Morning Five: 07.23.14 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on July 23rd, 2014

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  1. The dog days of summer mean that the Morning Fives in July and August typically consist of a somewhat mind-numbing combination of three things: 1) hot air (people saying things that they shouldn’t be saying, or saying them without the benefit of tact); 2) player movement (transfers; injuries; arrests); and 3) organizational movement (strategy pivots and programmatic shifts, in the hopes that nobody notices while they’re on vacation with the family or otherwise not thinking about college athletics). Today’s M5 will address each of these areas, for your thoughtful consideration and bemusement. October can’t get here soon enough.
  2. From the organizational movement department, the NCAA — which, due to its academic calendar construct, loves to release key information during the summer months, and especially on Fridays — announced late last week that its Board of Directors is set to take a vote next month that would ultimately give the five power conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, Pac-12) greater autonomy over the future structure and workings of the NCAA. Let’s call this move what it is — administrative extortion, designed to give the revenue-producing schools more weight commensurate with their power and influence in return for keeping the NCAA in one piece. The power leagues have long chafed at the notion that 300 low-level schools could band together to prevent them from doing what they want to do (i.e., institute the $2,000 full cost of attendance stipend proposal that was DOA in 2011), and know that the NCAA (the organization itself, not a grouping of schools), overwhelmingly funded by the NCAA Tournament’s broadcast agreements, wouldn’t have much of a financial leg to stand on if those five conferences decided to do their own thing. The Yahoo! article linked above explains many of the proposed details, but the objective is clear here: the coup d’etat has begun in Indianapolis; just make sure to look up from your beachy pina colada to witness the culling.
  3. Speaking of the NCAA Tournament, a $700 million (annually) behemoth that the NCAA cannot afford to screw up, Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione was recently named the Chair of the Selection Committee for the 2015-16 season. So, a year away, as Utah athletic director Scott Barnes will hold the reins for the upcoming 2014-15 season. As Matt Norlander notes in the article, although the NCAA has done a solid job of moving away from the consistently white maleness of the Committee Chair in recent years (2009 Chair Dan Guerrero is Latino; 2010 Chair Gene Smith is African-American), it still hasn’t managed to cross the gender divide. Two members of the current committee — Conference USA’s Judy MacLeod and UNC-Asheville’s Janet Cone — would ostensibly have the inside track at the Chair in the next couple of rounds, but there are obviously no guarantees.
  4. The hot air department brings us to Castiglione’s conference commissioner, the Big 12′s Bob Bowlsby. During the conference’s football Media Days event on Monday in Dallas, Bowlsby expounded on the dirty little secret that anyone who closely follows collegiate athletics already knows but avoids discussion publicly: as he said, “cheating pays presently.” Noting that the NCAA Infractions Committee has not had a meeting in over a year, Bowlsby pounded the point home that if a school “seek[s] to conspire to certainly bend the rules, [it] can do it successfully and probably not get caught in most occasions.” He went on to defend the NCAA’s overall business model as a sustainable enterprise only in its current or near-current form, but the damage was done with respect to his pointed comments on cheating. While it’s difficult to test the veracity of Bowlsby’s overarching claim, it is much easier to determine how often the NCAA is doing its job with respect to policing infractions. A brief search of the organization’s Legislative Services Database shows that only two Division I schools — Howard and New Hampshire — have received NCAA penalties since January 1, 2014. Neither play FBS football, of course, and the sports involved were cross-country, gymnastics, volleyball and track and field. While again, it’s very hard to prove a negative, the absence of higher-profile and frankly, more, revenue-producing schools on that list, is more indicative of willful ignorance than of active compliance.
  5. And now, on to player movement. After eschewing a year at SMU to play with his older brother, Emmanuel Mudiay has reportedly signed a one-year deal worth $1.2 million to play in China. Brandon Jennings had trouble adjusting to the lifestyle of a professional and the culture shock of a new country (Italy) in 2008, but he turned out to be a fine player upon arrival to the NBA a year later. Mudiay’s year overseas will also be worth watching, but his international childhood (born in Zaire, speaks French) will surely help him adjust. As for players still in the US, Florida junior Devon Walker tore his ACL in practice late last week and will miss the entire 2014-15 season as a result. Notching seven starts on last year’s Final Four squad, Walker was expected to log significant minutes for a Gators team that has numerous holes to fill. His depth will be valuable to have a year from now too, though, and we wish him a speedy recovery.
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Morning Five: 06.19.14 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 19th, 2014

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  1. Most college sports fans probably aren’t following the day-by-day action in the Ed O’Bannon vs. the NCAA case taking place in Oakland, California, this month, and why would they? First of all, there’s no nifty “doink doink” Law & Order plot mover to let us know we are moving on to a more important part of the proceedings, and secondly, many people probably don’t believe that the outcome will amount to much change in their annual sports viewing habits anyway. Fair points, both, but if you’re interested in summarily catching up through the better part of two weeks of proceedings and following along in the future, SI.com‘s Stewart Mandel and Andy Staples have you covered with their daily updates. The big fish scheduled on the line this week, of course, is NCAA president Mark Emmert, who will be called to testify today and possibly beyond (if necessary). Emmert has been a staunch public supporter of the NCAA’s amateurism model throughout his four-year tenure, and you have to wonder if he will fall victim to fits of hubris while on the stand defending what is widely becoming disparaged as an indefensible system. His testimony could be a key tipping point in the ultimate outcome of this case, so keep an eye on it.
  2. The underlying force driving the O’Bannon case, of course, is money. It’s always money, and specifically, who is getting their grubby little hands on it. To most Americans just getting by, the division of tens of millions of dollars between the NCAA, schools and the television networks doesn’t much move the needle — in their view, it’s just a case of rich people enriching other rich people. But even their fur gets a little raised when a clearly successful business model that can produce a third of a billion dollars (“B”) in a single year doesn’t give a taste of the steady stream of money to those whose backs on which all those dollars were made — the athletes. And yet, the Pac-12, as Dennis Dodd reported this week, produced $334 million in 2012-13 — the most of any conference in college sports history — disseminating around $18.5 million back to each school as a result. Once you start to add ticket sales, bowl games, NCAA Tournament shares and other revenue producers to each school’s athletic pie, you start to see some very large numbers generated at the bottom of the spreadsheet. Good luck with your arguments for amateurism, NCAA.
  3. Kansas basketball got some really interesting news earlier this week when it was announced that Bill Self’s team will represent Team USA in next summer’s 2015 World University Games in Gwangju, South Korea. Typically, the WUG teams have consisted of some of the top rising stars in college basketball, but the all-star model with limited practice time for players to get to know each other has resulted in only one gold and two bronze medals in the last seven events (Team USA won six straight golds from 1989-99, for some perspective). The Jayhawks have another loaded team coming into next year’s college basketball season, but a number of those players such as Cliff Alexander and Wayne Selden, are unlikely to still be in uniform for international competition a year from now. Still, perhaps the knowledge of Self’s system and the resultant familiarity among the remaining players will allow Team USA to improve on its ninth-place finish in 2013. We can only hope.
  4. It wouldn’t be summer without some transfer news, and there were a couple of name-brand players who found new destinations this week. First, LSU guard Anthony Hickey, a solid if not spectacular player whose senior-year scholarship was not “renewed” by head coach Johnny Jones in Baton Rouge, has resurfaced at Oklahoma State and was deemed eligible to play for the Cowboys immediately. This is a major boon for an upcoming year where head coach Travis Ford is in dire need of a reliable point guard after the losses of both Marcus Smart and Stevie Clark from his team. It may not save Ford’s job in Stillwater, but it gives him a fighting chance. In other news, Maryland guard Nick Faust has decided to finish his career across the country at Long Beach State. Unlike Hickey, who took advantage of the NCAA’s “run-off” rule to become eligible for next season, Faust will have to sit out 2014-15 before playing his senior year with The Beach. We wish both the best of luck in their new environments.
  5. You probably heard about the too-soon passing of the late great baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn earlier this week, and while every American sports fan recognizes the ridiculous batting prowess of the man who hit safely 3,141 times with a .338 average over two decades in the majors, they may not realize that Gwynn was a college hoops star before he ever became one of the friendliest and most beloved faces of Major League Baseball. As SI.com‘s Brian Hamilton explains in this piece, Gwynn to this day remains one of the best point guards to have ever played at San Diego State, a two-time all-WAC selection on the hardwood that featured the best single-season assist average in program history (8.2 APG in the 1979-80 season). We never saw him play hoops, but we have to imagine that he brought the same passion and respect for our game as he did to the baseball diamond. RIP, Tony Gwynn.
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Morning Five: 06.06.14 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 6th, 2014

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  1. Paging Rex Chapman… Two months ago, in the tweet that rocked Big Blue Nation to the core, the former Kentucky star and media presence (he had just finished doing color commentary for the Wildcats on the Final Four Teamcast) unloaded what he termed a #donedeal on Wildcats’ fans. Head coach John Calipari was supposedly going to take the open Los Angeles Lakers job, “win or lose,” as he put it, in the national championship game against Connecticut. Well, either the Lakers job moved to Lexington or Rex hit the sauce a little too hard in the pregame that night, because Calipari on Thursday signed a seven-year extension worth $52.5 million that will ensure Kentucky stays atop the heap for many years to come. After four Final Four appearances and a National Championship in just five years at the helm, and given the size and passion of the Kentucky fan base, the scary thought is that Calipari is still probably quite a bit underpaid relative to the value of the program. Not that he cares about that — he’s quite happy with where he is, in fact, and that’s a good thing for college basketball.
  2. Calipari doesn’t miss out on many recruiting targets, but nobody can bat 1.000 either, and one of the best players of the past several cycles that the Kentucky coach whiffed on was SMU freshman Emmanuel Mudiay. In this SI.com piece on Mudiay, Luke Winn explains that Larry Brown’s appeal for Mudiay to stay close to his family — including older brother Jean-Micheal Mudiay, a rising senior on the Mustangs — was one of the major factors in his decision to commit to SMU. With Mudiay in the fold to lead a team that returns most of its talent from a 27-10 team that was one of the first left out of the NCAA Tournament, SMU is poised to make a major leap in national status next season. 
  3. We mentioned in the M5 earlier this week that a $40 million settlement between EA Sports and a class action of former and current NCAA athletes had been finalized, and now the lawyers and all the highly-paid administrators who handle such things are figuring out who will get what. It probably would have shocked nobody in America if the NCAA (still in a battle with the Ed O’Bannon class action, remember) had gone into full pettiness mode and decided that the minuscule payouts to its current athletes would constitute an impermissible benefit. Full credit to the NCAA for not going there, however, as the organization announced on Wednesday that payouts (which could range from as low as a couple hundred bucks to a couple grand) in no way represent “pay” and therefore will not be in violation of any NCAA amateurism rules.
  4. And now, about that Ed O’Bannon lawsuit. As you have no doubt heard for months, even years now, the case is set to begin on Monday morning in Northern California. Still, how many people can accurately state what the whole thing is about — is it amateurism? Video games? The very core of the NCAA itself? The truth is that there are elements of all of these things, but as with most complex forms of litigation, there are plenty of nuances and considerations beyond the sound bites. SI.com‘s Andy Staples separates truth from myth in a Thursday piece that gives a nice overview (along with a video explanation) of what is really on the line in this landmark case.
  5. With the NBA Finals starting last night, the NBA Draft is just a few weeks away (you hopefully noticed that we’ve been rolling out Bennet Hayes’ draft profiles). But while the players in this year’s draft are no longer eligible to play college basketball, the top prospects in the 2015 draft class will lead our sport next season. SI.com‘s Brian Hamilton breaks down his list of the top 15 prospects who are likely to be high selections in next year’s version, and a few of the names may surprise you. Have a great D-Day anniversary weekend, everyone.
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Morning Five: 05.22.14 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 22nd, 2014

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  1. As we head into Memorial Day weekend, the long summer of college basketball purgatory awaits – June, July and August are fun months for many other reasons, but getting your college hoops fix isn’t one of them. Message boards and social media will remain active, of course, and we’ll do our part here from time to time as well, but at the end of the day, we’re all daydreaming about how next season will play out. The Sporting News waited a little longer than most outlets to release its post-early entry Top 25 for the preseason, but the timing works because it gives us something to chatter about. Perhaps the most surprising selection here is that TSN went against the grain in choosing a team not named Kentucky as its overall #1 team, but there are a few other surprises scattered about the list (particularly at #5). If you need a comparison Top 25, here’s RTC’s version from about a month ago.
  2. One of the teams looking to reload after losing Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins to next month’s NBA Draft will be Kansas. With another elite recruiting class headed to Lawrence, however, headlined by star forwards Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre, the Jayhawks populate most pundits’ preseason top 10s. Bill Self’s squad might find itself rising in everyone’s mind by October, as Kansas on Wednesday added another impressive piece to the class in Ukrainian guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk – good luck pronouncing that one — a tall but talented shooting guard who has been favorably compared with former Michigan star Nik Stauskas. With a ton of frontcourt talent on board as well as Wayne Selden and now Mykhailiuk joining the program, Self only needs to figure out his point guard situation in order to roll out another big-time National Championship contender.
  3. Speaking of one-and-dones, seemingly everyone who has a stake in the game is sick of them. Whether you’re in favor of going back to the preps-to-pros of the multi-year NFL model, people seem to agree that something needs to change. For the good of the game and all that. The Pac-12 on Wednesday took its own shot across the bow of the NBA’s dominion by releasing a letter addressed to ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC schools suggesting as one of its key reforms the following admonition: “Address the “one and done” phenomenon in men’s basketball. If the National Basketball Association and its Players Association are unable to agree on raising the age limit for players, consider restoring the freshman ineligibility rule in men’s basketball.” Of course, the NBA, under the new leadership of Adam Silver, appears to have prioritized a two-and-through model for its next round of player negotiations, but there’s certainly no guarantee that such a change in rookie eligibility will occur. But freshman ineligibility as a measure of pushback? It would only serve to further marginalize college basketball as a major American sport. 
  4. Remember Julie Roe Lach, the NCAA’s former VP of Enforcement who was run out of the organization on a rail after the disastrous investigation of Miami (FL) athletics and the influence of Nevin Shapiro? After a 14-month hiatus doing consulting work, she’s back in college athletics, now as the new Deputy Commissioner of the Horizon League. Her new responsibilities will include oversight of the league’s 19 championships, student-athlete development, finances, corporate sponsorship and branding, all interesting and important aspects of an organization that has little to do with her previous role involving enforcement. Still, her breadth of experience and without question also her ties to the inner workings of the NCAA right down the street from HL offices are attractive qualities, and everyone deserves a second chance to prove their value and integrity. We wish her and the conference well on their new endeavor.
  5. Some transfer news from the midweek: Creighton picked up Cal transfer Ricky Kreklow; Michigan State’s Russell Byrd plans to play at NAIA school Master’s College; and the nation’s top returning scorer, Niagara’s Antoine Mason, is on the move for his final season of eligibility. All three will be eligible to play next season (Kreklow and Mason are set to use the graduate transfer exception next season, while there is no transfer penalty for Byrd to drop to the NAIA), but it is the free agency of Mason that might be the most interesting of this group. The 6’3″ guard and son of former New York Knick Anthony Mason will no doubt be a hot commodity in coming weeks for schools seeking to add some immediate scoring punch to their backcourts. The caveat with Mason, of course, is that he’s a high-volume, low-efficiency guy who took as many shots as he liked for a 7-26 MAAC team last season. If a high-major coach can get through to him to cut way back on his three-point attempts (28.6% on 168 attempts last season) and focus on driving the lane to draw fouls and get to the line (where he shoots a much nicer 72.8%), then Mason could become a key contributor on a contender next season.
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Morning Five: 05.20.14 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 20th, 2014

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  1. National Championships have their benefits, especially for second-year head coaches whose name has been recently bandied about NBA circles with the word “Lakers” involved. Reports surfaced on Monday that Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie, a man who was fighting for a long-term contract from the university as recently as 18 short months ago, is set to sign a new five-year deal that will reportedly pay him more than twice his current salary (nearly $3 million per year). It goes without saying that a coach in his early 40s who already has a title under his belt is a hot commodity, and Ollie will join many of his elite peers in take-home pay in very short order, as this deal will put UConn’s leading Husky among college basketball’s top 10 coaching salaries, according to USA Today.
  2. From one end of the coaching spectrum to the other, as Oregon State announced on Monday its hiring of Montana’s Wayne Tinkle as its new head basketball coach. Tinkle heads to Corvallis with a solid resume, having led the Grizzlies to three NCAA Tournament appearances in his eight seasons and never finishing below .500 while there. He will inherit a program that has proven to be one of the absolute toughest at which to win in Division I basketball. The Beavers last made the NCAA Tournament in 1990 (!!!), and have not achieved a .500 Pac-10/12 record in over two decades (1993). Further compounding the difficulty that Tinkle will face is that all five of last season’s starters from an 8-10 squad have moved on. Perhaps Tinkle is the guy to finally lead Oregon State out of the basketball wilderness, but it will be no easy task.
  3. One of the starters who left Oregon State this offseason was shooting guard Hallice Cooke, a rising sophomore who logged the second-most percentage of available minutes for the Beavers last season and nailed a team-high 45.6 percent of his threes. Cooke announced on Monday via Twitter that he will transfer to play for The Mayor at Iowa State for the rest of his collegiate career. Fred Hoiberg’s 12th transfer in his fourth season in Ames exhibits again just how well the popular coach has used the free agency transfer market to fill the holes on his roster (UNLV transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones will hold down Iowa State’s shooting guard spot during the intervening year). Although Cooke will not become eligible to play for the Cyclones until the 2015-16 season, his three-point prowess figures to eventually fit very well into Hoiberg’s spread-the-floor offense.
  4. Kevin Ollie wasn’t the only head coach to receive an extension this week, as Xavier’s Chris Mack — a coach who was reportedly considered as a top candidate for several other jobs this spring — signed an extension that will keep him at the school through the 2019-20 season. In Mack’s five years at the school, he’s compiled an impressive 111-57 overall record that includes four NCAA Tournament appearances and two trips to the Sweet Sixteen (2010 and 2012). Although Xavier has had a multitude of excellent coaches over the years from Pete Gillen to Skip Prosser to Thad Matta — it was in no small part due to Mack’s recent success that Xavier was invited to become a member of the new basketball-centric Big East. It will certainly be tough for Xavier to keep a talent like Mack on campus all the way through the term of his new contract, but the commitment is worthwhile for a coach who has proven he has the chops to win at a high level.
  5. Even on a busy Monday of college basketball-related news, the most interesting nugget of the lot may have come from a decision by the State Employees of North Carolina public workers union to allow student-athletes at the state’s 17 public universities to join its collective bargaining organization. Players at schools like North Carolina, NC State, Charlotte and others would be affected, but the bigger picture question is whether this move represents another arrow directed at the disintegrating notion of athletes as amateurs. This of course comes on the heels of the NLRB’s recent decision to classify a group of Northwestern football players as employees with the right to organize its own union, and although any holding in that case would only apply to private schools like NU and others, the sea change is coming whether the NCAA likes it or not.
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The RTC Podcast: UConn Championship Edition

Posted by rtmsf on April 10th, 2014

After nearly six months of basketball, from practice to the podium, the 75th and final RTC Podcast of the 2013-14 season is here. It’s been quite a run, filled with analysis, wild predictions, #cheerfortheears, more analysis, numerous fantastic guests, a bunch of informative correspondents, and even a few t-shirts thrown in. While we exhausted ourselves in some respects by plowing through at least a couple pods per week, we feel like it was well worth the time and energy, and we certainly appreciate all of the listeners that tuned in along the way. For the offseason, we expect to check in at least once every few weeks, depending on when there are enough things to talk about, but we’ll definitely be back when the NBA Draft deadline has passed. In this week’s podcast, we break down the National Championship game, consider UConn’s future and talk about some of our memories from the preceding season. The full rundown is below. Give it a listen.

Make sure to subscribe to the show on iTunes so that you’ll get all of the episodes immediately downloaded to your listening device.

  • 0:00-22:01 – Breaking Down UConn Capturing Championship #4
  • 22:01-26:10 – Shabazz Podium Comments
  • 26:10-31:09 – UConn’s Place Among The Elite Programs
  • 31:09-35:11 – A Brief Conference Realignment Interlude
  • 35:11-37:28 – UConn in the AS (After Shabazz) Years
  • 37:28-44:20 –  Future of John Calipari
  • 44:20-49:13 – Derrick Gordon Comes Out
  • 49:13-56:29 – Evaulating the 2013-14 College Basketball Season
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Circle of March: Connecticut Edition (Animated)

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2014

From 340 teams down to a solitary C, and it turns out that the blue glow behind Connecticut‘s logo held some sort of supernatural meaning after all. And with that, the 2014 Circle of March has completed. We started on this journey some five weeks ago yesterday, and once again the beauty was in the process. Click the image to see the entire procession all the way down to one team standing. See ya next year.

circle2014

Teams Eliminated From National Title Contention (04.07.14)

  • Kentucky
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Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 60, #8 Kentucky 54

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court is covering the Final Four from Arlington, Texas, this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kevin Ollie is a First Time Participant and National Champion

Kevin Ollie is a First Time Participant and National Champion

  1. Shabazzketball. Shabazz Napier said after the game that he told his teammates back in a January home loss to Louisville — the first of three to the defending national champs, none of which were close — that he believed in his team and that they were going to make a run to eventually win the National Championship. While there’s no way to know if Napier is joshing us or simply retelling a tidbit that the team probably repeated many times during the season, the salient point is that Connecticut fulfilled the prophecy to once again raise the gold trophy for the fourth time in 16 seasons. The brash, cocksure point guard from the Boston area is the primary reason why. Napier’s 22 points (including four big threes), six rebounds, and three steals have become par for the course throughout Connecticut’s run to the title, but on a night when the team needed a first half lift because DeAndre Daniels was slow getting started, Napier’s 15 points allowed the Huskies to build an early cushion to put the pressure on Kentucky to make yet another second half comeback. The comeback happened twice, but each time that the Wildcats had whittled the lead down to one point, Napier had an answer. His first response was right out of the half, when he drove into the lane to earn two free throws (both makes, of course); the more important second instance was with six minutes remaining, when it appeared that UConn was wearing down and the Cats were surging forward. Napier put an end to that notion with a calm and accurate three-pointer to push the lead back up to four. After a subsequent Randle two and Giffey three, Kentucky never got closer than four points for the rest of the game. There aren’t many players these days who stick around long enough to win two national titles, and especially three years apart, but Napier has certainly proven that he belongs among the list of greats for his performances in March Madness.
  2. Kevin Ollie Bum Rushes the Tourney. The last time a coach won the national title in his first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the year was 1989 and Michigan’s brand-new head coach Steve Fisher led Glen Rice and friends on a magical run to victory. Kevin Ollie had a little more experience coming into this year’s Dance than Fisher was awarded some 25 years ago, but he should absolutely be commended for the belief that he instilled in his players and the resolve that they exhibited on the court during this Tournament. They beat teams bigger than them, more physical than them, deeper than them, better shooters than them, and more experienced than them. What you’re going to read about a lot in the next 24 hours is how it was UConn’s defensive commitment and resolve that won the school its fourth championship. While the Huskies played excellent defense in the gut-check games against the likes of Michigan State, Florida and Kentucky over the past 10 days (holding the three teams to 0.90, 0.93 and .90 points per possession), it was actually the hyper-efficiency of UConn’s offense that made the difference. Over the six-game NCAA Tournament run, Kevin Ollie’s team never dipped below a 1.00 PPP average (vs. Michigan State and Kentucky), and it maxed out with a necessary 1.24 PPP mark against St. Joseph’s and a 1.23 PPP mark against Iowa State. It’s not a true calculation because every game is different, but some back-0f-the-envelope math suggests that the Huskies averaged about 1.11 PPP in its six wins while holding opponents to 0.99 PPP on the other end. And it did so against five of KenPom’s top 20 teams, with the strange outlier the game against St. Joseph’s that UConn very well could have lost. Crazy.
  3. Kentucky’s Magical Run Ends One Game Short. This Kentucky basketball season was without question one of the strangest that we’ve ever experienced. The highs and lows of it were simply astonishing. From a preseason #1 ranking and at least mild entertainment of the idea of an unbeaten 40-0 season, to the harsh reality of non-conference losses to Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina, to head-scratching but not awful SEC losses to Arkansas, LSU and Florida, to end-of-season disasters vs. Arkansas in Rupp and on the road at South Carolina and Florida, to The Tweak before the SEC Tournament and a solid performance there, to the subsequent three weeks of phenomenal play — especially at the end of games against high-quality competition — that ran all the way to the verge of a National Championship. Life is stranger than fiction, and it certainly felt coming into tonight that all the jabbering about 1-and-done and right way/wrong way and the rest of the related nonsense surrounding John Calipari and how he runs his program was going to be finally put to rest. Alas, UConn had other ideas. Regardless of tonight’s outcome for the Wildcats, there’s absolutely no shame in a runner-up finish, and most Kentucky fans would have taken that in a heartbeat in early March. As for Calipari, this was without question one of his finest coaching jobs — he very nearly lost this team at the end of the season, but he was able to use his magic wand to get their attention, buy into his conceptual framework of team and selflessness, and damn near ran his team to another National Championship. Because of his recruiting prowess, he doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but he’s a top-five coach in this game no matter how you slice it.

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The RTC Podcast: National Championship Edition

Posted by rtmsf on April 7th, 2014

It’s here. For the better part of five months, teams around the country have worked their tails off to prepare for and compete in the NCAA Tournament. Sixty-eight hopefuls were invited three weeks ago; only two remain standing today. It’s all about getting a chance to play on Monday night, and Kentucky and Connecticut, two of the top basketball programs in America for decades running, have earned the right to compete on that stage. In this week’s RTC Podcast, the guys reflect on the Final Four games — what went right, what went wrong — for each of the four teams, take an aside to investigate the final outcome of #cheerfortheears, and break down the National Championship that will played in Arlington, Texas, later tonight. It’s a long but worthwhile listen this week, and we hope, as always, that you’ll join us.

  • 0:00-15:17 – Kentucky Wins Another Thriller
  • 15:17-28:53 – UConn Hands Florida Another Loss
  • 28:53-32:40 – #CheerForTheEars
  • 32:40-37:42 – Postgame Reactions From the Winners And Losers
  • 37:42-46:23 – What a Win Means For Each Program’s History
  • 46:23-1:07:51 – Championship Game Preview
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Circle of March: Championship Monday Edition

Posted by rtmsf on April 7th, 2014

From 340 teams a month ago to just two remaining. Kentucky and Connecticut will tip it off tonight in the unlikeliest of championship games, but the beauty of March Madness is that the unpredictable is often the only predictable thing. It’s been five weeks since we debuted this year’s Circle of March, and 338 teams have dropped off in the interim. There’s definitely some magic surrounding this year’s NCAA Tourney, and we’re really starting to wonder if the position of the “C” somewhat randomly in the eye of the Circle has some supernatural meaning. We’ll find out soon; the rest of Monday  can’t pass quickly enough — let’s get this thing started!

circlemarch_4_6Eliminated From National Title Contention (04.07.14)

  • Florida
  • Wisconsin
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Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 74, #2 Wisconsin 73

Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court is covering the Final Four from Arlington, Texas, this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Aaron Harrison, Redux.

Aaron Harrison, Redux.

  1. Stone. Cold. Aaron. Harrison. Wow, just wow. Every time you think that these Cats have run out of lives, they just continue to make just enough plays, often in astonishing fashion, to survive and advance. One Wildcat in particular — freshman guard Aaron Harrison — has taken the notion of clutch to a whole new level. One week after drilling a long contested three to send the Wildcats to the Final Four, he drilled another from very near the same spot to push his team into a National Championship game that few would have anticipated several weeks ago. After the game, he said that he didn’t feel like he has a clutch gene, but we’d beg to differ. The fact of the matter is that Harrison, along with many of these Kentucky kids, are supremely confident in their gifts, which gives them the requisite swagger to both take and make these big shots.
  2. Calipari’s Tweak Has Worked. For any number of reasons, whatever Calipari and his staff were doing for the first three-quarters of this season only marginally worked. The Wildcats only had one five-game winning streak all season long, and that was from mid-November to early December against the likes of Robert Morris, UT-Arlington, Cleveland State, Eastern Michigan and Providence (average KenPom rank = #131). Kentucky’s current five-game winning streak includes wins over Kansas State, Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin (average KenPom rank = #13). Even accounting for a four-month lapse in time from those games, it’s not like the Wildcats set the world on fire in the SEC either, with a 12-6 league mark. Since the postseason began, though, Calipari has seemed to successfully remove the pressure from the heads of his kids by simplifying the game for each of them at an individual level and referring to sorcery and magic to keep the media at bay. No matter the reason, it’s worked and it’s still working. After all of the ups and downs throughout the season, Kentucky finds itself exactly in the position that many expected before the realities of a long and growth-filled regular season came to pass. Calipari is many, many things, but his best attribute is simply getting players to believe.
  3. Wisconsin is Crushed, But Has No Reason To Hang Its Head. The Badgers did everything required to win this game, as it held a two-point lead with six seconds left against a team running an isolation play for a mediocre shooter beyond the three-point line. In most scenarios, Bo Ryan’s team walks away with a win there and we’re not talking about the Wisconsin players being crushed (and they were absolutely heartbroken, make no mistake about that). But considering that Ryan’s program made the leap this season by getting to his first Final Four and eschewing some of the (deserving) reputation that the Badgers were a defense-only grind-it-out team, he is poised to start making these events more frequently. Hopefully tonight’s game, where the Badgers proved it could go toe to toe offensively with a boatload of NBA prospects, will help to combat some of that perception. Even better for Wisconsin, Ryan expects everyone except for Ben Brust back next season. Expect a top five national spot in the 2014-15 preseason polls for the Badgers.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 63, #1 Florida 53

Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court is covering the Final Four from Arlington, Texas, this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Calhoun

Former Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun Was All Smiles After the Game

  1. Tale of Two First Halves. The tone for this game was set in the first half, with Florida running out to a seemingly dominant 16-4 lead with 10 minutes gone. At that time, the Gators looked nothing less than dominant on both ends of the floor — bigger, stronger, and methodically having their way with the Huskies. The problem was that the lead needed to be bigger than it was, because from the 8:49 point of the first half UConn closed to take a 25-22 halftime lead and kept it up to ultimately double up one of the nation’s best defensive teams by a margin of 59-37 the rest of the game. UConn did it by making some timely shots, of course — DeAndre Daniels’ pair of early threes in particular — but where the Huskies were really able to stifle the Gators was in completely shutting down Florida’s starting backcourt of Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier (3-of-12 FG for seven points). The backcourt duo had essentially taken turns leading Florida offensively through the South Region, but without either capable of getting anything going tonight, it was left to Patric Young (19/5) and Casey Prather (15/6) to carry the load. In a game where points were at a premium, the Gators’ defense wasn’t going to be able to manufacture enough to compensate for a rough 39 percent overall and 1-of-10 from three shooting performance.
  2. On Florida’s Go-To Guy. With 49 seconds remaining, the game was all but final when Florida’s senior leader, Scottie Wilbekin, shot a horrifically off three-point airball that caused a shot clock review. There were a couple of notable moments related to that miss. First, it iced the game for the Huskies and all of the Gators’ body language afterward clearly exhibited that fact. But it also served to illustrate why Florida spent all year gambling in its reliance on a crafty, steady, solid point guard like Wilbekin to become its bona fide go-to guy. Billy Donovan’s team had a magnificent college basketball season, ending a 30-game winning streak with a 36-3 record and a loss in the Final Four — there’s no shame anywhere in those numbers. But as he noted after tonight’s game, “Given our talent level, we played way better than our potential.” And he’s right, with Wilbekin as Exhibit A to that notion. The NCAA Tournament is a cruel mistress, and many players far better than him have been eliminated much earlier than the Final Four, but it’s really difficult for a really good collegian with no professional prospects to have so many good offensive performances in a row (against high-quality competition).
  3. The Huskies Won Without a Huge Night From #shabazzketball. So if you were told before the game that Shabazz Napier would have a pedestrian 12-point, six-assist performance in the Final Four, there’s no way that you pick the Huskies to win, right? That’s what is somewhat scary about how well some of the other UConn players are performing right now, particularly DeAndre Daniels. In a low-possession game (57), a quiet night from Napier is perfectly fine so long as Kevin Ollie also gets 11 points from Niels Giffey, 13 from Ryan Boatright, and 20 from Daniels, all coming in an efficient manner. What he can’t have is guys spraying wild shots all over the place, and I for one can’t remember more than a couple of questionable takes from Ollie’s group all night. The proof is in the pudding, too — the Huskies hit 77 percent of their foul shots, 61 percent of their twos, 41 percent of their threes, and lit up the Gators’ defense for 1.11 points per possession. That kind of full-team performance is how you beat #1 seeds.

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