Rushed Reactions: #1 Kentucky 78, #5 West Virginia 39

Posted by rtmsf on March 26th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Kentucky Flexed Its Muscles Tonight (USA Today Images)

Kentucky Flexed Its Muscles Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Don’t poke the bear. To be honest it wouldn’t have mattered. And maybe it didn’t matter. Kentucky was going to win this game anyway and perhaps the Wildcats playing about as well as they can (except for Karl-Anthony Towns) was just a coincidence, but we got to see what the Wildcats can do when they are firing on all cylinders. It is both beautiful and scary. If the Wildcats play like this, there isn’t a team in the country that is going to give them a legitimate challenge the rest of the way. That’s not meant to be disrespectful to any of the remaining teams; it is just the truth. For much of the season, Kentucky’s offense lagged well behind its defense, but now that it has caught up teams are basically left to hope the Wildcats have an off night. Tonight was not one of those nights.
  2. This was complete meltdown by West Virginia. Kentucky played great, but West Virginia embarrassed itself with its performance tonight. Outside of a few mini-runs that the Mountaineers put together thanks to some sloppiness from Kentucky (like Marcus Lee trying to break the press), Bob Huggins’ team couldn’t put anything else together. It was a rough end to an outstanding career in Morgantown for Juwan Staten, who deserved a better ending than this. West Virginia rarely has elite level talent coming to Morgantown, but we have learned over the years that Bob Huggins doesn’t need that to succeed. This may have been the lowest low of a storied career for the longtime head coach.
  3. Competition or coronation? It might seem premature to already hand the national title over to Kentucky, but it has been a long time since we have seen a team this dominant. Actually, the last team was 1991 UNLV… and we all know how that worked out. The fact is that there is no 1991 Duke waiting around the corner this year (people forget that one year later that lovable underdog became one of the great teams of all-time). Barring a collapse by Kentucky, which is much less likely given their ridiculous depth, we cannot see anybody beating them. So you might as well crown them now.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Notre Dame 81, #7 Wichita State 70

Posted by rtmsf on March 26th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

USATSI_8476623_168381137_lowres

Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton Are Moving On to the Elite Eight (USA Today Images)

  1. Time to recognize the IrishIt seems inconceivable that an ACC championship team could fly under the radar, but that is what Notre Dame has done for much of this season. While they were probably only the third best team in the ACC during the regular season, their ACC Tournament title was no fluke. The Irish might not get a ton of attention because they lack the name brand appeal in basketball that many of their ACC colleagues have — and to some degree they lack a recognizable star even if Jerian Grant is an All-American — but they have a good mix of experience, athleticism and size. That might not be enough to win on Saturday, but don’t be surprised to see this team in the game late.
  2. Take a minute to recognize Wichita State. Even though this team isn’t close to what it was last year, the Shockers managed to advance further than they did then thanks to a more favorable draw. We aren’t sure what Wichita State will bring back next year (primarily whether Gregg Marshall will return), but it has been a remarkable three-year run for the Shockers. They went to the Final Four in 2012 and nearly knocked off the eventual national champions. Last year they went undefeated for 35 games before running into an underseeded Kentucky team that was peaking at just the right time. This year was a bit more of a struggle than some may have expected, but they might have pulled off one of the most satisfying victories in the program’s history last weekend when they knocked off a Kansas program that refuses to play them in the regular season.
  3. The Irish are more than just Jerian GrantAs we mentioned earlier, the Irish probably have not received the respect they deserved this season. Grant has garnered some attention thanks to his family tree and some of his Vine-worthy highlights, but this team is a lot more than just the Jerian Grant Show. Zach Auguste provides a solid piece in the middle even if Saturday could be rough with Kentucky. Demetrius Jackson and Pat Connaughton both had big games for the Irish as well. All of them will need to have huge nights on Saturday if they hope to advance.

Star of the GameDemetrius Jackson, Notre Dame. There were so many ways to go with this today, which speaks to how well the entire Irish team played. We will go with Jackson, who almost played Fred VanVleet to a standstill (or maybe even outplayed him) with 20 points on 10 attempts while VanVleet scored 25 on 20 attempts. VanVleet needed to dominate for the Shockers to win this game, but he might have been outplayed by Jackson tonight.

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Circle of March: Vol. XXI

Posted by rtmsf on March 23rd, 2015

How Sweet it is! From 333 eligibles 21 short days ago to a mere 16 remaining. It was a fun weekend with numerous ups and downs, but the diversity of strength and talent in this year’s Sweet Sixteen looks fantastic. Can’t wait until Thursday night!

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Eliminations (03.22.15)

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Circle of March: Vol. XX

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2015

This is our 20th Circle of March, which means we’re getting there. After eight more eliminations in the first half of the Round of 32, we’re down to 24 total teams vying for the 2015 National Championship. Here’s today’s CoM.

2015_CircleofMarch_V20

Eliminations (03.21.15)

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Rushed Reactions: #5 Utah 75, #4 Georgetown 64

Posted by rtmsf 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.

Utah (USA Today Images)

Larry Krystkowiak’s Group Headed to Its First Sweet Sixteen in a Decade (USA Today Images)

  1. Efficient and Balanced Basketball. Utah was in for quite the battle but the Utes were able to eventually pull away from Georgetown behind its multiple offensive options, nearly every one of whom understands the difference between a good shot, a better shot and the best shot (see Larry Krystkowiak’s quotes below for more on this). Against a Hoyas’ defense that shuts down the interior at the expense of giving up open looks from the perimeter, Krystkowiak’s bunch capitalized on its opportunities in both ways. The Utes connected on 14-of-24 shots from within the arc (58%) and 8-of-14 shots from behind it (57%). Their 38 shot attempts marked the second consecutive game where Utah had taken that relatively low number, but it is making up for that lost offense in spades with trips to the foul line (53 attempts over two games). Furthermore, six players scored between nine and 14 points tonight. A highly efficient offensive attacked that is diversified by multiple scoring options is a tough unit to beat, and Utah is playing like it has no interest in heading home just yet.
  2. Georgetown’s Hot Start Was Fool’s Gold. The Hoyas came burning out of the gates with five threes in the first seven minutes of action. As head coach John Thompson, III, said after the game, the hot start probably made his team a little too reliant on jump shots moving forward. A 35 percent shooting team from distance on the season, the Hoyas only made four more for the rest of the game, with three coming in the second half (and one of those when the game was all but over). Utah probably wasn’t going to be beaten tonight, but the early run allowed Georgetown — a team that can often go through long offensive funks — to stay essentially even with Utah until the final four minutes of the game.
  3. Utah’s Program Turnaround. Utah is a proud basketball program with a long history of success, but the rebuild that Krystkowiak has enabled in Salt Lake City over the past four seasons has been phenonemal. His first team, a complete laughingstock in its first season in the Pac-12, won a total of six games. But the next season his Utes were competitive, winning 15 and making a mini-run in the Pac-12 Tournament. Last season was the breakthrough year, with Utah notching 21 wins and a trip to the NIT. In year four, a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. It’s unlikely that the Utes are headed beyond Houston this year, but given the preparation and efficiency with which Utah plays, it’s not easy to count the team out.

Player of the Game. Brandon Taylor, UtahThere was no single player who stood out above the rest tonight, but Taylor’s 14 points and five assists seem as good as any. In particular, he hit a couple of second half threes that gave Utah breathing room twice as Georgetown was pushing forward, so his timeliness more than anything else was worthy of this award.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Arizona 73, #10 Ohio State 58

Posted by rtmsf 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.

All Smiles at Arizona as the Wildcats Outlasted the Buckeyes Today (USA Today Images)

All Smiles at Arizona as the Wildcats Outlasted the Buckeyes Today (USA Today Images)

  1. TJ McConnell Has Great Poise and Intangibles. And blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. That’s code language for “white point guard” in college basketball. And even if it’s completely 100 percent true, the bigger truth is that McConnell also has a spectacularly well-developed skill set. When Arizona couldn’t figure out the Ohio State zone at all in the first half, it was McConnell’s repeated breaking down of the defense that kept the Wildcats from digging themselves a substantial early hole. When the Arizona frontcourt was shooting itself into obliviion, it was his four steals that led to the majority of Arizona’s 10 first-half points off of turnovers — the only offense that was really working for the ‘Cats at the time. McConnell ended the game with 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting, six rebounds, six assists and five steals in an all-around performance befitting a senior leader.
  2. Battle of the Freshmen. Yeah, so about that. What was billed as a chance for star freshmen D’Angelo Russell and Stanley Johnson to do battle in a heated Round of 32 game didn’t really work out as planned. Russell never looked comfortable as he had trouble shaking the length of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and the relentlessness of TJ McConnell on his way to a rough 3-of-19 (1-of-7 from three) shooting performance. Johnson wasn’t any better in shooting the ball, throwing up a horrific 1-of-12 shooting night of his own. Both players contributed in other ways, however, which proves that they’re more than one-dimensional scorers — Russell grabbed seven boards and dropped six dimes (a few of which were drop dead gorgeous) while Johnson collected 10 rebounds and a couple of steals. Luckily for Arizona
  3. The Upside of Arizona. Nothing changed opinions about the potential upside of Arizona after seeing them win twice here in Portland this weekend. Texas Southern was an obvious mismatch, but Ohio State’s athleticism and length created an interesting Round of 32 matchup for a team that can sometimes struggle to put the ball in the basket. The Arizona frontcourt ended up shooting a terrible 9-of-37 from the field, but the backcourt of McConnell and York ensured that the Wildcats were able to pull away in the second half. One reason Miller’s bigs were able to take (and miss) so many shots is because they were also relentless on the offensive glass, grabbing 18 rebounds on that end (vs. Ohio State’s entirety of 26) and giving themselves multiple extra chances to convert. This was especially true in the second half as the Buckeyes’ frontcourt players clearly got gassed with the continuous pressure. Arizona didn’t play great today, but it still looked Final Four good. We’ll see whether Los Angeles has any trouble in store for the Wildcats.

Player of the Game: Gabe York. York’s instant offense off the Arizona bench ensured that Arizona was going to win today’s game. Arizona’s legion of forwards could not figure out the Ohio State zone until York entered the game in the first half and hit a three. He added four more bombs during a seven-minute stretch in the second half when Arizona built its lead from two to 13 points, essentially never looking back from there. He finished the game with 19 points and a career-high five threes. Arizona fans will love this assessment — McConnell was definitely the more valuable player today, but York was the bigger star.

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Circle of March: Vol. XIX

Posted by rtmsf on March 21st, 2015

And just like that, we’re down to 32 teams still standing. In about 36 hours, we’ll have only 16. Enjoy the Round of 32!

2015_CircleofMarch_V19

Eliminations (03.20.15)

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Circle of March: Vol. XVIII

Posted by rtmsf on March 20th, 2015

What a tremendous day of action on Thursday. There’s no way that Friday can even contemplate mimicking it, right? We’re down to 48.

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Eliminations (03.19.15)

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Utah 57, #13 Stephen F. Austin 50

Posted by rtmsf 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.

Utah's Bench Celebrates the Big Win (USA Today Images)

Utah’s Bench Celebrates the Big Win (USA Today Images)

  1. Hanging Around, Hanging Around. Upsets in the opening round tend to occur when the favored team cannot create enough separation to psychologically convince the underdog team that their efforts are futile. Take Arizona’s domination of Texas Southern today. The lead quickly ballooned to 20 points in the first half and everybody in the building knew that there would be no realistic comeback attempt. On the other hand, a team like Baylor couldn’t quite put away Georgia State today, leaving the Panthers just enough room and time to make a 13-0 run to finish, and win, the game. Utah’s failure to put away Stephen F. Austin tonight was dangerous because it felt like the Lumberjacks were only a play or two away from wresting control away from the Utes and pulling off the big upset.
  2. When the Game Turned (or More Accurately, Didn’t Turn). To that point, Utah had allowed Stephen F. Austin to hang around for most of the second half when it seemed to start slipping away on a series of plays. With Utah up eight, Jordan Loveridge took an ill-advised three-pointer, allowing the ‘Jacks to push upcourt after the miss. Thomas Walkup (12 points, nine rebounds, five assists) then made a driving layup. On the ensuing possession, Utah turned it over and Walkup converted that into another layup, this time with an and-1 opportunity. The game was down to four points and Stephen F. Austin was starting to believe. Walkup missed the free throw, but his teammates secured the offensive rebound. When he then took a three from the left side that was on line, you just knew that it was going to drop through the net and cut the lead to one. That shot was long, but that didn’t mean the run was over. Utah missed another jumper on its next possession, and SFA answered with another jumper that missed. At this point, Utah was acting a bit panicky and it felt like all the Lumberjacks really needed was one more big play to facilitate the Utes’ collapse. Next, Utah brought the ball downcourt; Delon Wright fired up a shot that missed… and Jakob Poeltl, Utah’s star freshman big man, used his vastly superior size to block out the smaller Walkup and put back the offensive rebound. Utah was now up six.
  3. Poeltl as Difference Maker. Poeltl was also fouled on that play, and even though he missed the free throw and SFA cut it to four again, the center grabbed another offensive board on the very next possession, was fouled, and nailed those free throws to push the lead back up to six points. Although the Lumberjacks continued to push and eventually got the lead down to two on one trip, they never were able to get to a point where they could take the lead. Poeltl added another late block as well, but from the view of this observer, it was his play as Utah appeared to be collapsing that helped to keep the ship from completely sinking. The dimension that Poeltl provides as a legitimate seven-footer who is an elite offensive rebounder and rim-protector gives the Utes a defensive look that few teams in college basketball have. And he may very well have been the stopgap that saved Utah’s season from swirling down into the Willamette River here.

Player of the Game. Jakob Poeltl. Utah’s star freshman big man didn’t miss a shot from the field as he went for 18 points (7-of-7 FG), eight rebounds (three offensive) and five blocks. For a player that was on virtually nobody’s radar coming into the season, he has been a huge reason that Larry Krystkowiak’s group has returned Utah basketball to relevance.

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Rushed Reactions: #10 Ohio State 75, #7 VCU 72

Posted by rtmsf 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.

D'Angelo Russell is the Kind of Player Who Can Carry a Team Several Rounds (USA Today Images)

D’Angelo Russell is the Kind of Player Who Can Carry a Team Several Rounds (USA Today Images)

  1. And a Freshman Shall Lead Them. Much has been written and discussed about the underachievement of Ohio State’s last couple of senior classes — not only from a team but also from an individual standpoint. Players like Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, Amir Williams and Lenzelle Smith (last year) have at times during their careers seemed capable of great things, but those flashes came all too infrequently to reasonably rely upon them. Even players like sophomore Marc Loving, who has at times shown such outstanding promise, has been intermittent in his production. With D’Angelo Russell taking much if not all of the offensive burden upon himself, it removes a lot of the pressure on those other players to feel like they have to be stars. That could be the right recipe for these Buckeyes as they look to make a run over the next two weeks.
  2. However, Ohio State’s Defense Must Stay Strong. The reason that the Buckeyes came into today’s game as a #10 seed this year was primarily because this is Thad Matta’s worst defensive unit since his 2009 group that lost in the opening round to Siena. Over the last five years, Ohio State has ranked among the top 16 defensive teams in America four times. And many of those very seniors already mentioned where a key part of it. True, Aaron Craft drove the success of several of those defenses, but players like Scott, Thompson and the others who remain aren’t chopped liver on that end of the floor. The point here is that the Buckeyes today held VCU to 38 percent from the field, which, when combined with the points that Russell put up, was enough to keep them close throughout. That defense will absolutely need to be humming on Saturday against Arizona, because you better believe that the Wildcats will send multiple long and lean bodies at Russell and force the other Buckeyes to make shots. A low-scoring affair is really the only shot Ohio State will have to get to the Sweet Sixteen, so the defense on the other end must come up big.
  3. VCU Loses Its Opener in Consecutive Years. And in disastrous fashion. Last year’s four-point play against Stephen F. Austin was worse, but Shaka Smart’s Rams will feel like they really let this one slip away. A pair of awful unforced turnovers on out-of-bounds plays gave Ohio State life down the stretch, and Smart’s decision to let his team play led to a reasonable but ultimately ineffective drive and look at the basket on the final play of regulation. Injuries of course were an issue with this year’s VCU squad, but there may also be a tinge of playing with the pressure of being the higher-seeded team involved here as well. It can cause really good teams to make questionable decisions in high-pressure situations.

Star of the GameD’Angelo Russell. The Ohio State freshman was everything he has been hyped to be. He handled the ball for the majority of the Buckeyes’ possessions, and he just has a feel for the game at his age that can’t really be taught. He finished the game with 28 points on 10-of-20 shooting (4-of-7 threes) and six rebounds, but it seemed like whenever Ohio State was a play or two away from getting into trouble, he would make something happen. He finished off the game with two free throws to seal it.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Arizona 93, #15 Texas Southern 72

Posted by rtmsf 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. 

Arizona Cruised to an Easy Opening Round Victory Today (USA Today Images)

Arizona Cruised to an Easy Opening Round Victory Today (USA Today Images)

  1. No Upsets on the Agenda Here. For those who believe that Arizona is on par with the #1 seeds in this year’s NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats certainly played like it in their #2/#15 matchup today. Jumping all over Texas Southern from the opening tip, Sean Miller’s bunch wasn’t about to let the underdog stay in contact and build momentum as some of the other victims during the first half of Thursday’s games had experienced. A 15-2 start in the first six minutes set the tone; it slowly developed to a 54-33 halftime lead and Arizona spent the second half coasting to its ninth NCAA Tournament victory under Miller. Arizona may be a #2 seed in the West Region this year, but the Wildcats have the look and feel of a #1.
  2. Too Big. Too Fast. Too Strong. To that point, the size and athleticism that Arizona threw at Texas Southern — a team that had won at Michigan State and Kansas State this year — was very difficult for the Tigers to deal with. The Wildcats hit a blistering 20 of their 29 first half shots (69.0%) and often looked easy doing it. The Wildcats’ strength on the wings was a particular problem for Texas Southern, as Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson did whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. The superhero duo combined for 15-of-20 shooting in tallying 45 points and 15 rebounds. It was clear that Mike Davis’ team had no chance to stop either one of them, and Miller’s offensive schemes took full advantage of those mismatches.
  3. A Minor Concern? Its always difficult to keep focus and intensity for the full 40 minutes in a game where the superior team is so clearly superior. But the Wildcats gave up 12-of-22 (54.5%) shooting and 39 points after the half, and for a squad that prides itself on a commitment to defense, that might be somewhat concerning for Miller. Texas Southern entered today’s game in the bottom half of Division I basketball in offensive efficiency, but either of the next opponent options will be quite a bit better than the Tigers in that regard (VCU: 59th; Ohio State: 30th). Worth keeping an eye on.

Player of the Game. Stanley Johnson, Arizona. Johnson was every bit the NBA lottery pick prospect that you would expect in a game like this. The super freshman tallied 22 points and five rebounds, including a sterling 4-of-5 effort from behind the three-point line (36.6% on the year). What’s more is that he was everywhere in the opening minutes, grabbing steals, dishing dimes, as well as offering his standard contributions of scoring, rebounding and overall defense.

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Circle of March: Vol. XVII

Posted by rtmsf on March 19th, 2015

Merry Marchmas to us. We’re down to 64 — nothing more needs to be said.

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Eliminations (03.18.15)

  • Boise State
  • North Florida
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