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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

‘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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Final Four Team-By-Team Previews: Butler

Posted by zhayes9 on March 29th, 2010

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. We begin the dissection with the hometown Butler Bulldogs and their quest to cut down the nets in the shadow of their campus.


Nored, Hayward and Mack lead Butler/ Indianapolis Star

Crucial Tourney Moment(s): Butler faced two potentially back-breaking moments during their West regional bouts with Syracuse and Kansas State. Wesley Johnson and Denis Clemente both nailed second half threes that relinquished healthy Butler leads. Rather than follow the script of most Cinderella’s at this stage in the season, Butler battled back from both setbacks with clutch baskets from unsung heroes Willie Veasley and Ronald Nored. Their stingy halfcourt defense buckled down, forced turnovers and shut down both Johnson and Clemente down the stretch of both contests.

Advantage Area: Butler employs a stingy and disruptive halfcourt defense, one that permits you to run your sets but rarely allows dribble penetration, effectively doubles against screens to limit open looks against opposing guards and forces a plethora of turnovers. Butler frustrated a Syracuse offense running on all cylinders into 18 turnovers on Thursday. Butler also crashes the boards with all five of their players on the floor, evident by guard Shelvin Mack garnering nearly four rebounds per game. The Bulldogs ranked sixth in the country during the season limiting offensive rebounds for their opponents. They may be able to neutralize the backboards against Michigan State, usually an area of strength for Tom Izzo’s teams. An even stiffer test follows in this area with either Duke or West Virginia.

Potential Downfall: Butler could have a difficult time defending in the post. Matt Howard, a forward known for his propensity to commit fouls, and Gordon Hayward, a more perimeter-oriented player who does manage to hold his own down low, are Brad Stevens’ tallest players at 6’8. If Howard is forced to the bench, the only other option Stevens can point to is solid defender Avery Jukes. It’s a position of definite weakness on the defensive end and Kansas State’s Curtis Kelly exploited the flaw quite well during their Elite 8 battle. Unfortunately for Butler, each of the other Final 4 teams excels in the paint, especially Duke and West Virginia should the Bulldogs advance. West Virginia is one of the tallest teams in the nation and Duke hits the boards with ferocity as any viewer of their regional final matchup with Baylor can attest.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

That’s Debatable: Looking Back at Regional Weekend

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2010

We did this last week and it seemed to work pretty well, so let’s do it again.  Here are five questions from the past weekend’s action with a look ahead to the Final Four. Each of the below polls will allow comments, so let’s build some discussion through there.

Q1: What Was the Biggest Surprise This Weekend?

We’re going with Mazzulla on this one.  He came into the game averaging a bucket per contest, yet he shredded the Kentucky defense for easy layups multiple times over the course of WVU’s win over the Wildcats.  Many of the others were also surprising, and if we had to choose a #2, it would probably be Butler defeating Syracuse and K-State.  Not so much because we don’t believe in the Bulldogs (we do!), but just because how methodically they shut down the guards of both of those elite teams.

Q2: Butler: Cinderella or Legit Championship Threat?

We’d be more inclined to think they were a legitimate championship threat if they didn’t have to face a team in Michigan State that thrives on street fight defense.  It’ll be just another day at the Big Ten office for the Spartans in playing the Bulldogs, and there’s no way that Tom Izzo will allow his team to look past them.

Q3: Was JP Prince’s Foul on Raymar Morgan Legit?

Yeah, it was.  We’ve slowed it down a few times and there was enough arm in addition to ball there to warrant the call.  The mistake was letting MSU beat the Vols down the court to the blocks.  If UT had gotten back better, they might still be playing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Final Four Tidbits: 03.28.10

Posted by THager on March 28th, 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

Michigan State (Tom Hager)

  • Michigan State’s victory on Sunday is not without controversy.  Tennessee’s J.P. Prince, who committed the crucial foul with less than two seconds left, went over to the scorer’s table after the game and said that he did not believe there was a foul.
  • Although this is Tom Izzo’s sixth trip to the Final Four in twelve years, he makes sure not to take it for granted.  According to Izzo, reaching the Final Four is the greatest aspect of coaching because of the work involved in getting there.
  • The trip to the semifinals is even more impressive considering former MSU star Magic Johnson did not even believe that this was a Final Four team a month ago.
  • Perhaps the reason for Izzo’s success is his perfectionist attitude.  During one point in the game on Sunday, Draymond Green asked if he could make a mistake, and Izzo told him not at this crucial time of year.
  • Kalin Lucas is still the hero for Michigan State, as fans chanted his name and players carried him up to the rim to cut the nets.

Duke (Patrick Sellars)

  • The Washington Post looks at the brotherhood of the Duke Blue Devils in this article. Coach K has a team back in the Final Four for the first time since 2004.
  • Was Scott Drew’s coaching inexperience exposed in the Elite Eight matchup Sunday? Here is a look at how Drew may have cost Baylor the game and a shot at the Final Four.
  • Everyone is happy in Durham. Jon Scheyer said “It’s a dream come true. To get that win, we had to work our butts off for it, and it felt great.”
  • There was a lot of emotion in the Baylor locker room after their loss on Sunday. It was a sad end to a dream season. “You don’t want it to end,” a teary-eyed Tweety Carter said, “and you want to do whatever it takes to make it go on.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC (Sorta) Live: The Elite Eight – Sunday 03.28.10 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 28th, 2010

After 59 mostly amazing NCAA Tournament games, we are down to the last two before we head to Indianapolis for the Final Four. Butler and West Virginia have already sealed trips to Indianapolis, but there are still two more tickets waiting to be punched. One Elite 8 match-up (the South) features a pair of teams–Duke and Baylor–that nobody is really surprised to see here. The other Elite 8 match-up (the Midwest) features two teams–Michigan State and Tennessee–that were expected to contend for a Final Four spot at the beginning of the season, but basically fell off the map during parts of the season only to be miraculously resurrected. Either way all four are just one win away from making the trip to the promised land: the Final Four.

We will kick things off at 2 PM and follow both Elite 8 games:

  • 2:20 PM: #5 Michigan State versus #6 Tennessee
  • 5:05 PM: #1 Duke versus #3 Baylor

So stop by to hear ground-breaking analysis, chat with fellow hoops heads, and ask us any questions you have about all things basketball.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Region by Region Analysis: 03.27.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 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

West Region (Andrew Murawa)

  • Usually in college basketball, when you say a team is going home, you mean they just lost and their season is over. For Butler, there are no such problems; they just upset Kansas State in Salt Lake City and are headed back to Indianapolis, the site of this year’s Final Four, to compete in their first National Semifinal just a few miles from their campus.
  • How did they do it? The easy answer is defense, mostly controlling KSU’s explosive backdoor pair of Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen and, rather surprisingly, getting the best of the Wildcats on the glass, winning the rebounding battle 41-29, an astounding number for the smaller, less athletic team.
  • The Bulldog win was a complete team effort, with stars like Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward having their usual strong performances, role-players like Ronald Nored and Willie Veasley adding their gritty play, but also players like little-used freshman center Andrew Smith giving head coach Brad Stevens quite a few strong minutes in the wake of Matt Howard’s foul trouble.

East Region

  • Andy Katz writes that despite Kentucky’s presumed coronation coming up a few games short in Syracuse tonight, the Cats are back, and the health of the UK program is an overall good thing for college basketball in general.
  • Mike Freeman skewers Kentucky for whining and complaining to the refs in most of this game and refusing to give West Virginia responsibility for winning the game.  Interesting stat that Bob Huggins is now 8-1 against John Calipari in head-to-head matchups.
  • West Virginia’s Wellington Smith stated after the Mountaineers defeated Kentucky that they were looking at that as the ‘national championship game’ and had no trouble claiming that WVU should be the resounding favorite in next week’s Final Four.
  • The great game that WVU’s Joe Mazzulla put forth in the regional finals today may have bought enough time for his teammate Truck Bryant to get healthy.  He says that he’s 90% sure that he’ll be able to play in the Final Four next weekend.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC (Sorta) Live: The Elite Eight – Saturday 03.27.10 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on March 27th, 2010

No doubt, getting to the Elite Eight is an accomplishment…but teams don’t hang banners for Elite Eights (at least they shouldn’t).  All the weights lifted, all the miles run, all the shots hoisted in practice, all the interviews done — tonight is finally one of those occasions where these guys can say, “This is what it was all for.”  They play for national championships, but they also play for the Final Four.  That final destination, the final city on the long road that started back in October.  As if I had to tell you the lineup:

  • 4:30 PM ET — Kansas State vs Butler
  • 7:30 PM ET — Kentucky vs West Virginia

There’s nothing left to say.  This is for the Final Four.  That’s all you need to say.

Can’t wait.  Hope to see you around here for some conversation while we watch the games.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story