NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.01.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 1st, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

Connecticut

  • Kemba Walkerhopes to have his picture alongside Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton and Emeka Okafor on a wall inside Gampel Pavilion which features UConn’s NBA Draft selections. Assuming the NBA holds its draft as planned despite a looming work stoppage, Walker doesn’t have much to worry about.
  • If you’ve seen footage of Jim Calhoun at a microphone, you can detect his Boston accent without much effort. Calhoun isn’t the only UConn fixture on this season’s team to hail from Beantown, though: Alex Oriakhi, Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Shabazz Napiereach graduated from high schools in the Boston area.
  • There’s no love lost between Calhoun and John Calipari. While it’s rare for them to face off against one another on the court anymore, the waters run back to 1993, when Calipari beat out the UConn coach for the services of Marcus Camby, who chose UMass.
  • Caron Butler, one of UConn’s brightest stars now in the NBA, is amazed by Kemba Walker’s spectacular month. Walker’s ability to lead a young team has also left several coaches in awe of what UConn has accomplished.
  • Shabazz Napier may not stuff the box score on a nightly basis, but his fearlessness is just one component that makes UConn a tough nut to crack. It takes some confidence to speak your mind when your coach is Jim Calhoun.

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RTC Travelogue: New Orleans, Part I

Posted by jstevrtc on April 1st, 2011

RTC Senior Editor John Stevens covered the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in New Orleans for us last week. In addition to watching Butler emerge as the Southeast Region champion, he also had time to check out a little bit of the city. Occasionally on RTC we like to get out of our comfort zone and write up a travelogue of our experiences for your amusement. He’s home and (we think) fully recovered from the both the amazing basketball he saw and his time in the Big Easy, so here is Part I of John’s sumbission from New Orleans.

If you’re looking forward to the destination, one of the great feelings a person can have, for my money, is the series of moments right before a journey starts. Nothing screams of possibilities more than a plane awaiting its turn on a runway, an empty passport, or a camera memory card with no photos. But when RTC’s founder, correspondent wrangler and assignement hander-outer called me to talk about where I’d be traveling and what games I could possibly cover in the post-season, I wasn’t looking forward to the conversation.

John Makes His First Approach To the Quarter -- It Went Downhill From Here

I covered many games in many locales for RTC this season, and frankly, I was tired. I also remembered how I did the same thing last season, and how fatigued I was after the 10-hour car trip to the Big 12 Tournament last year. It was a total blast to cover. I loved every single moment of being there, and I can still taste the Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue. I spent way too much time in the Power and Light District. ButI always spend too much money and push my poor automobile too hard (nothing like an engine rebuild around Christmastime!). By the time I got off the phone with him, though, my defenses had been proven futile. He landed quick jabs by telling me that I was signed up for the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis, the First Four in Dayton, and the Cleveland sub-regional.

Then he finished me with this right cross: “And…you’re also penciled in for the regional in New Orleans.”

As if having a media pass to the nation’s greatest sporting event in four different locations wasn’t enough, I had the opportunity to go to one of the country’s coolest cities. I’d always wanted to go to New Orleans. He knew I couldn’t resist that, the dirty dog that he is. I had more fun covering the games in Indianapolis, Dayton, and Cleveland than I thought I would, and that made me anticipate New Orleans even more. My flight to the Crescent City was at 6:00 AM on Thursday, the day of the Sweet 16 games. I barely slept the night before out of excitement. To me, the night and even the minutes before such a journey like this starts are every bit as good as being on the trip itself.

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NCAA Final Four Game Analysis

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 1st, 2011

The Road Ends Here, states the signs on the Reliant Center and around the city of Houston this weekend, so we think we’re in the right place.  The unlikeliest of Final Fours will commence on Saturday evening, so it’s time for our game analysis and picks.  Check back Monday morning for the final edition. 

#8 Butler vs. #11 VCU – National Semifinal (at Houston, TX) – 6:09 pm ET on CBS.

 

The New Krzyzewski is Back in the Final Four.

 Butler is back in the Final Four but what they see on the other side of the court may look familiar. VCU is playing Cinderella this season, the same shoes the Bulldogs filled last year in Indianapolis. The Rams have dismantled four of their five NCAA Tournament opponents during their improbable tournament run, including Kansas in their most recent game. Shaka Smart’s team has increased its level of play by a wide margin in this tournament and will look to “Shaka the World,” as one VCU t-shirt says, in Houston. As if they haven’t already. VCU is a team that didn’t even expect to be in the field, choosing not to watch the Selection Show three weeks ago. Yet here they are, two wins away from a national title with the national spotlight squarely on them. To get to Monday night and a date with either Connecticut or Kentucky, the Rams need to keep doing what they’ve been doing so well in this tournament: shoot the three, defend, and force turnovers. Remarkably, VCU has been outrebounded in four of their five NCAA Tournament games. USC was the only team that couldn’t pull down more boards than the Rams, a stunning fact given how far they’ve advanced. How have they done it? VCU has shot 43.8% from deep behind Bradford Burgess and company, held four of their five opponents under 40% shooting and recorded a +23 turnover margin (+4.6 per game). By contrast, Butler is in this position thanks to clutch plays by experienced players such as Shelvin Mack and a fantastic tactician on the sideline. Brad Stevens’ bunch has won four tournament games by a total of 13 points, three of them by six total points. To beat VCU, Butler must defend the three well and protect the basketball. They’ve done a nice job of that in the NCAAs thus far, allowing only 30.4% from deep in tournament play while committing 11 turnovers per game over the same stretch. That 30.4% mark against the three ball would rank #13 nationally if it were a season average, giving you a strong indication of just how well they’ve defended recently. As it is, Butler ranks #65 in three point defense at 32.4% on the season. Both clubs rely on the trey for a large portion of their offense so expect many deep shots to be launched. The key defensive matchup will be Butler’s Ronald Nored against VCU point guard Joey Rodriguez. Nored made it a habit of frustrating opposing guards in last year’s magical run to the title game and he’s doing it again this year. If Nored can get in Rodriguez’s grill and disrupt the flow of the VCU offense, open three-point looks may become harder to come by. Rodriguez averages 5.1 APG but the Rams could grind to a halt if he is locked up by Butler’s ace defender. It is unlikely that VCU will enjoy a significantly positive turnover margin against a Bulldogs team that protects the ball fairly well and even more unlikely that the Rams will outrebound Butler. Therefore, Nored may hold the key that opens the door for Butler to advance to their second consecutive championship game. VCU, specifically Burgess and Brandon Rozzell, has to keep making threes to have a chance to win this game. On the interior, Matt Howard and Jamie Skeen will battle it out. Skeen is more athletic but these forwards have similar games. They can score in the paint or from the perimeter but Howard is more physical. Skeen hasn’t shown the aggressiveness needed to battle junkyard dog players like Howard in the post at times this season, instead relying on his athleticism and finesse to overcome his opponents’ physicality. He must be able to bang with Howard and hopefully, for VCU’s sake, get him in early foul trouble. On paper this looks like a very close game. We don’t expect anything different but the edge has to go to Butler. Experience matters a lot when you get this deep into the tournament and the Bulldogs have obviously been here before. Given the way last year’s season ended for them, they are probably playing with a chip on their shoulder as well. Butler has all the motivation in the world to get to the title game while, subconsciously, VCU is just happy to have made it this far. By no means are we saying VCU doesn’t care about getting to Monday night (they do), but we’re worried about how they’ll react in a tight situation down the stretch of a close game with the eyes of the world focused on them. Butler has been through this drill last year and during the tournament this season, plus they have tough-as-nails players like Mack and Howard. Add in Stevens, the master strategist, and you have the recipe for success in a national semifinal. We wouldn’t be surprised if VCU wins, but we can’t pick against Butler here in what looks to be a favorable matchup for the Bulldogs.

The RTC Certified Pick: Butler.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.31.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 31st, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

Connecticut

  • Much has been made of Kemba Walker‘s spectacular season and Jeremy Lamb‘s breakout in the tournament, but Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Alex Oriakhi share a bond that goes back to before Walker even set foot in campus.
  • Houston has been good to UConn during Jim Calhoun‘s tenure, as the city was home to Jake Voskuhl, Emeka Okafor and Hasheem Thabeet before the three players made their respective trips up to Storrs. The Huskies are looking for Houston to give them another great memory.
  • Youth will dominate Saturday’s semifinal between Connecticut and Kentucky, with a probable six freshmen combined in the two teams’ starting lineups.
  • If UConn is the last team standing in Houston, one question sure to be asked surrounds Jim Calhoun’s future with the university. And if the end of his coaching career is nigh, who might succeed him? Former Husky player and current assistant Kevin Ollie might lead that list.
  • More hardware rolls in for Kemba Walker, who was named the recipient of the Bob Cousy Award as college basketball’s top point guard, beating out Nolan Smith, Norris Cole, Jordan Taylor and Jimmer Fredette.

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RTC Final Four Snapshots: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by zhayes9 on March 31st, 2011

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Here are Butler, Connecticut and VCU. We conclude the series with the third school that John Calipari has taken to the Final Four: Kentucky.

 

It's been big shot after big shot for Brandon Knight this March

Crucial Tourney Moments: Without Brandon Knight’s late-second driving layup against Princeton, his only field goal of the entire game, the Wildcats may not be standing here today as the favorites to win the program’s eighth national championship. Survive and advance has been the mantra for the Wildcats throughout their difficult road to the Final Four. UK needed another Knight game-winner, this time a step-back jumper from the right wing on Ohio State’s ace defender Aaron Craft, to knock off the overall #1 seed in the Sweet 16. A kickout three to Billy Gillispie holdover DeAndre Liggins made the difference in UK’s second upset win on Sunday. No one can argue the Wildcats didn’t earn a spot in Houston after downing teams the caliber of West Virginia, Ohio State and North Carolina in successive fashion. One can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Knight’s shot had rimmed out and Princeton battled Kentucky into an extra session.

Advantage Area: Kentucky boasts the most scoring options of any Final Four participant, a direct compliment of both John Calipari’s ability to reload on the recruiting trail and develop three and four year program players like Darius Miller and Josh Harrellson. Knight is the best pure scoring point guard Calipari has ever had at his disposal. The star freshman is outstanding in handoff ball screen situations with Harrellson where defenders have to opt to either go under the screen and test Knight’s advanced jump shot or fight through where they’ll likely need help on his dribble penetration. Kentucky fell short of expectations last year in the NCAA Tournament largely due to a lack of outside shooting. This season, with the likes of Miller, Liggins and the ultra-efficient Doron Lamb, Calipari can spread the floor and that aforementioned help defense on Knight’s penetration opens up ample room for capable shooters. Kentucky can spread the floor, move the basketball, force help and knock down perimeter jump shots, the primary reasons for their tremendous offensive execution against North Carolina in the regional final.

Potential Downfall: The possibility of foul trouble for Josh Harrellson is a major concern. We knew Knight and Terrence Jones had some serious talent, but with Enes Kanter ruled ineligible the main concern with Kentucky since the offseason was always their frontline. Harrellson has already proven he can hold his own against two of the best big men in the country in Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller, so Alex Oriakhi isn’t a tremendous concern. But what if Harrellson picks up two early fouls and Eloy Vargas has to play 13 minutes in the first half? Kentucky has been fortunate through their run that Harrellson has stayed on the floor for 33+ minutes in every game other than the SEC Tournament final rout over Florida. While Jim Calhoun has four legitimate big bodies he can play if you count Niels Giffey, Calipari has Harrellson and Vargas. Let’s just hope the former can stay on the floor.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.30.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 30th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

Connecticut

  • Jim Calhoun warns that the shine will eventually wear off of prodigious coaches like Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens. One element both coaches will have to consider in potential moves to higher-profile schools down the line is whether they want to take on the balance of increased scrutiny and higher expectations.
  • The Huskies returned to campus for a couple days to recharge their batteries, but passers-by on campus are still as excited as they were on Saturday. The team arrives in Houston Wednesday night, and its rock star status can’t go to the players’ heads if they want to succeed.
  • Patrick Sellers, a former UConn assistant, left the staff in the wake of the NCAA’s investigation of the program last May. Now coaching in China, Sellers remains pumped for his former employer, and, cleared by the NCAA, can seek work at the Division-I level if he wishes.
  • Calhoun believes there are no great teams in college basketball this season, with which we agree, but gives a reason with which we disagree. Calhoun insists that the transience of college basketball’s top players hurts the game, but without those players, even if they only stay one season, the game would be far less interesting.

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RTC Final Four Snapshots: VCU Rams

Posted by zhayes9 on March 30th, 2011

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Here are his Butler and Connecticut previews. The third breakdown focuses on the most unlikely Final Four team of our lifetime: VCU.

VCU coach Shaka Smart has led the Rams from the CBI to the Final Four

Crucial Tourney Moments: The craziest part of VCU’s improbable run to the Final Four is not just that they’ve beaten five teams from BCS conferences, but that they’ve throttled their supposed superior opposition by a healthy 12 PPG. This isn’t a so-called Cinderella barely avoiding midnight time and time again, this is a sustained demolition of power programs: USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and, the most shocking of them all, Kansas. Because two of those wins were lopsided and only the Sweet 16 matchup with FSU truly in doubt as the seconds ticked down, let’s recap the sheer improbability of this run instead, summed up by these three facts: VCU has scored 1.17 points per possession during the tournament and four of their opponents ranked in the top 26 in defensive efficiency, their #185 effective FG% defense held the #1 effective FG% offense to their lowest FG% of the season, VCU’s season-high of 11 threes was eclipsed in three different games during the NCAA Tournament. I could go on.

Advantage Area: Unlike defense, VCU has been a capable offensive squad for the majority of the regular season. While their pinpoint 44% mark from deep during the NCAA Tournament is clearly higher than their season average, the Rams boast capable shooters across the board with three regular rotation players connecting on over 40% of their attempts. VCU is extremely aggressive with their dribble-drive offense that forces teams to help on penetration and risk surrendering open looks from three to the likes of Bradford Burgess, Brandon Rozzell and even versatile big man Jamie Skeen. Unlike UConn (freshman most of the time), Kentucky (freshman) and Butler (junior), the Rams boast a senior floor general in Joey Rodriguez that’s accumulated over 4,300 minutes as the orchestrator of this up-tempo attack. Even though Rodriguez likes the push the pace, he’s compiled 38 assists to just nine turnovers during the NCAA Tournament.

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NCAA Regional Diary From San Antonio

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2011

After another weekend of scintillating and shocking NCAA Tournament results, it’s time to check back in with our various correspondents who were in Anaheim, San Antonio, New Orleans and Newark reporting on the games this weekend.

Location: San Antonio, TX
Round: Regional Final
Teams: VCU, Kansas
Date: 27 March 2011

To read all the diaries throughout the NCAA Tournament, click here.

The San Antonio Riverwalk is Always a Hit.

  • This is the second time in this Tournament that I’ve personally witnessed this happen (Gonzaga vs. St. John’s being the other).  Kansas’ strategy from the opening tip was to get the ball inside early and often to their big men, Marcus and Markieff Morris.  It worked in the beginning as the twins got KU off to a 6-2 start, but VCU started to figure out the entry passes, and before long the Kansas guards were trying to throw the ball into a quadruple-team underneath.  The perimeter players weren’t looking to score at all, and I sometimes wonder if a focused strategy to take advantage of a strength (as here) actually backfires in the sense that the perimeter players don’t have an opportunity to play offensively.  In the Richmond game, as a contrasting example, the KU perimeter players got going early and UR as a result was out of the game by the second television timeout.
  • I love Shaka Smart for many reasons, not least of which is his bulldog mentality of taking on all comers, but watching him get down into a defensive crouch on the sidelines as his players guard the ball on that side of the floor is phenomenal.  He moves his feet very well for his advanced age of all of 33 years old.  With Brad Stevens Lambeau Leap into the team circle after beating #1 Pitt last week, and Smart acting as a sixth defender for the Rams, youth in the coaching ranks is most definitely served.
Shaka Can!
  • Whew, Markieff Morris (eight turnovers) and Tyrel Reed (1-9 FGs) would like to have this game back.  Through the first twelve minutes of action, Markieff had already turned the ball over six times to VCU, including a ridiculous Ewing-step-through travel that he damn well knows better than to do in the college game.  Reed suffered a miserable game, and he never looked less comfortable than when Kansas was in desperate need of someone — anyone — to hit some threes down the stretch, but he was badly off on all of them.  It was pretty clear to me from my vantage point that both of these guys were feeling the pressure of expectations, and they were generally crushed by it.
  • I liked Self’s decision to try to get Josh Selby into the game early to combat the scoring woes of his team on the perimeter.  Other than Selby, none of the KU guards are elite talents capable of scoring on demand.  It didn’t work out today, as Selby went 1-5 for two points and clearly wasn’t feeling it, but it was still worth the gamble.  He couldn’t have done much worse than the pair of Reed and Brady Morningstar (2-16 FGs).
  • Speaking of Selby, has any freshman in America been a bigger disappointment this season?  Hailed as the possible missing piece to a dominant KU team, he looked good in December before tailing off completely the rest of the way to become nearly a late-season afterthought.  It’s not very often that high school players good enough to rate #1 in the nation by at least one scouting service will suffer such a weird diminishment of his playing time and influence.  Yet, had he been akin to a John Wall or even a Brandon Knight, Kansas might still be playing.  The perimeter absolutely killed the Jayhawks today.

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NCAA Tournament Photo Essay – Floriani Takes Newark

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 29th, 2011

Ray Floriani of College Chalk Talk is an RTC contributor. Ray chronicled his travails at the Prudential Center over the weekend and shares some of the sights.

The fates of the Newark Regional decided it was Kentucky’s destiny to spend this week in Houston. The 16 teams entered with high hopes and aspirations, though only one would emerge victorious. Getting this far is an accomplishment in and of itself and the regional took on an entire festive atmosphere. Hosting its first regional, Newark went all out. From its ‘Hoopfest’ to some great games at the relatively new Prudential Center, this Newark Regional was one to remember. In a final between two of college basketball’s bluebloods, it was a game, fittingly enough, not decided until the final minute.  A few sights and sounds from The Prudential Center, the day of the finals…

The Prudential Center. Both sessions saw crowds in excess of 18,000. It just wasn’t the numbers that made the experience great. The arena afforded spectacular site lines and provided the stage for a wonderful atmosphere. The drama and intensity of both Kentucky games helped a bit as well.
No beer for yours truly, but a stop at the Nasto’s stand. Located in Newark’s Ironbound section, this noted ice cream establishment specializes in making their own products, and making them well. On Sunday I sampled the cantaloupe ice cream. Needless to say, it was outstanding.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.29.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 29th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

  • Head coach Brad Stevens believes that as long as he remains successful, he will keep being mentioned as a candidate for other jobs across the country. Stevens has been mentioned as a candidate for almost every major opening across the country, but the 34-year-old head coach is intensely focused on bringing the Bulldogs a title.
  • Junior guard Ronald Nored lost his starting spot and has been mired in a long shooting slump this season. However, without the defensive tenacity that Nored supplies off the bench, Butler might not be in the Final Four.
  • Last season, Butler was led by the trio of Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard. With Hayward gone to the NBA, Butler has forged on being led by Mack and Howard.
  • Every successful team needs to be led by a point guard. For the Final Four Butler Bulldogs, that role has been filled admirably by Mack.
  • A fun read about how the Chicago Cubs will invite Brad Stevens and VCU head coach Shaka Smart to conduct the seventh inning stretch at a game at Wrigley Field this season.

Connecticut

  • UConn has followed a similar path of peaks and valleys to its opponent on Saturday, Kentucky. Both teams have evolved considerably since squaring off at the Maui Invitational in November. The Huskies’ freshmen have matured at an incredible rate, and Kentucky is feeding off of Brandon Knight and Josh Harrellson more than Terrance Jones, who had the ball most of the time in the early going.
  • Kemba Walker was named a first team AP All-American on Monday, joining Jimmer Fredette, JaJuan Johnson, Nolan Smith and Jared Sullinger. A Wooden Award and Final Four MOP award are still in Walker’s sights.
  • VCU gets plenty of attention for its improbable run (and should), but how about UConn winning nine postseason games in 19 days to reach the Final Four? This March run from Jim Calhoun‘s squad didn’t look to be in the cards when the season started.
  • The UConn women’s team is one win away from matching their male counterparts. The UConn double-dip has been accomplished twice, in 2004 and 2009, and comparing the runs is inevitable for Huskies fans, writes The Hartford Courant‘s Jeff Jacobs.
  • At the time of his recruitment, Kemba Walker was considered a backup plan to Brandon Jennings, who spurned UConn and Arizona to spend a season overseas before entering the NBA draft. Jennings is doing well, but second-best has worked out pretty nicely for the Huskies.

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NCAA Regional Diary From New Orleans

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2011

After another weekend of scintillating and shocking NCAA Tournament results, it’s time to check back in with our various correspondents who were in Anaheim, San Antonio, New Orleans and Newark reporting on the games this weekend.

Location: New Orleans, LA
Round: Regional Final
Teams: Florida, Butler
Date: 26 March 2011
Correspondent: John Stevens

To read all the diaries throughout the NCAA Tournament, click here.

Back to Butler…

There are only two possible options, and either one makes Brad Stevens look like a genius.

Here’s the situation. There are nine and a half minutes left in the Butler/Florida game and the Gators are starting to separate themselves a little. The Butler faithful — many of whom comprise the entire section behind the Bulldogs’ bench and have stood far more than they’ve sat in their seats during the game — haven’t been up for a while, and they’re starting to squirm in those chairs because they can feel it getting out of hand. So naturally, if you’re Brad Stevens, this is the time you saunter down to the end of the bench and put in — who else? — a kid who had scored a grand total of 29 points all season, had only played in 19 of the team’s games, and who averaged less than half an assist. If the sarcasm isn’t coming through, here, what we really mean to say is…are you kidding with this? And yet, what did Crishawn Hopkins do when Stevens tapped him with this most improbable of opportunities? Hit a cutting Matt Howard down the middle for a beautiful assist — immediately contributing more than twice his average in that category — and then hit a huge three, raising his yearly scoring output to 32 points. Sure, he committed a turnover moments later, and he was subbed out, but he changed everything. He provided that lift that comes when a kid who you never expected to come through ends up playing well; when that happens, the crowd gets back into the game and teammates who play the majority of minutes start playing with higher confidence. So, hands up, who predicted Crishawn Hopkins would turn out to be one of the most important players of the NCAA Tournament? When Hopkins sat down after being subbed out, he received a pretty loud ovation from the crowd. In fact, there was only one other player in this region who enjoyed a similar applause when he was removed from his game. It was Jimmer Fredette ending his career.

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RTC Final Four Snapshots: Connecticut Huskies

Posted by zhayes9 on March 29th, 2011

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. We continue the breakdown with Jim Calhoun’s fourth Final Four squad at Connecticut.

 

UConn celebrating their improbable Final Four berth

Crucial Tourney Moments: Connecticut had relatively smooth sailing through their first two tournament games against Bucknell and Cincinnati, but had to withstand strong rallies from both San Diego State and Arizona to advance to their second Final Four in three years. Jeremy Lamb made crucial buckets down the stretch in both affairs, none more important than his triple after an offensive rebound with under a minute to play against the Aztecs that provided UConn sufficient breathing room. Of course, it’s been Kemba Walker’s heroics late in games that have defined this team all season long. His setback jumper gave the Huskies a five-point lead with 1:18 to play against Arizona and sent them on their way. Connecticut has won an incredible nine games in 19 days.

Advantage Area: Jim Calhoun has changed lineups all season, alternating between a bigger unit with both Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu on the floor and a smaller lineup with Jamaal Coombs-McDaniel at the 4. Calhoun also begins the game with Kemba Walker orchestrating the offense at the point, but soon brings Shabazz Napier off the pine for 25-30 minutes that allows Walker to focus on scoring as a 2-guard. This type of flexibility and changeover could pose matchup problems for the Wildcats, especially if they involve Josh Harrellson in ball-screening action with Oriakhi that either forces a switch or allows Walker just enough time to penetrate in the lane where he’s virtually uncontainable. Not only does Napier allow Walker or Lamb free reign to run off baseline screens, but his pesky on-ball defense could frustrate the engine that runs the Kentucky offense, their point guard Brandon Knight and either Shelvin Mack or Joey Rodriguez in the final.

Potential Downfall: During the Huskies first meeting with Kentucky in Maui, freshman Terrence Jones torched them for 21 points on 11 shots, mostly because neither Oriakhi nor Okwandu could slow down Jones on dribble penetration. If Calhoun elects to put a quicker defender on Jones, the 6’8 frame of the former Washington commit opens up opportunities to post up and operate down low in the post as he did on a few occasions when Carolina big man John Henson was on the floor with four fouls. Jones has to be aggressive and demand the basketball, though, which is not always a given. Matching Kentucky from three could also be a downfall if Connecticut falls behind late. The Wildcats are the polar opposite of last year’s version, shooting a precise 40% from three as a team, seventh in the nation. UConn, on the other hand, shoots at just a 34% clip from deep, 201st in the country.

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