Early Entry: High School Edition

Posted by THager on April 24th, 2010

In a potential trendsetting move, Florida recruit Scottie Wilbekin could be heading to Gainesville a year early.  This is not the first time a recruit has left early for college, but his possible early entrance could spark a rise  in high school juniors heading for the greener pastures of the NCAA.  Wilbekin is leaving college early to fill a specific need for Florida coach Billy Donovan, who could use some depth in his backcourt next season.  In addition to missing out on key perimeter recruits Brandon Knight and Ray McCallum, Donovan may also be looking at losing forward Alex Tyus, who is testing the waters of the NBA and is doubtful to come back next season.

Will Wilbekin Play in Gainesville in 2010?

The move would require approval by the NCAA over SAT scores, but according to Wilbekin’s high school coach, he is ready for the challenge.  The 6’2 guard is not only smart enough, but this wouldn’t be the first time Wilbekin has played above his age group.  According to the Orlando Sentinel, Wilbekin was playing for his high school basketball team as a middle school student.  He also played for Nike’s under-16 Florida team against players two years his elder.  Fortunately for the junior, he is a perimeter player and won’t have to go up against more physically mature players in the post.

Insiders have compared the 17-year-old to Andre Dawkins, but the current Duke freshman’s case is different.  Dawkins was technically a HS junior when he bolted for Duke, but he had actually completed four years of high school before going to college.  Dawkins went to a public school for one year before transferring to Atlantic Shores Christian School, a private academy, for three more.  His first season was not ideal, but much of that was out of his control.  The first half of the season was promising, as he actually saw a decent amount of playing time and scored in double figures in six games.  However, after his sister tragically died in a car accident and the ACC season started, Dawkins’ minutes and  production decreased drastically.  Nevertheless, Dawkins proved that leaving early could work, especially considering that his best performances came in the first few weeks of his career.  If Florida starts out the season against some weaker non-conference opponents like Duke, it may be just enough to give Wilbekin some confidence heading into SEC play.

Early entrance like this is already a common practice in college football, but those recruits often enroll for just the spring semester to get some spring practice repetitions.  Louisville’s Amobi Okoye even had success as a 16-year old in college football, but the two sports are hardly comparable when there only five players on a court and the ball is shared more often among the players on the court.  It is a lot of pressure to put on a 17-year old, but Wilbekin is embracing the challenge.  Florida needs more good news like this to get back to the elite status that the Gators enjoyed five years ago.

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Wisconsin Drops Nike – Others to Follow?

Posted by THager on April 15th, 2010

It appears that Nike’s controversial Duke advertisement is the least of their worries.  In a move that was seen as a long time coming at the University of Wisconsin, the school recently dropped Nike from their apparel contract over a dispute with labor on severence pay.  This is the first time that any American college has dropped an agreement with the multi-billion dollar company over what the school perceives as worker’s rights abuses, but the school has had a history of taking the initiative in contract agreements.  Wisconsin recently ended contracts with both New Era and Russell Athletic over similar practices, and chancellor Biddy Martin had given Nike 120 days to pay $2.6 million to Honduran workers in severance pay and back wages that started the standoff.  Wisconsin’s main apparel supplier, adidas, has had labor issues of their own but their are no plans yet to sever ties with the other shoe giant.  Wisconsin’s take:

According to the university’s Labor Code of Conduct, local labor laws must be followed, the freedom of associated and collective bargaining must be respected, and responsibility must be taken for subcontractors. Since Nike acted outside these rules, its contract was terminated.

Is Wisconsin the First of Several?

The amount of royalty fees that Wisconsin stands to lose is in the neighborhood of $50,000, relative chump change in the world of athletic apparel at a major school like Wisconsin.  But perhaps most importantly for Nike, other schools may be getting in on the act as well.  Georgetown and Washington are interested in learning more themselves.  Oklahoma, which unlike Wisconsin has Nike as their primary sponsor, is getting pressure from their students to drop the company, even going so far as to write a column requesting that OU terminate their contract with Nike.  Cornell may also be following Wisconsin’s lead as multiple workers’ rights organizations on campus have supported a termination of their contract.  Although Nike does not own the factories where the wage abuses occurred, they do use the factories to manufacture their apparel, which activists say violates Cornell’s Code of Conduct.  The ball is already rolling downhill on several campuses and if Nike isn’t careful, they’re going to find themselves underneath an avalanche of negative publicity on this matter.

According to Google Finance, the company is worth nearly $37 Billion.  So why do they feel the need to take such a PR hit when $2.6 million should be pocket change to them?  Probably the same reason that some of their overseas employees make less than $5 a day — unless you’re a potential Oregon head coach, CEO Phil Knight is not known as the most generous man in the world.  But if he doesn’t calm the storm soon, he could be facing a much bigger hit than any money he owed his (subcontracted) employees.

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RTC Final Four Tidbits: 04.01.10

Posted by THager on April 2nd, 2010

Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.


Michigan State (Tom Hager)

  • ESPN’s Jemele Hill has never been one to shy away from controversy, but she caused quite a stir when she said that head coach Tom Izzo was the best coach in the history of the state.
  • According to guard Korie Lucious, although the Spartans are anticipating a hostile environment, they are used to big crowds cheering against them.
  • Ryan Fagan of The Sporting News says that MSU’s experience is what will set them apart, and that the only players who treat the Final Four like an ordinary game have never played at that level before.
  • USA Today points out that Michigan State’s win margin of 13 total points in their first four games is the lowest total since the field expanded to 64 teams.
  • If the Spartans win on Saturday, East Lansing police can expect some rioting, even before the national championship game.

Butler (Andrew Murawa)

  • In the basketball-mad state of Indiana, Butler has now vaulted Indiana University and other stalwarts to the head of the class, if only temporarily.
  • The Bulldog roster features 10 players from the state of Indiana, including such key contributors as Gordon Hayward, Matt Howard, Zach Hahn and Andrew Smith.
  • But while the Bulldogs may be riding high, they aren’t so famous that head coach Brad Stevens doesn’t get mistaken as a player on the team by a Lucas Oil Field security guard.
  • While, thankfully, the Butler/”Hoosiers” comparison has tired out some, it is pretty cool to note that Bobby Plump, the Milan High star upon whom the Jimmy Chitwood character in the movie was based, actually went on to star at Butler.
  • Speaking of the movies, Butler junior forward Howard has earned a reputation as quite the actor when trying to draw a charge.

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RTC Final Four Tidbits: 03.28.10

Posted by THager on March 28th, 2010

Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Michigan State (Tom Hager)

  • Michigan State’s victory on Sunday is not without controversy.  Tennessee’s J.P. Prince, who committed the crucial foul with less than two seconds left, went over to the scorer’s table after the game and said that he did not believe there was a foul.
  • Although this is Tom Izzo’s sixth trip to the Final Four in twelve years, he makes sure not to take it for granted.  According to Izzo, reaching the Final Four is the greatest aspect of coaching because of the work involved in getting there.
  • The trip to the semifinals is even more impressive considering former MSU star Magic Johnson did not even believe that this was a Final Four team a month ago.
  • Perhaps the reason for Izzo’s success is his perfectionist attitude.  During one point in the game on Sunday, Draymond Green asked if he could make a mistake, and Izzo told him not at this crucial time of year.
  • Kalin Lucas is still the hero for Michigan State, as fans chanted his name and players carried him up to the rim to cut the nets.

Duke (Patrick Sellars)

  • The Washington Post looks at the brotherhood of the Duke Blue Devils in this article. Coach K has a team back in the Final Four for the first time since 2004.
  • Was Scott Drew’s coaching inexperience exposed in the Elite Eight matchup Sunday? Here is a look at how Drew may have cost Baylor the game and a shot at the Final Four.
  • Everyone is happy in Durham. Jon Scheyer said “It’s a dream come true. To get that win, we had to work our butts off for it, and it felt great.”
  • There was a lot of emotion in the Baylor locker room after their loss on Sunday. It was a sad end to a dream season. “You don’t want it to end,” a teary-eyed Tweety Carter said, “and you want to do whatever it takes to make it go on.”

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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.25.10

Posted by THager on March 26th, 2010

Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Midwest Region (Tom Hager)

  • One of Michigan State’s big advantages may be in their bench production, which has been averaging nearly 25 points per game lately and runs 11 players deep.
  • According to Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson, the decision to sign the contract extension was a no-brainer.  He signed a 10-year deal that will pay well over $400,000 per season.
  • The Washington Post notes that one of the major differences in the absence of Kalin Lucas is the contrasting and free flowing style that Korie Lucious plays at.  Lucious’ 13-point total in MSU’s game against Maryland was his highest total of the season.
  • Everybody knows Ohio State’s Jon Diebler has an incredible range, but not many people know that he used to shoot for dollar bills to hone his skills.
  • Michigan State is known for being mentally tough, but Northern Iowa is not used to the national exposure they have received from their trip to the Sweet Sixteen.  Although Ali Farokhmanesh has said that the confidence he receives has always been there, he admits that the media exposure has been overwhelming.

West Region (Andrew Murawa)

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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.23.10

Posted by THager on March 24th, 2010

Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Midwest Region (Tom Hager)

  • Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson has insisted that his players are handling the added attention well, but it is hard to keep your composure when you walk into a lecture hall and receive a standing ovation, as Ali Farokhmanesh experienced on Monday.
  • Many people know that Farokhamnesh transferred to UNI, but most people do not know that UNI, like most other schools, knew about him in high school and passed up on him.
  • According to Dan Blank, the key for Michigan State will be to push the ball (something Kansas failed to do when they let Jordan Eglseder score 14 points in 18 minutes).  However, given the injuries they have recently sustained, Blank says hastening the pace may not be so easy.
  • Ohio State has been criticized for a lack of bench production, but Blank points out that the short bench may benefit the Buckeyes.
  • The Buckeyes are underdogs in this game, but Inside Tennessee’s Patrick Gibson reported that the Vols had a solid practice session on Monday.  That should come as no surprise, as this week Doug Gottlieb listed Bruce Pearl as one of his top coaches in the country.

West Region (Andrew Murawa)

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Set Your Tivo: 03.14.10

Posted by THager on March 14th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2012
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

SEC Championship Game – #2 Kentucky vs. Mississippi St – 1:00 pm on ABC (****)

Although college basketball coverage has been rare on ABC this season, they will be broadcasting a fantastic game today.  This will be a chance for Mississippi State to avenge their heartbreaking loss to Kentucky earlier in the season.  In the only matchup between these teams, MSU had a 67-60 lead with under three minutes left before imploding.  The Bulldogs failed to capitalize on Kentucky’s 4-24 shooting from beyond the arc and ended up losing 81-75 in overtime.  Although Mississippi State is usually a solid team in the paint, they were outrebounded 49-29 in that game, and Jarvis Varnado will need to top the five rebounds he recorded if they are going to have a chance in this contest.  The Bulldogs, who rank just #60 in offensive efficiency, will likely struggle against a solid Wildcat defense, but guard Dee Bost scored 22 points in the last game and he will provide a change of pace from MSU’s lineup that is stacked with big men.  At the end of the day, Kentucky is still the better team, and will look to win their 26th SEC Tournament today.

ACC Championship Game – #4 Duke vs. Georgia Tech – 1:00 pm on ESPN (****)

The Yellow Jackets may have saved their season with this late run, but a win against Duke is the only way to ensure their name will be called on the selection show later today.  In order to beat a Blue Devils team that has won 11 of their last 12 games, they are going to have to limit their mistakes.  They average more turnovers than assists, and shoot only 65% from the free throw line.  The key for Georgia Tech will be to establish a presence in the paint, as Duke’s best athletes play on the perimeter, while the Yellow Jackets have three solid forwards.  Gani Lawal, Derrick Favors, and Zachary Peacock all average over 10 points per game and shoot over 50% from the floor, and if they can get production from all three forwards, they certainly have a chance to win this game.  GT suffered a 19-point defeat to the Blue Devils in the first game, but in Atlanta earlier this season the Yellow Jackets converted 22 of 28 free throws in a 71-67 victory.  Duke, who ranks among the top three teams in both offensive and defensive efficiency, should be able to contain a GT offense that ranks just #50 in Ken Pomeroy’s offense rankings.

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Set Your Tivo: 03.13.10

Posted by THager on March 13th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2012
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

CUSA Championship – UTEP vs. Houston – 11:30 am on CBS (***)

The Miners have been one of the most underrated teams in the country this season, but if they can finish their run through the Conference USA tournament, they could be looking at a #5 of #6 seed in the NCAA tournament.  They have now won 16 games in a row, and they will face a mediocre Houston team that is just 18-15 on the year.  UTEP is the more talented team, as they rank twelfth in defensive efficiency, but they have had some trouble against the Cougars this year.  The Miners won the most recent matchup, but finished the game just 2-18 from the three-point line.  In the first contest in January, Houston actually won 75-65 thanks to 11-20 shooting from beyond the arc.  UTEP’s Achilles heel has been their free throw shooting, and if Houston doesn’t beat up on themselves (they have a 1.4/1 assist to turnover ratio) the Cougars have a chance to steal a bid.

America East Championship – Boston University vs. Vermont – 12:00 pm on ESPN2 (***)

A few weeks ago, Boston University looked as if they had no business being in the NCAA tournament.  At the end of January, the Terriers stood at just 11-11, and were struggling in the America East conference.  However, BU won eight of their last nine games, and has earned a shot to dance with a 70-63 upset over top seeded Stony Brook in the semifinals.  There has been a few days rest from the semifinal game until today, so they will be more rested than most teams during championship week.  Vermont is an equally hot team, as they are 10-1 in their last 11 games, but they have had close calls against the Terriers this season.  In February, Vermont won in Boston 76-75, and it took Evan Fjeld’s layup with nine seconds left to seal the victory.  The largest lead for either team in the second half was just five points, and Vermont could not stop John Holland, who finished with 29 points.  Holland shoots 85% from the line this season, and if the Terriers can grab a lead heading into the closing minutes, free throw shooting could become a factor.  However, in their first matchup, BU got five points from their bench, while six Catamounts combined for 22 points, and Vermont ran away with a 20 point victory.  Vermont is 9-2 at home this year, and they look strong heading into this game.

MEAC Championship – South Carolina State vs. Morgan State – 2:00 pm on ESPN2 (***)

Morgan State is by far the best team in the MEAC, and the most likely candidate to pull off an upset in the tournament this season.  Nevertheless, they are going to have to get past a dangerous SC State team before they can secure their bid.  The Bulldogs were just 18-13 on the year, but they actually beat Morgan State on the road in their most recent matchup.  The Bears shot just 22% from the three point line, and SC State’s Jason Flagler had 24 points in the 71-68 victory.  The first game was a different matter, as Morgan State won by 15 points despite another poor shooting performance.  The Bulldogs do not rank among the top 250 teams in either offensive or defensive efficiency, while Morgan State ranks a relatively high #125 in offensive efficiency.  If South Carolina State continues to have more turnovers than assists, as they have this whole season, they have no chance of winning this game.

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Set Your Tivo: 03.10.10

Posted by THager on March 10th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2012
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

NEC Championship – Robert Morris @ Quinnipiac – 7:00 on ESPN2 (***)

A few weeks ago, Robert Morris had a chance to secure home court advantage throughout the Northeast Conference tournament, but a pair of losses now have the Colonials playing in Hamden, Connecticut.  RMU is just 9-7 on the road this year, while the Bobcats are 14-0 at home.  However, that statistic can be attributed to the weak out of conference schedule Quinnipiac played, and they rank #343 in the Jeff Sagarin’s strength of schedule ratings.  Neither team ranks high in offensive or defensive efficiency, but Quinnipiac’s #233 ranking on defense is eye-catching in a negative way.  In the only meeting of these teams earlier in the year, Quinnipiac’s James Johnson scored a season-high 28 points, and the Bobcats came out with an 87-79 road win.  The team also shot over 50% from the field in that game, and if they can duplicate that shooting performance at home, they should cement their place in the NCAA Tournament.

Big East Second Round – Notre Dame vs. Seton Hall – 7:00 pm on ESPN (****)

This is not an elimination game for the Irish, but this is a must win game for the Pirates, who are still on the outside looking in due to a #10 seed in the Big East tournament and a weak RPI.  Seton Hall is stealing some of Notre Dame’s thunder late in the season, but people are getting fooled by this overrated Pirates team.  Their last six wins have come against DePaul, St. John’s, Rutgers (twice) and Providence (twice).  The Irish, on the other hand, have defeated Pitt, Georgetown, Connecticut and Marquette, with the wins over the Hoyas and Golden Eagles coming on the road.  This game will feature two of the best players in the Big East, as Luke Harangody is back from an injury and Jeremy Hazell scores over 21 points per game.  In the only meeting between these two teams this year, Hazell scored 35 points while Harangody was limited to 13 points.  Notre Dame’s imbalance (#3 offense, #173 defense) has been well publicized, but Seton Hall has had defensive problems of their own.  The Pirates rank #96 in offensive efficiency and a ridiculous #238 on defense.  Although people are jumping on the Seton Hall bandwagon as of late, the Irish are a superior team and should get into the Tournament even with a loss tonight.

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Set Your Tivo: 03.09.10

Posted by THager on March 9th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2012
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Sun Belt Championship – North Texas vs. Troy – 7:00 pm on ESPN2 (***)

This neutral site game will feature two of the hottest games in the country, as North Texas has won ten consecutive games, while Troy has won seven in a row.  Given the recent play of both teams, it should come as no surprise that they are the top two teams in the Sun Belt Conference.  The offensive and defensive efficiency statistics are not impressive for either team (#156 and #196 for UNT; #128 and #241 for Troy), but they indicate that these two teams rely more on their offensive weapons.  Both teams have four players averaging in double figures, and Troy shoots nearly 48% from the floor.  What may be Troy’s undoing is their 65% free throw shooting.  Richard Delk, Troy’s second leading scorer at 12.7 points per game, has shot just 10-35 in his last three games, and needs to get back on track if Troy wants to do some damage over the next two weeks.  The biggest difference between the recent play of these teams is that Troy has beaten the third and fourth best teams in the league during their streak, while North Texas has been feeding on the weaker members of the conference, so look for Troy to make their second-ever NCAA tournament appearance with a win tonight.

Horizon League Championship – Wright State @ Butler – 9:00 pm on ESPN (****)

Butler has struggled in recent years with finishing out conference tournaments, despite their high level of success on a national basis.  Given their recent play, that shouldn’t be a problem tonight.  The Bulldogs, who have won 19 games in a row, match up well with Wright State’s guard-heavy lineup.  In their two matchups, Butler had perhaps their best performances of the season.  In their first game, all four offensive weapons for Butler scored in double figures, and they shot 50% from beyond the arc in addition to a nearly perfect 23-24 from the free throw line.  The second game featured an equally impressive showing from the Bulldogs, who shot nearly 80% from two-point range, and made 89% of their free throws.  Not only does Butler have a fundamentally sound offense, they are among Ken Pomeroy’s top 25 defensive teams.  Although Wright State does not rank in the top 65 in either offensive or defensive efficiency, something must be said for their consistency this season.  They have had four different streaks of three wins that were followed by a loss, and have never won more than four games in a row or lost more than two consecutive games.  If the Raiders are to have one last three-game winning streak, they will have to beat Butler and win an NCAA tournament game, something that seems unlikely given Butler’s outstanding play.

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Set Your Tivo: 03.08.10

Posted by THager on March 8th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2012
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

CAA Championship: Old Dominion vs. William & Mary – 7:00 pm on ESPN (****)

This neutral site game will feature two of the better mid-major teams in the country, but neither team is likely to make the Tournament without a win here.  William & Mary was at one time the top ranked team in the RPI in the country, with early wins over Maryland, Wake Forest, and Richmond.   Old Dominion is no slouch either, with OOC wins over Marshall, Georgetown, and Charlotte.  The Monarchs feature a solid defense at #18 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings.  Their offense ranks only #83, though, and they are one of the only teams in the country that has just one scorer in the 10-15 PPG range.  However, that offensive weapon, Gerald Lee, is coming off a 26-point performance against VCU in which he went 10-13 from the field.  The Tribe, on the other hand, struggles at #187 on defense, but they make up for it with an offense that features three players who average in double figures.  Their leading scorer, David Schneider, had only three points in his last game, and has shot only 7-29 in their two games against the Monarchs, but he’s shown an ability to step up in the clutch even when he’s not shooting well in general.  If he doesn’t get back on track tonight, though, it could spell trouble for the Tribe as they seek their first NCAA Tournament bid in history.

MAAC Championship: Fairfield vs. Siena – 7:00 pm on ESPN2 (***)

Siena has put together a great season, but they may be on the outside looking in if they lose in the MAAC Championship tonight.  They were 17-1 in the MAAC, and they are ranked #28 in the RPI, but the general consensus is that they need a win against Fairfield if they want to make the NCAAs for the third straight season.  They have good losses against Temple, Georgia Tech, Northern Iowa and Butler, but they have failed to win any big OOC games the entire year.  The Saints swept the season series between the two teams, but Fairfield was one of the only teams in the conference to play them close, and the Stags did so both times.  On January 16, they trailed Siena by just one point at halftime, thanks to 50% shooting from beyond the arc.  In their February 8 matchup, the Stags lost by just two points, and they outscored the Saints 39-33 in the second half.  One of the most interesting elements of both teams is their lack of depth, as Siena played only three reserves in the first game, none of whom scored over three points, and Fairfield had only one bench player who scored.  In the rematch, Fairfield’s bench scored six points, and Siena’s reserves scored two points.  The Stags don’t rank in the top 100 in either offensive or defensive efficiency, but if they can shoot over 61% from inside the arc like they did in their rematch, they may steal a bid from a great Siena team.

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Set Your Tivo: 03.07.10

Posted by THager on March 7th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2012
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Florida @ #3 Kentucky – 12:00 pm on CBS (***)

It's Patterson's (Likely) Swan Song Against the Gators (G'ville Sun/D. Finger)

Despite recent struggles, Florida is still a tournament team and Kentucky is still a #1 seed.  However, if Florida loses this game and has an early exit in the SEC Tournament, they will likely be off the bubble.  The Gators have been streaky all year, recording four different runs of at least two losses (including their current slide against Georgia and Vanderbilt).  Their chances against the Wildcats don’t look great, as UF ranks #49 and #56 in offensive and defensive efficiency.  The Wildcats rank in the top twenty in both categories, and have both the speed and size to shut down Florida’s offensive weapons.  The Gators have four players who average over 10 points per game, but Chandler Parsons scored just three points in his last game, and Alex Tyus has not scored in double figures in his last four.  When these teams met in Gainesville, the Gators had a lead in the closing minutes but a scoreless period near the end of the game sealed their fate.   UK was not impressive in that contest, but look for the Gators to get Kentucky’s best effort in Patrick Patterson’s (and presumably John Wall’s and DeMarcus Cousins’) final home game.

#15 Wisconsin @ Illinois – 2:00 pm on ESPN (***)

The Illini are another team who appear to be playing themselves out of the tournament.  Although this was the same team that was in contention for the Big Ten title after they upset Wisconsin a few weeks ago, the Illini then lost four of their next five games.  They are still in fifth place in the conference, but an 8-5 record outside the Big Ten may be what keeps them out of the big dance.  Wisconsin has won three straight games and has rebounded since a loss to Minnesota in Jon Leuer’s first game back from an injury.  Leuer was not playing the last time these teams met, and a much inferior Tim Jarmusz was playing in his absence.  Jarmusz shoots below 32% from the field, and now that their star forward is back, they have not had to rely on him.  The Illini don’t rank in the top 40 in either of Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings, while the Badgers rank fourth overall.  They Badgers are the best team in America in turnovers per game, and with Jarmusz out of the mix for UW, they should avenge their loss to Illinois.

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