The 2018-19 RTC16: Preseason Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2018

And so it begins — that wonderful time of year when we once again find our favorite teams playing college basketball. It is a glorious time, indeed. With a sizable slate of games set to commence on Tuesday evening, we are ready to officially unveil our 2018-19 preseason RTC Top 16. This initial poll will hold for the next two weeks but you can expect our weekly RTC16 to release on every subsequent Monday morning starting November 19. Along with the rankings will be the usual quick and dirty analysis that dives more deeply into trends that the poll reveals. To see how we did last year, check out our 2017-18 preseason poll — sure, we nailed a few (Villanova, Kansas and Duke), and missed on some others (USC, Notre Dame and Louisville), but we promise to do better this time around. Here is our preseason poll. Enjoy opening week!

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 2nd, 2018

With the season tipping off next Tuesday, there’s no better time to roll out our 2018-19 RTC 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 10 RTC writers provided their ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

  • Carsen Edwards, Purdue (unanimous) – Purdue has plenty to replace this season with former mainstays Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas now gone from West Lafayette. Luckily for Matt Painter’s Boilermakers, Edwards opted to return to Purdue for his junior season. The standout point guard will look to build on what has been a dynamic collegiate career. Following a freshman season where Edwards showed he belonged in the Big Ten, he took a big step forward in his sophomore campaign, averaging 18.5 points per game and shooting a commendable 40.6 percent from the three-point line. The Boilermakers lose nearly 50 points per game from last season’s Sweet Sixteen team, but it would not be surprising to see the play-making floor general take Purdue back to the second weekend next March. Factoid: Edwards participated in the NBA Draft combine last spring before deciding to return to Purdue. A noticeable change since his return has been in his physical stature, as he added around 10 pounds to his frame. Purdue men’s basketball strength and conditioning coach Gavin Roberts attributes Edwards’ strength gain to a “professional” demeanor in the weight room.
  • R.J. Barrett, Duke – Duke bringing in a star-studded recruiting class is certainly nothing new, but you would be hard-pressed to find another time when such a unique talent as Barrett descended on Durham. At 6’7″, the incoming freshman can handle the ball, create his own shot and relentlessly attack the basket. His size and athleticism will also allow him to effectively defend multiple positions and contribute on the boards.  The Blue Devils figure to once again be an offensive juggernaut, and it is fair to speculate that Barrett will be their most productive component. Factoid: Hailing from Canada, Barrett has a unique connection to basketball lore. He is the godson of two-time NBA MVP — and fellow Canadian — Steve Nash.
  • Caleb Martin, Nevada – Nevada exploded onto the scene last season, as the Wolf Pack won the regular season Mountain West title and earned the program’s first Sweet Sixteen berth since 2004. Expectations are now sky high for Eric Musselman’s group entering this season, as his team is already ranked #8 in the preseason AP Top 25. A major reason for all the lofty hopes in Reno is that Martin decided to put the NBA on hold in returning for his senior season. The rangy forward will look to build on a junior campaign when he averaged 18.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. If Martin can once again put up dominant numbers, the preseason hype encompassing the Wolf Pack will likely prove to be warranted. Factoid:In addition to the RTC All-America team, Martin was named a preseason first team All-American by the AP, becoming the first player in program history to receive the honor.
  • Luke Maye, North Carolina – There might not be a player in the country that has had as unique of a collegiate career as the North Carolina senior. Recall that Maye did not have a guaranteed scholarship in place when he originally committed to the Tar Heels in high school, and while playing time was difficult to earn through a majority of his first two seasons in Chapel Hill, his breakout finally came in the 2017 Elite Eight when he scored 17 points and buried a game-winning jumper to beat Kentucky. Maye followed up those heroics with a junior season averaging 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per contest while earning first team All-ACC honors. The Tar Heels have a lot of new faces in place this season, but the transition should be relatively seamless with double-double machine Maye on the blocks. Factoid: Maye joined rarefied North Carolina air last season with a 32-point, 18-rebound performance against Boston College and a 33-point, 17-rebound effort against NC State. Those two performances made him only the fourth player in program history with multiple 30/15 games in a season.
  • Ethan Happ, Wisconsin – Last March represented the first time since 1998 that Wisconsin did not earn an NCAA Tournament bid. The young Badgers battled injuries and inconsistency throughout the season as they sputtered their way to a 15-18 overall record. Despite the lost season, Happ still managed to contribute very productive numbers. Building on impressive freshman and sophomore campaigns, the junior forward tallied 17.9 points and 8.0 rebounds per game on his way to becoming a first team all-Big Ten player. Assuming Happ takes another step forward during his final season in Madison, it is likely Wisconsin will find its way back to the NCAA Tournament. Factoid: Happ was so distraught about Wisconsin not making the NCAA Tournament lats year that he kept the TV in his apartment from showing anything about March Madness.

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2017-18 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on March 29th, 2018

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what will come during the regular season. There will always be several players who fall short of expectations and there will always be several relative unknowns who unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our outfit of RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams in November; nobody could have guessed that only six of the 15 players chosen would live up to their hype: Villanova’s Jalen Brunson; Duke’s Marvin Bagley III; Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham; Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett; West Virginia’s Jevon Carter, and Michigan State’s Miles Bridges.

Here are the 2017-18 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America

  • Trae Young, Freshman, Oklahoma (consensus) (27.4 PPG, 8.7 APG, 3.9 RPG). No player dominated the national conversation this season more than Young. The freshman point guard exploded on the scene in remarkable fashion, scoring 43 points in just his fifth collegiate game (a 90-80 win over Oregon) and was both the country’s leading scorer and assist man far into the year. While Oklahoma faltered as a team, Young’s lone season in Norman was so impressive that, after the Sooners lost to Rhode Island in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, head coach Dan Hurley noted, “I made the mistake of watching some of their early games first. I didn’t sleep for a day.” Considering how quickly and easily the point guard jolted onto the college basketball scene, it is not exactly clear if Hurley was being facetious or not.
  • Jalen Brunson, Junior, Villanova (consensus) (19.2 PPG, 4.6 APG, 52.7% FG, 41.4% 3FG). Entering the season, Brunson had already developed a well-deserved reputation for being one of the steadiest players in college basketball. He took that perception to another level this season, acting as the face of an extremely even-keeled Villanova team that is headed to another Final Four. There has been a great deal of national discussion regarding how methodical and systematic Brunson appears during the course of a game that even Xavier coach Chris Mack offered his thoughts on the matter. Following his Musketeers losing by 24 at Villanova in early January, Mack implied that Brunson is a robot, stating, “You peel his face off, he’d probably have wires coming out of it.” It is currently unknown whether robots are good at basketball, but it is well-established that the junior point guard is one of the best players in the country.
  • Marvin Bagley III, Freshman, Duke (consensus) (21.0 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 61.4% FG). Every so often there is a much-ballyhooed recruit that meets and even exceeds the exorbitant hype that accompanies his arrival to the sport. That was the case for Bagley, as he ensured his only season in Durham was a memorable one. The phenomenally athletic freshman put his stamp on Duke basketball lore, as he became the first Blue Devil since the great Christian Laettner to record a 30+ point and 15+ rebound performance — and he did it four times. Despite missing five games with a knee injury, Bagley still became the school’s all-time freshman scoring leader following a 22-point effort in Duke’s Sweet Sixteen victory over Syracuse. While Duke’s season ended in a disappointing Elite Eight loss to Kansas where the precocious freshman somehow only managed nine field goal attempts, it is impossible to view his sole college season as anything other than a resounding success.
  • DeAndre Ayton, Freshman, Arizona (20.1 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 61.2% FG). Ayton was another much-ballyhooed recruit that delivered on years of promise. The Arizona big man’s dominance was expected, but that did not make it any less awe-inspiring to watch the athletic forward overpower his opposition throughout the season. Ayton is considered among the top prospects for the 2018 NBA Draft because of his incredible size — he has an ideal NBA frame and athleticism — but he is far from just an antiquated back-to-the-basket big man. It truly is a shame Ayton’s sensational freshman season will likely be best remembered for both Arizona’s First Round NCAA Tournament flameout against Buffalo and the unsubstantiated ESPN report that he was the prospect being discussed on an FBI wiretap involving an alleged pay-for-play conversation between Arizona coach Sean Miller and former ASM Sports runner Christian Dawkins.
  • Devonte’ Graham, Senior, Kansas (17.2 PPG, 7.3 APG, 40.3% 3FG). You know the senior floor general has had a substantial impact on the Final Four-bound Jayhawks when Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski noted after Kansas bested his Blue Devils in the Elite Eight: “In Graham, you have really one of the great leaders, not just players, in the country. Look, he’s one of the top five players in America, and it’s not just because he scores, but it’s how he leads. When he’s on the court, everybody is better. […] That’s why they’re as good as they are.” The Big 12 Player of the Year has been the straw that stirs the drink for the Jayhawks all season long. He has made big play after big play, and if Kansas hopes to cut down the nets this weekend in San Antonio, it is going to need Graham to play at an elite level.

Second Team All-America

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Kansas Jayhawks

Posted by Walker Carey on March 28th, 2018

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Next, #1 Kansas,  from the South Region.

How Kansas Got Here

Kansas Slayed Mighty Duke to Get to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

Midwest Region Champions. Kansas became the region’s NCAA Tournament representative following an epic 85-81 overtime win over #2 Duke in Sunday’s instant classic regional final. The Jayhawks began their run to San Antonio with a somewhat close 16-point victory over #16 Penn before experiencing some pressure in both its Second Round triumph over #8 Seton Hall and Sweet Sixteen win over #5 Clemson. Kansas’ win over the Blue Devils in the Elite Eight was arguably the game of the NCAA Tournament and further illustrated Midwest Regional Most Outstanding Player Malik Newman‘s March star turn. The redshirt sophomore swingman finished with a career-high 32 points and scored all 13 of Kansas’ points during the extra period.

The Coach

Bill Self. The Hall of Fame coach should have all the nonsensical “he cannot win the big game” talk regarding his recent career put to bed for at least a year, as Self has taken what many view as one of his least talented Kansas teams back to the Final Four. This will be Self’s third Final Four appearance. His was in San Antonio in 2008 when his Jayhawks beat North Carolina and Memphis to take home the school’s third national title. Self also took Kansas to the 2012 Final Four in New Orleans where it beat Ohio State in the national semifinals before falling to Kentucky in the championship game. With the Final Four again in San Antonio, expect there to be a lot of national discussion revolving around whether Self will once again be able to capture the San Antonio magic.

Style

Bill Self’s Kansas teams have normally run their offenses through a traditional back-to-the-basket big man. While sophomore center Udoka Azubuike is a more than capable offensive weapon, these Jayhawks have been heavily dominated by their guard play. Guards Newman, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick all start and are the team’s leaders in minutes played. The guard-heavy lineup has worked all season, as Kansas is ranked fifth nationally in offensive efficiency and averages a healthy 81.4 points per game. The Jayhawks also shoot 40.3 percent from the three-point line, so perimeter shooting is a definite strength. To beat Kansas, you have to slow down its guards — and considering the talent in its backcourt — an exceptionally difficult task for any team.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 85, #2 Duke 81 (OT)

Posted by Walker Carey on March 25th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Omaha for the Midwest Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas Outlasted Duke to Get Bill Self to His Third Final Four (USA Today Images)

  1. Kansas winning the rebounding battle was surprising and played a huge role in the win. Leading into the game, a lot of the talk about tonight’s Elite Eight match-up was focused on how Kansas was going to have a very difficult time keeping Duke off the glass. It turns out all that talk went for naught, however, as Kansas was the team that dominated the rebounding category. The Jayhawks finished with a 47-32 advantage on the glass while grabbing an amazing 17 offensive rebounds. The most impressive Jayhawk on the glass was senior guard Svi Mykhailiuk, who finished with 10 caroms — and it sure seemed like each one came at huge spots in the game. Sophomore big man Udoka Azubuike battled foul trouble for most of his night, but he still found a way to collect eight boards (five offensive) while freshman reserve forward Silvio De Sousa played 26 important minutes and gathered 10 more rebounds of his own. It was a team effort for the Jayhawks on the glass and that cohesiveness and hard work led to them finishing with such an advantage over what was considered a far superior rebounding team.
  2. Duke’s offensive strategy was perplexing. Kansas is an excellent offensive team but it had struggled throughout the season on the defensive end of the court. A lot of the Jayhawks’ struggle was because the Jayhawks exclusively play four guards and teams with good size could often take advantage. Duke certainly qualifies as a team with more size than Kansas, but the Blue Devils were unable to take advantage of that frontcourt disparity. At no point during the game did it seem like Duke was making a concerted effort to run its offense through its incredibly talented front line. Freshman star forward Marvin Bagley III only finished the game with nine field goal attempts. Fellow freshman big man Wendell Carter Jr. battled foul trouble for much of the game while only attempting nine shots of his own, and sophomore reserve Javin DeLaurier did not appear engaged on the offensive end in his 13 minutes of action. The Duke guards dominated the ball throughout the game, with Grayson Allen, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr. finishing with 13, 16 and 18 field goal attempts, respectively. There are no sure things in life or college basketball, but it certainly seems like Duke would be headed to the Final Four instead of Kansas if it had found a way to get Bagley and Carter more involved.
  3. Malik Newman was the best player on the court. Duke was supposed to have all of the stars in this game. Grayson Allen is probably the most famous player in college basketball. Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, Jr. will both be lottery picks very soon. Trevon Duval and Gary Trent, Jr. arrived in Durham as ballyhooed prospects. The Blue Devils were supposed to have the best player on the court, but it did not turn out like that as Kansas sophomore Malik Newman took on that role from the opening tip to overtime’s final buzzer. Newman finished with a game-high 32 points and it was his three-pointer from the corner with 1:49 remaining that gave the Jayhawks a three-point lead that it would never relinquish.

Player of the Game. Malik Newman, Kansas. The sophomore guard came up time after time again tonight for the Jayhawks. Each time Kansas needed a big shot, it seemed like the transfer Newman came through with the goods. He scored all 13 of the Jayhawks’ points in the overtime period — 32 in total for the night — and he also did an excellent job defensively on Duke’s Grayson Allen. Allen finished his final collegiate game with just 12 points on 3-of-13 shooting. If Kansas wants two more wins in San Antonio, it is going to need this version of Newman to make the trip.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 69, #11 Syracuse 65

Posted by Walker Carey on March 23rd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Omaha for the Midwest Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Coach K’s 1,100th Win Pushed Duke to the Elite Eight (USA Today Images)

  1. It was not aesthetically pleasing. It should be known by now that a close game does not always mean a good game. Tonight’s battle between ACC foes was assuredly a close game, but it was certainly far from a well-played or aesthetically pleasing contest. Duke won the game despite shooting just 39.3 percent from the field and 19.2 percent from the three-point line. The Syracuse zone repeatedly forced Duke into bad possessions that resulted in difficult shot attempts. A deeper look at the offensive statistics finds it pretty amazing that Mike Krzyzewski‘s group was able to advance. One of the main reasons why the Blue Devils emerged victorious this evening was because its own zone was impactful in forcing Syracuse into careless turnovers that limited its scoring chances. The Orange finished with 16 turnovers and Duke converted those into 18 points of its own. It was a mistake-ridden game all around, but both teams deserve a lot of credit for not allowing their miscues to bury them and prevent this one from being close until the final buzzer.
  2. Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. were too much for Syracuse. Syracuse presented Duke with an unusual challenge. The Blue Devils normally have a decided size advantage over every team they play, but the Syracuse front line of Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj and Paschal Chukwu is as big as any group in the country. That aspect did not end up mattering too much tonight, however, as Duke freshmen big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. were arguably the most important players on the floor. Bagley turned in a game-high 22 points and bucked the Duke poor shooting trend by hitting eight of his 12 shots. Carter got to the free throw line 11 times and was a significant factor on the glass — he finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Even when Duke does not have the size advantage, the precocious talents of Bagley and Carter sure make it seem like the Blue Devils do.
  3. Duke is going to need to shoot much better if it wants to log a trip to the Final Four. The Blue Devils will certainly take tonight’s victory over the Orange, but they will need to shoot much better on Sunday against Kansas if they hope to advance to the Final Four. Duke can survive and advance one game in this tournament on 39.3 percent shooting, but when you are matched up with a blue-blooded team of Kansas’ caliber, it is going to need to hit more shots to log the victory. Most notably, senior guard Grayson Allen will need to improve on tonight’s 4-of-15 (3-of-14 3FG) performance because Kansas definitely has the horses to take advantage if one of Duke’s main offensive weapons has another off game.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 80, #5 Clemson 76

Posted by Walker Carey on March 23rd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Omaha for the Midwest Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas Heads Back to the Elite Eight For the Third Year in a Row (USA Today Images)

  1. Udoka Azubuike showed how important he is to Kansas’ success. The sophomore big man is finally back from a knee injury that kept him out of the Big 12 Tournament and limited his minutes during the First and Second Rounds of this NCAA Tournament. With Azubuike now healthy, Kansas forced the issue with him early and often as he finished the evening with 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. While those statistics suggest to the casual eye that he just had a good game, you have to look beyond the box score to realize just how important he is to Kansas’ success. The Jayhawks at the very least look his way for an easy bucket every time he’s on the floor, and he is a stalwart in the middle on the defensive end. If Kansas is to win Sunday and advance to Bill Self’s third Final Four, what Azubuike brings to the fold on both ends of the court will be an important factor.
  2. Devonte’ Graham needs to play better if Kansas wants a trip to the Final Four. The final statistics show that Graham finished with a pretty standard outing, totaling 16 points while collecting five rebounds and four assists on the night. While the senior point guard gathered his numbers, he would also be the first to say that he did not play nearly as well as he needs to for his team to advance to San Antonio. Graham made just one of seven shots from three-point range and finished just 4-of-12 from the field. He also committed three uncharacteristic turnovers, including one where he threw the ball away followed by an ill-advised foul that gave Clemson an and-one opportunity. Graham has been quite steady throughout his collegiate career so it is certainly reasonable to expect he will play better against Duke or Syracuse on Sunday. Kansas is going to need a quality performance from him because it cannot advance to another Final Four without Devonte’ Graham playing like the Big 12 Player of the Year.
  3. Clemson deserves a ton of credit for fighting until the final buzzer. There are no good losses or moral victories in the NCAA Tournament, but Clemson’s performance tonight would certainly qualify if there were. Playing in front of a very partisan Kansas crowd, the Tigers fell behind by 20 points early in the second half and it looked like their run was over. It would have been understandable if Brad Brownell‘s squad simply went through the motions for the remainder of the game, but the Tigers instead fought tooth and nail to the final buzzer to lose by only four points. Behind senior guard Gabe DeVoe‘s career-high 31 points and some tenacious defense, Clemson put considerable game pressure on Kansas as the final minutes ticked away. Their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, but you would have to be a significantly jaded individual if you do not come away from that game impressed with Clemson’s fight.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 21st, 2018

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

Same Favorite: #2 Duke (28-7). The Blue Devils did nothing in the first weekend to lessen their status as the favorite to advance to San Antonio from this region — in fact, they probably strengthened their case with a pair of dominant victories over #15 Iona and #7 Rhode Island. Neither the Gaels nor Rams had enough size or talent to keep up with Duke last weekend in a pair of blowout wins. Mike Krzyzewski‘s club now advances to face ACC rival Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen for their second match-up of the season — the two teams most recently met in February where Duke logged a 60-44 home victory. Given the versatile firepower that the Blue Devils have on the offensive end of the court along with Syracuse’s scoring issues, it is wise to presume another Duke victory and a slot in the regional finals against either #2 Kansas or #5 Clemson. Beating Duke is one thing and Syracuse is capable of doing so certain scenarios, but beating Duke when it is clearly firing on all cylinders is quite another story.

Duke Mowed Down Two Opponents on Its Way to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #5 Clemson (25-9). No Sweet Sixteen team quite flew under the radar more than Clemson during the opening weekend. The Tigers kicked off tournament play with a comfortable and relatively drama-free 11-point victory over #12 New Mexico State, which had been a popular upset pick. While chaos engulfed the Second Round on Sunday, the Tigers brought out their big guns in a dominant 84-53 win over #4 Auburn. The Tigers’ Sweet Sixteen match-up with #1 Kansas is only daunting in name alone, as these Jayhawks are beatable. If Brad Brownell‘s group can carry over its first weekend efficiency to this week, it could have a chance at duplicating its intrastate rival’s run from last season and advancing to the first Final Four in program history.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #3 Michigan State’s unexpected demise. Most national pundits initially viewed this region as either #2 Duke or #3 Michigan State’s to win. While the Blue Devils still have a shot to come out of the East region, the Spartans’ season ended in stunning fashion on Sunday in a ghastly 55-53 loss to #11 Syracuse. Michigan State slogged through the defeat by shooting just 25.8 percent from the field, 21.6 percent from three-point range, and committing 14 turnovers. Additionally, freshman star Jaren Jackson Jr. played only 14 ineffective minutes while Tom Izzo opted instead for sixth-year senior Ben Carter in his place down the stretch. To make matters even worse, Sparty took the loss at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, a venue that is just 90 miles from the Michigan State campus in East Lansing.

Completely Expected (First Weekend): #2 Duke. There was never much doubt whether Duke was headed to the Sweet Sixteen last weekend. The Blue Devils impressively rolled through both Iona and Rhode Island without much tension — Duke won the two games by a combined 47 points. Marvin Bagley III and Gary Trent Jr. averaged 22.0 PPG and 17.0 PPG, respectively, while freshman forward Wendell Carter Jr. was a dominant presence on the defensive end of the court.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 87, #7 Rhode Island 62

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Pittsburgh this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Rhode Island Had No Answers For Duke Today (Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Duke’s talent advantage was just too much for Rhode Island to overcome. Rhode Island began the game with its hair on fire. The Rams had a distinct pep in their step. That energy allowed them to open a quick 7-2 lead and it certainly got their fans into the swing of things. The energetic start was short-lived though as Duke rapidly exerted both its overwhelming size advantage and definite talent advantage. The Blue Devils make things look easy. Whether it was Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. hitting perimeter shots or Trevon Duval driving the lane or Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. having their way in the post, Duke’s horses were just way too much to overcome. Whenever it seemed like Rhode Island may have had a bit of a spark that could have led to a little run, the Blue Devils rapidly put that to bed. This game was a total annihilation, but that is known to happen when playing a group as talented as Duke.
  2. The Duke zone continues to create issues for its opponents. The fact that Duke tried running man-to-man for so long with this personnel continues to baffle. It was quite clear early on that the Blue Devils would continue to struggle in man-to-man due to the lack of great individual defenders on their roster. When it finally made the full-time switch to the zone in January, it became obvious that the team’s length and ability to move laterally made it a terrific zone team. Entering today’s action, the Blue Devils ranked eighth in the country in defensive efficiency. That ranking would have been impossible if Duke had made the decision to stick with the man-to-man. Duke’s zone success was on display once again this afternoon, as Rhode Island was held to just 62 points on 39.7% shooting. It should also be noted that a lot of the shots the Rams did make were not exactly open looks.
  3. Today marked the end of quite the run for Rhode Island basketball. The Rams have nothing to hang their heads about. They just ran into a buzz saw today. It can be argued that no one would have bested Duke this afternoon. With the loss, Rhode Island’s season ends and a major chapter of Rams basketball has reached its conclusion. A senior class of E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell, Stanford Robinson, Andre Berry, and Jarvis Garrett played its final game in a Rhode Island uniform. That class was what brought the Rams back into the national conversation. NCAA Tournament bids and subsequent first round wins – both this year and last – continued that conversation. It must also be noted that there is a good chance coach Dan Hurley will not be back on the Rhode Island sideline next season. The star coach is said to be a strong candidate for both the Connecticut and Pittsburgh openings. No matter if Hurley returns or not, the Rhode Island program will look dramatically different in the 2018-19 season.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 81, #9 Alabama 58

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Pittsburgh this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Villanova Ran Through Alabama Like a Freight Train This Afternoon (USA Today Images)

  1. Donte DiVincenzo was the story of the first half. Villanova’s first half did not go as planned. Both Jalen Brunson and Omari Spellman spent more than 10 minutes of the opening stanza relegated to the bench because of foul trouble. Star swingman Mikal Bridges struggled to get anything going in the first 20 minutes, totaling just a single point on an 0-for-5 shooting performance. But amazingly, the Wildcats still held a five-point halftime lead. That advantage was largely because of an incredible first half performance from sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo. The versatile wing tallied 18 of Villanova’s 32 first half points and did so on an impressive 6-of-10 (5-of-9 3FG) shooting performance. DiVincenzo is the Wildcats’ top reserve who often plays starter minutes, so today’s performance did not come completely out of nowhere, but today’s game could have had a much different result if DiVincenzo had not been so brilliant in the early going.
  2. Mikal Bridges was the story of the second half. Bridges certainly struggled in the first 20 minutes of the game. The junior forward could not get any of his shot attempts to fall and it appeared like he was having trouble getting acclimated to the Alabama defense. That all changed very quickly when the second half commenced. The Wildcats ripped off an 18-1 run to open the stanza, with Bridges scoring 16 of those 18 points. He was effective in utilizing his athleticism to get open and he was burying jumpers over the oncoming Alabama defenders with remarkable ease. All in all, Bridges finished the second half with 22 points on 7-of-9 shooting. It was an incredible performance after what was a forgettable first half, and it propelled Villanova easily into the Sweet Sixteen.
  3. Villanova will not lose if it plays like it did in the second half. Considering what happened in Charlotte last night with Virginia and UMBC, it is difficult to make any surefire predictions about this tournament. However, it is pretty safe to say Villanova will not fall victim to the upset bug if it turns in four more performances like this afternoon’s second half effort. The Wildcats were sharp defensively, holding Alabama to just 36 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes, and they were probably better offensively. The ball moved incredibly well, leading to a number of open looks that Villanova buried with ease while building its insurmountable lead. It was truly a fantastic performance. It will be interesting to see if it will carry over to Boston next weekend.

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