Rushed Reactions: #13 La Salle 80, #13 Boise State 71

Posted by IRenko on March 20th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Dayton after Wednesday’s play-in game between La Salle and Boise State. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Three Key Takeaways:

Boise

Boise and La Salle Finished Off the First Four

  1. La Salle Executed Its Offense to Perfection – The Explorers feature a four-guard attack that runs something of a dribble-drive offense. They try to space the floor, drive, kick, and reverse the ball until they get a good shot, either off the dribble in the lane or from behind the three-point arc, where they shoot a healthy 37.1 percent. Tonight they executed this approach perfectly, scoring repeatedly on dribble-drives or threes off of kick outs and ball reversals. They shot 62 percent from the field and 51 percent from the three-point line. It was a highly impressive offensive performance that likely had Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber squirming in his seat.
  2. Drmic Didn’t Get Any Help — For much of the game, Boise State’s Anthony Drmic was almost single-handedly carrying the offense. The sophomore swingman finished with 28 points on 9-of-17 shooting (5-of-10 from three-point range). Derrick Marks, who averages 16.3 points per game, had just two points through the first 30 minutes of action. Marks heated up late, but by then, the Broncos were in a double-digit hole that was too steep to climb out of.
  3. La Salle Knows How to Take Care of the Ball — At various points, in an effort to slow down La Salle’s explosive offense, Boise State started applying some ball pressure, picking up three-quarter court and aggressively guarding the perimeter. It made little difference. La Salle’s experienced backcourt takes excellent care of the ball. Their turnover rate on the year is a low 17.3 percent, and they committed just 10 miscues tonight. Remember, this is a team that beat VCU and its vaunted Havoc defense on the road by eight points. They’re not easily rattled.

Star of the Game:  Junior guard Tyrone Garland may be one of the most underappreciated sixth men in the country. The Virginia Tech transfer is a whirling dervish who is a key cog in La Salle’s dribble drive attack. He never hesitates to show you what he can do off the bounce, dazzling on half-court drives and full-court breaks. He finished tonight with a team-high 22 points on an outstanding 9-of-11 field goal shooting. He added three assists and though he typically struggles with his outside shot (26.6 percent three-point shooter), he hit half of his three-point attempts tonight (2-of-4).

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Rushed Reactions: #16 James Madison 68, #16 Long Island 55

Posted by IRenko on March 20th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Dayton after Wednesday’s play-in game between Long Island and James Madison. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Three Key Takeaways:

LIU Was Never Able to Get Its Offense Going Tonight (credit: G. Shamus/Getty)

LIU Was Never Able to Get Its Offense Going Tonight (credit: G. Shamus/Getty)

  1. JMU Won the Tempo Battle – Long Island likes to play at a breakneck pace, ranking in the top 30 in the country in tempo and routinely scoring in the 80s or 90s. At yesterday’s pregame press conference, James Madison coach Matt Brady emphasized the importance of slowing the game, and the Dukes largely succeeded. LIU scored just 55 points, its lowest total of the season, and the game ended with about 60 possessions per team, also quite low by LIU’s standards. And though the Blackbirds managed to get out on the break here and there, JMU was almost as effective in transition, particularly during a critical 9-0 second half run when they erased LIU’s only lead of the game with four straight transition buckets.
  2. No Rayshawn, No Matter – JMU’s leading scorer, forward Rayshawn Goins, was suspended for the first half tonight, the fallout of a Sunday evening arrest that put a damper on the Dukes’ otherwise exciting Selection Sunday. The odd half-game suspension and the effect on the team was a major pre-game storyline, but proved to be largely irrelevant. JMU more than compensated for Goins’ absence in the first half with its stellar shooting, and in the second half, Goins’ contributions were marginal. Though he pulled down eight rebounds, he struggled to score and looked out of sync on offense for much of the half. He finished with just four points.
  3. LIU Couldn’t Find the Right Defensive Formula — Though Long Island scores a lot of points, they also give up a lot of points. They don’t stop shots, they don’t force turnovers, and they don’t rebound well. And tonight, they just couldn’t find the right defensive formula. They alternated between man and zone defenses in the first half, but no matter what they tried, the Dukes were able to crack it with their great shooting, hitting several jump shots and knocking down 40 percent of their threes en route to a 32-31 halftime lead. In the second half, the Blackbirds relied primarily on a zone, and while the Dukes’ outside shooting cooled a bit, they held their lead by dominating the glass, rebounding 55.5 percent of their own misses. At the end of the day, it’s tough to win an NCAA Tournament game with a defense ranked outside the top 300.

Star of the Game:  After averaging 15.9 points per game last year, JMU senior guard A.J. Davis struggled to find consistency for much of this season. He scored in double figures in just nine of his first 25 games, but since then, he’s hit double digits nine straight times. His offensive resurgence continued tonight, as he led the Dukes with 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-10 from three-point range. Davis also stuffed the stat sheet with five rebounds, three assists, two steals, and a block.

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The Other 26: Bracket-Busting, East and Midwest Edition

Posted by IRenko on March 20th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC columnist and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

This is part two of our TO26 bracket analysis, focusing on the 17 non-power-conference teams that populate the East and Midwest regions. The teams are grouped into five rough categories, and, within each category, they are ordered by their likelihood of advancing.  For our analysis of the South and West regions, see here.

Regional Threats

These are the teams that have a credible chance of dancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.

  • St. Louis (#4 Midwest) — The Bilikens are flying a bit under the radar, but this is a team that should be a favorite for a Sweet 16 run. They have one of the best defenses in the country, a group of experienced guards who can attack and shoot (Kwamain Mitchell, Mike McCall, Jordair Jett), a surprisingly effective post presence in Dwayne Evans, and a pair of pick-‘n-pop big men (Rob Loe, Cody Ellis) who can drain the three. It should be said, though, that the Bilikens’ draw is not necessarily ideal. A first-round game against New Mexico State presents some matchup quandaries (see below), as does a potential Third Round game against Oklahoma State — both teams are prepared to bang and grind with the Bilikens down low. Ultimately, I think the St. Louis’ defense is strong enough to get them to the Sweet 16, where their steady guard play gives them a non-trivial chance of knocking off the Cards.
Can Rotnei Clarke Lead Butler Back to the Final Four?

Can Rotnei Clarke Lead Butler Back to the Final Four?

  • Butler (#6, East) — Yes, they’re back. Neither Bucknell nor their potential Third Round opponent (Marquette or Davidson) will be an easy team to conquer, but all three of these teams will give Butler an important reprieve from its biggest vulnerability — a tendency to turn it over. Bucknell and Marquette will also play at the kind of grinding pace at which the Bulldogs excel. And they’ll focus their offense on the areas of the floor where Butler’s defense is strongest — the paint. Butler also has the shooters — Rotnei Clark, Kellen Dunham — to bombard Marquette’s compact defense and the rebounders to exploit Marquette’s weakness on the glass. If anything, Bucknell may pose a bigger matchup problem, as they tend to chase teams off the three-point line and they don’t give up much on the offensive glass. The Bison will be a tough opponent, but when you look at Butler’s pod as a whole, a Sweet 16 run looks well within reach.

One and Done

These teams have at least a 50/50 (or better) chance of picking up a win, but are unlikely to get two.

  • Colorado State (#8, Midwest) – I would actually bump the Rams up to the tail end of the “Regional Threats” group if not for the uncertain status of starting point guard Dorian Green. The team’s unquestioned floor general, Green suffered an ankle injury in the first round of the MWC tournament, and though he played in a semifinal loss to UNLV, was ineffective. With a fully healthy Green, the Rams’ have a good chance of toppling Missouri. The two teams are somewhat similar in that they try to score in the paint on offense, while keeping opponents out of the paint of it on defense. Neither team is especially potent from the three-point line, and both rely a fair amount on offensive rebounding, though the Rams’ have the advantage here, especially as they are equally adept at controlling their defensive glass. That, along with Missouri’s tendency to be a bit loose with the ball, may be the difference-maker. And don’t sleep on Colorado State’s chances against Louisville in the next round. The Cardinals’ weak points are defensive rebounding and three-point shooting. The Rams are the best offensive rebounding team in the country, and as noted above, their defense forces teams to beat them from the three-point line. They also take pretty good care of the ball, which will serve them well against Louisville’s pressure defense. But this analysis could be all for naught if Green isn’t healthy enough to be effective.
  • Creighton (#7, Midwest) Doug McDermott is perhaps the most fundamentally sound player in college basketball. His All-American status owes itself to his incredibly precise offensive footwork, positioning, movement, shot, and cuts. He has inside-outside skills that present a very tough matchup if you’re not used to guarding him. And he’s surrounded by lots of great three-point shooters. Cincinnati’s defense has generally been strong, so they might be able to contain McDermott and the Bluejays’ three-point attack. But they’ll have to be especially effective because their offense has been truly miserable. I like the Bluejays’ chances here. A Third Round matchup with Duke would be a tougher proposition, as the Blue Devils combine a defense that shuts down the three-point line with an offense that is far more high-powered than Cincinnati’s. McDermott may well get his points, especially posting up inside, but that’s not likely to be sufficient.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Saint Mary’s 67, #11 Middle Tennessee State 54

Posted by IRenko on March 19th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Dayton after Tuesday’s play-in game between Saint Mary’s and Middle Tennessee State. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Steve Holt

Steve Holt and the Gaels Move On to the Round of 64

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Same as They Ever Were – Despite manning the mid-major beat for RTC, I’ve spent a good part of the season overlooking Saint Mary’s in favor of newer, fresher flavors of the month… like Middle Tennessee State. For much of the year, the Gaels’ schedule (three games against the number one team in the country plus a litany of wins over a litany of unaccomplished teams) provided little clarity on their quality. Only when they toppled Creighton in the Bracketbuster game did I really sit up and notice. And tonight, they made clear that I should’ve been paying attention all along. It was an impressive performance, and one that the Gaels may well repeat against Memphis in a couple days.
  2. Beating MTSU At Its Own Game — Through the first 10 minutes, it looked like MTSU would have the edge, as they imposed their bruising, physical style of play on Saint Mary’s. But the Gaels adapted, ultimately beating Middle Tennessee at its own game. They clamped down on defense and patiently exploited opportunities on offense. Saint Mary’s seemed to gain a certain confidence after the initial adjustment period. They closed the first half with an 11-2 run, taking a 29-20 lead into the break. They went on to a relatively comfortable win, never leading by fewer than three points in the second half.
  3. There Were No Easy Points for the Blue Raiders — Through the first 25 minutes of the game, MTSU had taken just two free throws and scored just two points in transition. These are deadly numbers for a team struggling to score in the rhythm of the half-court offense. The Blue Raiders  managed to bolster their transition game later in the second half, adding seven more points on the break, but they remained unable to get to the free throw line, ending the game with just seven free throw attempts. MTSU typically scores more than 22 percent of its points from the charity stripe, but tonight, they scored just 11 percent of their points from the line.

Star of the Game:  Matthew Dellavedova is the centerpiece of the Gaels’ offense in a way that few NCAA Tournament-quality point guards are. That brings a tremendous amount of pressure, particularly when facing a team with a cadre of physical, defensive-minded guards. But the Aussie veteran took it all in stride, never getting rattled even when his teammates seemed to be early in the game. His calm and composure set the tone for the Gaels, and his abilities as a ball-handler, scorer, and passer fueled their offense. Dellavedova finished with 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting (including 5-of-7 from 3-point range, breaking a 1-of-18 shooting slump), six rebounds, and four assists. And that doesn’t count all the other baskets he created with his penetration, where his pass led to the assist that led to the score.

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Rushed Reactions: #16 North Carolina A&T 73, #16 Liberty 72

Posted by IRenko on March 19th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Dayton after Tuesday’s play-in game between North Carolina A&T and Liberty. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Three Key Takeaways:

Game One of 67 Came Down to the Final Play (photo credit: NCAA)

Game One of 67 Came Down to the Final Play (photo credit: NCAA)

  1. The Madness Is Here – A thrilling finish to this game made for a thrilling start to the NCAA Tournament. Down 73-67 with under two minutes to play, Liberty scored five straight points, and NC A&T missed two front ends to give the Flames a chance at a last second winner. But point guard John Caleb Sanders’ drive to the basket resulted in a wild, off-target shot attempt that clinched the win — just barely — for the Aggies. March Madness has arrived.
  2. NC A&T’s Supporting Cast Found The Team’s Offense – Coming into the game, NC A&T was shooting 39.9 percent from the field and 29.9 percent from three-point range. Their adjusted offensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy, ranked them 317th in the nation. But on the strength of some unlikely contributions, the Aggies managed to shoot 52 percent from the field and 44 percent from three-point range. Adrian Powell, Lamont Middleton, and Jean Louisme led the Aggies in field goal attempts on the year, but it was a different threesome that led the attack tonight. Backup guard Jeremy Underwood (19 points), center Bruce Beckford (16 points), and forward Austin Witter (eight points) combined to shoot 17-of-22 from the field, including 4-of-6 from three-point range.
  3. Liberty Handled the Pressure and Hit Their Threes, But It Wasn’t Enough – Coming into the game, the Flames had two main offensive tasks: take care of the ball against the Aggies’ aggressive pressure, and take advantage of the Aggies’ ball-oriented defense to bombard them from the three-point line. Well, they managed both. While they were pressed into some inopportune turnovers, they coughed it up a total of 10 times, for a strong turnover rate of less than 16 percent. And they shot 10-of-23 from three-point range. But it wasn’t enough. In the end, the Flames’ 303rd ranked defense was their undoing.

Star of the Game:  Junior guard Jeremy Underwood ranks seventh on the Aggies in field goal attempts, but he took center stage tonight. Coming off the bench to replace an ineffective Jean Louisme, Underwood scored 19 points on a perfect 6-of-6 field goal shooting and 5-of-6 from the free throw line. After giving the Aggies a big boost with two big first-half threes, his effective dribble penetration and composure in the second half were the key to the Aggies’ offense. Underwood also had what may have been the game’s most impressive and most important play. With under 5:30 to play in the second half, and Liberty within four points, Underwood converted a conventional three-point play on an off-balance jump shot to push the Aggies’ lead to 68-61.

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The Other 26: Bracket-Busting, South and West Edition

Posted by IRenko on March 19th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC columnist and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Oh, well. What’s a royal ball? After all, I suppose it would be frightfully dull, and-and-and boring, and-and completely… Completely wonderful. – Cinderella

It’s time for college basketball’s annual ball, which means it’s time for America to fall in love with Cinderella all over again. There are 36 teams from the 26 non-power-conferences who have been invited to this year’s Big Dance, and while the slipper no longer fits for some of the more prominent of these schools, for the bulk of them, this is a rare opportunity to make a name for themselves on the grandest of stages.

This is the first of a two-part series taking a look at the NCAA Tournament prospects for all 36 teams hailing from The Other 26. We focus today on the TO26 teams in the South and West regions, grouping them into five rough categories, and, within each category, ordering them by their likelihood of advancing.

Regional Threats

These are the teams that have a credible chance of dancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.

Can Kelly Olynyk Lead the Zags to Their First Final Four?

Can Kelly Olynyk Lead the Zags to Their First Final Four?

  • Gonzaga (#1, West) — It’s been five years since a TO26 team reached the top seed line. In 2008, Memphis rode its #1 seed all the way to the brink of a national championship, and Zags fans are hoping for the same — and perhaps more — this year. Gonzaga has no glaring weaknesses. They are led by an athletic, skilled frontcourt, the centerpiece of which is NPOY candidate Kelly Olynyk. They get steady guard play from Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, and David Stockton. If they’re to run into any trouble, it will likely be against a team that (1) sports a strong, athletic interior defense that can contain Olynyk, Elias Harris, and Sam Dower and pound the glass, and (2) can hit the three-point shot consistently, as Illinois did in beating them (Gonzaga’s defense allows a lot of three-point attempts). There are a fair number of teams that meet the first criteria in the West bracket, but not many with a lot offensive firepower from the three-point line or otherwise. In short, this is as good a shot as Gonzaga has ever had to make the Final Four. The eyes of the nation will be watching to see if they can make good on their promise.
  • Virginia Commonwealth (#5, South) – VCU is a popular sleeper pick for the Final Four, and there’s some merit to that notion, but here is the most important thing you need to know about them: They are 25-2 on the year (and 14-0 in A-10 play) against teams with a turnover rate over 18 percent. And they are 1-6 (and 0-5 in A-10 play) against teams with a turnover rate under 18 percent. The Rams’ first-round opponent, Akron, falls squarely in the former camp (20.8 percent), a problem for the Zips that will be exacerbated by the absence of their legally-troubled starting point guard, Alex Abreu. After that, things get a bit trickier for the Rams. Their two potential Third Round opponents, Michigan and South Dakota State, rank in the top 10 in the country in turnover rate. Those stats are perhaps somewhat inflated by the fact that both teams play in conferences that don’t feature a lot of pressure defenses, but if you’re looking for a point guard to lead you against such a defense, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than Trey Burke or Nate Wolters. It’s true that Michigan has struggled lately in general, and that if you look ahead to a potential match-up with Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen, Havoc’s odds of success improve, but I’d caution against over-exuberance at the Rams’ chances given a potentially dicey Third Round contest.

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Rushed Reactions: #5 Georgetown 61, #17 Syracuse 39

Posted by IRenko on March 9th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent based in D.C. and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. He filed this report after Saturday’s game between Georgetown and Syracuse. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Three Key Takeaways:

  • “Kiss Syracuse Goodbye” — Georgetown vs. Syracuse is always a high-intensity battle, but this last Big East regular season game between the two carried an unusual amount of emotional weight. The game has captivated D.C.’s attention all week, and today’s crowd of 20,972 was the largest in the history of college basketball in the D.C. metropolitan area. The building was electric from start to finish, never moreso than when the Hoyas’ sealed the 22-point beatdown. The win undoubtedly propelled Hoyas’ fans into a state of mass euphoria, perhaps unlike anything they’ve ever felt after a regular season win. They not only secured a share of the Big East title but completed an epic season sweep of their hated rival, giving them a swift kick in the butt as they head out the Big East door to the ACC. This storied rivalry began in earnest 35 years ago when John Thompson, Jr. famously declared that “Manley Fieldhouse is officially closed,” after snapping Syracuse’s 57-game home winning streak in their last contest before moving to the Carrier Dome. Today, Thompson, Jr., bookended that moment after the game, offering one final quip from the back of his son’s press conference: “Kiss Syracuse goodbye.”
Otto Porter Led the Hoyas to a Special Win (TheDaily.com)

Otto Porter Led the Hoyas to a Special Win (TheDaily.com)

  • You Can’t Stop Him, You Can Only Hope to Contain Him — Coming into the game, all eyes were on Otto Porter. The Hoyas’ star has leaped into contention for National Player of the Year honors after carrying the Hoyas to 11 straight victories, a stretch that included an epic 33-point performance in a win at Syracuse. In the first half, the Orange gave Porter little room in their zone and doubled him when he got the ball, as he often did, near the elbow. As a result, Porter scored just two first-half points. But demonstrating his high basketball IQ and versatility, he was happy to pass the scoring load — literally — as he notched seven assists, tying his career high, including four in the first half. Syracuse’s grip on him loosened a bit in the second half, and Porter was able to finish with a total of 10 points. His quarterbacking of the offense from the center of Syracuse’s zone, including textbook free throw line jumpers, high-low feeds, and more, showed just why he has become such a strong candidate for NPOY honors.
  • Georgetown’s Defense Won The Game — Porter gets the well-deserved headlines, but what has made this Georgetown team a Big East champion is its lockdown team defense, which stifles opponents with a mix of zone and man looks. The Hoyas completely shut down the Orange’s three leading scorers — Brandon Triche, James Southerland, and C.J. Fair — holding them to 12 total points on a combined 4-of-27 field goal shooting. And although Michael Carter-Williams scored 17 points, the Hoyas harassed him into five turnovers. Almost every one of the 39 points that Syracuse did manage to score was hard-fought and contested. The Orange got some offensive traction when they pounded it down low to Rakeem Christmas, but it was not enough to overcome an otherwise stifling defensive effort from the Hoyas.

Star(s) of the Game: It would be cliché to use this space to note that Porter was the most important player on the floor for his leadership on both ends, so let’s talk instead about the outstanding play of Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. The diminutive guards picked up the slack for Porter’s reduced scoring output, powering the Hoyas with 19 and 15 points apiece on a combined 13-of-26 field goal shooting, including 8-of-16 from three-point range. They also added five assists apiece and wreaked havoc on the defensive end, with each of them grabbing three steals and helping to force Syracuse into a turnover on more than 24 percent of its possessions.

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The Other 26: Five Intriguing Championship Week Storylines

Posted by IRenko on March 9th, 2013

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

With regular season action having wound down, we’ll dispense with our standard format this week in favor of a streamlined focus on five key Championship Week storylines, along with, as always, our updated top 10 rankings.  I joined the RTC Podblast crew on Wednesday for a full-fledged preview of TO26 conference tournament action, talking about the most exciting tournaments, the most anticipated matchups, potential bid stealers, and more. Rather than repeat myself, I’ll refer you to the sweet, dulcet sounds of my voice for more on those big picture topics, and instead offer five less obvious storylines to follow. 

Will Kendall Williams Lead the Lobos to a Number 2 Seed? (Maria Brose / Albuquerque Journal)

Will Kendall Williams Lead the Lobos to a Number 2 Seed? (Maria Brose / Albuquerque Journal)

  1. Will Cinderella Show up Early? — If you love to cheer on Cinderella squads as they try to knock off highly-seeded favorites, there’s no need to wait for the Big Dance. The conference tournaments comprise more than two dozen Little Dances, in which a Cinderella run is as likely as it is later in March. Last year, Western Kentucky managed to snare the Sun Belt’s automatic bid, despite entering the postseason tournament with a #7 seed and an 11-18 record. Can anyone manage the feat this year? Already, we have a great underdog story brewing in the WCC, where Loyola Marymount, which went 1-15 in regular season conference play, has won two tournament games to secure a semifinal berth. It will take a true miracle to overcome their next obstacle — the number one team in the country, Gonzaga — but miracles are what March is for.
  2. Can New Mexico Secure a #2 Seed? – Gonzaga appears poised to plant the TO26 banner on the top seed line, but is it possible that another TO26 team could find itself just one line down? Our latest bracketology hands the Lobos a #2 seed, though many other projections predict a #3 seed. A run through the MW Tournament — on the heels of a two-loss regular season in what is the conference’s deepest, most competitive year in memory — would, one would hope, be enough to give the Lobos their highest seed in school history (they twice notched a #3 seed, including in 2010). And it would be the first time that two TO26 squads landed two of the top eight seeds since 2004, when St. Joseph’s and Gonzaga each managed the feat.
  3. Will Akron Regroup? — A week ago, Akron was riding a 19-game winning streak, was undefeated in MAC play, and was two games clear of Ohio in the East Division standings with three games left. The Zips fell last Saturday in a surprising 81-67 loss to Buffalo, in which they were torched by Javon McCrea for 28 points. But that was a mere bump in the road compared to what happened next. On Thursday, it was announced that junior point guard Alex Abreu had been indefinitely suspended after being arrested on felony charges of marijuana trafficking, and in their first game without him last night, the Zips fell at home to Kent State, 66-61. Worse than blowing their lead atop the East Division (if Ohio wins Saturday, the teams will end the regular season tied), the Zips are now limping into the postseason with little chance of an at-large bid and needing to win three straight MAC tournament games without Abreu to make good on their once-promising March prospects. How important is Abreu to this team? He’s third in scoring, at 10.3 points per game, and shoots a team-leading 39.4 percent from three-point range. But more than that, he is the facilitator that makes Akron’s offense go, notching six assists per game, for which he ranks in the top 20 nationally. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #23 North Carolina 79, Maryland 68

Posted by IRenko on March 6th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent based in D.C. and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between North Carolina and Maryland. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Three Key Takeaways:

  • One Team is Dancing, and the Other Is (Probably) Not — This was UNC’s sixth straight win and clinched a share of third place in the ACC. The Tar Heels’ recent run, which includes victories over Virginia and NC State, has solidified their hold on an at-large bid. A win over Duke on Saturday would leave no doubt, but even a loss followed by another in the first round of the ACC Tournament should not jeopardize their at-large hopes. Maryland, on the other hand, is headed in the opposite direction. The Terps badly needed this win after recent losses at Boston College and Georgia Tech. Without it, they’ll probably need to beat Virginia on Saturday and make a deep run in the ACC Tournament to have a shot.
  • McAdoo  vs. Len Disappoints — The marquee match-up coming into the game was the battle between big men James Michael McAdoo and Alex Len, but it proved to be a disappointment. Len excited the crowd with some putbacks, but both players looked tentative and ineffective trying to create offense. McAdoo finished with 10 points and two rebounds. Len added just eight points. To some extent, the letdown was a microcosm for their seasons. Both players entered the year with high expectations — perhaps unfairly high — that they haven’t quite matched. McAdoo was in early National Player of the Year conversations, but has drifted well out of the NPOY race as well as NBA Draft lottery projections. Len remains a projected lottery pick, but he has struggled down the stretch, scoring in single digits in seven of last 11 games (after scoring in double digits in 15 of his first 18 games). I don’t pretend to be a draft expert, but one has to wonder if we may see both of these guys back in college uniforms come November.
P.J. Hairston's Aggressiveness and Physicality Helped he Tarheels to the Win in a Hostile Environment (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

P.J. Hairston’s Aggressiveness and Physicality Helped he Tarheels to the Win in a Hostile Environment (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

  • Maryland’s Shooting Woes Continue – UNC offered a great chance for Maryland to break out of its outside shooting slump, as the Tar Heels’ defense is vulnerable to the three-point shot. And, sure enough, the Terps had plenty of good looks, particularly off post kickouts and ball reversals. But they couldn’t capitalize, shooting an ugly 3-of-23 from behind the arc. They are now shooting 17.9 percent from three over their last three games and 27.3 percent over their past six. The Terps tried to compensate for their woeful shooting against UNC by pounding the offensive glass and attacking the paint. They were effective, outscoring the Heels in the paint, 38-16, and on second-chance points, 20-11. But they still lost the game by 11 points, thanks to their disastrous night from outside.

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Rushed Reactions: #18 Saint Louis 66, George Washington 58

Posted by IRenko on March 2nd, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent based in D.C. and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between Saint Louis and George Washington. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Three key takeaways:

  • Saint Louis is Tough In More Ways Than One – The Bilikens have strong guards and wings who force their way to the basket, they body up their opponent on defense, and they generally control their defensive glass. But more than that, they’re mentally tough. That should be obvious, given the season they’ve put together after losing Rick Majerus in December. But they’ve shown it on the court in their past two road games as well, both times trailing in the second-half before mounting a rally to take control, first against Butler and today at GW. After leading by eight early in the second half, they fell behind 48-45 with 7:12 to play. But they didn’t panic, instead reeling off 10 straight points to take a seven-point lead with 4:20 left, from which point they glided to victory. The Bilikens carry themselves with a quiet confidence that will serve them well in March.
  • The Bilikens Know How To Beat You From the Line – One reason that Saint Louis is so tough at the end of games is their ability to get to the free throw line. That was all the difference in this game, as they converted 21-of-24, including a perfect 8-of-8 during the crucial 10-0 run that decided the game. GW, meanwhile, managed to shoot just 8-of-15 from the charity stripe. As a result, although the Colonials shot a better field goal percentage in the second half, they were outscored by two points. The Bilikens’ tendency to pound the ball inside and draw contact gives them a particular advantage late in games when they can get into the bonus.
  • Kevin Larsen Could be a Contender – If Mike Lonergan is going to take GW back to the NCAA Tournament in the coming years, Larsen is going to be a big part of it. The freshman center from Copenhagen has a big body, good offensive skills, and an understanding of how to play within the team concept. He’s often struggled to put it all together on the court, but there is no doubt that he’s getting there. After setting a career-high at Richmond in his last game (16 points), he added 14 against Saint Louis and has now scored in double-digits in 7 of his last 10 games. Larsen does a nice job of establishing position in the post, has good footwork, and often clears himself for a good look. If he can improve his ability to finish, he could be a centerpiece of GW’s offense over the next three years.
Evans Did His Part with a 22/12 Game

Evans Did His Part with a 22/12 Game

Star(s) of the Game: Dwayne Evans and Kwamain Mitchell.  Saint Louis has a balanced offense that doesn’t rely too heavily on any single player. But when the chips are down, these two are the most likely to come through, and they did today. With their team struggling against GW’s 1-3-1 zone in the second half, the pair took over, Mitchell driving the ball to the basket and Evans fighting his way to the hoop and free throw line underneath. They finished with 40 points combined, 29 of which came in the second half.

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The Other 26: Let the Madness Begin

Posted by IRenko on March 2nd, 2013

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

As the calendar turns to March, let us declare: Let the Madness begin. The NCAA Tournament is still three weeks away, but the fight to get there begins in earnest this coming week, as 12 mid-major conferences will kick off their tournaments. The Big South and Horizon League will have the honor of kicking things off on Tuesday night, with their first round tournament games. Ten more conferences will follow suit with the first auto-bids being awarded a week from today in the Atlantic Sun and Ohio Valley.

We’ll be back next week with updates on all the action, but until then, there is still the homestretch of the regular season to attend to. So let’s move on to our updated Top 10 rankings, weekly honor roll, and (regular season) games to watch this week.

Top 10

RTC -- TO26 (3.2.13)

Honor Roll

The Honor Roll is our weekly fixture highlighting the teams, players, and performances that impressed us in the past week.

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Rushed Reactions: Maryland 72, Clemson 59

Posted by IRenko on February 23rd, 2013

rushedreactions

I. Renko is an RTC correspondent based in D.C. and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between Maryland and Clemson. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Three key takeaways:

  • Maryland’s Tournament Hopes Are Alive — Last weekend’s win over Duke gave the Terps’ Tournament hopes a big boost, but a letdown loss at Boston College on Tuesday left them on the thinnest of ice. A loss to Clemson at home would have been a big blow, and it seemed a real possibility when the Tigers pulled to within a point just after halftime. But a 21-6 run gave the Terps a comfortable 16-point cushion with 11:20 to play, and from there, they eased to a comfortable 13-point win, keeping their Tournament hopes alive. While acknowledging his team’s somewhat slow start, head coach Mark Turgeon was quite happy with the Terps’ second-half performance, crediting their defense even more than their offense for enabling them to take control.
  • Maryland’s Freshman Frontcourt May Be Its Future — Sophomore Alex Len has been the focus of the media’s attention for most of the year, but Maryland’s freshmen frontcourt shows signs of being a real force for years to come. Jake Layman, Charles Mitchell, and Shaquille Cleare were averaging just 5.2, 5.5, and 4.2 points coming into today’s game, but they scored 12, 8, and 10 respectively today. More than that, they showed a certain kind of maturity and poise that belied their status as freshmen. The 6′ 8″ Layman is a swing forward with the athleticism, quickness, and shooting touch to play on the perimeter. He has been a full-time starter since late January, and the confidence and skill he displayed against Clemson show why. Mitchell and Cleare are a pair of big bodies who are still refining their post moves, but are strong finishers and rebounders who use their bulk to great effect. They added 6 and 7 boards apiece today and were a big reason Maryland was able to dominate the paint against a typically stout Clemson defense. Their physicality will suit the Terps well when they make the transition to the Big Ten.
  • Clemson’s Offense Is In A Deep Funk – The Tigers have a strong defense, as they showed in taking Miami the distance last week in a 45-43 loss. But their offense has struggled and especially badly of late. This was the fifth straight game in which they scored less than a point per possession. For a team that is likely looking forward to next season already, the news gets worse — two of their three leading scorers, Devin Booker and Milton Jennings, graduate this year. That leaves a heavy load for K.J. McDaniels, who managed seven points against Maryland, and Jordan Roper, who scored a very inefficient 13 points on 5-of-15 FG shooting.

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