Rushed Reactions: #4 North Carolina 87, #5 Arkansas 78

Posted by Matt Patton on March 21st, 2015

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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.

North Carolina Moves into the Sweet Sixteen For First Time Since 2012 (USA Today Images)

North Carolina Moves into the Sweet Sixteen For First Time Since 2012 (USA Today Images)

  1. Michael Qualls had himself a weekend. The only reason Arkansas had any shot down the stretch was because Michael Qualls was willing the team closer. Qualls finished with 27 points and 10 boards on the evening. His three-point shot wasn’t falling tonight, but that didn’t stop him from lining up jumpers. North Carolina kept him from any rim-rocking dunks, but they couldn’t keep him off the foul line. Bobby Portis also played through a rough first half to finish with 18 points and 14 boards.
  2. Arkansas played too sloppy to win. The Razorbacks finished with 21 turnovers and they shot a lousy 37 percent from the floor. One or the other would have hurt them, but the combination of both was deadly. The craziest stat was in the offensive rebounding department. Arkansas grabbed 20 and North Carolina grabbed 17 on the night, but the Tar Heels turned their rebounds into points.
  3. 48 fouls in the game; 31 fouls in the second half. Just awful for the flow of the game. Some were legitimate. Some were the two teams not adapting to the way the game was called. Some came because the game was at such a breakneck pace that the referees struggled to get in good position. North Carolina made 29 free throws and Arkansas made 22, as both teams shot around 80 percent from the line. The point is that what could have been one of the most entertaining games of the Tournament was marred somewhat by all the whistles.

Star of the Game: Marcus Paige took over the second half. He finished with 22 points, six rebounds and five steals. At the half he was only 1-of-8 from the field with two points. In the second half he started 4-of-4 from the field and 5-of-5 from the line. Whenever it looked like Arkansas might make a run, Paige would hit a big shot. He went on a personal 5-0 run midway through the second half right after Arkansas took the lead, and after that, the Tar Heels never looked back.

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Xavier 75, #14 Georgia State 67

Posted by Matt Patton on March 21st, 2015

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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.

Jalen Reynolds was too much for Georgia State to handle. (Bob Stevens / Musketeer Madness)

Jalen Reynolds was too much for Georgia State to handle. (Bob Stevens / Musketeer Madness)

  1. Rebounding (and guarding Xavier’s bigs) killed Georgia State. Xavier was just too big inside. After 17 minutes of play, the Panthers had a total of two rebounds. It’s almost impossible to win a basketball game playing like that. They actually finished with 12 boards while almost matching Xavier on the offensive glass. That’s better, but also points to the fact that Xavier didn’t miss many shots in the second half. Seriously, the Musketeers went 13-of-16 from the field in the latter 20 minutes — it’s impossible to win a game giving up 80 percent in a half.
  2. Myles Davis may have gotten his confidence back. This might be the biggest story for Xavier going forward. Over the course of the year, Davis has been one of the Musketeers’ single most important players. But starting in Madison Square Garden last week at the Big East Tournament, he has really struggled — over his last three games, he has only averaged five points per outing. Xavier needs him on his A-game going forward, so his performance may turn out to be crucial for the game against Arizona.
  3. Georgia State looked tentative on offense. RJ Hunter was the only player looking for his shot tonight. Ryan Harrow was aggressive in the first half but was clearly still a long way from 100 percent. Ryann Green, who played great on Thursday in the big upset win, only took four shots. Kevin Ware only took four shots (even though he hit three of those). That lack of overall aggressiveness really hurt the Panthers down the stretch.

Star of the Game: Jalen Reynolds was a load down low. He was too strong and athletic for anything Georgia State could throw at him. He also did a good job recognizing when to kick the ball back out if he got it too far from the basket. He finished 8-of-9 from the field for 21 points with six boards. That’s a game.

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Rushed Reactions: #5 Arkansas 56, #12 Wofford 53

Posted by Matt Patton on March 19th, 2015

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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.

Mike Anderson's Club Survived and Advanced (USA Today Images)

Mike Anderson’s Club Survived and Advanced (USA Today Images)

  1. Arkansas felt in control all game. Their pressure looked like it was getting to the Terriers but the Razorbacks couldn’t put together many clean stops. They committed dumb fouls, gave up offensive boards and allowed Wofford to hang around. But for whatever reason, this felt like Arkansas’ game to lose for pretty much the entire evening. There were a lot of similarities to the earlier game between North Carolina and Harvard (with less shot-making).
  2. Karl Cochran doesn’t deserve this end to his career. Cochran was a great player at Wofford and just had an awful night. Give Arkansas credit for smothering him, but 2-of-12 from three requires a good dose of bad luck too. He was shooting 37 percent from three this season. Suppose he makes a couple more threes (or that three with six seconds remaining) and this is a different game. This is one of the worst parts of the Big Dance. Great players sometimes fizzle with awful games. The agony was clear to his coach, Mike Young, after the game, who seemed to feel worse for Cochran than anyone else.
  3. Watch the offensive glass in Arkansas’ next game. One reason Wofford was able to almost pull of this upset was because of offensive boards. They pulled down 14 offensive caroms to the Razorbacks’ eight. That’s something Arkansas really has to improve on if it expects to go any further. You might expect them to struggle on the offensive glass just because they get right back to applying pressure. Young pointed out after the game that Arkansas has “size” rebounders, whereas Wofford relied on having a nose for the ball. A better descriptor is Arkansas jumps for rebounds, and Wofford boxed out for them.

Star of the Game: Michael Qualls threw down two thunderous dunks, but uncharacteristically for Arkansas, he posed after one midway through the second half that gave Wofford an advantage on the other end. The Terriers promptly hit a three to go back up by two. The Arkansas section wasn’t even done celebrating when Wofford’s erupted. Qualls finished the game with 20 points on nine shots.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 North Carolina 67, #13 Harvard 65

Posted by Matt Patton on March 19th, 2015

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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.

Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers couldn't quite will Harvard to victory. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers couldn’t quite will Harvard to victory. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

  1. Harvard had a shot to win. In the final 20 seconds Harvard had multiple shots to win. It’s fitting that those shots came from Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders. They didn’t drop, of course, but after being down as many as 14 points in the second half, it showed serious resilience on Harvard’s part to get back into the game and have a realistic chance to win. Harvard did it by valuing possessions and making free throws. That sounds simple, but by not making mistakes, Harvard kept the game close down the stretch. In the second half, Harvard also did a much better job in crashing the offensive glass (amazingly, without also hemorrhaging points in transition). After a disappointing middle of the season this year, Tommy Amaker’s team looked every bit the Top 25 squad it were projected as early in the year.
  2. Rebounding. Following a slow Harvard run to cut a double-digit deficit to a single possession, North Carolina looked like it might win by 20 points. The turn came with 2:03 left in the first half, as Isaiah Hicks (who quietly had a terrific game) got fouled and made a jumper to put North Carolina up by seven. He missed the free throw, but the Tar Heels got the offensive board and Kennedy Meeks was fouled as well. Meeks made one of two, but JP Tokoto grabbed an offensive board and Hicks hit another shot to push the lead out to 10. Without Harvard so much as touching the ball during that series, North Carolina went on a 5-0 run.
  3. Justin Jackson and Marcus Paige play hero. After onions from Chambers put the Crimson up two, it looked like North Carolina might wilt under the pressure. Instead, Jackson hit a beautiful floater to tie it up at 65. After Chambers missed his shot on the other end, Paige pushed it ahead for a Jackson dunk that turned out to be the game-winning shot. Even before that run, Paige had hit a shot that looked like the dagger when he sank a contested three to put North Carolina up by four with 3:21 left. People will say North Carolina tried to lose this game, but the fact is that the Heels had to make plays to win it. And they did.

Star of the Game: Wesley Saunders finished the game with 26 points, five assists and four boards. He played all 40 minutes, making plays off screens and off the dribble. JP Tokoto had the unfortunate assignment of trying to guard him. The Tar Heel excelled in keeping Saunders from getting the ball, but he struggled when Harvard ran screens for him. In the last game of Saunders’ career, I’m not sure there’s a player in the country who could have held him under 20 tonight. Saunders’ play was especially amazing in the first half of this one.

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Xavier 76, #11 Ole Miss 57

Posted by Matt Patton on March 19th, 2015

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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.

Matt Stainbrook came to play against Mississippi. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Matt Stainbrook came to play against Mississippi. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

  1. Xavier should have been up more at the half. But it didn’t matter. It felt like Chris Mack’s team was up 20 points heading into the half, but in reality it was only 12. The reason it didn’t matter is because Xavier came out and shot 56 percent from the field in the second half. Some of that might have had to do with tired Ole Miss legs from their back-and-forth game two nights ago against BYU. But the Musketeers did a great job executing regardless of that. They didn’t get rattled when the Rebels hit a three or rocked the rim. They played with a confidence that comes from knowing you’re the better team. MJ Rhett picked up two fouls in the first two minutes of the game, causing Andy Kennedy to bench him for the next eight minutes which is where Xavier built its lead.
  2. Matt Stainbrook is unstoppable. Don’t let his skinny shirt, cylindrical shape, goggles, or knee braces fool you. Matt Stainbrook can flat-out play. He’s the Uber-driving assassin. Dee Davis is why Xavier went up big in the first place, but Stainbrook quietly dominated the game. He was unstoppable on offense (passing and shooting) and cleaned up on the boards. When it looked like Andy Kennedy’s team might make a run, Stainbrook answered the bell. He finished 8-of-10 from the field with 20 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals. He also got a technical for taunting. What I’m trying to say is Matt Stainbrook might be Batman.
  3. Ole Miss is better than the score indicates. This team was always destined for bizarre final scores because the Rebels were just too reliant on jump shots all season. When those shots were falling, they could hang with Kentucky. When they weren’t, they could lose to anyone. It didn’t look like tired legs were too much of a problem, but you never know if that played a role in the unkind rims today. Their pressure defense gave Xavier a little bit of a problem at times during the first half (something to watch out for against Georgia State tomorrow), but the Musketeers just had too many answers.

Star of the Game: Dee Davis battling RJ Hunter is going to be a show Saturday. Davis did whatever he wanted (even if his stat line doesn’t show it). He knocked down big shots, finishing with 17 points and three assists. He ceded his role to Stainbrook in the second half when he sat with four fouls, but the reason Xavier got off to such a good start and stayed out front was Davis’ ability to carve up Andy Kennedy’s defense.

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Rushed Reactions: #14 Georgia State 57, #3 Baylor 56

Posted by Matt Patton on March 19th, 2015

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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.

  1. Baylor’s length was too much for RJ Hunter. Until it wasn’t. The Bears played their trademark 1-3-1 zone and it really bothered Hunter on the wing. He finished the first half with just two points, having taken way too many shots from 30 feet. Hunter and Ryan Harrow were Georgia State’s best players this year and the Panthers really needed him to have a good game with Harrow on the shelf. Then with under three minutes left and the team down 12 points, Hunter magically found his mojo. He scored 12 of the team’s last 13 points and Baylor didn’t score once over the same stretch.
  2. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. The Panthers looked really good when they attacked Baylor in transition and off the dribble. They did a really good job of using aggressive defense to take momentum at both the beginning and the very end of the second half. Baylor finished with 21 turnovers on the afternoon. At least four or five of those were right under Georgia State’s basket. Many were stupid, errant passes, but some were forced by a very effective Panthers’ press. And some just looked like a team that started feeling the heat of a team coming on strong in the last two minutes. People will blame Kenny Chery for the missed free throw at the end of the game, but Baylor went 11-of-13 from the charity stripe for the game. Afterward, Ron Hunter talked about how good Georgia State’s press has been down the stretch this season.
  3. Taurean Prince was the player of 35 minutes of the game. He looked unstoppable. He finished with 18 points and 15 boards on only nine shots (including a desperation heave at the buzzer). Georgia State just didn’t have an answer for him but he didn’t get the ball enough the last five minutes of the game. Part of that was Baylor didn’t have many clean possessions down the stretch, but part of it was a lack of strategy to do so as well.

Star of the Game: RJ Hunter was perfect in the last three minutes. Down 12 with 2:40 left and Hunter going to the line, Georgia State looked beyond dead. To that point he had logged only one field goal (a layup in the first half) and looked totally outmatched against Baylor’s size and length. Then he drew a foul (a late whistle from Jamie Luckie) and got his swagger back. When Hunter got a steal and layup with 1:22 left, it suddenly felt like a game. Ryann Green also deserves a lot credit for keeping Georgia State within reach for the first three quarters of the game. While Hunter was ice cold, Green went 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. In the end, though, it was Hunter who put the team on his back and led his team straight into One Shining Moment.

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Dreams of an ACC First Weekend

Posted by Matt Patton on March 18th, 2015

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The ACC’s six NCAA Tournament teams have a lot on the line this weekend. Let’s take a look at each to determine how their current status projects in getting through the first weekend and beyond.

  • Duke: The Blue Devils look to avoid another early exit after suffering two huge round of 32 upsets in the last three years (Mercer – 2014; Lehigh – 2012). The 2013 team advanced according to seed, losing to eventual national champion Louisville in the regional final, but that Duke squad was led by three seniors. The makeup of this year’s group — with only one senior — is very similar to those two young Duke teams that were bounced by double-digit seeds. But don’t expect another opening game debacle this year since Duke has earned the advantage of a #1 seed for the first time since 2011. Just getting out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament unscathed is not the goal for this team, however, as anything short of an Elite Eight appearance would be a major disappointment. Duke has won several games in tough environments already this season, but the finality of the NCAA Tournament could cause Coach K’s inexperienced team to tighten up. If it can handle a potential grinder on Sunday, that may be enough to loosen up the Devils for a much deeper run.
Justin Anderson is the key for the Cavaliers. (Geoff Burke / USA TODAY Sports)

Justin Anderson is the key for the Cavaliers. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Virginia: All eyes will be on Justin Anderson when the Cavaliers take the court in Friday’s opener against Belmont. For Virginia to make a Final Four run, they’re going to need to have Anderson (and his offensive game) back in shape quickly. Assuming they handle the Bruins, Michigan State looms as the likely third round opponent in a rematch of last year’s Sweet Sixteen meeting in Madison Square Garden. The Spartans won that tightly contested game and come in to this year’s NCAA Tournament probably playing better than Virginia is right now. Good defense and a revenge factor will not be enough, though – the Cavaliers need buckets, and a healthy Anderson gets them easier than anyone else on the team. If Virginia makes it out of Charlotte, it will likely mean that Anderson has regained his effectiveness and that means bad news for the rest of the East Region.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: ACC Teams

Posted by Matt Patton on March 15th, 2015

Here are some quick thoughts on the ACC teams that were selected for this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Duke, #1 Seed, South: Duke took the top spot in the South. This isn’t really surprising to anyone, and the more I thought about it the more sense Duke makes as a #1 seed (if you throw out made-up rules about not having won their conference). Duke only lost one of its last 13 games; it notched huge road wins against Wisconsin and Virginia (two teams it would be competing with for that last #1 seed); it swept North Carolina. Losing two of three to Notre Dame definitely gave me pause, but the Blue Devils had the overall profile of a #1 seed. As far as their bracket goes, they have a potential rematch with St. John’s in the round of 32 (a team that Duke beat in a close game for Coach K’s 1,000th win) or a San Diego State team that could be a real problem if they’re shooting well. The other half of Duke’s region is a lot more challenging although I like the way they match up with a lot of the teams in the South Region. This will be the region of pure offense (minus the Aztecs), and it could create some crazy results.

If Justin Anderson is 100%, Virginia got a very favorable draw. (Getty)

If Justin Anderson is 100%, Virginia got a very favorable draw. (Getty)

Virginia, #2 Seed, East: Virginia was pseudo-snubbed to get a #2 seed. And while I doubt the committee will publicly say it, the Cavaliers’ mediocre play with Justin Anderson back in the lineup probably affected their seeding. This team might be the second-best group in the country if he gets back to where he was before the injury, but losing two of your last three games doesn’t instill confidence from the Selection Committee. Virginia also got a very favorable bracket. Other than Oklahoma or Michigan State conjuring up some March magic, I don’t see a lot of resistance in their way prior to the regional finals. The other half of the bracket looks like a recipe for chaos, which could also play into the Cavaliers’ hands. Long story short, I don’t have a problem with Virginia on the second line in the East Region. They played like a #1 seed for most of the year and still have a great shot to make it to the Final Four.

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Rushed Reactions: Notre Dame 90, North Carolina 82

Posted by Matt Patton on March 15th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Mike Brey celebrates Notre Dame winning its first ever conference tournament. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

Mike Brey celebrates Notre Dame winning its first ever conference tournament. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

  1. Holy Run, Batman! Down nine with less than 10 minutes to play, Notre Dame looked like its goose was cooked. But the Fighting Irish rolled out a 26-3 run over the next seven minutes of action, scoring on 11 of their next 13 possessions (for those keeping score at home, their offensive efficiency over the run was a ridiculous 200 points per 100 possessions) to take control of the game and win its first ACC championship. Five players scored during the run, and Jerian Grant, who had carried the team to that point, only made one shot. The Irish’s only empty possessions were a Bonzie Colson travel and a missed three from Grant, and don’t forget that this went on in front of a crowd that looked and felt much like the Smith Center. Mike Brey’s team hit its open looks but their ball movement was impeccable and North Carolina’s offense simply couldn’t keep pace. No team could have kept pace tonight. Notre Dame’s offense was one of the most efficient in the country all season long, but this was the first stretch that inspired true fear. The Irish looked like a championship team ready to beat anybody in college basketball, and given the context, that run was the most impressive display of team basketball that I have seen this season.
  2. North Carolina Panicked. Not that you can blame them. As soon as I had a chance to tweet that the Fighting Irish were in trouble, the Tar Heels were already down by three. North Carolina had a lot of success in the first half by just putting up jumpers and letting Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks clean up the glass. Brice Johnson was also virtually unstoppable whenever he caught the ball within 10 feet of the basket. But here’s how North Carolina’s possessions ended when Notre Dame mounted its blistering comeback: Hicks free throws (made one, missed one); Joel Berry turnover; Hicks turnover; quick missed layup from Marcus Paige; Justin Jackson turnover; Meeks turnover; and Brice Johnson turnover. That’s five turnovers in six possessions after leaving a point on the board. The Heels only committed eight turnovers for the entire rest of the game. Just as Notre Dame’s run wasn’t the result of a single player’s play, the Tar Heels’ meltdown was a team effort.
  3. This Really is the New ACC. When the ACC completed its most recent expansion by snatching several Big East members for the second time, it was thought that Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville were best equipped to challenge the ACC bluebloods. But with this remarkable tournament run in Greensboro, it is Notre Dame that has become the first of the recent league additions to break through with an ACC championship. In fact, this is the first conference tournament title in school history for the Irish, a program which first joined a major conference in basketball some 20 years ago. Notre Dame’s title has some other historical significance as well. To capture this year’s trophy, Notre Dame had to beat both ACC bluebloods on back-to-back nights, and do it in the heart of Tobacco Road — a fact not lost on Brey, who mentioned it in both of his postgame press conferences. Only two other teams have ever beaten both Duke and North Carolina in Greensboro in the same ACC Tournament, exhibiting just how rare and difficult this feat was to pull off. This also marks the fourth consecutive year that neither the Tar Heels nor Blue Devils have won the ACC Tournament — the longest such drought in conference history. Interestingly, three of those four other champions were schools that are not part of the traditional ACC membership. Maybe we really are seeing a subtle changing of the guard in this conference, and with the next three ACC Tournaments held outside of the state of North Carolina, this is a trend that is likely to continue.

Player of the Game. When North Carolina went up by nine points in the second half, Jerian Grant was the only reason the Tar Heels’ lead wasn’t more than that. Of Notre Dame’s first 17 points in the second half, Grant was responsible for (directly or indirectly) 12 of them. He attacked the basket, going to the line three times in the first 10 minutes of the second half (and assisting on two of Notre Dame’s made field goals). His activity ensured that the game would not get out of reach, setting the stage for the game-changing run down the stretch. Grant finished with 24 points, 10 assists and just two turnovers. That’s outstanding. If you want to know why North Carolina only finished with 12 fast break points, you should credit Grant and backcourt mate Demetrius Jackson — other than one Brice Johnson dunk, North Carolina never managed to get out on its patented secondary break. Pat Connaughton also deserves some credit here. He ended up with 20 points on just nine shots. But with Grant’s heroics, Connaughton felt more like a supporting cast member who shone just outside of the spotlight.

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Notre Dame Looks for History Against North Carolina

Posted by Matt Patton & Brad Jenkins on March 14th, 2015

Notre Dame takes on North Carolina tonight in Greensboro for its first conference championship in program history. The game tips at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN. If the previous matchup — a 71-70 Irish win in Chapel Hill — was any indication, we’re due for a great game. Both teams are playing their best basketball of the season right now.

Jerian Grant needs an All-American performance for Notre Dame to beat North Carolina. (Grant Halverson, Getty Images)

Jerian Grant needs an All-American performance for Notre Dame to beat North Carolina. (Grant Halverson, Getty Images)

Brad: In the first meeting, North Carolina held a 21-6 edge in offensive rebounds. How can the smaller Irish avoid Tar Heel domination in the paint?

Matt: I’m not sure they can. North Carolina will have an even bigger size advantage than Duke did last night. Zach Auguste has to stay out of foul trouble and the Fighting Irish will need to send all five players to the glass on every North Carolina shot. The fact is that the Tar Heels are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country. Notre Dame needs to take care of the ball and try to force the Tar Heels into jump shots with long rebounds. On the other end of the floor, the mismatches may swing the other way. Auguste and Bonzie Colson are both much more comfortable playing away from the basket than any of North Carolina’s bigs. They should try to spread the floor to open up the driving lanes for Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson.

Notre Dame really limited Duke’s three-point shooting Friday night. Can the Tar Heels continue their hot shooting from behind the arc? 

Brad: The game plan will obviously be to attack the Irish interior, so Roy Williams hopes the Heels continue to be selective when taking shots from deep. By selective, we mean only open looks for Marcus Paige and maybe Justin Jackson. Unlikely to make 50 percent of its threes again tonight, North Carolina should probably keep its attempts in the 10-to-12 range.

Back in early January, Notre Dame prevailed in the Smith Center primarily due to its 10-of-23 shooting performance on threes. Can they repeat such accuracy when playing their third game in three days?

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Rushed Reactions: Notre Dame 74, Duke 64

Posted by Matt Patton on March 14th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Notre Dame Advanced to Its First ACC Championship Game (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Advanced to Its First ACC Championship Game (USA Today Images)

  1. Notre Dame absolutely dominated the first half. The Irish hit some unbelievably tough shots and made Jahlil Okafor try to beat them on his own. As a result, Duke’s other players went 4-of-16 from the field and committed seven turnovers. Notre Dame may be the only team in the country with five guys who can consistently hit shots (although Duke has some lineups that also fit that description). The Irish smothered Duke by forcing the guards to play deeper than usual and fronting Okafor. They also hit shots, lots of them. Mike Brey’s team had a total of five and-ones in the first half alone. Five. When Duke went to its zone, Bonzie Colson just crushed the Blue Devils from the high post. When they went back to man, Demetrius Jackson got to the rim with incredible ease. Even in the second half when Duke started making its eventual run, Notre Dame’s ability to get to the rim (and the free throw line) felt like the reason Duke never got it back to a single-possession game.
  2. Demetrius Jackson is destined for great things. This may be an obvious statement (Jackson was a McDonald’s All-American, after all), but Jackson is a fantastic young player. He brings an athletic dimension to Mike Brey’s team that has been somewhat missing over the years. Jackson frequently broke Duke’s three-quarter court pressure like no one was there with his quick bursts of speed and playground dribbling moves in traffic. He also got to the rim with ease, finishing the evening with five assists and only one turnover in 39 minutes of action. If there’s a reason to still be bullish on the Irish next season without Jerian Grant, it’s because the sophomore Jackson is ready to take over the team.
  3. Mike Krzyzewski was remarkably calm. Coach K has a reputation of being curt and snippy in his pressers after Duke losses, but other than a defensive response to a question about last year’s team not meeting expectations, he was remarkably measured. I have a few theories on this attitude. The most likely idea is that he felt like Duke would have won the game if Quinn Cook hadn’t been gassed (Krzyzewski said on Thursday that Cook had been fighting off an illness). Cook went 1-of-10 from three on mostly good looks (0-of-8 in the second half) and he did a good job defending Jerian Grant, but it just looked like he wasn’t playing at 100 percent. The other theory is that Krzyzewski really liked the way Justise Winslow and Okafor fought back after horrible first halves.

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Rushed Reactions: #19 North Carolina 70, #14 Louisville 60

Posted by Matt Patton on March 12th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

The UNC Defense Shut Down Louisville in the Second Half (USA Today Images)

The UNC Defense Shut Down Louisville in the Second Half (USA Today Images)

  1. North Carolina struggled early against the Louisville zone. Roy Williams pointed to better movement in the second half by the North Carolina bigs as a reason for its game-winning 38-23 performance, but it also helped that the Tar Heels were shooting the ball much better. North Carolina isn’t known as a good jump-shooting team, but it has shot over 40 percent from deep in the last few games. In part that’s because they don’t take many threes (Williams noted that his team finished last in the ACC in three-point attempts this season), but even though they only converted two of five attempts in the second half, it felt like much more. That speaks to the Tar Heels’ patience. Even more important than that was that Williams’ team knocked down 15 of 17 free throw attempts. That’s how you close out games — something North Carolina struggled with this season. Stay patient and make free throws. The last time North Carolina beat a higher-seeded team in the ACC Tournament was way back in 2003, so don’t underestimate this win from a confidence standpoint.
  2. North Carolina needs better rebounding to feed into its offense. North Carolina never got any flow going in the first half, not only because it struggled against Louisville’s defense, but also because the Cardinals’ shooting and rebounding took the Tar Heels out of their secondary break. The Heels only ended the game with eight fast break points, but even the threat of the secondary break stops opponents from adequately setting up their defense. Brice Johnson runs the floor as well as any big man in the country, and Paige should be a shooting threat on the wing. If this team makes a run in this tournament or later in March, it will be because they do a better job of playing to their strengths over the next few weeks.
  3. Louisville is liable to take a loss during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament if they can’t solve these zones. Rick Pitino intimated that the Cardinals would try starting Mangok Mathiang at the five to get more offense, but that won’t help with simply making wide-open jump shots. The Cardinals were 4-of-22 from three and 1-of-14 if you remove Wayne Blackshear. That won’t beat anyone. Louisville played well in the first half with Terry Rozier carving up North Carolina’s defense, but Louisville never controlled the game. Some of that was due to the Tar Heels never getting too far behind, but there was also a sneaky suspicion that Louisville’s jumpers would eventually stop falling.

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