NCAA Regional Diary From Newark

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 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.

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

Location: Newark, NJ
Round: Regional Final
Teams: Kentucky, North Carolina
Date: 27 March 2011
Correspondent: Joe Dzuback   

The UK Defense Was Aggressive From the Start

 

  • And the word at the Rock all afternoon was “matchups.” This is a game of matchups. A strong team on Friday can look very bad on Sunday…why? The matchups. Kentucky Coach John Calipari found a way to neutralize Carolina’s heretofore dominant frontcourt trio. He did it by calling on veteran DeAndre Liggins to start the game – “It wasn’t no big deal. Coach say he was going to start me, no disrespect to Doron or anything like that,” replied Liggins to a question about the switch-up – and told the junior veteran to shut down freshman point guard Kendall Marshall. Liggins embraced his assignment, giving the freshman little room to pass or drive, forcing him to take shots when the clock ran down, or resort to the basketball equivalent of sending the puck into the corner and letting the wings – or in this case UNC’s forwards — dig it out. Though it worked on occasion, as Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes were able to score on a few put-backs, that tactic, combined with John Henson’s foul trouble, disrupted the Tar Heel offensive rhythm to the point where the Heels went into the locker room at the half down eight, 38-30, and their high octane, highly efficient offense, in shambles. So disruptive was Kentucky’s guard and forward pressure that North Carolina turned over 24.5% of their possessions and converted 28.6% of their three point attempts (2-7). Matchups.
  • At times the Heels appeared confused, falling back on attempted threes to draw iron and extend their possession. Barnes and Marshall combined for 14 three-point attempts, uncharacteristic for North Carolina Coach Roy Williams’ offense, and converting on only three (21.4%), unfortunately very much a characteristic of this Tar Heel team this season. “Their team (Kentucky) averages 39.6% from the three-point line and we don’t have anybody shooting better than 39.6%…it’s hard trying to overcome some things that are that big advantage. They scored 36 points from the three-point line and we scored nine.” When asked about the Kentucky game plan, Josh Harrellson responded, “the first five minutes of each half really dictates the game, you know, the first five minutes of the game we came out and we played aggressive, played together as a team…and I think we did a good job…running our stuff and keeping them out of their basketball game.” Keeping them out of their game involved keeping Zeller out of the low post – trapping big-to-big, “but the whole point was Josh (Harrellson)…you have to play this guy and don’t expect help,” and when Zeller posted on the left side, a guard would slide over to double. Matchups.

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NCAA Regional Diary From Anaheim

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 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: Anaheim, CA 
Round: Regional Final
Teams: Connecticut, Arizona 
Date: 26 March 2011
Correspondent: Andrew Murawa

  • In the preview for this game, I talked about the idea that it wouldn’t necessarily be the stars that determined the outcome of this game, but the role players. While Kemba Walker and Derrick Williams led the way with 20 points each, the two All-Americans combined to make just two of their 13 attempts from beyond the arc and to shoot a combined 12-30 from the field. The big difference between the two is that Walker was able to take advantage of all the defensive attention that was being paid to him and trust his teammates to make big plays. Walker wound up with seven assists as teammates like Jeremy Lamb (19 points, two threes) and Shabazz Napier (ten points, two threes) came up big when called upon.  “Arizona did a great job of throwing two guys at me and I realized it kind of late,” said Walker. “But I was able to get Jeremy involved and he was able to make so big plays for us. Jeremy was on tonight, and I wanted to keep going to him.”
  • According to Jim Calhoun, it was Walker’s suggestion to repeatedly run Lamb off baseline screens in several late-game possessions. “Kemba says, ‘We got to get the ball to Jeremy!’ Now, I’ve had a lot of great players, and great players want the ball in their hands and he did some great things down the stretch obviously, but he’s saying to the coaches let’s not run cage, let’s run circle for Jeremy, and obviously it paid off great. And he looked at Jeremy and he said, ‘And you’ll make those shots, too.’ I don’t think there is any kid in America doing that. He’ll carry us and take over the game but as good as it has been, his play was great, his leadership even better.”
  • Jeremy Lamb was asked in the postgame press conference to comment on a UConn assistant coach’s statement that the freshman had been so great in the Tournament that it was like he didn’t even know where he was. What followed next proved beyond all doubt that Lamb really didn’t know where he was, as he turned to Coach Calhoun and Walker with a confused look on his face, prompting both of them to begin cracking up, then responded to the reports with “you mean like — what do you mean?” Alex Oriakhi cleared things up a bit, telling Lamb, “he wants to know if you have a pulse.” Lamb responded: “Well, no, I mean, I haven’t thought about it sinking in yet, I just like to go out there and play. I don’t like to think about where we’re playing and how big the stage is. Right now I’m just having fun playing basketball.”
  • Some 27 years ago, Jeremy Lamb’s father, Rolando Lamb, hit a game winning buzzer-beater to beat a Calhoun-coached Northeastern team in the NCAA Tournament. According to Calhoun, all is now forgiven. “I think that after his shot that beat us when he played for VCU I told him he owed me one and he certainly has – he’s paid me back ten-fold. That was just one game.”
  • For the second straight game, the Huskies were the beneficiaries of their opponent’s star forward getting in early foul trouble. And in both games, after taking a solid lead into the halftime locker room, UConn had to withstand numerous second-half charges, playing in what was essentially a road game. “When teams make runs, we don’t let it get to us because I guess we know we’re going to make runs back with Kemba and Jeremy Lamb being able to score the ball the way they’re able to,” said sophomore center Oriakhi.

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Celebrate Good Times, Final Four Style

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 2011

Over the weekend, four different schools of all shapes and sizes earned a berth into the 2011 Final Four.  From a historic blueblood to a modern one, a young upstart and a complete shock to the system, Kentucky, Connecticut, Butler and VCU are each a game away from the rare opportunity to play on Monday night. If you see/find any other good ones this week, send them to us at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Kentucky Fans Will No Doubt Bum-Rush Houston

VCU

We have no idea how someone got together a rap song to celebrate VCU’s Final Four run along with a pretty solid editing job, but here it is.  It’s really worth watching through to the end.

Butler

The Bulldogs held a 2 am pep rally in the venerable Hinkle Fieldhouse late Saturday night/Sunday morning.  The best part?  Matt Howard (we think?) talking about getting the “real call” from President Obama, and not the “runner-up call.”

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.28.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 28th, 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.

East

  • In what was thought to be a transition year for Kentucky, head coach John Calipari has led the Wildcats to the Final Four. Due to the personnel and roster turnover from last season, it can be argued that this season is Calipari’s best work.
  • The Final Four matchup between Connecticut and Kentucky is made even more interesting due to the history between John Calipari and Jim Calhoun. However, both men have acknowledged that the feud is behind them.
  • John Calipari has seen his Final Four banners from his tenures at UMass and Memphis get taken down due to NCAA violations. Kentucky president Dr. Lee Todd insisted on Sunday that “this banner will not be taken down.”
  • Kentucky junior guard DeAndre Liggins was undoubtedly a pest for North Carolina. Liggins was a stalwart defensively, got into the heads of several Tar Heels, and made the shot that seemingly lifted the Wildcats to the Final Four.
  • While Sunday’s loss stings for North Carolina now, it can be argued that the loss will eventually benefit the program. If Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller all return to Chapel Hill, UNC will enter next season as a title contender once again.

Southeast

  • With two Final Four appearances already under his belt at the age of 34, Butler head coach Brad Stevens is moving up the coaching pantheon at a rapid pace. Considering the success of the past two seasons, we can assume that Stevens is just getting started.
  • Butler forward Matt Howard takes a workmanlike approach to the game of basketball. This approach embodies Butler basketball, and he’s not through yet.
  • The Bulldogs have experienced two close calls with injuries in their last two games. The anxiety that fills Butler fans’ hearts when someone comes up limp have been as heart-stopping as the Butler’s unexpected heroics.
  • An interesting piece about whether Miami (FL) should go after Brad Stevens or Shaka Smart to be the Hurricanes’ head coach. This is interesting due to the fact that Frank Haith is still gainfully employed by the Hurricanes and was thought by many to have one year left to translate the Durand Scott/Malcolm Grant/Reggie Johnson trio into some postseason success.
  • Even with his Elite Eight loss to Butler, Florida head coach Billy Donovan is still proud of the season his Gators put together. After embarrassing early season losses to Central Florida and Jacksonville, the Gators put together a run that mimicked the 2006 and 2007 editions of the Florida Gators.

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RTC Final Four Snapshots: Butler Bulldogs

Posted by zhayes9 on March 28th, 2011

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 Butler Bulldogs and their incredible run to back-to-back Final Fours.

Mack and Vanzant form a capable scoring tandem in the Butler backcourt

Crucial Tourney Moments: Unlike last season when the Bulldogs pulled away from UTEP, Syracuse and Kansas State late in games to advance to the Final Four, each step towards Houston this season has been decided by one or two crucial plays Butler turns to their advantage. There’s Shawn Vanzant throwing the ball off the backboard that eventually resulted in a Matt Howard layup just before the horn to beat Old Dominion. There’s Gilbert Brown missing the second of two free throws in a tie game that opened the door for Nasir Robinson’s brain cramp for the annals. How about Howard corralling an offensive rebound to finally put to bed the Badgers after a ferocious rally or Butler’s little-used freshman Chrishawn Hopkins finding Howard on a key assist and draining a huge three from the left wing when it appeared Florida was about to pull away? These types of winning plays have defined Butler in their two unfathomable March runs.

Advantage Area: Both Butler and VCU are strikingly similar when it comes to efficiency ratings, but where Butler stands out if the game is close is their ball screen action with Shelvin Mack and his proficiency in one-on-one situations late in the shot clock. While VCU’s point guard Joey Rodriguez is more of a distributor and their wings are superior in catch-and-shoot situations, Mack has the ability to operate in “take ‘em” situations when the offensive set has crumbled, the shot clock is heading towards single digits and Butler badly needs a basket. While Mack has struggled percentage-wise with his shot this season, he carried the Bulldogs in their upset of Pitt and his one-on-one prowess was never better exemplified than in the waning second of Butler’s Elite Eight win over Florida when a pick-and-roll resulted in a switch and Mack pulled up for a dagger three. VCU doesn’t have one designated player to match Mack basket-for-basket late in a one or two possession contest. Butler is also extremely physical defensively and their ball screen defense was a huge reason for their win over ball-screen heavy Florida.

Potential Downfall: While Butler didn’t turn the ball over with great abundance all year, they never had to test their mettle against a full court press as capable as VCU’s during their conference season or NCAA Tournament run. The Rams will trot out their 1-2-1-1 press in an attempt to speed the tempo and force turnovers after made shots and, if the final five minutes of Butler’s Sweet 16 near-collapse against Wisconsin was any indication, Brad Stevens needs to spend some practice time this week gearing up for VCU’s full court pressure. It’ll be imperative for Mack and fellow guards Shawn Vanzant and Ronald Nored to focus on ball security and not allow the Rams to dictate tempo. Their press befuddled Kansas at times on Sunday and that built-up fatigue was clearly evident in KU’s jump shooting woes.

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Circle of March XV

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 2011

As unlikely a Final Four as we can remember, but one we’ll love just the same...

To see the progression of the CoM, check out all the previous posts here.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.26.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 26th, 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.

East

  • Kentucky/North Carolina is a power matchup in the Elite Eight. The Tar Heels defeated the Wildcats in their showdown last December. Since then, both teams have matured, thus setting the tone for a battle of epic proportions.
  • Ohio State big man Jared Sullinger said he will return to Columbus for his sophomore season. This is a bit of news that we will not believe until it is set in stone. Ask again in a month or so as the draft entry deadline nears.
  • Against both Princeton and Ohio State, Kentucky guard Brandon Knight struggled mightily with his shot, but came up big when it mattered most. We would imagine that the Wildcats will need a much more consistent performance from Knight if they wish to get past North Carolina.
  • Marquette showed some fight in the second half of Friday’s game against North Carolina. It was too little too late, as the Golden Eagles had a terrible first half in which they scored only 15 points.
  • Despite early season struggles, North Carolina center Tyler Zeller believes that the Tar Heels knew they could get deep into the tournament all along. Zeller and his teammates will need this confidence, as they are slated to face a red-hot Kentucky squad on Sunday.

Southeast

  • When Butler went through a swoon in January, head coach Brad Stevens called good friend Mark Few for advice to get his team through the tough time.
  • This Indianapolis Star columnist is not attributing Butler’s run as “magic,” but merely as the best team winning. The Bulldogs need to be on their game if they want to beat Florida to advance to their second straight Final Four.
  • Hailing from little Connersville, Indiana, Butler forward Matt Howard has been the heart and soul of the Bulldogs throughout this season. Howard has been so unselfish that point guard Ronald Nored has, at times, had to beg the big man to shoot more.
  • Florida guard Erving Walker has put the Gators on his back more than once this season. The junior from New York City stands much taller than his 5’8 frame would suggest.
  • Once an afterthought at Georgetown, forward Vernon Macklin has made a big difference for Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators. It is tough not to root for a kid like Macklin, who has battled adversity throughout his collegiate career.

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Circle of March XIV

Posted by rtmsf on March 26th, 2011

And down to eight teams still playing for the ‘ship.

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NCAA Elite Eight Game Analysis – Saturday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 26th, 2011

There’s just a single #1 seed remaining as we head into Elite Eight weekend.

#2 Florida vs. #8 Butler – Southeast Region Finals (at New Orleans, LA) – 4:30 pm ET on CBS.

Butler and Mack are One Step Away From Repeat Final Fours

It has come down to this for Butler. One more win and the Bulldogs will head to their second consecutive Final Four after a lot of folks had them losing to Old Dominion in the first round. For Florida, they’re one win away from making it to the big show for the first time since their 2007 national championship, their second in as many years. Brad Stevens and Butler have fueled this run by taking their foot off the gas. Butler is playing at a slower pace but forcing more turnovers and that will again be a key today as it was on Thursday against Wisconsin. Butler forced the Badgers into 11 turnovers, three more than their season average of eight. A similar effort against Florida (12 turnovers per game) could be the difference and subsequently send Butler to Houston. The Gators became three-happy against BYU but survived the Cougars in overtime. Florida can’t fire up 34 threes again and expect to beat Butler, a team that defends the three better than they do inside the arc. Ronald Nored and Shelvin Mack will do a better job defensively than Jimmer Fredette did on the Florida guards and the Gators still shot only 32.4% from deep in the BYU game. The vast majority of Florida’s production comes from their five starters, all players that were around last year. Billy Donovan’s team is experienced in terms of their age and class but this group has never been in this position before. Butler has, and that should give them an edge in crunch time. Florida must work the ball inside because that’s when they’re at their best, controlling pace and creating good looks. The Gators feature the versatile Chandler Parsons along with Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus (coming off a career game) inside while Butler will go with the foul-prone Matt Howard and Andrew Smith who suffered a nasty ankle roll on Thursday but is considered “likely” to play according to Stevens. The Florida bigs are quicker and should enjoy an edge in the paint if successfully utilized by guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton. If Walker and Boynton shoot too many threes and ignore the paint, Butler will win this game. Stevens’ main concern likely is Florida’s potential to do damage in the post making it vital that Howard stay out of foul trouble and Smith remains a presence despite his injury. The Bulldogs must prevent Florida from dominating inside because the Gators will control the boards and the pace of the game if allowed to operate with little resistance under the basket. Butler ranks #19 in defensive rebounding percentage and has to keep Florida off the offensive boards. As we said, Florida is at their best when working in the paint and second chance opportunities can jump start their confidence. The Gators have more depth inside so Garrett Butcher or Khyle Marshall may be needed for some important minutes off the bench to spell Howard and Smith. Butcher came up big against front court heavy Old Dominion and it is players like him who often have solid games to push their team over the top with a lot on the line. Keep an eye on Butler’s three point shooting. If they can’t get anything going from deep against the Florida perimeter defense (allowing only 31.3%), the Bulldogs won’t be able to spread the floor or create open looks inside. This game could come down to the very end making free throws crucial. Butler would have an advantage if it comes to that. While Florida has a slight edge in terms of matchups and talent, Butler has the experience that is such a valuable asset this deep into the tournament. We think they may be able to overcome the matchups and do just enough to keep the Bulldog train chugging along to Houston.

The RTC Certified Pick: Butler.

#3 Connecticut vs. #5 Arizona – West Region Finals (at Anaheim, CA) – 7:05 pm ET on CBS.

Derrick Williams and Friends Have a Lot to Smile About

The easy storyline here is Kemba Walker vs. Derrick Williams. Two All-Americans, two larger-than-life basketball players, each player coming off dominating performances in the regional semifinal which helped his team knock off their higher-seeded opponent. And there are plenty who will tell that story. But the fact is, rarely, if ever, will those two players be matched up one-on-one on the court. And given how important each star’s supporting cast was on each team’s trip to this place, to this game, that’s not enough of the story. Take Arizona, for instance. In the first half of their win over Duke on Saturday, Williams scored more than 65% of his team’s points, and he was the only thing in the way of a Blue Devil blowout. In the second half, however, he scored less than 13% of his team’s points. Two other Wildcats (Jamelle Horne and Kevin Parrom) equaled Williams’ second half output, while Solomon Hill exceeded it with ten points, and Momo Jones doubled it, with 14. As a result, the Wildcats played what was likely their best half of basketball this season. Earlier, Walker had gotten plenty of support himself, as freshman Jeremy Lamb tied a career-high with 24 points, while fellow freshmen Roscoe Smith (five points, eight rebounds) and Shabazz Napier (six assists) and sophomore big man Alex Oriakhi (five points, nine rebound) helped get the Huskies over the top. The lesson is that while Walker and Williams are players capable of putting their teams on their backs, the collective is much better off when the stars don’t need to do that. As a result, this game may be decided not by which star has the bigger game, but which star gets the greatest contributions from his supporting cast. Now that’s not to say that Jim Calhoun and Sean Miller aren’t spending quite a bit of time this evening trying to figure out the best ways to control the opposition’s elite talent. Expect the Wildcats to start with Jones, who has proven himself a strong defender over the past month or so, on Walker, trying to send him to the inside of the court on penetration where additional Wildcat defenders can help out, and preferring that he shoot from deep rather than get penetration. On the other end, the Huskies will likely shift around trying to find the right matchup for Williams between Oriakhi, Smith and others, ready to send a double-team when necessary. Both teams would much rather that the “other guys” beat them, rather than the stars. And both coaches are preparing those “other guys” to do just that. In a tight game, however, I think the Wildcats have just a couple more options than the Huskies, giving Sean Miller a little better chance to shuffle the cards a bit and find the right combination. That, coupled with what should be a pro-Arizona crowd should give the Wildcats the tiniest of advantages.

The RTC Certified Pick: Arizona.

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NCAA Sweet Sixteen Game Analysis – Friday

Posted by rtmsf on March 25th, 2011

Last night surely didn’t disappoint, with two games going down to the wire in the early session and a Duke-struction in the second session.  Tonight’s games are heavy on the Cinderella factor, which could be a good or a bad thing, depending on your perspective.

#2 North Carolina vs. #11 Marquette – East Regional Semifinal (at Newark, NJ) – 7:15 pm ET on CBS.

Marshall Makes the Carolina Attack Dangerous

Vegas lists Carolina as only a 4-point favorite heading into the first of two excellent matchups in the Newark regional, but we anticipate a much steeper climb for Marquette than the bookmakers anticipate. The daunting challenge for Buzz Williams will be finding some way to contain the Carolina bigs on the offensive end, notably 6’11 John Henson and 7’0 Tyler Zeller. The Golden Eagles are perennially undersized and plain old toughness and heart can only carry a team so far against superior talents that hold considerable physical advantages. Moderately-used sophomore Chris Otule is the only Marquette player that stands above 6’8 and he must have a career night defensively against either Henson or Zeller. Williams will likely send double teams in the post to aid his forwards in post-up situations just as they did with tremendous success against Syracuse’s Rick Jackson. Sagging off shooters to help in the post could coax the Heels into taking a few too many outside jumpers beyond the arc, a spot on the floor where UNC shoots just 33% on the campaign. Also look for Marquette to attempt the slow the tempo and keep the game in the halfcourt to neutralize Kendall Marshall’s outstanding passing ability in secondary break situations. If Carolina gets off to their usual slow start in the first ten minutes, falls into a shooting funk and one of Henson/Zeller slips into foul trouble, pulling off the upset is a possibility. That’s a lot of ifs. Not only does Carolina hold a considerable advantage down low, but also at the all-important point guard position. While Marquette employs a platoon of actual two-guard Dwight Buycks and the rapidly improving but inexperienced Junior Cadougan, what Marshall has meant to this Tar Heels team down the stretch cannot possibly be overstated. Marshall has dished out 24 assists compared to six turnovers in the tournament thus far and Carolina has only twice to Duke since he was instituted as the starting point guard ahead of the now-departed Larry Drew. A key reason why Marquette upset both Xavier and Syracuse was turnover differential. We’re leaning towards Marshall being able to dictate tempo without turning the basketball over. UNC advances to a showdown against either Ohio State or Kentucky with a trip to Houston on the line.

RTC Certified Pick: North Carolina.

#1 Kansas vs. #12 Richmond – Southwest Regional Semifinal (at San Antonio, TX) – 7:27 pm ET on TBS.

This is the game considered the biggest mismatch of the Sweet Sixteen, with one of the two co-favorites to win the national title lacing up their sneakers to play a mid-major darling, the Richmond Spiders.  To presume Kansas will run away with this one, though, is to make an error of judgment inconsiderate of two things: a) just how well Richmond is playing lately; and b) a recurring tendency by the Jayhawks to allow lesser teams to hang with them longer than they should.  Chris Mooney’s team is built like a mid-major with some high-major talent and athletes on its roster.  The Spiders like to spread the court and play a modified Princeton offense with their big men capable of knocking down jumpers as well as hitting cutters from the high post. Nearly every Spider starter can hit threes, befitting of a team that nailed long  balls at a tenth-in-the-nation best 39.9%.  The two players that the Jayhawk must key on are all-Atlantic 10 performers Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper. Both are athletic players who can pop for 25 on a given night, and with Dan Geriot capable of pulling a Morris twin outside and hitting long jumpers in addition to the range Harper has in his arsenal, the lane should be open for the classic penetration/kicks and the backdoor cuts that the offense is noted for.  As for Kansas, its defense on the perimeter is typically good, holding teams under 30% for the season from deep, but they are small outside, and if the UR big players are able to hit shots, they will keep Richmond hanging around this one.  KU obviously has a huge advantage inside, and as Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezeli showed in the Second Round, if Kansas remembers to throw the ball into the Morris twins from time to time, the big duo should have a combined 40-50-point night.  One problem with Bill Self’s team in this tournament is that they’ve yet to put a complete performance together; they looked and played tight against Boston University for much of the game; and Self even mentioned it afterward.  There were parts of the Illinois game that looked similar.  If Richmond starts nailing some early threes and gets Kansas down 8-12 points, how will the Jayhawks react?  Will they stay calm and play to their strengths inside; or will they panic and face another Northern Iowa situation?  It’s a compelling storyline, and one that will only be answered tonight in San Antonio — it says here that the Morris twins will be too much for UR to ultimately handle.

RTC Certified Pick: Kansas.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.25.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 25th, 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.

East

  • People are quick to forget that the Ohio State basketball program was in disarray when Thad Matta arrived in Columbus. Considering this, it can be stated that Matta has been nothing short of a miracle worker.
  • Kentucky freshman forward Terrence Jones has had a theme play out over his solid freshman campaign- he plays very well in big games. This should be good news for John Calipari and the Kentucky faithful, as Friday’s game versus Ohio State qualifies as such.
  • It is hard not to root for a guy like Buzz Williams. The Marquette coach has had an interesting career that has included stops at small schools like Oklahoma City University, Texas-Arlington, and Texas A&M-Kingsville.
  • An interesting Q&A with North Carolina freshman point guard Kendall Marshall. Marshall has been nothing short of spectacular since taking over the point guard reigns from since-departed Larry Drew II.
  • Can Ohio State survive and advance if their star, Jared Sullinger, does not shine? We say they can, due to the fact that William Buford, Jon Diebler, and David Lighty are fully capable of carrying the Buckeyes on any given night.

Southeast

  • The craziness of March Madness has Butler in position to reach the Final Four again. It will not be easy though, as they will have to get through the Florida Gators.
  • Butler’s strong defense threw Wisconsin off their game. If the Bulldogs defend that well against Florida, they will probably advance to next weekend in Houston.
  • Florida guard Kenny Boynton slowed Brigham Young‘s Jimmer Fredette just enough for the Gators to get the victory. Pretty impressive for Boynton, who was recovering from an ankle injury.
  • After an almost four-year hiatus from winning big-time games, Florida head coach Billy Donovan proved on Thursday night that the Gator program is back to being one of the premier in all of college basketball.
  • Even though its season is over, Brigham Young head coach Dave Rose made a point to praise the toughness of his Cougar squad. BYU enjoyed a 32-5 dream season that may not be duplicated soon.

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Optimist/Pessimist: Friday’s Sweet 16 Games

Posted by zhayes9 on March 25th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

As we did on Thursday, let’s delve into each Sweet 16 participant from both two polar opposite points of view: the indelible optimist and the hopeless pessimist.  Everywhere from Lawrence to Richmond, fan bases are filled with those that see the glass half full and those that view the glass half empty. The optimist will take the viewpoint that their favorite team is destined for Houston while the pessimist sees the bitter end approaching tonight.

 

Will David Lighty be playing his last game in a Buckeye uniform Friday?

Ohio State

Optimist: It’s very easy to be optimistic about my Buckeyes. We’ve been the best in the nation all season long, losing two road games to teams that went undefeated on their home floor. Duke is the only other team with an offensive and defensive efficiency in the top six and they don’t shoot 42% from three. There are so many weapons in our seven-man rotation that even if two starters slump, there are two other all-conference caliber players to pick up the scoring load. Take David Lighty making seven threes against George Mason as a perfect example. Our two star freshmen are often confused with wily fifth year seniors they way they operate. People don’t talk about how we consistently keeping opponents off the free throw line, either. This team’s maturity and experience will outlast Kentucky and our ability to keep North Carolina in the halfcourt for 40 minutes renders their greatest strength inconsequential.

Pessimist: What does a #1 overall seed earn you in the eyes of this idiotic committee? The hardest road to the Final Four. If there are two teams remaining in the field other than fellow top seeds Duke and Kansas that can match our talent level, it’s Kentucky and North Carolina. I’m worried about Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb having a field day from three. If Terrence Jones decides to play physical in the post rather than drift around the perimeter, I’m worried he may be too big and strong for even an ace defender like David Lighty to handle. DeAndre Liggins can also give William Buford headaches with his length and athleticism. If there’s any weakness to this team, it’s our mediocre three-point defense and Kentucky can really shoot the basketball this season. John Calipari is a master motivator and will surely hammer that underdog mentality into his team’s head all week long, so the pressure is almost totally on us to win or this season’s finish will be tremendously disappointing.

Kentucky

Optimist: All season, Kentucky couldn’t win a close game on the road and struggled in neutral court losses to Connecticut and Notre Dame. Our freshmen were freshmen then. Starting with that road win in the season finale over Tennessee and extending through the SEC Tournament and Saturday’s hard-fought victory over West Virginia, these freshmen, notably Brandon Knight, have finally figured it out. I’m not overly concerned about Josh Harrellson attempting to corral Jared Sullinger. Our post defense – sixth in the country in two-point defense and block percentage – has been stellar all season long, and Harrellson is hitting his stride alongside the freshmen trio. Knight is the true game-changer, though. He’s got the quickness, athleticism and versatility to give Aaron Craft and Kendall Marshall fits trying to defend him. Those road woes masked what was a really strong and capable team all season. As demanding as our fan base may sometimes be, Calipari and his players know they’re not expected to win this region. I fully expect that loose mentality to translate into two shocking victories.

Pessimist: Our defense has been solid all season, but it’s never seen an offensive attack hitting on all cylinders like Ohio State. That team is coming off two NCAA Tournament games where they assisted on 49 of 65 field goals and we needed a Knight game-winner just to edge Princeton. Craft has been an unreal defender all season for them and if Knight is taken out his game similarly to Thursday, our offense becomes stagnant and the Buckeyes will pounce. I realize Harrellson, Liggins and Miller are veterans, but those three haven’t exactly been a model of consistency over their UK careers. Face it: this team depends on their three freshmen for scoring production. Ohio State has a fifth-year senior, two fourth-year seniors and a junior in their starting five. Experience is invaluable when you reach the second weekend.

North Carolina

Optimist: In case you haven’t noticed, Kendall Marshall completely changed this team. We’ve lost two games since January 16 and both came against #1 seed Duke. We’ve scored 75+ points in 11 of those games with Marshall running the show, a true difference maker at the most important position on the floor and someone that’s turned around Harrison Barnes’ rookie campaign. People love to discuss Marshall and Barnes and Tyler Zeller, but it’s our defense that has been steady since the first day of the season, ranking seventh in the nation in overall efficiency. A huge part of that is the shot-blocking ability of John Henson. How can the perennially undersized Marquette frontline possibly contain the constantly improving Henson and Zeller in the post? Remember that this is a Marquette team that lost 14 games this season. It’s not like they can’t be beat.

Pessimist: I’m scared to death of Buzz Williams throwing a zone at us. If there’s one glaring weakness with this Heels team, it’s our 33% mark from three on the season. If we get off to our usual slow start (see: ACC Tournament), Marquette grabs an early lead and starts to gain confidence, freshmen and sophomores like Barnes, Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald may start to press and chuck up ill-advised threes. Marquette did a fantastic job of preventing Syracuse from getting out in transition, so the blueprint is there to keep Carolina in the halfcourt against a zone. Our team-wide 67% mark from the charity stripe could also come into play late in games against Marquette and two proficient shooting teams in Ohio State or Kentucky. Contrary to the likes of David Lighty, Darius Miller or Jimmy Butler, the freshmen and sophomores that make up the brunt of our regular rotation haven’t experienced the overwhelming emotion, pressure and consequence that every possession the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament provides. Even Tyler Zeller, a junior, only played 32 minutes in six tournament games during our 2009 title run.

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