Three Takeaways as Kentucky Annihilates UCLA

Posted by Walker Carey on December 20th, 2014

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between Kentucky and UCLA at the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago. 

There has been plenty of talk so far this season about the potential of Kentucky completing an undefeated season. There has been good reason for this talk too, as the Wildcats have shown flashes of being an unstoppable force. This was never more evident than in Saturday afternoon’s 83-42 thrashing of UCLA. Kentucky started the game on a 24-0 run and led 41-7 at halftime. The Wildcats defense was so suffocating that the Bruins were held to 3-of-37 (8.1%) shooting in the first half and 19-of-71 (26.8%) shooting for the game. Probably the most incredible statistics of the first half were that Kentucky had more blocks (eight) and steals (five) than UCLA had made baskets (three). This was a thumping in every sense of the word. It was probably one of those games where UCLA coach Steve Alford would be better served to burn the footage than try to learn from it. The following are three takeaways from Saturday afternoon’s action.

Kentucky Experienced a Lot of This on Saturday Against UCLA (USA Today Images)

Kentucky Experienced a Lot of This on Saturday Against UCLA (USA Today Images)

  1. The first half could not have gone worse for UCLA. When Kentucky guard Devin Booker threw down a dunk at the 12:40 mark of the first half, all UCLA guards Bryce Alford and Norman Powell was stare at each other in amazement,as Booker’s dunk had put Kentucky ahead 24-0. Before swingman Kevon Looney finally converted a lay-in at the 12:17 mark, the Bruins missed their first 17 shots. When the half came to an end, UCLA’s futility was almost laughable. It was down 41-7. It had converted just 3-of-37 shot attempts, including 0-of-9 from behind the three-point line. It had turned the ball over eight times and let eight of its shots be swatted by Kentucky defenders. Adding insult to injury for the Bruins was the fact that it was not like Kentucky had set the world on fire offensively during the opening stanza either. The Wildcats shot just 45.7% from the field and missed several open looks from the perimeter. None of that mattered though, as Kentucky’s incredible defense, depth, and athleticism was the story once again in another lopsided victory. Read the rest of this entry »
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Three Takeaways as North Carolina Bests Ohio State

Posted by Walker Carey on December 20th, 2014

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between North Carolina and Ohio State at the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago.

North Carolina entered Saturday’s game against Ohio State looking to salvage what had so far been an uneven December. The Tar Heels kicked off the month by suffering a pretty surprising home defeat at the hands of Iowa in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. That defeat was especially alarming because it illustrated North Carolina’s offensive struggles, as the Tar Heels were an ice cold 27.9% from the field and an abysmal 17.4% from behind the three-point line. After a strong 44-point victory over East Carolina on December 7, North Carolina ran into the Kentucky buzzsaw in Lexington last Saturday. The Tar Heels struggled with Kentucky’s defensive pressure all afternoon, and turned the ball over 18 times in a 14-point loss. Against Ohio State on Saturday, Roy Williams‘s squad was finally able to put together a consistent 40 minutes of basketball against top competition, as North Carolina emerged with a 82-74 win. The following are three takeaways from Saturday’s action.

UNC (USA Today Images)

UNC Played a Strong Game in Chicago Today (USA Today Images)

  1. North Carolina came out strong. The Tar Heels were able to race out to a 12-point halftime lead due to a strong first half performance on both ends of the court. Led by Brice Johnson‘s eight points on 4-of-4 shooting, North Carolina scored 43 points in the opening stanza on 17-of-33 (51.5%) shooting from the field. The first half scoring was a very balanced effort as Johnson, Marcus Paige, Justin Jackson, J.P. Tokoto, Kennedy Meeks, and Joel Berry II all scored at least five points in the opening 20 minutes. On the defensive end of the court, North Carolina’s hard-nosed defense forced Ohio State into a very pedestrian 12-of-32 (37.5%) shooting in the first half. The backcourt of Shannon Scott and D’Angelo Russell was held to just seven first half points on 3-of-11 shooting. The Tar Heels also dominated the rebounding glass in the opening half, as they held a 23-15 advantage on the boards at the half. Ohio State was able to make this game a little closer than it probably should have been late in the second half, but the strong first half turned in by North Carolina created enough distance that the outcome was really never in question. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Top 25: Week Four

Posted by Walker Carey on December 15th, 2014

Fresh off last weekend’s plethora of upsets, this college basketball season experienced its first week of relative chalk. To illustrate that, the top 16 teams in the RTC25 fell in exactly the same order as they were last week. The only notable RTC25 teams to suffer defeats and take tumbles were #19 North Carolina and #25 Butler. The Tar Heels dropped two spots after being thoroughly outmanned in a 14-point loss Saturday at Kentucky. The Bulldogs fell eight spots after getting tripped up Sunday in Knoxville against a feisty Tennessee squad. You should know by now that a week like this is not the norm in college basketball, and you should expect more weeks of upsets as the season progresses.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

rtc25 12.15.14 Quick n’ Dirty Analysis.

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Three Takeaways as Notre Dame Throttles Florida State

Posted by Walker Carey on December 14th, 2014

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report following Saturday night’s game between Florida State and Notre Dame.

Notre Dame’s 15-17 campaign from a season ago seems to be long forgotten as the Irish moved to 10-1 Saturday night with a dominating 83-63 victory over conference foe Florida State. The fact that the Seminoles feature three seven-footers on their roster did not phase the Irish frontline, as junior big man Zach Auguste turned in a career-best performance with 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting. Saturday night represented quite the bounce back performance for Auguste, as he struggled mightily in Notre Dame’s last game against a power conference opponent, finishing with just four points and four rebounds in December 3’s victory over Michigan State. The following are three takeaways from Saturday evening’s action.

Notre Dame Had No Letdown Against Florida State on Saturday (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Had No Letdown Against Florida State on Saturday (USA Today Images)

  1. Zach Auguste was a monster. The majority of questions about Notre Dame entering this season were regarding the team’s inside players. Would they be good enough for the Irish to be a legitimate factor in the ACC? Well, from the looks of it in Saturday night’s first conference game, junior forward Zach Auguste is more than ready to lead the Irish frontline through the rigors of the ACC. Matched up against a Florida State front that features seven-footers Kiel Turpin, Boris Bojanovsky, and Michael Ojo, Auguste more than held his own. The junior finished with a career-best 26 points to go along with seven rebounds. Auguste – along with Irish reserve forwards Martinas Geben and Austin Torres – helped limit the Florida State frontline to just eight points and 11 rebounds on the night. The ACC gauntlet will undoubtedly be arduous, but if Mike Brey and the Irish can get performances from its frontcourt like it did Saturday, the Irish may earn a reputation for having more than just a strong backcourt. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Top 25: Week Three

Posted by Walker Carey on December 8th, 2014

College basketball experienced its first true upset weekend and this week’s RTC25 reflects the madness that took place on the court. Let’s run through the carnage. Fresh off a hard-thought ACC/Big Ten Challenge victory over Syracuse, previously-#15 Michigan was stunned at home by NJIT. What made the upset so stunning is that the Wolverines are the reigning Big Ten regular season champions, while NJIT is the lone remaining Division I independent because its former conference folded and it has yet to find a new league willing to offer an invitation. This defeat along was stunning enough to cause Michigan to fall completely out of this week’s RTC25. #23 Miami (FL) also suffered an upset loss at home to Green Bay over the weekend. The previously unbeaten Hurricanes were ice cold from the field, shooting just 32.8 percent from the field in the defeat. Poor shooting was also the theme for #16 San Diego State on Sunday, as the Aztecs shot just 20.5 percent in a road loss at Washington. College basketball is often where the unexpected becomes the ordinary, and that was certainly on display over the weekend.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

rtc25 w3

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Three Takeaways as Notre Dame Bested Michigan State Last Night

Posted by Walker Carey on December 4th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report following Wednesday evening’s game between Michigan State and Notre Dame in South Bend.

Jerian Grant‘s return from a semester-long academic suspension was discussed plenty in the preseason. The popular opinion was that Grant is a very good player, but would his return to the lineup be enough to help Notre Dame significantly improve from its disastrous 15-17 record a season ago? Entering Wednesday night’s showdown with Michigan State, early returns on Grant’s comeback season are very positive. The Irish came into the game having won six of their first seven, and Grant was the ACC leader in both scoring (18.4 PPG) and setting up his teammates (7.1 APG). Little did we know that the senior guard also had a career-best performance up his sleeve in Notre Dame’s thrilling 79-78 overtime victory over the Spartans. Grant tallied 27 points and dished out six assists to lead the Irish to the win. The following are three key takeaways from Wednesday evening’s action.

Jerian Grant is Having Quite the Senior Season (USAT Images)

Jerian Grant is Having Quite the Comeback Season (USAT Images)

  1. Notre Dame’s backcourt was tremendous. Mike Brey runs a four-guard lineup this season and it was greatly successful against Michigan State. Grant led the way with those 27 points and six assists. Sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson showed why he was a McDonald’s All-American, totaling a career-best 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting. The versatile Pat Connaughton chipped in 12 points with eight important rebounds, and sophomore Steve Vasturia added another 12 points. Brey is well-known for playing a short bench and that was on display again last night, as Grant played 45 minutes, Jackson and Connaughton each played 44, and Vasturia logged 42. The Irish guards also did a stellar job defensively, as Spartans point guard Travis Trice was held to just seven points on 3-of-13 shooting. If Notre Dame can get this type of performance — or even something approximating it — from its backcourt throughout the season, the Irish are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the ACC race. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Top 25: Week Two

Posted by Walker Carey on December 1st, 2014

Feast Week has come and gone, and it once again did not disappoint. Top teams #2 Wisconsin and #4 Arizona showed the nation why they are thought of as some of the nation’s best. The Badgers took home the Battle 4 Atlantis title after scoring victories over UAB, Georgetown, and #16 Oklahoma. Sean Miller’s Wildcats took home the title at the Maui Invitational with wins over Missouri, Kansas State, and #13 San Diego State. #9 Villanova also turned in an impressive week. Jay Wright’s squad was victorious at the Legends Classic, as it secured notable wins over #23 VCU and #15 Michigan. With the ACC/Big Ten Challenge set to take place this coming week, expect a lot more great action on the court and even more fluidity in the RTC25.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

week2_top25 Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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RTC Top 25: Week One

Posted by Walker Carey on November 24th, 2014

Week one is in the books and what a week it was. One of the great things about college basketball is that many of the elite teams play other elite teams early in the season, and that is what happened at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis last Tuesday. First, #2 Duke led the entire way in scoring a comfortable 11-point victory over #19 Michigan State, and in the nightcap, #1 Kentucky showed everyone why it will be the story of the year in college basketball, as the Wildcats thoroughly dismantled #11 Kansas. Duke’s win over Michigan State paired with its weekend victories over Temple and Stanford have the Blue Devils all the way up to the second slot in this week’s RTC25. #1 Kentucky remains in the top spot, but its style points in demolishing a talented Kansas squad earned the Wildcats every one of our pollsters’ number one votes. Outside of Kentucky, the team of the week had to be #7 Gonzaga, who rose from #11 after it impressively handled previously-#22 SMU and dominated its way to a 52-point thrashing of Saint Joseph’s.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 9.21.01 AM

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Jerian Grant’s Season of Redemption Off to a Great Start

Posted by Walker Carey on November 20th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between Coppin State and Notre Dame.

After four consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament from 2010-13, Notre Dame took a big step back last season to finish at just 15-17 overall. A major reason for the lackluster season in South Bend was because the Irish were without dynamic scoring guard and best player Jerian Grant‘s services for the second half of the season. The junior was lost after an incident involving academic impropriety caused his temporary separation from the university. Without Grant’s 19.0 PPG and 6.3 APG, the Irish struggled offensively throughout their first season in the ACC. Known for utilizing a short rotation, Mike Brey was forced to rely on several young players who otherwise would have seen limited action.

Jerian Grant has already made a huge difference in his return to the Fighting Irish. (Getty)

Jerian Grant has already made a huge difference in his return to the Fighting Irish. (Getty)

Almost immediately after his suspension began, Grant announced his intention to return to Notre Dame for this year’s campaign. He subsequently took care of what he needed to do off the court and was readmitted by the school in late May, bolstering the hopes of this year’s Fighting Irish. In the preseason, opinions on Notre Dame were fairly mixed. One national writer picked the Irish to finish ninth in the conference, while another picked Brey’s squad as a sleeper contender for an NCAA Tournament bid. While Grant is obviously the marquee name on the roster, the Irish have several additional pieces who can help shoulder the load this season. Versatile senior Pat Connaughton, who spent much of the summer pitching in the Baltimore Orioles organization, has been an important piece for Brey since the day he stepped foot on campus. Junior big man Zach Auguste and sophomore guards Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia saw ample playing time last season, and each are expected to make significant strides forward this season. Read the rest of this entry »

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2014-15 RTC Top 25: Preseason Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on November 14th, 2014

And so it begins — the time of year when we hear familiar voices on the television, see the faces on the floor, and our favorite teams again playing games that count in the standings. It is a beautiful time, indeed. With a large slate of games commencing this evening, we officially unveil RTC’s 2014-15 Preseason Top 25. This poll will hold for about 10 days, but starting November 24, you can expect our weekly poll to come out every Monday morning throughout the rest of the season. Along with the rankings will be the usual quick and dirty analysis that dives deeper into how the teams shake out from top to bottom. To see how we did last year, check out our 2013-14 preseason poll — we nailed some (Louisville, Michigan, Florida, Kansas), and missed on others (Oklahoma State, Marquette, Notre Dame, Georgetown). We promise to do better this time around.

rtc25 preseason

Quick n’ Dirty Thoughts.

  • A Strong Majority Like Kentucky – Six of our seven pollsters were in agreement that Kentucky is the top team in the country, while the lone dissenter went with #2 Arizona. It is very difficult to argue with either selection, but Kentucky reigned supreme with John Calipari bringing another star-studded recruiting class (Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns) to play alongside a formidable returning unit (Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee, Dakari Johnson, and Willie Cauley-Stein). Calipari has so much talent at his disposal that he is planning on starting the season with two separate “platoons” of six players that will roughly play the same number of minutes. Will this strategy work? That certainly remains to be seen, but it will be an interesting narrative to follow. After advancing to the Elite Eight last spring, Arizona is once again loaded with talent. T.J. McConnell, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson all return, and the other Wildcats are joined by much-balleyhooed freshman Stanley Johnson.
  • After The Top Four, Everything Is Fairly Close – Kentucky, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Duke are well-established by our pollsters as the four top teams in the country. After that, there was not a ton of agreement on the remaining 21 teams. For example, #7 North Carolina was voted as high as #5 by three pollsters, but the Tar Heels also drew two votes at #12. This much uncertainty regarding the placement of the #5 through #25 teams in the country should make for a fun early season stretch where some teams will undoubtedly distinguish themselves as bona fide contenders while others will fade out of the RTC25.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 13th, 2014

With the season tipping off on Friday night, there’s no better time to roll out our preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week or so, and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

FirstTeam

  • Marcus Paige, North Carolina – Paige enters his junior season at North Carolina following a sophomore campaign when the guard take his game to new heights. After a fairly productive freshman season (8.2 PPG), the 6’1″ point guard took home the ACC’s Most Improved Player Award by upping that average to 17.5 PPG as he led the Tar Heels to the NCAA Tournament. Paige’s season was good enough for him to be the first North Carolina point guard to be named first-team All-ACC as a sophomore since Tar Heels’ legend Phil Ford in 1976. Expectations are high in Chapel Hill again this season, and with Paige running the show, it is easy to understand why. Factoid: In an informal poll of college coaches taken by CBSSports.com in August, Paige was named as one of the players the pollsters would most like to have on their team this season. Once coach said of the Tar Heel, “he really doesn’t get enough credit for what he did for North Carolina last season. Won’t surprise me if he’s National Player of the Year.”
  • Juwan Staten, West Virginia – Not many guards can fill up the stat sheet like Staten. The highly productive senior returns for the Mountaineers following a season when he become the first player in West Virginia history to score 500 points (598), grab 150 rebounds (186), and dish out 150 assists (193) in a season. With the offseason transfers of Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, Staten will almost definitely see those numbers rise during his final collegiate season in Morgantown. After a two-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament, Staten appears primed to lead what one expert is calling an underrated Mountaineers squad back to the Big Dance. Factoid: Following Staten’s first season at West Virginia, Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins gave his guard the assignment of watching tape from two of the great point guards Huggins coached at Cincinnati – Nick Van Exel and Steve Logan.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville – It was a bit of a surprise in April when Harrell announced that he would return to Louisville for his junior season rather than enter the NBA Draft. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino is undoubtedly pleased with his big man’s decision, as Louisville is set to begin its first season in the arduous ACC. With Russ Smith and Luke Hancock gone, Harrell seems to be the best bet to pick up the slack in Pitino’s up-tempo offense. The junior forward has reportedly added what he and his coach call a more consistent 14-to-16 foot jump shot to his offensive repertoire. While that development unquestionably has Louisville fans giddy, it should worry the Cards’ new conference foes. Factoid: Harrell originally committed to Virginia Tech out of high school, but he reopened his recruitment following Seth Greenberg’s abrupt dismissal. A few weeks later, Harrell signed with Louisville and the rest, as they say, is history.
  • Jahlil Okafor, Duke – The Chicago prep superstar-to-Duke pipeline continues as Okafor is set to begin his freshman season in Durham. The consensus number one high school player in the Class of 2014 enters his college career with a tremendous amount of hype. He has been described as “one of the most skilled and poised back to the basket centers to come along in some time.” Duke brought in a star-studded recruiting class to help offset the early departures of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, and there is no question that Okafor is the jewel of that class. If the big man turns in the type of season that many expect from him, there is no telling what the ceiling for the Blue Devils could be. Factoid: Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has already acknowledged that he expects Okafor to be a one-and-done: “We won’t have him long. We’ll have him this year and then he’ll be one of the top NBA picks.”
  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin – Kaminsky entered the 2013-14 season as a relative unknown after averaging just 4.2 points in 10.3 minutes per game as a sophomore. He did not remain an unknown for long, though, as the junior emerged as one of the top big men in the Big Ten, taking home consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors. While his regular season was outstanding, what really turned Kaminsky into a household name was his 28-point, 11 rebound effort against Arizona to send Wisconsin to the Final Four. The Badgers return four starters from that Final Four squad, but none are more important than the seven-foot senior. Factoid: Kaminsky was lightly-recruited coming out of Benet Academy in Lisle, Illinois. In fact, he was a Plan B for the Badgers after one of their top frontcourt targets, Nnanna Egwu, committed to Illinois.

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One on One: A Pac-12 Preview With Jon Wilner

Posted by Walker Carey on November 7th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the Pac-12, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Pac-12 expert in San Jose Mercury News college basketball scribe, Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline).

Rush the Court: Even with losing Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon from last season’s squad, Arizona is once again loaded. What makes the Wildcats so well rounded, and do you see them as one of the favorites to take home the national title?

Wilner: They certainly have to be in the very top tier of contenders for the national title. I that that their depth again is their biggest strength. They have so many good players that they are not just reliant on one or two guys. I think they are going to have more options to score this year. They should be a little bit better on offense. There might be a slight drop-off on the defensive end of the court, but it will not be enough to really hurt them. They should be right in the mix nationally. Sean Miller does a great job of getting his guys to play hard all the time. They have a huge homecourt advantage and they have a lot of experience of being able to go win on the road. A lot of success comes from the ability to go win on the road and this group has done just that.

Arizona (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

Arizona Brings Back Enough Talent to Win a National Title This Year (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

RTC: Colorado brings back a lot of experience from last season’s NCAA Tournament squad. With key players Josh Scott, Xavier Johnson, and Askia Booker returning for the Buffaloes, can Tad Boyle make it three NCAA Tournaments in three years?

Wilner: I think so. I expect them to be an NCAA Tournament team. I think Colorado is the best bet to finish second behind Arizona in the conference standings. It might be three or four games behind Arizona, but second place is second place. Tad Boyle is a terrific coach. He is as good as there is in the league. I think the fact that they played so much of last season without Spencer Dinwiddie will help them now that he is officially gone. There is not going to be the transition that you would normally find with a team that loses its best player to the NBA because Colorado did not have Dinwiddie for the last couple months of last season.

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