Final Four Team-By-Team Previews: Duke

Posted by zhayes9 on April 1st, 2010

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Here are the Butler, West Virginia and Michigan State previews. The final installment discusses the Duke Blue Devils in their quest to return to college basketball glory.

NCAA title for Scheyer in his senior season?

Crucial Tourney Moment(s): Nolan Smith delivered the best game of his Duke career at the most opportune time. Facing a two point deficit late in the second half against an ultra-talented Baylor team playing in their home state, it was a Lance Thomas offensive rebound kicked out to Nolan Smith for an open three that gave Duke the lead and the momentum. Following a free throw and defensive stop, it was once again the vastly improved Smith knocking down a three to hand his Blue Devils an advantage they wouldn’t surrender. Their back against the wall against a team athletically superior and equally talented, Duke teams in the past four years would have folded up their tents, unable to match the size, physicality and fight of their venerable opponent. This year, toughness has been the mark of a Duke squad that finds themselves labeled Final Four favorites. And Nolan Smith’s back-to-back threes against Baylor were a huge reason the Blue Devils are still standing.

Advantage Area: Duke has the best perimeter scoring of any Final Four team. Nolan Smith can knock down outside shots, beat defenders off the dribble and has established a patented floater that’s impossible to defend. Jon Scheyer loves to drive or find open shots off of ball screens and is a marksman both from long range and the charity stripe. Kyle Singler is the hardest player to defend when he establishes position near the basket and loves to utilize a mastered fade-away jumper. Any one of these three can score 25 points on a given night and it’ll be the task of a stellar West Virginia defense to contain two of them and force the pressure on one of Singler, Smith and Scheyer to carry the load. Duke has also shed the notion this season of being soft. Their forwards- Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek and the Plumlee brothers- are tremendous at finding prime rebounding position with the sole purpose of kicking out to an open guard for an unchallenged three. Nobody plays with more intensity than Duke, something you simply could not see in previous seasons.

Potential Downfall: The Blue Devils are not a particularly good man-to-man defensive team. They play defense at an efficient rate as a unit. The guards don’t overextend as much as in past years because there’s size under the basket to disrupt shots, meaning the guards don’t feel as pressured to force turnovers on a constant basis. If Da’Sean Butler or Kevin Jones can get Scheyer or Singler into a one-on-one isolation opportunity on the offensive end, they should be able to draw a foul at the very least because none of the Duke guards are exceptionally quick. The problem is that the Mountaineers offense is based more on cutting and screening than penetration. Duke also relies completely on three players for their scoring. Their forwards and centers are just there to set effective screens and hit the boards with authority. If one of the Big Three gets in foul trouble and the other has a poor shooting night, Duke could be in serious trouble because they’re so dependent on Singler, Scheyer and Smith.

X-Factor: Brian Zoubek has improved over the course of three months more than any player in college basketball. His breakout performance came against Maryland in the middle of ACC play and Big Z certainly has not regressed since then. There might not be a better rebounder in the nation right now, forming quite a rebounding tag team with Lance Thomas and/or Miles Plumlee. Zoubek also operates at a more efficient rate when he gets the ball in the low post and can power his way to the foul line with his 7’2 frame. Prior to this season, Zoubek was an offensive liability that just clogged up space on the floor. Now he’s a vital cog on a Final Four team.

Key Semifinal Matchup: Kyle Singler vs. Devin Ebanks. Duke’s second leading scorer is coming off a regional final performance in which he didn’t make a shot for the first time in his career and had to chase LaceDarius Dunn around the floor for almost 40 minutes. The matchup with Ebanks might be easier defensively but should be quite the task on the offensive end. Ebanks is a superior defender, extremely long and loves to draw charges. If Ebanks frustrates Singler into another off night, it’ll be up to Smith and Scheyer to bail Duke out once again. Ebanks should also look to push Singler further and further away from the basket because he’s not particularly proficient at dribble penetration that far away from the rim. Both of these small forwards love to induce contact and live at the foul line.

Crunch Time Performer: Jon Scheyer is the #1 option late in games for Duke, although Nolan Smith can also provide a clutch shot like he did against Baylor, and Kyle Singler isn’t chopped liver himself. If Scheyer receives a ball screen from Zoubek or Thomas and gains momentum going to his right, he’s almost impossible to stop from either scoring or drawing a foul. He  loves to linger around the three-point line when a shot goes up for an offensive rebound and kickback, so even if Smith’s name is called late against West Virginia, Scheyer could still end up with an attempt. Also, if the ball is inbounded under the basket by Scheyer, look for him to receive the ball right back in the corner for a three. Duke runs that play constantly and yet nobody seems to be able to defend it.

Experience: This Duke unit doesn’t possess a plethora of tournament experience. The seniors lost in the first round in 2007, lost in the second round in 2008 and lost in the Sweet 16 in 2009, so none of these players have Final Four experience, a rarity for a Duke roster. I’m pretty sure Mike Krzyzewski has been here before, though. Only Michigan State truly has experience at this stage.

Forecast: Duke is the favorite heading into the Final Four, and for good reason. They’re healthy, efficient on both ends and playing their best basketball at the right time. Jon Scheyer has found his outside stroke just in time for the Final Four and Nolan Smith is also peaking. Even their oft-criticized forwards Thomas and Zoubek have perfected their roles within the Duke game plan. Whether they can contain Da’Sean Butler if the game is tight and rebound as effectively as in previous rounds could be the key to advancing. Many believe the tougher test is Saturday’s contest with the Mountaineers rather than the winner of Butler/Michigan State. I’m not as convinced.

Prediction: Duke hasn’t won a national title since 2001. That seems way too long for a program that’s become the standard bearer of college basketball since the mid 80s. Much like the Yankees finally breaking through at the end of the decade, I see Duke beginning a new era on Monday night. Another banner is hoisted to the rafters of Cameron Indoor Stadium and the Blue Devils are your 2010 National Champions.

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Report: Duke’s Kyle Singler Ineligible For Final Four

Posted by rtmsf on April 1st, 2010

Anti-Dookies rejoiced today as a long-hoped-for NCAA intervention dropped on the Duke program when the NCAA, in an emergency injunction, declared star forward Kyle Singler ineligible to play in the Final Four this weekend.  As a result of illegal benefits he took while playing in a summer league in the Research Triangle Park area last year, his collegiate career is now over.  We’re still piecing together the details, but reports from both parties (the NCAA and Duke) seem conclusive in the fact that Singler will not play.  Here’s the statement from Duke’s media relations representative:

Obviously, we’re very disappointed as to the allegations that the NCAA has made and the timing of this decision.  After a several-day internal investigation, however, we have decided to comply and not to appeal this decision as the student-athlete in question has indeed jeopardized his amateur eligibility by playing in the Bojangles RTP Pro-Am last summer and accepting unauthorized gifts while there.  Our understanding is that if we do not play him in the Final Four games, we will be in full compliance and will not be held accountable by the NCAA for playing him in previous games this season. 

Losing Singler is a Huge Blow to the Devils

This is obviously a huge blow to Duke’s chances to win the national championship this weekend, but how interesting is it that the NCAA has decided to not hold Duke accountable for the 38 other games Singler has already appeared in this year if they simply hold him out this weekend?  Would Memphis have gotten the same treatment with Derrick Rose on the eve of the Final Four in 2008?  Is the NCAA setting yet another precedent in how they handle ineligible players — i.e., if you discover it in time, we’ll cut you a deal on the games he’s already appeared in?   

Additionally, RTC has done some further investigation and discovered that the RTP Pro-Am is an annual event where many of the former and current players from the area convene for several weeks in July to work on their games in a structured environment – Jerry Stackhouse, Chris Paul and Grant Hill are but a few of the marquee names that appeared last summer.  Like any event of this nature, there are also bags of swag available to the players who agree to play, and the 2009 booty included coupons for free food to Bojangles (a local fast-food chain), new iPhones/iPods and various Nike-sponsored bags, shoes, hats and t-shirts (the shoe giant is one of the primary sponsors of the event).  The NCAA  has been clear in the past that such events are off limits to NCAA athletes such as Singler, but supposedly an enterprising UNC fan took cell phone photos of Singler playing in the games and holding a bag of the above gift items afterward.  Quite literally, holding the bag. 

Coach K faces a monumental task in preparing his team for their semifinal tilt against West Virginia in just over 48 hours without their versatile forward, but he’s performed miracles before on this stage, so we wouldn’t put it past him to find a way to overcome this major hurdle.  The AP has been the only media outlet to get through to him for an interview, and his quote on the matter was succinct but telling about his general feelings on the matter: “Happy April 1, everyone.” 

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Why the Bulldogs Will Win It All…

Posted by rtmsf on April 1st, 2010

We asked writers from each of the four Final Four schools to provide us with a persuasive article on why their team will win it all this coming weekend.  Steven Peek of The Butler Collegian tells us that Butler isn’t satisfied with merely making the Final Four — they’re going all the way.

Many basketball programs use past national championships as an argument for why they are contenders in future seasons.  So would it be fair to say that Butler has a chance to win the 2010 NCAA Championship because they won the national titles in the 1923-24 and 1928-29 seasons?  No? OK then, let’s move beyond that fact.

The main reason why Butler could win the 2010 NCAA Tournament is because they are truly a unit, one single force moving past the competition. This can be seen in many facets of the game.  First, Butler’s mentality is team-based. Gordon Hayward confirms this in his hit single “Too Big Yo,” in which he raps how “it’s not about me / it’s about the team.”

Butler had no candidates for National Player of the Year remaining by the time the tournament began. While many may believe this to be a weakness, the bracket says otherwise.  Are the Ohio State Evan Turners still in the tournament? Nope.  Are the Kentucky John Walls still playing? Again, no.  How about the Syracuse Wes Johnsons? Butler took care of them.

Butler Can Beat Anybody (IndyStar/S. Riche)

Butler has had little national press coverage due to their lack of outspoken individuals. In fact, although they were ranked No. 10 nationally in the preseason polls, few people gave them credit as the 24-game winning streak built.  Butler should also be considered a legitimate title contender because of their defense.  In a press conference in San Jose, Calif., senior forward Willie Veasley talked about playing defense with the mindset of 5-on-1 (Butler versus the man with the ball). Using that mentality, Butler held its NCAA tournament opponents to a 56.5 points per game average, with all four teams being held to under 60 points.  Sophomore guard Ronald Nored has 12 steals this tournament, five of which came against No 1.-seeded Syracuse, a team that many analysts thought would tear through Butler.

But the Bulldogs have been no stranger to being underrated.  On this very subject, Nored has said, “It’s not an underestimation, it’s a misunderstanding.”  Being underrated makes the Bulldogs that much stronger.  Butler’s bench players have also been propelling the No. 5 seed through the tournament.  Butler’s bench has been big this tournament, granting new life to the court when the play of starters needed to be energized.

The scoring of juniors Zach Hahn and Shawn Vanzant has been important, as has the defense of senior Avery Jukes and freshman Andrew Smith. I personally watched Vanzant orchestrate three fast breaks in the first half against UTEP, who had Butler’s offense stagnant at first.  And because the bench is able to enter the game and continue or steal back momentum, diverse scoring is a part of the recent success.  When the pressure of the NCAA tournament rises, Butler has had someone to step up. In its four tournament games, Butler has had three different leading scorers—Gordon Hayward (twice), Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored.  Also, Butler has had at least five players with at least four points in all four games.

And naturally, the home court factor should not be overlooked. Lucas Oil Stadium (a.k.a. Hinkle Fieldhouse South) is only a skip and a hop away from Butler’s campus.  That’s important because the Bulldogs went 15-0 at Hinkle this season. Those 15 wins include victories against NCAA tournament competitors Ohio State, Xavier and Siena.  The Bulldog bandwagon has been growing in number since other “underdogs” and Indiana teams dropped from the bracket.  The local crowd will certainly be supporting Butler and will likely outnumber any group of Michigan State, West Virginia or Duke fans.

Michigan State will surely be a tough opponent for Butler Saturday. Tom Izzo is a coaching legend and for good reason. Playing for him is essentially a guarantee to compete in at least one Final Four.  Nonetheless, the talents of Butler head coach Brad Stevens and his staff are not to be written off due to their youth. They are humble and dedicated, as reflected in the performance of their players.  All of the above is cause to count on Butler to not disappoint this weekend, whether it’s against the Spartans in the Final Four or against the next opponent in the national championship game.

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RTC Final Four Tidbits: 03.31.10

Posted by rtmsf on April 1st, 2010

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

Butler (Andrew Murawa)

West Virginia (Ryan Restivo of SienaSaintsBlog)

  • A West Virginia fan had a very interesting fan experience early in March, but made sure to watch Villanova-West Virginia on March 6 before checking in to the hospital for a heart attack. USA Today notes, she got a surprise visit from Da’Sean Butler.
  • It’s been a little over two years since Duke and WVU met in the NCAA Tournament, and both teams feel that they have matured in the interim.
  • WVU Alum Bob Huggins has brought the Mountaineers to the top.
  • Meanwhile The Philadelphia Inquirer notes the Mountaineers’ strength is rebounding and defense.
  • Bucky Waters, who was head coach  at Duke and West Virginia, expects a good game.

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Why the Spartans Will Win It All…

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2010

We asked writers from each of the four Final Four schools to provide us with a persuasive article on why their team will win it all this coming weekend.  Joey Nowak of the State News tells us that Michigan State has one x-factor that no other school can claim: Tom Izzo. 

In picking a national champion, you can crunch every number and compare every statistic you can find. You can weigh records, odds, matchups and the history books. Champs have been chosen from everything — jerseys, mascots, school colors, height and weight, birthdays and signs of the zodiac. But the reason Michigan State will be the team cutting down the nets at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday night can be spelled out in four letters.

I-Z-Z-O.

Izzo Approaching Some Rarefied Air

The Michigan State head coach’s middle name is March. No one prepares like Izzo and his staff, no one is better on a two-day tournament turnaround and, thus, no team is ever more prepared for the NCAA Tournament than an Izzo-coached squad.  Players buy into his philosophies (defense, toughness and rebounding produce the No. 1 rebounding and No. 58 field-goal defense in the nation) and his promise of “You get me through the first game, I’ll get you through the second” rings true on a perennial basis.

Speaking of crunching stats, let’s do these: Izzo has led the Spartans to a remarkable 16-3 record in the second game of an NCAA Tournament weekend. (For those keeping score at home, that national title game everyone is talking about? That’s the second game of an NCAA Tournament weekend.)  It’s a well-known fact in the college basketball community that no other program has reached six Final Fours in the last 12 years, but it’s also crucial to note that only Izzo, UCLA’s John Wooden and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski have led any team on such a run in history.

Izzo is 35-11 in the Big Dance, good for second in winning percentage among active coaches (he passed Roy Williams with two wins this weekend) and he’s nipping on Krzyzewski’s heels for the number one spot. Should the Spartans win the title, Izzo will be the top dog.  There’s a phrase that is thrown around East Lansing that the “players play the game” and it comes down to nothing else. But with Izzo at their back, these players turn their hopes and dreams over to the man in green and he works his magic.

More Hardware Coming Back to East Lansing (LSJ/R. Sanford)

Some are calling this Izzo’s greatest coaching performance — reaching the Final Four without MSU’s leading scorer and point guard (Kalin Lucas), with their best perimeter defender (Chris Allen) hobbling with a torn ligament in his right foot and an explosive forward (Delvon Roe) playing through “ridiculous” pain with a torn meniscus in his right knee.  No question it’s up there. And with a Final Four field that has been as open as any in recent memory and a national title up for grabs, why not side with the man who continues to prove doubters wrong?

I-Z-Z-O.

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Final Four Team-By-Team Previews: Michigan State

Posted by zhayes9 on March 31st, 2010

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Here are the Butler and West Virginia previews. Today we delve into Michigan State’s chances during their sixth Final Four under Tom Izzo.

It's Mr. Izzo's time of year

Crucial Tourney Moment(s): Michigan State and Maryland played a two-minute stint of basketball during their second round clash unrivaled in this NCAA Tournament. Timeouts, fouls and other stoppages were few and far between. Instead, up-and-down basketball, star players making season-deciding buckets and one backup point guards’ clinching shot at the buzzer made the difference. After Greivis Vasquez capped off a heroic late game performance with a leaner that gave the Terps the lead, it was the roundest point-forward in the land, Draymond Green, finding a streaking  Korie Lucious under the ducked head of Delvon Roe for a three-pointer that sent the Spartans to St. Louis, and, following victories over Northern Iowa and Tennessee, on to the Final Four for the second straight season.

Advantage Area: Coaching can often be overstated. After all, it’s ultimately the players on the floor and their individual decision making and skill level that decide games. Yet there’s something about Tom Izzo and his ability to construct a basketball team that peaks when the stakes are at the highest level. A Spartan team mired with chemistry issues, injuries and suspensions for most of the season has rallied around a single goal and are somehow playing into April. Everyone gives Izzo, aptly nicknamed Mr. March, full credit for the turnaround and the program’s annual success. Everyone except Izzo, of course. There are three other great coaches in Indianapolis this year, though, and the games are determined on the floor. Where the Spartans hold an advantage is their ability to run effective sets in the halfcourt, overall athleticism, capability of functioning at different speeds and the versatility of players like Raymar Morgan and Draymond Green. The second half they played against Northern Iowa on the offensive end was a thing of beauty.

Potential Downfall: There are two areas of great importance that the Spartans lack and both could prove their ultimate downfall- steady, experienced point guard play and reliable low-post scoring. Korie Lucious has done a commendable job replacing the Spartans floor leader Kalin Lucas thus far, but often surrendered careless turnovers to the heavy ball pressure of Tennessee’s Bobby Maze and Melvin Goins. No team defends as physically in the halfcourt as Butler. Both Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored are pests that force turnovers at a decent rate. Lucious shouldn’t worry about wowing anyone under the bright lights of Lucas Oil Stadium; instead, focus on taking care of the basketball and running sets, finding Durrell Summers off screens, locating Draymond Green for open mid-range shots and controlling the pace of the game. Michigan State also lacks a true low post scorer that can go toe-to-toe with Matt Howard. Delvon Roe is playing with a torn meniscus and Derrick Nix is a freshman without much experience. Should they advance, neither West Virginia or Duke possesses a consistent scoring threat on the low block.

X-Factor: Raymar Morgan is the ultimate x-factor in college basketball. When Morgan plays up to his talent level, the Spartans are a team to be reckoned with. Durrell Summers shooting stroke is also a major x-factor in Saturday’s game. Summers has been Izzo’s most valuable offensive cog in the last three games: 25-39 FG, 14-22 3pt and 66 points. The Spartans were able to knock off Northern Iowa largely because the Panthers defense dares opponents to make long jump shots and Summers delivered. He exploded onto the scene as a sophomore last March and will look to do the same this year coming off screens and hitting jumpers. With Chris Allen hobbled and Lucious worried about running the offense, it’ll be up to Summers to bail Michigan State out on more than one occasion late in the shot clock when the Butler defense imposes their will in the halfcourt.

Key Semifinal Matchup: Shelvin Mack vs. Korie Lucious. As it does so often in the Final Four, this game could come down to point guard play. The entire world will be judging Lucious on how he steps up in the absence of Kalin Lucas. It is Mack’s job to annoy Lucious as much as possible, much like Bobby Maze and Melvin Goins gave him as little room as possible to operate. It’s not just about defense for Mack, though. His game on the offensive end has made leaps and bounds from his freshman to sophomore seasons, likely due to his experience playing for the Under-19 U.S. team this summer. Mack drained 39% of his threes this season and also has a strong, built body that acts like a bulldozer attacking the basket. It’s up to the defensively challenged Lucious to contain Mack and force more of the scoring load on Gordon Hayward.

Crunch Time Performer: Tom Izzo doesn’t have one main option down the stretch like West Virginia with Da’Sean Butler or Butler with Gordon Hayward. He could diagram a play to get Durrell Summers an open look from deep, isolate Draymond Green and let him operate (ran this play late in the Maryland game), or even clear out for Lucious if he has confidence in him (ran this play late in the Northern Iowa game). And it was Raymar Morgan who found himself open down the floor against Tennessee. Rather than one player the opposing defense can focus on, Izzo has the luxury known as unpredictability. There’s nobody better in college basketball following a timeout than Izzo.

Experience: The experience factor is clearly advantage: Spartans in this Final Four. Nearly everyone that sees regular minutes played on last year’s runner up squad with the exception of Derrick Nix and Garrick Sherman. Even Lucious hit two threes in the semifinal win against Connecticut. Not to mention Tom Izzo will be coaching in his sixth Final Four, a mark only Coach K can replicate. Raymar Morgan is the Spartans team captain and will need to step up leadership-wise on the floor should Michigan State fall into a deficit against Butler.

Forecast: Many casual fans are labeling Michigan State as “lucky” they received a mid-major 5-seed in the Final Four rather than Syracuse or Kansas State, a point I respectfully dispute. Butler beat both of those aforementioned teams and will be playing in front of a plethora of navy blue-clad Bulldog fans in their backyard, much like Michigan State experienced last year in Detroit. Butler is an extremely fundamentally-sound, well-coached team with talented players that are operating at their best at the most opportune time. All of those factors also apply to Sparty, though. Should they eclipse Butler, West Virginia or Duke will pose a tremendous threat in the title game. Both the Mountaineers and Blue Devils have more talent across the board than the Spartans, especially without Lucas in the fold.

Prediction: I foolishly doubted Tom Izzo and picked Maryland, Northern Iowa and Tennessee all to beat Michigan State. I figured the shaky Spartans I watched the entire month of February would rear its ugly head at some point in the tournament and it still hasn’t happened. Michigan State simply makes winning plays in March and Izzo is the best in the business this time of year. Spartans advance to the final.

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RTC Final Four Tidbits: 03.30.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2010

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

Butler (Andrew Murawa)

Duke (Patrick Sellars)

  • The Bleacher Report puts their own spin on a preview of the Duke Blue Devils.
  • An article from the Star Tribune discusses how Duke ruined the Final Four because they are the only unlikable team in the mix.
  • Here’s an article from the Miami-Herald on why people despise Duke, and apparently it starts with Coach K. I suppose the rest of the ACC hating on Duke continues into the offseason.
  • Want to know who the best white Duke player of all time was? Well now you can! Thank God Josh McRoberts missed the list.

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Does Home Court at the Final Four Help?

Posted by rtmsf on March 30th, 2010

With Butler’s magical run through the West Region to make its first-ever Final Four in its home city of Indianapolis, it got us thinking about whether having home court advantage this deep in the Tournament actually means anything.  It’s great to have the fan support on your side, but when you get this far into the season, all of the teams remaining have won games in hostile environments and are still standing for a more compelling reason (they’re really good!).

 

We decided to take a historical look at some situations in the last fifty years of the Final Four where we feel that there could have been a home court advantage of some kind for the Final Four and Championship Games.  We tried to limit our choices to a three-hour driving radius from the host venue, but we recognize that some fanbases will travel to the moon to see their team while others can’t be trifled with moving off the couch.  So bear with us.

A brief review found seventeen such instances in the last half-century (Butler @ Indy is #18).  Of special note is that there were only seven situations where a team got to play in its home state (including last year’s Michigan State @ Detroit situation) and only twice where a Final Four school played its games in its home city as Butler will do this coming weekend (UCLA both times).  Here’s the list of what you really want to know, and we’ll break down each instance below that to determine if we think HCA had an impact. 

Final Fours Involving Home Teams

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Final Four Team-By-Team Previews: West Virginia

Posted by zhayes9 on March 30th, 2010

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Yesterday’s Butler preview is here and tomorrow we’ll dissect Michigan State.

It's been a dream season for the senior Butler

Crucial Tourney Moment(s): The Mountaineers have experienced mostly smooth sailing thus far in the NCAA Tournament, facing three double-digit seeds and then maintaining a comfortable lead during the second half in their regional final bout with top seed Kentucky. It was a driving layup from offensively challenged Joe Mazzulla that extended the West Virginia lead to 11 and forced a John Calipari timeout midway through the second half when the Mountaineer diehards could see the Final Four in their sights. Mazzulla led the team in scoring with 17 points, extremely impressive for a kid that hadn’t scored more than eight points in a game all season.

Advantage Area: West Virginia is one of the most efficient teams in the nation when it comes to offense, defense and rebounding. The Mountaineers rank #12 in offensive efficiency, #10 in defensive efficiency and #2 in offensive rebounding percentage. Bob Huggins runs an offense that is largely dependent on running cuts to the rim and methodically wearing down an opponent for 40 minutes rather than dribble penetration, a reason why West Virginia often lets inferior teams hang around for 30 minutes before pulling away. They also boast the best late-game assassin in college basketball in Da’Sean Butler. Nobody in the Final Four will be trusted taking a crucial shot under a minute more than Butler. Duke, Michigan State and Butler also can’t come close to matching the height of West Virginia across the board.

Potential Downfall: West Virginia isn’t a particularly good jump shooting team. They don’t rank in the top-100 in two-point, three-point or free throw percentage on the season. Although they do have forwards such as Wellington Smith and Kevin Jones that can step out and drain a three, there’s no consistent long-range shooter on the roster to trust other than Butler. JC transfer Casey Mitchell was supposed to be that weapon but never truly emerged and Huggins doesn’t trust him for long stretches. Even after Mazzulla’s stunning performance in the regional final, I’d still label point guard a weakness for the Mountaineers. It was a weakness before Darryl Bryant injured his foot, and even though he may return, the sophomore point was mired in a terrible scoring slump. As long as defenders keep Mazzulla in front and don’t allow penetration to the rim, there’s no need to respect any sort of jump shot from him.

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‘Eers A Question: Mazzulla Or Bryant?

Posted by jstevrtc on March 30th, 2010

And now…quiz time!

Here’s your vignette.  You have 35 seconds to take a shot:

A week ago, the news went out that West Virginia point guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant had fractured the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot and that he’d be out for the season. There was even talk that he’d need surgery to fix the break instead of the usual regimen of ice, rest, and a bulky, annoying stabilizer boot.

Then, the Mountaineers beat Kentucky. Bryant is now medically cleared to play in the Final Four.

Using your knowledge in each of the fields of cybernetics, Bob Huggins‘ black warm-up suit collection, and the “High Risk Zone” of the fifth metatarsal bone, how do you account for the change in Darryl Bryant’s status for the games this weekend?  Please select one answer only:

  • a) Darryl Bryant’s right pinkie toe is an orthopedic and osteologic wonder.  It heals even FASTER than that stoic but awesome liquid robot from Terminator 2, and the words “Bryant Metatarsal” will now be added to our language as something representing a person’s/object’s strong point –  the diametric opposite of “Achilles’ Heel.”  As in: “That’s right, Greg Gumbel, Kentucky’s Achilles’ heels are their 3-point shooting and their perimeter defense, but the ability of Wall, Cousins, and Patterson to get close looks in the lane is their Bryant Metatarsal,” *
  • b) the injury wasn’t as bad as originally thought, and the Truck should never have been parked,
  • c) the “rest of the season” part was added because whoever sent out the press release assumed WVU would lose to UK, thereby rendering their prognosis about Bryant correct…or,
  • d) Bryant’s going to try to tough it out…because it’s the Four.

Time’s up.  If you selected a), then, like us, you’re probably hoping that this really is the case. If you chose b) or c), you’re just cynical and wrong and may show yourself out.  If you chose d), we think you’re right.

Bryant (historically) scores more, but is Mazzulla the better option? (David Smith/AP)

Bryant’s change in status should surprise nobody.  It’s easy to wonder how a guy can go from possibly needing surgery one day to being medically cleared to play the next, but there are three reasons why you could see Bryant on the floor this weekend.  First, in athletes, fixing this type of fracture with surgery instead of the ice/rest/boot combo is gaining popularity as the ideal treatment.  Second, Bryant was fitted for a special orthotic shoe-and-insert on Monday — in Durham, North Carolina, of all places — which could help to allow him to play.  Assuming the insert does not, at some point in the first half, emit a strange royal blue-colored sleeping gas to which all Blue Devils are immune (we’re kidding, Durham-area foot doctors), the device is designed to take some weight off the broken bone and reduce Bryant’s level of pain.

Third…it’s the Final Four.

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RTC Final Four Tidbits: 03.29.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 30th, 2010

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

Michigan State (Tom Hager)

  • Big Surprise: Tom Izzo will not be leaving Michigan State for an Oregon team that finished 7-11 in the Pac-10.
  • Butler may have the advantage of the home crowd in Indianapolis, but Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens believes that MSU may have a large portion of the crowd pulling for the Spartans as well.
  • According to the New York Times, the harder Durrell Summers worked on his defensive game, the easier his offensive production has come by.
  • Seth Davis says that toughness, a category that MSU excels in given their rebounding ability, is the most important asset to have on a team at this time of the season.
  • Delvon Roe is expected to be in the starting lineup despite a knee injury.  According to the team trainer, Roe has an unbelievable pain tolerance.

West Virginia (Ryan Restivo of SienaSaintsBlog)

  • West Virginia, the Wall Street Journal noted, overcame a slow start to make the Final Four.
  • Are there any stars in this year’s Final Four?
  • Bob Huggins is not sure if Truck Bryant will be ready to go on Saturday. “I don’t have any idea,” Huggins said. “We’re not going to go today and we really won’t know until we see what he can do (Tuesday) and Wednesday and how he progresses.” However, Huggins told USA Today that they will explore every opportunity to play Bryant.
  • West Virginia’s odds are interesting for this year’s Final Four.
  • Mike DeCourcy writes that John Beilein’s holdovers and Huggins’ players combined to take this team to the next level.

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Diary From Salt Lake: West Regional

Posted by rtmsf on March 30th, 2010

RTC was in Salt Lake City, Utah, for the West Regional over the weekend.  Here are some of the sights, sounds and impressions of the town, the games and the goings-on while we were there.

SLC Sits Right Next to Those Imposing Mountains

The Trip There.  You have to love air travel sometimes.  Not so much the security lines, the crying children always scheduled one row behind me or the petulant TSA morons who keep stealing my Right Guard deodorant gel, but the whole concept of it.  At 12:30 pm, I was sitting in my office next to the deep blue waters of the Pacific; by 5 pm, I was sitting in a green seat in Utah’s Delta Center EnergySolutions Arena watching the West Regional Semifinals tip off between Syracuse and Butler.  When air travel works with such efficiency as that, it still amazes me.  Too bad it’s so infrequent these days.

When I landed, I noticed two things immediately.  Everything was white: the air, the mountains, even the people.  Ok, especially the people.  I think the only two nonwhite folks I encountered in SLC the entire weekend were my cab drivers to and from the airport.  It’s fairly clear with such a glaring lack of diversity in the area why NBA stars in particular look at signing with the Jazz as equivalent to hoops purgatory.  Well, except the white ones (Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur, Kyle Korver, etc.).  The other thing I noticed was that it was cold.  As in still-winter type of cold.  Snow was on the mountaintops that tower right over the downtown, and here I was with a lightweight hoodie as my only form of jacket.  I should have probably checked the weather report before I left, but I made the self-centered presumption that every place is like where I am now, right?  And if it’s not, it most definitely should be.

Jazz Heroes Stockton & Malone Outside the Arena

Thursday Night Games.  Tickets were aplenty outside the arena for this set of games.  The closest school (K-State) was over 1,000 miles away, and the tip was right after 5 pm local time.  That said, once I entered the arena, the place looked nearly full.  It seats about 20,000 and the announced attendance both days was in the 17-18,000 range .  I couldn’t get an immediate sense as to which school brought the most fans because it appeared that there were smatterings of orange (Syracuse), purple (K-State), navy blue (Xavier) and black (Butler) around the arena, but more than anything else, I noticed red everywhere.  Quickly checking the google to see if any of these four schools had red anywhere in their complementary color schemes and finding not, I decided that this warranted further investigation.

It turns out that many of the red hats, shirts, coats and so on were emblazoned with a strange word called “Utah,” which makes a lot of sense considering that the UofU campus is a mere two miles up the hill from downtown, but was completely lost on me because I couldn’t factor in that the Utes didn’t make the Tournament this year.  I didn’t expect that they’d have so many fans who just wanted to watch some good basketball.  I ran into that all weekend long here.  The good people of Utah LOVE their basketball.  From the youth league level all the way up to the Jazz, they’re extremely supportive of the sport and have a keen appreciation and knowledge of the game.  This is in stark contrast to some of the other neutral-site venues where I’ve visited this year and it barely even registers with the locals that there’s something called March Madness going on down the street.  In fact, I’d wager that the majority of attendees in the ES Arena over the weekend were simply folks from the surrounding area who wanted to watch the games.  I can only imagine the homecourt advantage that BYU would have held there had they gotten past Kansas State in the second round.

Two of the More Interesting Getups We Saw in SLC

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