considered the consensus top recruit in the class of 2017.

Player of the Game. Mfiondu Kabengele, Florida State. The freshman forward led the Seminoles with 14 points and 12 rebounds as he notched only his second double-double of the season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Xavier 102, #16 Texas Southern 83

Posted by David Changas on March 16th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. David Changas (@dchangas) is in Nashville this weekend. 

 Three Key Takeaways.

J.P. Macura was on fire with his game, and his mouth, on Friday night. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. A gritty effort by an outmanned Texas Southern team was not enough. As with seemingly every #1 vs. #16 matchup in the history of this event, this game was a complete physical mismatch. But that did not stop Mike Davis’ Texas Southern squad from doing everything it could to make this one close. The Tigers easily could have been blown out early, as they fell behind 13-4 just four and a half minutes into the game. But they fought back to go on an improbable 16-0 run to take a 20-13 lead at the 12:13 mark of the half. Unfortunately for them, Xavier answered with a 36-11 run before the Tigers scored the final six points of the half to trail by 12 at the break. In the second half, the Tigers melted down a bit, and were called for three technical fouls over the span of about two minutes midway through. Perhaps one of these days, the upset will finally happen, but it was never a possibility in this one.
  2. J.P. Macura was on fire, and he let everyone know it. Macura is the guy who is easy for everyone who plays him to hate. The 6’5″ senior came out on fire, as he went 7-of-9 from the field in the first half, including 4-of-5 from three-point range in scoring 18 points in the frame. In fact, he scored all 18 during a 10-minute stretch in the middle of the half, and that spurt was the difference in the ballgame, as the Tigers were never able to really get back in the game. Macura also spent most of the half jawing at Texas Southern players and hamming it up for the Xavier fans seated across from the Musketeers’ bench. No one can say that he doesn’t have fun playing the game, and Friday’s first half performance was among the best of his successful career. He finished with a career-high 29 points on 5-of-6 shooting from behind the arc.
  3. Trevon Bluett and Kerem Kanter weren’t bad, either. Macura was the show in the first half, but all-American Trevon Bluiett had a nice game as well, as did senior center Kerem Kanter. Bluiett ended the night with a “quiet” 26 points, while Kanter added 24. Along with Macura, the three accounted for nearly 80 percent of the Musketeers’ offense. For the night, Xavier shot 55 percent, and went 11-of-24 from three-point range. Granted, it came against an outmanned Texas Southern team, but for Xavier to go deep in this Tournament, it will need more performances like this from its big three going forward.

Player of the Game. J.P. Macura, Xavier. The first half run was all the Musketeers needed to make a Texas Southern upset an impossibility and Macura was the catalyst for that surge. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Nevada 87, #10 Texas 83 (OT)

Posted by David Changas on March 16th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. David Changas (@dchangas) is in Nashville this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Nevada Wolf Pack forward Caleb Martin (10) reacts with the bench during the second half against the Texas Longhorns in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at Bridgestone Arena. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Big shot Caleb. Nevada’s Caleb Martin went 2-of-10 from three-point range and looked like he was trying to draw contact on nearly every shot he took from deep in the second half. But he never stopped firing, and after the Wolf Pack went down by four on a four-point play from Kerwin Roach, Martin hit back-to-back threes to put his team in control for what would turn out to be for good. The NC State transfer is a 40 percent shooter from three-point range, so it is not surprising that coach Eric Musselman let him keep shooting. Still, for the senior guard to overcome a rough first 40 minutes is a big reason Nevada moves on to Round Two, and Martin’s recovery was symbolic of the entire team’s effort. After shooting only 39.3 percent in the first half, the Wolf Pack hit 51 percent of their second half shots on their way to scoring 61 combined points in the second half and overtime.
  2. Nevada overcomes an enormous day from Texas’s backcourt. Kerwin Roach and Matt Coleman, neither of whom has been particularly efficient from behind the arc this season, were great from deep today, combining to go 10-of-15 from three-point range while scoring 26 and 25 points, respectively. That type of output ordinarily would – and Shaka Smart would argue should have today – result in a Texas win. But Texas’ big men struggled to take advantage of a number of good looks inside, and the heroic efforts of Roach and Coleman were not enough to carry the Longhorns into the Second Round.
  3. Nevada’s balance and ball security was too much for Texas. The Wolf Pack had five players score in double figures, with Kendall Stephens leading the way with 22 points. Given that four of those players average double figures, their output was not surprising. That balance is what got Nevada to the Mountain West regular season championship. In addition, Nevada, which takes care of the ball better than any team in the country, did a fantastic job of doing that in what was a fast-paced second half. It offset the 42-34 rebounding advantage the Longhorns enjoyed in game.

Player of the Game. Caleb Martin, Nevada. There are plenty of options here, but despite the lackluster shooting effort for most of the game, the Wolf Pack would not be headed to the second round without the late-game heroics of Martin. He also had 10 rebounds on a day when his team struggled on the glass. It was only his second double-double of the season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reaction: #2 Cincinnati 68 #15 Georgia State 53

Posted by David Changas on March 16th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. David Changas (@dchangas) is in Nashville this weekend.

 Three Key Takeaways.

Jarron Cumberland carried the Bearcats early in Friday’s win over Georgia State (Sam Greene/Cincinnati.com)

  1. Cincinnati won this game on the glass. Save for Jarron Cumberland, the Bearcats struggled to shoot the ball this afternoon. Coming into the game, we knew Cincinnati would have a major advantage on the boards, ranking third in the nation in offensive rebounding (38.1%) versus a Panthers group ranked 314th in that metric. The nightmare scenario for Georgia State played out accordingly, as the Bearcats outrebounded Georgia State by 20, including a whopping 20 offensive boards. Those numbers allowed Cincinnati to win a game in which it shot 38.1 percent from the field, including 30 percent from behind the arc.
  2. Georgia State was cold from behind the arc. The Panthers came into the game ranked 27th nationally in three-point shooting, at 38.1 percent. On Friday afternoon, though, they were not able to get untracked from behind the arc, hitting only eight of their 27 tries (29.6%). If the Panthers were going to have any chance of winning this game, they needed to get more done from deep-range. Unfortunately for coach Ron Hunter, his team could was facing one of the country’s best defensive teams. While Georgia State did what was necessary defensively to stay in the game, his team needed to make more long-range shots to have a realistic chance at the #15 over #2 upset.
  3. D’Marcus Simonds makes a name for himself. The 6’3″ Georgia State sophomore guard came out blazing today, scoring the Panthers’ first 16 points of the game. While he cooled off considerably over the remainder and finished his day with just 24 points, he certainly showed he belonged on the big stage. After the game, Hunter called Simonds a first-round NBA Draft pick, and said that he “knows” Simonds is the best player in the state of Georgia. The Panthers are a young, athletic team, and with Simonds and several others expected to return next year, they should be the favorite to return to the NCAA Tournament from the Sun Belt.

Player of the Game.  Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati. With the Bearcats in a complete offensive funk for most of the first half, Cumberland kept them in the game before they were able to take a lead late in the half and extend it to five at the break. He scored a game-high 27 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end. “He was awesome today,” said coach Mick Cronin.

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SEC Burning Questions: NCAA Tournament Edition

Posted by David Changas on March 14th, 2018

The SEC has more teams in the NCAA Tournament than it ever has before, and big things are expected this postseason after placing three teams in the Elite Eight and South Carolina in the Final Four a year ago. Let’s look at a few of the burning questions facing the league on the eve of the Big Dance.

The pressure is on Billy Kennedy and Texas A&M this postseason. (CBS Sports)

  • Which SEC team has the best chance to go the deepest? This is a tough one, as there are no obvious candidates to make it to the Final Four despite the SEC placing eight teams into the field. In fact, none of the group has an easy path, assuming seeding holds, beyond the Sweet Sixteen. Kentucky is playing well but a very tough draw will likely require the Wildcats to beat Arizona to get out of Boise. Tennessee and Auburn have reasonable paths to advance from the first weekend but would need to likely beat Cincinnati and Kansas, respectively, to advance beyond that point. And even though Florida has been wildly inconsistent all season long, the Gators have enough shot-makers and experience to reach the Elite Eight for the second straight year (and six of the last eight).
  • Which SEC player will break out and make a national name for himself? Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield has been on fire recently as the most consistent offensive performer on his team, using his versatile and unique offensive game to lead the Volunteers in three-pointers made while shooting a healthy 39.5 percent from behind the arc. Because of his ability to both draw defenders away from the basket while getting good looks inside, he is an extremely difficult match-up for nearly any opponent in the field. If the Volunteers can make it out of Dallas this weekend, the rest of the country will get to see what the SEC has known for the last two months — that Schofield is worthy of his selection to various all-SEC teams.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: SEC Teams

Posted by David Changas on March 11th, 2018

For the first time ever, the SEC has placed eight teams into the NCAA Tournament field. Here are some quick impressions of the draws each of those teams received.

Tennessee

Admiral Schofield has been a beast for Tennessee down the stretch. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

  • Seed: #3, South
  • Quick First Round Preview: The Volunteers draw Horizon League champion Wright State. The Raiders are solid defensively, ranking 53rd nationally in defense, per KenPom, but struggle mightily on the offensive end (#248). Tennessee needs to get guard Jordan Bowden going, but the Vols should be able to take care of business here.
  • Intriguing Potential Matchup: Texas in the Sweet Sixteen. Sure, the Longhorns would have to upset both Nevada and Cincinnati to get to the regionals, but who wouldn’t want to see Rick Barnes take on the school he led to 16 NCAA Touranment bids in 17 seasons.
  • Final Word: The Volunteers need to be more efficient offensively, especially inside the arc, but they are a threat to make a deep run as they rarely play themselves out of games.

Auburn

  • Seed: #4, Midwest
  • Quick First Round Preview: The Tigers open with College of Charleston and should be able to exploit the Cougars’ shoddy three-point defense to find immediate success.
  • Intriguing Potential Matchup: Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen. Bruce Pearl had his fair share of success at Tennessee against Bill Self, and if the Tigers can right the shaky ship to make it to the second weekend, they could be dangerous upon arrival.
  • Final Word: Auburn has struggled mightily on the offensive end down the stretch, and may have run out of gas this season. An early exit from the SEC Tournament this weekend might have been a blessing in disguise.

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SEC Tournament Storylines

Posted by David Changas on March 8th, 2018

With the play-in round now complete, the SEC Tournament will begins in earnest this afternoon in St. Louis. The story that is dominating the headlines for the event is the return of Missouri freshman star Michael Porter, Jr., who is expected to play against Georgia today. Let’s take a look at a few of the other lingering storylines and make a couple of predictions for this weekend.

Mike White and Florida have gotten hot at the right time and may be the team to beat in St. Louis (Madison.com)

  • Team with the Most to Gain: Alabama. The SEC bubble appears to be generally settled, with one notable exception. Alabama has slumped down the stretch, losing its final five games to go from a relatively safe bet to potentially on the outside looking in. If Avery Johnson’s team cannot get past Texas A&M later today in a rematch of a game the Crimson Tide lost by two over the weekend, they are likely headed to the NIT. On the other hand, a win against the Aggies would give the Tide another shot at a quality win against Auburn in Friday’s quarterfinals. If they turn out to be unable to emerge from this weekend’s tournament with an enhanced resume and end up completely missing the NCAA Tournament, this season will be nothing short of a monumental disappointment.
  • Player to Watch: Michael Porter, Jr. This is an easy call. No one realistically expected the preseason All-American to return after suffering an injury in Missouri’s very first game of the season, but now he is set to enhance a team looking to immediately improve its postseason position. Porter can help a team that has enjoyed a nice turnaround under first-year head coach Cuonzo Martin, finishing 10-8 in SEC play. The more action the young forward can get as Missouri prepares for the Big Dance, the better — returning from a nearly four-month layoff is never easy. The fact that he returns to the Tigers’ lineup with the SEC Tournament being played just down the road in St. Louis makes this story all the more intriguing.

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Despite Thin Resume, Mississippi State Makes Late NCAA Push

Posted by David Changas on February 27th, 2018

With the regular season nearing its end, there is little drama remaining when it comes to the SEC bubble. Barring something unforeseen – and we are not referring to the FBI here, just surprises of the on-court variety – the league will get at least eight teams into the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. Alabama has not helped itself with three recent straight losses, but the Crimson Tide remain solidly in the field in most projections and will almost certainly lock up a bid with a victory this week over Florida or Texas A&M. The only other SEC club with any real drama surrounding it is Mississippi State. Although the Bulldogs played a non-conference schedule that could accurately be described as embarrassing, they still have hope of securing a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Ben Howland’s team sits at 21-8 overall (9-7 SEC) and currently holds the tiebreaker in a four-way logjam for third place. If they hold that position in the standings, they would receive a double-bye into quarterfinal (Friday) action in the upcoming SEC Tournament.

Ben Howland hopes Mississippi State can overcome his soft scheduling (David Blair, Icon Sportswire)

Despite holding a resume with no wins of consequence prior to the start of conference play – a victory over #122 RPI Dayton is the best – Mississippi State still has a realistic chance to reach the Big Dance. The Bulldogs own four wins over RPI top-50 teams, counterbalanced by 10 over teams ranked below #150. Nonetheless, a strong late push in SEC play has at least elevated them into Joe Lunardi’s First Four Out, and they have an enormous opportunity to improve their position this evening with Tennessee coming to town. If Howland’s group can handle the Volunteers in Starkville and close out the regular season with another win at LSU, they will position themselves to earn an NCAA bid at the SEC Tournament in St. Louis next week.

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