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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The RTC Podblast: Ernie Johnson Edition

Posted by rtmsf on April 3rd, 2014

It’s Final Four week and as all of the fans and media anxiously await for the Saturday evening to arrive, the on-air crew at Turner Sports is preparing to broadcast its first-ever national semifinals. We all know and love Ernie Johnson for the tremendously entertaining work he does on the best sports show on television, Inside the NBA, but during this upcoming weekend he will again cross over into our world as the primary NCAA host for the Final Four (TBS) and the National Championship Game (CBS). In this special Rush the Takes podblast, Ernie discusses how he and colleagues Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith prepare for their annual foray into the NCAA Tournament, what Turner has in store for the Final Four with its innovative “Teamcasts,” and whether RTC might be the long-awaited sponsorship opportunity for EJ’s Neat-O Stat of the Night. Oh, and he may have also done a Chuck and Shaq impression or two. It’s fantastic stuff, and we really hope you give it a listen.

Ernie Johnson Spoke With Us About the Upcoming Final Four

Ernie Johnson Spoke With Us About the Upcoming Final Four

Be sure to add the RTC Podcast to your lineup on iTunes so that you’ll get all of our ongoing coverage throughout the NCAA Tournament.

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The RTC Podcast: Final Four Preview Edition

Posted by rtmsf on April 3rd, 2014

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This was a really fun RTC Podcast. In this, our Final Four Preview Edition, the guys spend the first half of the show revisiting many of our takes from the preseason and throughout the season on each of the Final Four teams: Florida, UConn, Wisconsin and Kentucky. It’s compelling stuff, both in how spot on we could be about these teams at certain points of the season, and how off we could also be at others. We then broke down the two upcoming games Saturday and revisited the #cheerfortheears meme, the reward of which will be collected on Friday night in the great city of Dallas. The full rundown is below. Join us!

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Four Teams Remain

Be sure to add the RTC Podcast to your lineup on iTunes so that you’ll get all of our ongoing coverage throughout the NCAA Tournament.

  • 0:00-8:48 – Trip Down Memory Lane: Florida
  • 8:48-17:45 – Trip Down Memory Lane: UConn
  • 17:45-24:36 – Trip Down Memory Lane: Wisconsin
  • 24:36-36:13 – Trip Down Memory Lane: Kentucky
  • 36:13-39:00 – Reflecting on the Archive Carnage
  • 39:00-44:57 – UConn vs. Florida Preview
  • 44:57-50:30 – Wisconsin vs. Kentucky Preview
  • 50:30-52:26 – #CheerForTheEars
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The RTC Podcast: From 68 to Four Edition

Posted by rtmsf on April 1st, 2014

We’re down to four teams left standing en route to the 2014 Final Four. But before we start breaking down those games and everything else associated with what should be a fantastic weekend in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the guys take the time to review the four games that comprised a gripping Elite Eight. On this week’s RTC Podcast, we break down Wisconsin, Florida, Connecticut and Kentucky’s wins, focusing on the things they’re doing well and some of the key storylines surrounding each game that sent them to the ultimate dance party.

The full rundown is below. Be sure to add the podcast to your lineup on iTunes so that you’ll get all of our ongoing coverage throughout the NCAA Tournament.

  • 0:00-12:37 – Wisconsin Earns Bo Ryan His First Final Four
  • 12:37-18:18 – Florida’s Seniors Finally Get Their Final Four Trip
  • 18:18-23:32 – UConn Rides Shabazz and Home Crowd Past Michigan State
  • 23:32-30:18 – Kentucky More Than Just Flipping the Switch
  • 30:18-34:03 – Best Games of the Weekend
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Circle of March: Final Four Edition

Posted by rtmsf on April 1st, 2014

Over the weekend four more teams were eliminated as we’ve steadily traveled down the month-long path from 340 eligible Division I teams to just a final, fantastic foursome. With Florida, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Kentucky advancing to North Texas on Saturday, the Circle of March looks barren other than that remaining quartet of logos. It’s pure coincidence that the Huskies’ “C” ended up on the glowing part of the watermarked NCAA Final Four logo, but maybe it’s some kind of omen from the ghost of Kemba Walker? We’ll find out soon enough. Enjoy prepping throughout the week.

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Teams Eliminated From National Title Contention (04.01.14)

  • Dayton
  • Michigan
  • Michigan State
  • Arizona
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The RTC Podcast: Sweet Sixteen Preview Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 26th, 2014

Happy Sweet Sixteen, everybody. We hope that you’ve had some time to rest up from a crazy opening weekend and are starting to digest the match-ups heading our way on Thursday and Friday nights. These eight games look to be outstanding in different ways, both storyline and basketball, and to get you ready for this the Sweet Sixteen, the RTC Podcast crew invited all four of our regional correspondents back to break down each region in a bite-sized segment of this week’s edition. We welcome back Brian Otskey (East), Bennet Hayes (South), Walker Carey (Midwest) and Drew Murawa (West) to discuss what to watch for with this week’s games. There might even be some predictions. We’ll try to do an Elite Eight preview edition that will drop on Friday night/Saturday morning, so keep an eye out for that. This edition’s full rundown is below.

  • 0:00-3:54 – Louisville-Kentucky Headlines Super Sweet Sixteen Schedule
  • 3:54-8:09 – Other Sweet Sixteen Highlights
  • 8:09-20:04 – Previewing Midwest Region with Walker Carey
  • 20:04-36:17 – Previewing South Region with Bennet Hayes
  • 36:17-48:03 – Previewing West Region with Andrew Murawa
  • 48:03-59:40 – Previewing East Region with Brian Otskey
  • 59:40-1:09:33 Revised Final Four Picks
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The RTC Podcast: NCAA First Weekend Review Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 25th, 2014

It was a whirlwind of a four-day weekend, but the guys survived along with 16 schools still vying for a national championship, and found some time on Monday evening to review the weekend’s events. From Iowa State and North Carolina trading punches in an instant classic to Wichita State and Kentucky doing same, and everything else in between, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) walks us through all of the best action from over the weekend. Keep in mind that on Wednesday we will release our Sweet Sixteen preview pod featuring our correspondents who will be reporting from each of the four sites this weekend. The full rundown is below.

Be sure to add the podcast to your lineup on iTunes so that you’ll get all of our ongoing coverage throughout the NCAA Tournament.

  • 0:00-8:39 – Iowa State Comes Up With Crazy Win Over North Carolina
  • 8:39-13:07 – Baylor Brings Doug McDermott’s Career to a Premature End
  • 13:07-13:50 – Less Than Exciting Orlando Games
  • 13:50-21:34 – Kentucky Hands Wichita Its First Loss
  • 21:34-28:50 – Wiggins and Kansas Go Out With a Whimper
  • 28:50-31:26 – Dayton Downs Syracuse
  • 31:26-34:40 – UConn Beats Former Conference Foe Villanova And What It Means for Both Conferences
  • 34:40-36:14 – Top Teams Cruise
  • 36:14-39:15 – Tennessee “Cinderella” Run as a Double Digit Seed
  • 39:15-45:48 – Best Moments of the First Weekend
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Circle of March: Sweet Sixteen Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 24th, 2014

From 340 eligible D-I teams to the wide swaths of empty space we now have on the Circle of March, 16 hopefuls remain standing. And this group might be more notable for the teams that are already gone than those remaining — Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Villanova, Kansas, Ohio State — all looking ahead to next year. Of the 16 teams remaining, 14 are from basketball power conferences, while two — San Diego State and Dayton — come from the high-mid hoops leagues, the Mountain West and Atlantic 10, respectively. There are three double-digit seeds remaining — Stanford, Dayton and Tennesssee — although KenPom gives the Volunteers the fifth-best odds to cut down the nets in Arlington two weeks from today. And despite a fair number of upsets over the weekend, 10 of the 16 slots in this week’s bracket held to seed, with the East and West regions (three each) going most chalky. Enjoy the break for a few days. Games will be back soon enough.

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Eliminated From National Title Contention (03.24.14)

  • Stephen F. Austin
  • Kansas
  • Creighton
  • North Carolina
  • Gonzaga
  • Memphis
  • Wichita State
  • Mercer
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