2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week Two

Posted by Walker Carey on November 29th, 2016

Feast Week always results in a couple teams really establishing themselves as legitimate teams to watch the rest of the season. This year the three teams that took the Feast Week Leap are #7 Baylor, #11 UCLA and #16 Butler. In a loaded Battle 4 Atlantis field, Baylor emerged victorious by scoring wins over VCU, Michigan State and #10 Louisville. UCLA, behind its star backcourt of Lonzo Ball and Isaac Hamilton, took home the Wooden Legacy crown with wins over Portland, Nebraska and Texas A&M. Butler won the Las Vegas Invitational by topping Vanderbilt and earning a hard fought upset victory over #17 Arizona. In other Feast Week action, #3 North Carolina showed why it is one of the best teams in the country with a dominant performance at the Maui Invitational. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis of the RTC25 is after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week One

Posted by Walker Carey on November 21st, 2016

The college basketball season began in earnest over the last 10 days with several upsets taking place and a few teams providing a solid glimpse of what should be expected this season. #3 Duke and #4 Kansas are a pair of teams that experienced some high points as well as the upset bug. The formerly top-ranked Blue Devils are a respectable 4-1 on the young season, but they experienced their hiccup against the Jayhawks in the Champions Classic. It is important to note that Duke is still experiencing significant health issues, as Grayson Allen, Chase Jeter, Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden and Harry Giles have all battled injuries to varying extents. Even with the corresponding depth concerns, Duke has already showcased that it is an extremely talented unit that will likely remain near the top of the polls throughout the season. Kansas’ season started on a sour note by getting surprised by #6 Indiana in an overtime thriller. The Jayhawks rebounded nicely in their victory over Duke and it appears that Bill Self’s veteran backcourt of Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham will mask some of the growing pains the team will likely experience elsewhere. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis of the RTC25 is after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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2016-17 RTC Top 25: Preseason Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on November 11th, 2016

And so it begins — that wonderful time of year when we again hear familiar voices on the television and our favorite teams playing college basketball games that count. It is a beautiful time, indeed. With a sizable slate of games commencing this evening, we officially unveil the RTC 2016-17 Preseason Top 25. This poll will hold for about the next 10 days or so, but you can expect our weekly regular season poll to come out every Monday morning starting on November 21. Along with the RTC25 rankings will be the usual quick and dirty analysis that dives a bit more deeply into how those teams shake out from top to bottom. To see how we did last year, check out our 2015-16 preseason poll — sure, we nailed a few (Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Villanova), and missed on some others (Maryland, Michigan, LSU, Vanderbilt). We promise we will try to do better this time around. Here’s the preseason poll.

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Quick n’ Dirty Thoughts.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 10th, 2016

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our the 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 seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

1stteam

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2015-16 RTC National Player of the Year: Buddy Hield

Posted by Walker Carey on April 1st, 2016

This college basketball season was the “year of the senior.” Seniors like Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, North Carolina’s Brice Johnson, Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff, Kansas’ Perry Ellis, and Iowa State’s Georges Niang were all yesterday named to the RTC All-America Teams. They each put together amazing seasons in lifting their teams to outstanding regular season success and NCAA Tournament berths. As excellent as those players were, however, there was one senior who stood out among the pack. That player is Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield. In this era of the one-and-done superstar, it might be cynical to view a senior winning the National Player of the Year award as something approaching a career achievement award. But while Hield put together a successful first three seasons in Norman, he saved his best for last this year. The dynamic shooting guard averaged an incredible 25.4 points per game while shooting 50.4 percent from the field and a very impressive 46.5 percent from three. In an offense completely centered around Hield’s explosive offensive skills, Oklahoma averaged a robust 80.4 points per game.

Buddy Hield is the 2015-16 RTC Player of the Year  (Getty Images)

Buddy Hield is the 2015-16 RTC Player of the Year (Getty Images)

Hield put together many sensational games this season, but two performances in particular come to mind as the most memorable. In a January 4 epic triple-overtime Big 12 battle between Oklahoma and Kansas, the casual college basketball fan became acquainted with Hield’s heroics. The All-American finished the evening in Allen Fieldhouse with a career-high 46 points on 13-of-23 shooting, along with eight rebounds and seven assists. It was such an amazing effort that Kansas fans gave Hield a standing ovation, and one that will be remembered in Norman and around the college basketball world for years to come. The other memorably outstanding performance came in the Elite Eight when Hield’s star power led the Sooners past #1 seed Oregon and into the program’s first Final Four in 14 years. The senior contributed 37 points on 13-of-20 shooting and 8-of-13 from behind the three-point line. Oklahoma will face a staunch test when it takes on Villanova in the Final Four Saturday night, but it would be unwise to discount the Sooners’ chances of advancing whenever a star like Hield is involved.

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2015-16 RTC National Coach of the Year: Jay Wright

Posted by Walker Carey on April 1st, 2016

The 2015-16 RTC National Coach of the Year Jay Wright has been a winner throughout his 15-year tenure at Villanova. He has led the Wildcats to 11 of the last 12 NCAA Tournaments and the program has taken home four Big East titles under his guidance. Even with all that winning and a Final Four appearance in 2009, the veteran coach has received some criticism in recent years because of several early NCAA Tournament exits. In 2014, Villanova entered the NCAA Tournament with a 28-4 record and was viewed as a dangerous #2 seed. That buzz fizzled out quickly, though, as the Wildcats were sent packing by eventual national champion Connecticut in the Round of 32. The next year it appeared Villanova was in even better shape to make a deep run. Wright’s group compiled a sterling 32-2 regular season that included a 15-game winning streak heading into the NCAAs. That did not matter much, though, as the Wildcats were once again bounced in the Round of 32 — this time at the hands of streaky NC State. With a mostly veteran squad returning this season, Villanova looked once again ready to combine a strong regular season with deep advancement into the NCAA Tournament.

Jay Wright is the 2015-16 RTC Coach of the Year  (AP)

Jay Wright is the 2015-16 RTC Coach of the Year (AP)

Villanova completed its first mission with relative ease, taking home another Big East regular season title and entering the NCAA Tournament with a 29-5 record as a #2 seed. Wright’s Wildcats easily exorcised their first weekend demons two weeks ago in Brooklyn by routing #15 seed UNC-Asheville and #7 seed Iowa. Even with those two impressive wins, pundits still doubted the team’s legitimacy heading into its Sweet Sixteen game with #3 seed Miami (FL). Villanova easily proved those doubters wrong, as it blew the Hurricanes off the floor en route to a 92-69 victory. But even that rousing victory did the Wildcats no favors with their critics. An Elite Eight victory against overall #1 seed Kansas appeared unlikely, but Wright’s veteran squad took the challenge and battled forward to a 64-59 victory. The regional-clinching win sent the Villanova program back to the Final Four for the first time since 2009.

The Wildcats will face a difficult test on Saturday when it faces Oklahoma and NPOY candidate Buddy Hield. The Oklahoma guard is a dynamic scorer with a proven ability to take over a game every time he takes the floor. Villanova is going to have to play a sound defensive game to contain Hield and emerge with the victory. Luckily for Villanova fans, Wright has shown a steady touch with this group all season long and you better believe it will be ready for the challenge. Our RTC National Coach of the Year will know what buttons to push and put his team in a position to win if it executes reasonably well. It is only the latest version of what he has been doing since he began patrolling the sideline at Villanova all those many years ago.

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2015-16 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on March 31st, 2016

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what’s to come during the season. There will always be players who will fail to live up to expectations and there will always be relatively unknown types who will unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our outfit of seven RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams back in November; nobody could have guessed that only eight of the 15 players chosen would live up to the hype: Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon, LSU’s Ben Simmons, Providence’s Kris Dunn, Utah’s Jakob Poeltl, Kentucky’s Jamal Murray, and Iowa State’s Georges Niang. Hield and Simmons were the only two players projected to be first-teamers and ended up there. The seven other players who did not make our postseason team are Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer, Wichita State’s Ron Baker, Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere, Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, North Carolina’s Marcus Paige and Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes. All turned in varying degrees of productive seasons but were surpassed in achievements by the names that rose to the top of our list. Here are the 2015-16 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America

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  • Buddy Hield, Senior, Oklahoma (consensus) (25.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 50.4% FG, 46.5% 3FG). Hield has wrapped up his collegiate career in dynamite fashion. After bypassing the NBA Draft last spring, Hield noted, “I just can’t wait to see what Coach Kruger has in mind for next year. I know we’re going to be a really good team.” Suffice it to say Hield was correct, as the Sooners are headed to their first Final Four since 2002. The explosive senior scorer has led the way all season with possibly no performance greater than the one he turned in during Oklahoma’s Elite Eight victory over Oregon. Hield finished the night with 37 points on a blistering 13-of-20 shooting from the field and an extremely impressive 8-of-13 outing from behind the three-point line. This college basketball season has been marked by uncertainty, but with Hield in tow, it is probably smart not to doubt Oklahoma’s chances in Houston this weekend.
  • Denzel Valentine, Senior, Michigan State (consensus) (19.2 PPG, 7.8 APG, 7.5 RPG, 46.2% FG). There was likely not a more complete player in college basketball this season. Valentine did it all for the Spartans and it seemed like the senior really stepped his game up in big spots throughout the regular season. He turned in an iconic triple-double in Michigan State’s early comeback victory over Kansas and came through with a 30-point performance in a February home victory over eventual Big Ten champion Indiana. While the Spartans saw their season end in a shocking upset to Middle Tennessee State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Valentine’s incredible campaign should not be discounted in any way.
  • Brice Johnson, Senior, North Carolina (consensus) (17.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 61.6% FG). Given North Carolina’s lofty postseason expectations, it is not entirely unexpected that the Tar Heels are headed to the Final Four as the favorite to cut down the nets on Monday night. What has been a bit unexpected, though, is the rise of Johnson from a good player as a junior to a bona fide star as a senior. Johnson’s improvement over the course of his career has been so great that Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams has referred to his senior as the most improved player he has ever coached. To provide a glimpse of just how important Johnson has been to North Carolina’s run to Houston, consider the fact that he has recorded at least 20 points and grabbed at least 10 rebounds in each of his team’s last three games.
  • Malcolm Brogdon, Senior, Virginia (18.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 45.7% FG). Virginia has been one of the most successful programs in the country over the last three seasons. It took home the ACC crown in both 2014 and 2015, and it earned a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament this year. A major reason behind this success has been Brogdon’s ascension into stardom. Brogdon’s fantastic senior campaign led him to being named both the ACC’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year – becoming the first player to win both awards since the defensive honor was introduced in 2005.
  • Ben Simmons, Freshman, LSU (19.2 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 4.8 APG, 56.0% FG). It is not often you see a player turn in a first team All-America season on a team that finished 19-14 and did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but this is that situation. The freshman entered the season with an unbelievable amount of hype, but somehow amid the hoopla, he handled it quite well. Simmons led LSU in points, rebounds and assists, and was clearly the team’s best player all season long. Simmons has already made it known that he is headed to the NBA Draft, but his lone season in Baton Rouge should be remembered for his consistently great on-court performances.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 73, #9 Connecticut 61

Posted by Walker Carey on March 19th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways: 

Kansas Seniors Frank Mason and Perry Ellis Made Sure UConn's March Run Came To An End Saturday (Photo: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports)

Kansas Seniors Frank Mason and Perry Ellis Made Sure UConn’s March Run Came To An End Saturday (Photo: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Kansas was excellent in the first half. The Jayhawks started tonight’s game with a considerable surge. Offensively, Bill Self’s group shot 55.6 percent from the field and 54.5 percent from beyond the arc en route to scoring 44 first half points. In building a 20-point halftime lead, Kansas also had to be fantastic on the other end of the court. The aggressive Jayhawks’ defense forced Connecticut into shooting an anemic 25.8 percent from the field in the opening stanza. Kansas is fortunate it did turn in such a dominant first half, because the Jayhawks were a bit sloppy in the second half and allowed Connecticut to hang around longer than they should have.
  2. Landen Lucas’ emergence has solidified the Kansas frontline. National pundits have been in agreement all season that this Kansas team does not have a “star.” It has many “good” players, but no star. While that may be true, Kansas guard Wayne Selden and forward Perry Ellis have both shown on many occasions that they are capable of delivering their team a marquee performance. One member of the Jayhawks who has quietly turned in several tremendous performances during the back half of the season is junior forward Landen Lucas. Lucas is never going to be a guy who is going to dominate a game offensively, but his rugged defense and knack for making things happen on the glass have been crucial in Kansas’ emergence as national title favorites. It was a quintessential Lucas effort tonight: six points, 12 rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots.
  3. Kevin Ollie is no longer undefeated in the NCAA Tournament. A national title run in 2014 and a victory over Colorado in the first round had Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie’s NCAA Tournament record at 7-0. That hot start came to a screeching halt tonight. Ollie figures to have a great opportunity to get back on the winning track next March, as the Huskies return dynamic guards Daniel Hamilton, Rodney Purvis, and Jalen Adams. The future remains bright for Connecticut. Tonight’s loss should just be seen as a small bump in the road.

Player of the Game. Perry Ellis, Kansas. The senior big man was the portrait of efficiency tonight, finishing with 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting. He also grabbed eight rebounds and played great interior defense all evening. When Connecticut cut the lead to nine at the 9:32 mark of the second half, it was Ellis who made a couple of key baskets to keep the Huskies from making a substantial comeback.

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Rushed Reactions: #5 Indiana 73, #4 Kentucky 67

Posted by Walker Carey on March 19th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways: 

Thomas Bryant Led the Hoosiers to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Thomas Bryant Led the Hoosiers to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

  1. Thomas Bryant’s second half play was instrumental to the Indiana victory. Throughout the first half, it appeared the moment might have been too large for the Indiana freshman forward. Bryant picked up two early fouls that limited him to a minor role in the opening stanza. Bryant was a completely different player after halftime, however. The first-year workhorse finished the afternoon with 19 points (on 6-of-8 shooting) and grabbed five rebounds. He also displayed his affinity for the big moment by knocking down two clutch free throws with 10.4 seconds to play that gave the Hoosiers a four-point lead. When the final buzzer sounded, Bryant paraded off the floor, exclaiming, “This is why I’m here! This is why I’m here!”. You better believe the Indiana faithful are quite thrilled Bryant has been on their side all season long.
  2. Kentucky’s lack of a third scorer really hurt the Wildcats. Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray have been the guys for Kentucky all season. Ulis, the SEC Player of the Year, and Murray, a dynamic freshman with a penchant for knocking down big shots, are on the short list of players that can take over a game at any time. Perhaps as a result of the praise and accolades heaped on Ulis and Murray, Kentucky’s lack of a third scorer has largely been ignored. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, that absence took center stage this afternoon, as Ulis and Murray scored 43 of Kentucky’s 67 points. The next highest point man was freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe, who had just seven points. Time after time, it appeared the Kentucky offense was resigned to standing around and waiting on either Ulis or Murray to make a play. It is hard to know whether the result would have been different if Kentucky’s supporting cast had played a bigger role, but it seemed like a tall order to ask Ulis and Murray to shoulder such a large percentage of the offensive load.
  3. Yogi Ferrell deserves this in his senior season. There are not many seniors (if any) who have meant more to their teams than Yogi Ferrell has meant to Indiana. It is only fitting that his final hurrah in the NCAA Tournament is marked by a run deep into the bracket. Ferrell was, per usual, masterful in leading the Hoosiers past Kentucky, finishing with 18 points, five rebounds, and four assists. The Indiana floor general also took excellent care of the ball all afternoon, turning it over just once in 37 minutes. The Hoosiers will face a large test in their Sweet 16 team match-up in Philadelphia, but with Ferrell at the controls, the team will have great guidance and on-the-court leadership.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Kentucky 85, #13 Stony Brook 57

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Calipari's Cats Move On (USA Today Images)

Calipari’s Cats Move On (USA Today Images)

  1. Stony Brook’s ghastly first half offense really set the tone. There are always going to be some games when a team does not the shoot ball particularly well. However, there aren’t many instances where a team shoots the ball as poorly as Stony Brook did in the first half tonight. The Seawolves shot just 18.9 percent (7-37) during the opening 20 minutes. To make matters even worse, they missed all five of their three-point attempts. Stony Brook did grab 12 rebounds during the opening stanza, but that only led to more missed shots. It was an ugly, ugly half of basketball, and the fact that the Seawolves were only down 14 at the half was a minor miracle.
  2. Kentucky’s defense came to play. The Wildcats have received quite a bit of deserved criticism for their inconsistent defense this season. There were no issues on that end tonight against Stony Brook, as the Wildcats applied a great deal of defensive pressure all evening. While Stony Brook does deserve some of the blame for its putrid shooting performance, it’s not like Kentucky made it easy. The Seawolves struggled mightily to find any clean looks; nearly every shot that went up was under some duress. The Wildcats were also quite active in the turnover department, forcing the Seawolves to give it away 14 times. John Calipari’s group is going to need to crank things up against Indiana’s hyper-efficient offense on Saturday, but its sometimes circumspect defense certainly passed its first test tonight.
  3. Skal Labissiere was excellent tonight. The Kentucky freshman big man has had some substantial ups-and-downs this season, but you would not know that if you look at how he played in tonight’s first round victory. Labissiere scored 12 points (6-10 shooting), blocked six shots, and grabbed four rebounds in 23 minutes. The big man’s length frustrated Stony Brook all night and his defensive presence was extremely important to the Kentucky winning effort. Labissiere is certainly a player to keep an eye on as the tournament progresses.

Player of the Game. Jamal Murray, Kentucky. When the Wildcats were looking for an offensive spark in the second half to widen its lead, it was Murray that came through with the winning efforts. The freshman guard finished the night with a team-high 19 points to go along with seven rebounds. His two second half three-pointers were instrumental in taking the air completely out of Stony Brook’s sails.

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