Final Four Fact Sheet: South Carolina Gamecocks

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 28th, 2017

Now that we’re down to the Final Four, let’s take a deep dive into each of the four remaining teams. Today: South Carolina.

How South Carolina Got Here

South Carolina is headed to its first Final Four ever. (Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images)

East Region Champions. Despite entering Selection Sunday having lost six of its previous 10 games, South Carolina was given a surprisingly-high seed (#7) in a surprisingly-favorable location: Greenville, South Carolina. The Gamecocks took full advantage, crushing #10 seed Marquette before pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the NCAA Tournament against #2 Duke, scoring 65 points in the second half en route to an 88-81 runaway victory against the National Championship favorite. In its first Sweet Sixteen since appearance since 1973, South Carolina then held #3 Baylor to a season-low 0.76 points per possession; two days later, the Gamecocks put the finishing touches on their Cinderella run by upending SEC rival #4 Florida, limiting the Gators to 0-of-14 three-pointers in the second half on their way to a seven-point triumph.

The Coach

Frank Martin. In just five short years, Martin — a former nightclub bouncer and perhaps the scariest man in college basketball — has lifted a program from the depths of irrelevance to its first Final Four in school history. And he’s done it with the same hard-nosed, defensive-minded coaching style that made him successful in his first Division I coaching stint at Kansas State (2007-12). The former Bob Huggins assistant has clear stylistic similarities to his mentor, employing an aggressive, relentless brand of basketball intent on wearing down opponents mentally and physically. In eight of his 10 years as a college head coach, Martin’s teams have ranked among the top 40 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Miami native spent 15 years coaching high school basketball in his hometown before joining Northeastern as an assistant in 2000, so his decision to take the South Carolina job in 2012 — a program with only three Sweet Sixteen appearances in its long history — was not overly surprising. Martin knows how to be patient. After missing the NCAA Tournament in his first four seasons, that patience is finally paying off.

Style

For South Carolina, success starts on the defensive end. The Gamecocks rank second nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, fourth in defensive turnover rate, 12th in effective field goal percentage defense, and perhaps second to only West Virginia — Huggins’ group — in sheer physicality. Led by a pair of elite defenders in 6’5” Sindarius Thornwell and 6’6” PJ Dozier, South Carolina presses and traps all over the court, making it difficult for opposing ball-handlers to cross the timeline, much less comfortably run offensive sets. In the half-court, the Gamecocks aggressively extend on shooters, preferring to commit fouls over allowing open shots from the perimeter. Their length and knack for swarming to the ball (often employing a half-court trap) makes clean interior looks nearly as difficult, especially with 6’9” Chris Silva — a good per minute shot-blocker — manning the paint. They simply deny everything. Offensively, aggression remains the name of the game: South Carolina scores a whopping 23 percent of its points from the free throw line and another 50 percent from inside the arc, attack the basket at will, often off of turnovers. Having big, physical guard/forwards like Thornwell and Dozier helps.

Strengths

Sindarius Thornwell has been Superman for the Gamecocks this season. (Getty Images)

  • Limiting three-pointers. South Carolina does an exceptional job of taking away perimeter jumpers, allowing opponents to score just 25.6 percent of their points from behind the arc. The Gamecock guards relentlessly press up on shooters, sometimes resulting in fouls, but often resulting in forced jumpers or haphazard drives late in the shot clock. Really, the same reason opponents have such a difficult time shooting three-pointers is the same reason South Carolina forces turnovers at a higher rate than all but three other teams in the country: opposing guards simply can’t breathe once they cross half-court.
  • Attacking the basket. Thornwell is in a class of his own when it comes to attacking the rim. The senior ranks 13th nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, a testament to his bullish aggressiveness in the lane and willingness to push the ball as far and as fast as back-peddling defenders will allow. When South Carolina forces turnovers (which is often) he and his teammates waste no time getting downcourt—the Gamecocks average just 16.6 seconds per offensive possession. They also pound the offensive glass, cleaning up misses at the third-highest rate among SEC teams. Between free throws, offensive rebounds, and plain strong drives to the hoop, South Carolina is able to sustain itself offensively despite its poor shooting numbers.
  • Endurance. According to this account, South Carolina full-court presses during the majority of practices and often plays five-on-seven (advantage to the offense) in order to whip its dogged defense into shape. That grueling work ethic clearly pays off on game day. The Gamecocks are +54 in the second half during the NCAA Tournament, wearing down opposing offenses to such a degree that their offense — which, again, thrives on attacking the rim — can flourish. South Carolina’s second-half blitzes against Duke, Marquette, and Florida are shining examples. Conditioning, both mental and physical, seems to matter.

Weaknesses

  • Shooting. At 47.4 percent eFG, South Carolina ranks 299th nationally in effective field goal percentage. That’s not good. Outside of Thornwell (39.4% 3FG), there really aren’t any serious outside shooting threats on the roster. Guard Duane Notice (10.2 PPG) is capable of getting hot, but he’s also very streaky. Dozier (13.8 PPG) takes a lot of shots, but he’s usually not all that efficient. If Thornwell is off and Silva isn’t going to work inside, the Gamecocks can become very stagnant very fast.
  • Foul trouble. That aggressive defense has one glaring downside: free throws and foul trouble. Not only do South Carolina’s opponents score almost 27 percent of their points from the charity stripe, but several crucial Gamecock players — most notably Silva —are often forced to take a seat early. The 6’9” forward has fouled out 10 times this season, seven of which South Carolina lost. Dozier, another superb defender, also runs into similar trouble from time to time. Against talented offenses like Gonzaga, North Carolina and Oregon, free points and foul trouble could become an issue.
  • One-dimensionality. It may be oversimplifying things to say that South Carolina’s success boils down merely to defense and Sindarius Thornwell, but it’s not that far from the truth. Fact is, the Gamecocks must continue dominating on defense, and the senior sensation must continue to playing at a high-level offensively in order for Martin’s team to have a chance in Phoenix. If one of those two elements slips — say, the defense sputters like it did against Arkansas in Feburary, or Thornwell struggles like he did against Alabama in the SEC Tournament — it’s hard to envision South Carolina recovering.

Go-To Scorer

For South Carolina to succeed in Phoenix, PJ Dozier must keep performing offensively. (fansided.com)

Sindarius Thornwell (21.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.2 SPG). Before Duke’s Round of 32 loss to South Carolina, Mike Krzyzewski called Thornwell “the best, unheralded, great player in the United States.” And even that might be an understatement. The 6’5” in-state product is averaging nearly 26 points per game during NCAA Tournament play, showcasing his relentless aggression (he’s already attempted 39 free throws), shooting ability (42% 3FG over four games), and superb defensive skills. He’s also an outstanding offensive rebounder, once ripping down 10 offensive boards en route to a ridiculous 44-point, 21-rebound stat line against Alabama on February 7. Among players who have attempted 250+ free throws this season, only a handful of players boast a higher free throw percentage than the senior (83% FT). Thornwell also led the SEC in steal percentage during the regular season. There’s a reason he was the coaches’ choice for Conference Player of the Year (not to mention 7th in KenPom National Player of the Year rankings)—Thornwell is great.

X-Factor

PJ Dozier (13.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG). For better or worse, the talented sophomore takes a staggering 31 percent of his team’s shots while on the floor, which is roughly 70 percent of the time. That shot rate is higher than Thornwell’s (28.7%). When he shoots 50 percent or better from the field, South Carolina is 11-0; when he shoots under 40 percent, Martin’s team is 10-6. That seem like “picking and choosing” statistics, but it’s hard to deny that the Gamecocks’ offense is markedly better when Dozier is efficient. Silva, and bench production from players like forward Maik Kotsar (12 points vs. Florida), will also be key.

Outlook

When are we going to learn? South Carolina has entered each of its last three games as the underdog, yet won each contest by an average 11.3 points. It hadn’t scored over 1.1 points per possession since February 15 prior to Selection Sunday; in the four games since, Martin’s group has surpassed that mark three times. Tough, confident, and afraid of nobody, the Gamecocks now face their most difficult opponent yet: a Gonzaga team that boasts the nation’s most efficient defense with nearly an offense to match. Still, count South Carolina out at your own risk.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Oregon Ducks

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 27th, 2017

Now that we’re down to the Final Four, let’s take a deep dive into each of the four remaining teams. Today: Oregon.

How Oregon Got Here

Oregon hopes to continue riding high in Phoenix (Getty Images).

Midwest Region Champions. After receiving a lower-than-expected #3 seed on Selection Sunday, Oregon rolled past #13 Iona 83-67 in its NCAA Tournament opener. Two nights later, it required a pair of clutch Tyler Dorsey three-pointers for the Ducks to survive #11 Rhode Island, which led by as many as 10 points in the second half. Oregon’s late-game execution continued against #7 Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen, where it held the Wolverines scoreless over the game’s final two minutes en route to a 69-68 victory. Finally, despite facing #1 Kansas in Kansas City on Saturday—a road game by almost any standard—the Ducks drilled 11 three-pointers, held the Jayhawks to their worst offensive output of the season (0.94 points per possession), and advanced to their first Final Four since 1939.

The Coach

Dana Altman. The 58-year-old Nebraska native has quietly had one of the most successful careers among active Division I basketball coaches — a career now punctuated by his first Final Four appearance. Altman ranks 10th on the all-time wins list among working head men (597 wins), joining Jim Boeheim, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Bill Self and Tom Izzo as the only active coaches with 20+ consecutive winning seasons. After spending 16 years at Creighton (and becoming the Bluejays’ all-time winningest coach in the process), Altman has turned an inconsistent Oregon program into a perennial threat to win the Pac-12. Prior to his arrival, the Ducks had reached the Sweet Sixteen three times in program history, and won 30+ games only once; since Altman took the job in 2011, Oregon has doubled that number of Sweet Sixteen appearances and won 30+ games twice. He may well be a future Hall of Famer.

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NCAA Regional Reset: East Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2017

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks.

New Favorite: #4 Florida (26-8). Florida’s 65-39 drubbing of #5 Virginia on Saturday should put the rest of the remaining field on notice— the Gators are really, really difficult to score against. Mike White’s aggressive group held to Cavaliers to a paltry 0.65 points per possession, limiting its ACC foe to just 1-of-15 shooting from behind the arc and preventing any Virginia player from reaching double figures. Wisconsin, which is somewhat similar to Virginia stylistically, could be in for a rude awakening on Friday night. 6’8” swingman Devin Robinson, a supremely gifted athlete, is playing some of his best basketball of the season (19.0 PPG in the NCAA Tournament), and only West Virginia and North Carolina possess more depth than Florida of the teams remaining. Now ranked third nationally by KenPom, the Gators are as good a threat as any to win the National Championship.

Florida’ Defense Dominated Virginia This Weekend (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #8 Wisconsin (27-9). Despite being underseeded, Wisconsin outlasted Virginia Tech in the First Round before knocking off the reigning National Champion in the Round of 32. Saturday’s unexpected, high-drama victory over Villanova highlighted the Badgers’ strengths — patience, veteran leadership, stingy defense — and firmly establishes them as a threat in the East Region. Greg Gard’s club, now in its fourth straight Sweet Sixteen, will again enter Friday’s match-up with #4 Florida as an underdog. With a pair of seniors (Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes) and a First Team All-Big Ten forward (Ethan Happ) leading the way, bet against the dark horse Badgers at your own risk.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #7 South Carolina (24-10). #11 USC shocked #6 SMU and #8 Wisconsin upended the reigning National Champion — both huge surprises in their own right. But it was the other USC — #7 South Carolina — that pulled off the biggest stunner in the East, and perhaps the entire Big Dance. #2 Duke entered the Thursday as the betting favorite win the NCAA Tournament, a testament to both its supreme talent and undeniable momentum heading into the event (the Blue Devils had just won the ACC Tournament). The Gamecocks, meanwhile, entered Friday having lost six of its previous nine games, including an 11-point stinker against Alabama in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. And yet, Frank Martin’s defensive-minded group pounded Duke in the second half on Sunday night, scoring 65 points in the final 20 minutes and knocking off the Blue Devils in front of a home-state crowd filled with South Carolina fans and North Carolina fans (otherwise known as Duke haters) alike. Few people saw this coming.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2017

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks.

New Favorite: #1 Kansas (30-4). Despite receiving a 30-minute test from #9 Michigan State on Sunday, Kansas remains the favorite to win the Midwest Region. The Jayhawks smashed #16 UC Davis 100-62 before dominating the last 10 minutes against the Spartans in the Round of 32 — a hard-fought victory that should prepare them well for an even stronger Big Ten opponent, #4 Purdue, on Thursday. If you buy into advanced metrics, this appears to be a fairly even matchup: Kansas ranks seventh in KenPom, while the Boilermakers rank 13th. Unfortunately for Matt Painter’s group, the game will be played in Kansas City, where a sea of Jayhawk faithful is sure to outnumber Purdue fans several fold. Assuming Kansas prevails, it will be a similar story against #3 Oregon or #7 Michigan. Beating Kansas is one thing, but beating Kansas in a semi-road game is something entirely different.

Kansas Rolls Into KC as the Clear Midwest Region Favorite (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #7 Michigan (26-11). The Wolverines have not lost since that epic defeat at Northwestern on March 1, a nearly three-week stretch which has included a near-plane crash, a Big Ten Tournament championship, and a pair of gutsy NCAA Tournament victories over Oklahoma State and Louisville. Michigan now boasts the third-most efficient offense in college basketball, thanks in large part to blistering performances like the one Moritz Wagner (26 points on 11-of-14 FT) put on against the Cardinals on Sunday. If John Beilein’s group can get past shorthanded Oregon on Thursday, there’s no reason to think it can’t win this region. Heck, the Wolverines have already beaten Purdue twice since February 25, and the last time they played Kansas in the Big Dance, this happened. Look out.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #11 Rhode Island (25-10). Rhode Island entered the NCAA Tournament on an eight-game winning streak, so its victory over #6 Creighton in the Round of 64 was not that surprising. The fashion in which it whipped the Bluejays, though — winning by 14 points and trailing for exactly zero seconds in game time — was quite unexpected. So too was the Rams’ effort against #3 Oregon on Sunday night, a game in which they led by double-figures in the second half before falling victim to a cold-blooded Tyler Dorsey three-pointer in the closing seconds. For a program that had not gone dancing since 1999, Rhode Island was certainly ready for prime time.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Wisconsin 65, #1 Villanova 62

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 18th, 2017

In this NCAA Tournament’s first major upset, #1 overall seed Villanova fell to #8 Wisconsin in a tough, back-and-forth game decided in the closing seconds.

Greg Gard’s veteran group is back in the Sweet Sixteen. (M.P. King, State Journal)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Wisconsin showed serious grit. In control for the opening 20 minutes, Wisconsin surrendered its narrow lead midway through the second half before falling behind 57-50 with 5:31 remaining. Its defense, which had been so excellent for most of the game (“They’re good defensively… we’re trying to figure it out,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said at halftime), let off the pedal to some extent. Meanwhile, two of the Badgers’ best players — Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ — were saddled with foul trouble. Things began to look dire. So how did Greg Gard’s group respond? By preventing the reigning National Champion from making a single field goal from there on out. It was a tough, gritty performance by Wisconsin — perhaps one you’d expect from a team led by tested seniors.
  2. Remember Nigel Hayes? He’s still really good. Once considered a National Player of the Year candidate, Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes took a back seat this season to frontcourt mate Ethan Happ, who earned Second Team All-America honors. But Happ, along with point guard Bronson Koenig, were both forced to sit the bench for far longer than expected on Saturday. The sophomore picked up his third foul early in the second half; Koenig picked us his fourth with 13:40 remaining. That’s when Hayes stepped up. The 6’8″ senior scored 14 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, including the game-winning bucket with 14 seconds left. He also grabbed five offensive rebounds and was extremely active on defense. In a game that lacked much rhythm, Hayes provided a confidence and consistency that carried the Badgers to the Sweet Sixteen.
  3. Villanova never hit its stride this Tournament. The reigning National Champion was dominant for much of the regular season, slicing and dicing opponents with its tremendous ball movement and lockdown capabilities on the defensive end. But that team, the dominant one, never made it to Buffalo. After a lethargic effort against #16 Mount St. Mary’s on Thursday, Villanova put forth another sluggish, uneven effort on Saturday. This time, however — against a more evenly-matched opponent — the Wildcats weren’t able to skate by on talent alone. Big East Player of the Year Josh Hart played well (19 points), but it wasn’t enough against a tough, defensive-minded team like Wisconsin.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 West Virginia 83, #5 Notre Dame 71

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 18th, 2017

West Virginia relied on timely shooting and aggressive defense (per usual) to reach its second Sweet Sixteen in the last three years.

West Virginia is headed to San Jose next week. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. No one is immune to Press Virginia. Notre Dame entered Saturday with the best offensive turnover rate in the country, a testament to its stable of seasoned ball-handlers and deliberate approach. Faced with West Virginia’s relentless, bruising defensive pressure, though, the Irish struggled just as so many of the Mountaineers’ opponents have this season. Mike Brey’s veteran club suffered 10 turnovers in the first half alone, unable to find any offensive rhythm and surrendering easy baskets on the other end. West Virginia — which forces turnovers at a higher rate than any other team in college hoops — jumped out to a 10-0 lead to start the game and never really looked back.
  2. The Mountaineers’ offense was pretty great, too. Much of the conversation surrounding West Virginia focuses on its defense, and deservedly so. But if it was defense that gave the Mountaineers’ an initial edge on Saturday, it was the offense that ultimately carried them home. Bob Huggins’ group shot 50 percent from the field, including 8-of-14 from behind the arc and 21-of-26 at the free throw line. Especially great was West Virginia’s interior passing, which enabled Esa Ahmad (11 points), Elijah Macon (11 points), Daxter Miles (18 points), and others to routinely find easy looks at the rim. Oh, and the timely three-point shooting helped — especially from Jevon Carter (4-of-5 3FG), who drilled a clutch triple with 2:30 remaining that helped stick a fork in Notre Dame.
  3. Bonzie Colson was every bit as good as you’d expect. While Notre Dame lost, it wasn’t because Colson didn’t hold his own. The uniquely-built 6’5″ forward scored 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-5 shooting from long range along with eight rebounds. Despite picking up his fourth foul with about nine minutes left in the game, Colson remained effective on the offensive end, enabling the Irish to hang around despite facing a superior opponent. Silver lining for Notre Dame fans? The big man is only a junior, and should enter 2017-18 as a front-runner for ACC Player of the Year.

Player of the Game. Jevon Carter, West Virginia (24 points, 4-of5 3FG). For as outstanding as Colson was, Carter make the biggest difference in this game. The 6’2″ junior, known for his tenacious defense and quick hands (2.6. SPG), knocked down big shot after big shot on Saturday, including a long three-pointer from straight-on midway through the second half and that dagger triple with a few minutes remaining. He couldn’t have picked a better time to match his season-high point total.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Wisconsin 84, #9 Virginia Tech 74

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2017

Wisconsin came out on top tonight in an entertaining, back-and-forth affair that saw the two teams combine for 20 made three-pointers.

Bronson Koenig had a huge night in Buffalo. (Photo: The Sports Post)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Bronson Koenig was awesome. Hampered by a lingering leg injury for much of February, Koenig seemed to be trending toward full health late in the season. His performance on Thursday night put any remaining doubts to rest — the senior point guard is back. Koenig scored 28 points on 8-of-17 shooting from behind the arc, including a 5-of-6 stretch from three-point range during the second half that enabled Wisconsin to maintain its slight advantage. Perhaps the most pivotal moment of the night came near the eight-minute mark, when he knocked down a gutsy triple from several feet behind the arc, then stole the ball on the other end before drawing a foul. On a night where star forward Ethan Happ scored just 10 points, Koenig’s effort was essential. Whether he plays at a high level again on Saturday may determine if the Badgers will return to the Sweet Sixteen.
  2. Wisconsin is living and thriving from behind the arc. For the second time in three games, Wisconsin attempted more three-pointers (31) than two-pointers (30). The staggering ratio worked against Northwestern in the Big Ten semifinals — Wisconsin hit 12 threes in that one — and carried the Badgers again on Thursday night (13-for-31 3FG). With players like Happ (13.9 PPG) and Nigel Hayes (13.5 PPG) manning the interior, it’s not like Wisconsin can’t score inside effectively. For an offense that’s struggled to find its groove at times this year, though, perhaps the best tonic is simply the freedom to hoist from long range.
  3. Virginia Tech basketball is (and will remain) exciting under Buzz Williams. In just three short years, Buzz Williams has transformed a Virginia Tech offense that ranked dead last in the ACC in 2014 to one of the nation’s best this season. And it showed on Thursday night. The Hokies — a great three-point shooting team — carved up Wisconsin’s interior defense like butter in the second half, as Zach LeDay (23 points) found himself more than a couple powerful dunks to ignite the Virginia Tech faithful. Whether it was half-court sets or unselfish plays in transition, Williams has clearly done a masterful job on that end of the court. Despite the departures of Seth Allen (13.4 PPG) and LeDay (16.3 PPG), it’s hard to imagine the Hokies falling too far down the ACC standings in 2017-18.

Star of the Game. Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin (21 points, 8-of-17 3FG). Everything was falling for Koenig in the second half, including a spot-up corner three that hit front rim, bounced off the backboard, and fell through the net. His steady hand and timely shooting helped Wisconsin remain ahead despite several momentous scoring bursts for Virginia Tech down the stretch. In order for Wisconsin to advance past Saturday, the senior needs to continue playing at a very high level.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 76, #16 Mount St. Mary’s 56

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2017

Despite being outplayed by Mount St. Mary’s for the majority of the first half, Villanova turned on the jets over the final 20 minutes and advanced to the Round of 32 for the 10th time under head coach Jay Wright.

Josh Hart and the Wildcats will continue their quest for a repeat National Title. (CSN Philly)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Mount St. Mary’s was not afraid. Despite taking on the #1 overall seed, Mount St. Mary’s — 25-point underdogs in Las Vegas — largely controlled the first half, carving up Villanova’s interior defense and preventing it from scoring in transition on the other end. Freshman guard Miles Wilson (22 points) played as if the reigning National Champion was just another NEC opponent, attacking the teeth of the Wildcats’ defense with confidence. Were it not for a Jalen Brunson layup just before the buzzer, the Mount would’ve been the first #16 seed to lead at halftime since 2004. Jamion Christian‘s undersized group already had an NCAA Tournament victory under its belt, and their composure shined through tonight. Nerves were not an issue.
  2. Josh Hart needs to remain on the floor. After picking up his second foul around the 12-minute mark, National Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart took a seat for the better portion of the first half — and it showed. The Wildcats looked completely out of sorts, settling for mediocre perimeter jumpers (1-of-9 3FG) and playing with a lethargy uncharacteristic of Wright’s club. When Hart returned in the second half, the ball-movement picked up, the paced improve and Villanova quickly started dominating. If the Big East champs are going to cut down the nets once again, their best player — perhaps the sport’s best player — must remain on the floor.
  3. Donte DiVincenzo again shows flashes of brilliance. One week after scoring 25 points against St. John’s in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, DiVincenzo was far and away Villanova’s best player again on Thursday night. Not only did the redshirt freshman score 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting (3-for-4 3FG), he secured a career-high 13 rebounds along the way. The loss of Ryan Arcidiacono (12.5 PPG) was among the largest voids Wright needed to fill entering this season, but DiVincenzo has helped fill that void and his continued success could prove central to the Wildcats’ repeat title hopes.

Star of the Game. Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova (21 points, 13 rebounds). Despite missing a pair of dunks in hilariously bad fashion, DiVincenzo was outstanding on Thursday night, playing with an energy and purpose that many of his teammates lacked for roughly 20 minutes. His eye-popping rebounding total was likely an aberration — Mount St. Mary’s is, after all, the sixth-shortest team in America — but the freshman’s outstanding shooting numbers are nothing to dismiss. This guy will be a factor moving forward.

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RTC Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 13th, 2017

All day on Monday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis for the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWRegion).

Midwest Region

The Pressure is on Bill Self (USA Today Images)

Favorite: #1 Kansas (28-4, 16-2 Big 12). Make no mistake—Kansas’ loss to TCU in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals is disconcerting. The Horned Frogs are an NIT team, and the Jayhawks will certainly see better opponents in the Big Dance. But freshman phenom Josh Jackson (16.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG) was suspended for that game, his absence clearly felt on both ends of the court. With college basketball’s best point guard, Frank Mason (20.8 PPG, 5.1 APG), at the helm and Jackson set to return, the Big 12 champion should have no problem regaining momentum. Looking ahead, neither Miami (FL) or Michigan State seem capable of threatening the Jayhawks in the Round of 32, while a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup with Iowa State—which ended Kansas’ 54-game home winning streak in February—could be an ideal revenge spot for Bill Self’s group. Considering #3 seed Oregon is shorthanded and #2 seed Louisville enters the NCAA Tournament in a slump, the Jayhawks’ path to another Final Four is wide open.

Should They Falter: #2 Louisville (24-8, 12-6 ACC). Though Louisville enters Friday having dropped three of its previous five contents, two of those losses were to North Carolina (in Chapel Hill) and Duke, including a narrow loss to the Blue Devils in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. Which is to say, the Cardinals are going to be just fine. Perhaps most encouraging is the fact that—while its oppressive defense hasn’t been quite as stingy down the stretch—Louisville’s offensive efficiency improved significantly during the second half of conference play. Assuming the ball-movement is crisp and Donovan Mitchell (15.7 PPG), Quentin Snider (12.7 PPG), and Deng Adel (11.9 PPG) don’t all go cold at the same time, Rick Pitino has a sure-fire Final Four contender on his hands. Especially in light of #3 seed Oregon’s recent bad news.

Grossly Overseeded: #9 Michigan State (19-4, 10-8 Big Ten). The vast majority of bracketologists at BracketMatrix.com pegged Michigan State as a #10, #11 or even #12 seed (average: 10.2). Instead, the Spartans received a #9 seed, which is especially strange when you consider that Wisconsin (#8 seed) and Michigan (#7 seed)—each with markedly better resumes and far stronger metrics—were barely treated any better. Perhaps it wouldn’t be as large of an issue were the optics not so bad: Michigan State’s athletic director, Mark Hollis, was this year’s NCAA Selection Committee Chair.

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RTC Bracket Prep: East Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 13th, 2017

All day Monday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis for the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCEastRegion).

East Region

The Champs Are Ready to Defend Their Title (USA Today Images)

Favorite: #1 Villanova (31-3, 15-3 Big East). Sure, Duke’s ACC Championship run over the weekend was impressive, a sign that perhaps its unreasonably-high preseason expectations weren’t so unreasonable after all. But Villanova—the reigning National Champion, let’s not forget—has been more consistent, more dominant, an outright better team from start to finish. Senior Josh Hart (18.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG) has arguably been college basketball’s best player, making key plays in key moments for an offense that ranks second nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. Former five-star recruit Jalen Brunson (14.8 PPG, 4.2 APG) is realizing his potential at point guard. Mikal Bridges, whose effort against Kansas last March helped propel the Wildcats to the Final Four, has helped Jay Wright’s club hold Big East opponents to a paltry 0.98 points per possession this season. And, oh yeah, Kris Jenkins (86 made three-pointers) is still on the roster. Remember him? Balanced, experienced, and tough-as-nails, Villanova has all the pieces for a trip to Glendale.

Should They Falter: #2 Duke (27-8, 11-7 ACC). Equipped with one of the most talented rosters in recent memory, the injury-plagued and controversy-laden Blue Devils bungled their way through ACC play, only to rediscover their mojo just as the calendar flipped to March. That’s bad news for the bottom half of the East Region. Preseason All-American Grayson Allen seemed to recoup some confidence in the ACC Tournament after struggling through the month of February. As did soon-to-be lottery pick Jayson Tatum, who averaged 22.0 PPG in Duke’s four-game championship run in Brooklyn. Luke Kennard (20.1 PPG), the ACC Tournament MVP, continued his season-long excellence, while even Harry Giles—a hyper-talented forward beset by knee injuries—showed why he was once considered the future #1 overall pick. With a remarkably talented supporting cast to boot, there’s no reason the Blue Devils can’t vie for a National Championship—especially if Villanova stumbles up top.

Grossly Overseeded: #7 South Carolina (22-10, 12-6 SEC). Non-conference victories over Michigan, Syracuse, Vermont and Monmouth are nice, and South Carolina did beat Florida, but a #7 seed? The Gamecocks went 3-6 over their final nine games of the season, failing to beat a team better than Georgia (at home) from February 1 onward. This team lost to Alabama twice—including an 11-point defeat in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals—fell at Ole Miss, and was down by 16 points in December to a Memphis team that had just ended its season in historically bad fashion. Meanwhile, Wisconsin—a team with fewer losses and a higher volume of quality wins—was slapped with a #8 seed.

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