Sights & Sounds From Championship Monday

Posted by rtmsf on April 4th, 2012

*A special thanks goes out to LG for providing RTC with lodging, travel expenses and an LG Nitro HD phone to take pictures and video with this weekend in New Orleans. 

New Orleans always has a festive atmosphere, but Championship Monday carried a buzz from start to finish. Kentucky and Kansas fans filled the streets from dawn to dusk and well afterward in the Big Easy. Here are some of the sights and sounds from the last day of the season.

UK Fans Getting into the NOLA Spirit Before Da Game

KU Fans Also Hyped and Ready to Go

The Streamers and Fireworks Go Off As UK Celebrates the Title

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Circle of March, Vol. XX (animated)

Posted by rtmsf on April 3rd, 2012

On February 27, we released our first version of this year’s Circle of March, with a little over 320 Division I teams vying for a national championship. Today — 36 days later — we’re down to a single, solitary and deserving champ. Through 20 different iterations of the CoM (you can see the progression below), we’ve come all the way back around. Congratulations to the Kentucky Wildcats, the 2011-12 National Champions.



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He Won’t Admit It, But Kentucky’s National Title is Calipari’s Coronation

Posted by EJacoby on April 3rd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

After the Kentucky Wildcats captured their program’s eighth National Championship with a 67-59 victory over Kansas on Monday night, an unfazed coach John Calipari sat at the postgame podium and deflected all attention away from himself. “This is about them. It’s not about me. […] I can just coach now. I don’t have to worry. If you want to know the truth, it’s almost like – done, let me move on.” Sounding more relieved than excited, the coach claims that nothing will change about his mentality or coaching style now that he’s finally a national champion. Whether fans believe him or not is up to them, but one thing remains clear: John Calipari has now elevated to the top step in college basketball coaching. As he tries to not make the victory about himself, we can take a moment to reflect on the significance of the 2012 National Championship and what it means for Calipari.

Coach Calipari Doesn't Want the Praise for the 2012 National Title, But He's Most Deserving of Such (AP Photo/D. Philip)

With the national title now under his belt, Calipari has validated everything he worked for in choosing to leave Memphis for Kentucky and recruiting the one-and-done type of players whom he encourages to leave for the NBA as soon as they’re ready. Cal still has his haters and doubters, such as this AP sports writer who can’t buy into the coach’s recruiting tactics. But those who watch the games understand that you don’t win national titles by letting top recruits play free-form basketball. There’s a reason why hoops is a thinking man’s game filled with elite athletes but only the most well-adjusted players succeed at the highest level. When Anthony Davis shoots 1-10 from the field and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist doesn’t score a single point in the second half, they still have enormous impacts on the game because of their defensive prowess, how hard they play, and buy-in to the team game plan. It’s not easy to get 18- and 19-year-olds to reach their basketball potential in less than a year at a program, but Calipari got it done with this group in a big way.

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NCAA Tournament Final Tidbits: 04.03.12 Edition

Posted by WCarey on April 3rd, 2012

With the season now finished, this will be our last version of NCAA Tournament Tidbits. Special thanks to contributors Brian Goodman and Walker Carey for putting these together throughout March Madness.

Kentucky

  • John Calipari finally won his first National Championship Monday night, which many think will catapult him from being a good coach to being a great coach. No matter your thoughts, it is time to give the coach his due.
  • Dan Wolken argues that you cannot blame John Calipari for the one-and-done culture that helped earn Kentucky its title. Wolken notes that Calipari has always been the same coach, but it is Kentucky that has changed to accommodate the coach’s way of recruiting and coaching.
  • Doron Lamb, who scored a game-high 22 points for the Wildcats, was so sharp in the team’s afternoon shoot-around that his coach told the sophomore that he expected 25 points from him. Lamb did not get that many buckets, but Calipari isn’t too upset about it.
  • All the talk after Monday’s game was about the freshmen and one-and-dones that are being shuffled through the Kentucky program. This talk was unfair to the sophomore Lamb, who was Kentucky’s standout offensive performer in its title victory.
  • Marquis Teague helped ignite Kentucky’s scorching start by scoring nine points in the game’s 13 minutes. This fast start and the leadership the freshman provided the Wildcats all night served to illustrate the improvement the guard has made throughout the season.
  • Darius Miller, Kentucky’s lone senior contributor, went from playing in the NIT as a freshman to becoming a national champion as a senior.
  • Anthony Davis was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four despite scoring just six points on 1-10 shooting in the title game. However, Davis contributed in many other ways, as he accumulated 16 rebounds, five assists, six blocks, and three steals.
  • Calipari noted after the game that he hopes there are six first-rounders that will come from Kentucky’s roster. The players he meant are Lamb, Teague, Miller, Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Terrence Jones.

Kansas 

  • In the past several years, the Jayhawks have found themselves despondent after tournament losses to underdogs such as Northern Iowa and Virginia Commonwealth. While KU is undoubtedly disappointed with its loss to Kentucky, this disappointment feels a bit different.
  • At the beginning of the season, virtually no one thought Kansas had even the slightest chance to play for the national title. Considering this season’s supposed “rebuilding” year was coupled with the low expectations, this season’s Jayhawk squad has much to be proud of.
  • Thomas Robinson is certainly headed to the NBA, as he is a projected lottery pick. With Robinson out of the fold, Kansas will have a tough task in replacing the All-America forward.
  • Tyshawn Taylor was often seen as enigmatic throughout his first three seasons at Kansas. However, this season, Taylor put it all together and flourished as the floor general for the Jayhawks. Despite his successes, the ultimate goal of a title proved to be elusive.
  • Bill Self said after the game that he did not think his team had lost the game, it was just that Kentucky had won it.
  • After Monday night’s defeat, both Elijah Johnson and Jeff Withey vowed they would be returning to Kansas for their senior seasons. With Tyshawn Taylor graduating and Thomas Robinson more than likely gone, the Jayhawks are going to need major contributions from Johnson and Withey next season.
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Rushed Reaction (Extended): #1 Kentucky 67, #2 Kansas 59

Posted by rtmsf on April 3rd, 2012

Five Key Takeaways.

  1. Calipari Wins the Big One, Justifies One-and-Done Strategy. Sometimes it’s a very simple game — the team that has the best players wins. But to put it in those stark terms seems to minimize the role that coaching has on the game, especially at the collegiate level. In knockout scenarios like the NCAA Tournament, the best team (or the team having the best players) doesn’t guarantee a win, but John Calipari was able to mold a group of three star freshmen with two sophomores and a senior to put together one of the most dominant seasons in college basketball history (38-2). There’s been a lot of talk during the one-and-done era as to whether a team centered on young but spectacular talent could win it all in the crucible of March — Calipari’s 2011-12 group both justifies his recruiting strategy in targeting those players as well as elevates his own status as a great recruiter/good coach to one that has greatness on both sides of that equation.
  2. Anthony Davis Controlled the Game Defensively. The NPOY had one of the weirdest stat lines you’ll ever see, shooting only 1-10 from the field and scoring six points, but grabbing 16 boards, blocking six shots, dishing five assists, and ripping three steals. He also stayed out of foul trouble to play 36 total minutes. It’s a broken record that we’ve said this so much, but not only does Davis challenge a big number of shots for which he doesn’t get an official block, but he also gets into other teams’ heads because they’re thinking about him every single time they enter the paint. His effect on the game in that way is unquestionable and unquantifiable, yet it causes teams to make plays that they normally wouldn’t make if he wasn’t patrolling around the area. Kansas shot a meager 36% from the field, with really only Tyshawn Taylor having a decent offensive game (if you can excuse his five turnovers, including a killer with just under a minute left).
  3. The Quiet… Lamb Headlines Will Be Out of Control. We were wrong about how this game would go, thinking it would be much closer throughout, but we were right about one thing — that one of the lesser-known players on Kentucky would step up if they were to win the game. It turned out to be Doron Lamb, perhaps along with Darius Miller one of the most overlooked players on the Wildcats. His back-to-back threes when KU had crept back to within 10 points with just over 10 minutes remaining held the Jayhawks at bay and allowed UK sufficient buffer to make some mistakes and still keep a comfortable lead down the stretch. Lamb ended up with a huge 22-point, three-assist evening that helped make up for the vacuum created by Davis’ six-point night.
  4. Kansas Couldn’t Come Back Against This Team. Bill Self’s team did it against Purdue and did it against Ohio State, but Kentucky wasn’t going to be the third act in the KU Comeback Tour. They were valiant in making the game interesting down the stretch, but they’d just built themselves too big of a hole to make the comeback against a Kentucky team that doesn’t have long scoring droughts. One of the major keys to this game was that Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford combined to shoot an awful 6-for-19, and for KU to have had any realistic chance of winning this game, they were going to need production beyond Taylor (19 points) and Robinson (18 points).
  5. Jeff Withey Made Himself Some Money Tonight. Withey will probably be back in Lawrence for his senior season, but we imagine that while Anthony Davis is off next year winning NBA Rookie of the Year, analysts will repeatedly cite how Withey frustrated Davis into a 1-10 shooting night using his long arms and body to bump him froim his favorite spots in the post. Withey himself only shot 2-8 and grabbed seven boards, but his offensive game is a work in progress and he’ll have another year to fine tune it at Kansas.

Star of the Game. Doron Lamb, Kentucky. Lamb’s 22-point, three-assist night provided the necessary offensive support to both help the Wildcats run out to a comfortable 14-point lead at the half, but also to keep the Jayhawks at bay when they made a mini-run in the second half. You could give Anthony Davis the award just about every game for his defense, but we’ll go with the talented sophomore here tonight.

Quotable. “I said this a couple of years ago and everybody got crazy when we had five guys drafted in the first round. This is one of the biggest moments, if not the biggest, in Kentucky history. The reason was, I knew now other kids would look and say, You got to go there.” — John Calipari, justifying his remarks about his 2010 draft class, in that the seeds of this year’s championship were sown on that night. Can’t argue with that (although clearly nights like tonight mean a lot more to UK fans).

Sights & Sounds. Terrence Jones was kind enough to give us a great shot holding the trophy.

Terrence Jones Is Definitely Enjoying This One

What’s Next? Kentucky takes their nets home and celebrates with what we’re hearing is a burning Lexington right now. Presumably many if not all of the five underclassmen who play minutes for this team will enter the NBA Draft in June. But Calipari mentioned that he’s going recruiting later this week, and if he manages to pull a Nerlens Noel and Shabazz Muhammad out of his hat, he’ll be back in the Final Four with the Wildcats again soon enough. Kansas, on the other hand, will assuredly lose Thomas Robinson along with seniors Taylor and Connor Teahan, but Bill Self has a solid core to build around with Withey and we’re never doubting his coaching abilities again after what he did with this group.

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RTC Championship Game Podcast

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2012

One game remaining for the national title. We’re back with our second-to-last RTC Podcast of the season, where Evan Jacoby joins us to break down the results from the national semifinals and looks ahead to the championship game tonight. Consensus is the word that comes to mind in terms of our discussion, but as always, there is some great commentary on how the winner will get there. Have a listen, because it’s a long way to 9:11 PM tonight…

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National Championship Game Showcases Rare Treat: The Nation’s Two Best Players

Posted by EJacoby on April 2nd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

This year’s National Championship game not only features the two winningest programs in college basketball history, but from a more tangible matchup standpoint it also pits the two best players in the country against one another. After Kentucky dispatched of Louisville on Saturday and Kansas survived the physical battle against Ohio State, we now get that rare matchup – Anthony Davis against Thomas Robinson in the National Title game. Why hasn’t this pairing received a flood of media attention? When’s the last time the country’s two National Player of the Year frontrunners faced off in the finals? And will these two interior forces even guard each other during the game? We attempt to answer these questions to prepare you for one of the many great stories to track during tonight’s National Championship.

Thomas Robinson vs. Anthony Davis is the Headline Matchup, but Terrence Jones (Left) Must Check Robinson on Defense (US Presswire)

Think it’s a given that the National Title game produces stud players facing one another? Remember how difficult it is to advance this far in the NCAA Tournament, and history proves how rare the opportunity is. Monday’s game will mark just the fourth time since 1979 that two first team All-Americans face off in the National Championship, and that simply encompasses any of the five best players in any given season. With Davis and Robinson, we are talking about the two leading vote-getters for National Player of the Year; two players that have gone toe-to-toe all season to decide the best and most valuable player in all of college basketball. Magic Johnson (Michigan State) against Larry Bird (Indiana State) in the 1979 National Championship game is the benchmark example of the scenario, and that matchup is still famous as one of the great individual battles in college history. The most recent matchup between All-Americans came in 1999 between Elton Brand (Duke) and Richard Hamilton (Connecticut), which is another good one but certainly does not resonate as strongly as Magic vs. Bird, and Hamilton was not a consensus Player of the Year candidate. It’s still unknown what kind of legacy, if any, Davis vs. Robinson will leave, but both players are forwards that are likely to be drafted in the top five of the upcoming NBA Draft, with Davis a near-lock for the #1 pick. The narrative of comparison between these two players truly begins on Monday night.

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Random Sights & Sounds From Final Four Saturday

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2012

It’s already been a wild weekend in the Big Easy, but there’s more still to come with a championship game to play later tonight. Here are some of the sights and sounds we stumbled into during Friday and Saturday down on the bayou.

The Road Ends Here

Louisville Fans Pre-Partying on Bourbon Street

No Myth: Cats and Cards Can Coexist

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: The National Championship Game

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 2nd, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

College basketball fans, this is it. A champion will be crowned tonight in front of 70,000+ people packed into the Superdome. Savor it because this beautiful sport of ours won’t be seen again for seven long and painful months. Between tonight and early November, many things will happen. Baseball and football will begin new seasons. The NBA will end one season and begin another. A long, hot summer will come and go. A presidential election will be held. All of this before we see another college basketball game that matters, after tonight’s phenomenal finale of course.

#1 Kentucky vs. #2 Kansas – National Championship (at New Orleans, LA) – 9:23 PM ET on CBS

It’s not often when the consensus top two players meet in the final game of the season, but that’s exactly what we have as Anthony Davis and Kentucky face Thomas Robinson and Kansas. You could make an argument that Bill Self and John Calipari are the best coaches in the sport as well, matched up in a battle between the two winningest programs in NCAA history. This has the makings of a special night, one that might trump them all in terms of the pregame storylines. Kentucky enters the game as a solid favorite (six points in Las Vegas) and won the first meeting by 10 points on November 15 at Madison Square Garden. Who had that as the national championship preview after watching it? Maybe you had the Kentucky half, but you certainly did not have the Kansas half of the equation. Plenty has changed since then, but there are a few things we can glean from that game. Kansas jumped out to an early lead before Kentucky rallied to tie it at the half and took control after the break. The Wildcats shot 51% but committed 19 turnovers (25.6% of possessions, their fifth highest total of the season). There were 45 fouls called in the game and Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor went to the line 17 times as a result. Kentucky’s defense was outstanding, limiting Kansas to 34% shooting and 4-15 from deep. The Wildcats blocked 13 shots (seven courtesy of Davis) and won the game in comfortable fashion.

Anthony Davis Will Need To Show Thomas Robinson Why He Is The National Player Of The Year

Tonight’s contest is a matchup between two elite defensive teams, tied for the national lead in defensive two-point percentage  (39.8%). The battles at the power forward and center positions are absolutely fantastic. Davis and Terrence Jones go up against Jeff Withey and Robinson, four outstanding defensive players and three who can change the game offensively as well. Robinson is the best defensive rebounder in the nation while Davis and Withey are the top two shot blockers. Jones can electrify the crowd with his athleticism and can also stretch his game to the three-point line. Kentucky is the more talented team, but Kansas has shown an incredible level of grit and toughness throughout the season, never more so than in the NCAA Tournament. Overcoming deficits against Purdue and Ohio State, plus putting away NC State and North Carolina late in the game has shown us this Kansas team is no fluke. The Jayhawks have absolutely nothing to lose in this game and are the more experienced team by a wide margin. On the other hand, Kentucky has one more game to go in order to live up to the preseason expectation of winning the program’s eighth national championship.

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Circle of March, Vol. XIX

Posted by rtmsf on April 1st, 2012

It’s April Fool’s Day but there’s no joke between the two teams still standing in our second-to-last Circle of March. After Kentucky and Kansas each survived last night in New Orleans, we’re down to two teams in one game Monday for all the marbles. Will Kentucky reach its destiny, or will Bill Self again spoil the Calipari Coronation?

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Rushed Reaction: #2 Kansas 64, #2 Ohio State 62

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Ohio State Found Fool’s Gold With First Half Threes. In the first half it looked like Ohio State might run away with the game, hitting five threes in the first 13 minutes of action but only hitting one more for the entire rest of the game. Like many teams, but especially one that shoots only 33% from deep, if a few long-range bombs drop early it can throw a team off its game plan by losing sight of its greater strength in attacking the basket. The Buckeyes attempted 12 more threes in the second half (making three) but way too many possessions ended with wayward jumpers, giving KU just enough space to make and complete the comeback.
  2. Kansas Gutted This Out Playing Kansas Basketball. If you’ve watched Kansas at all this year, you know that Bill Self’s team thrives through grinding it out and making plays down the stretch to win games. They’ll drive you crazy with some of the things they do — such as Tyshawn Taylor’s steal leading to a horrid pass behind the cutter that gave OSU new life in the final minute — but if they can get any team into a close game they have a really good chance to win. You can’t help but think about the last time Calipari and Self’s teams met in the national championship game — unlike Louisville, Kansas has enough offensive weapons to compete with Kentucky in that kind of a game. It’ll make for a very interesting Monday night.
  3. Jared Sullinger Needs to Reinvent His Game. His game was picked apart by the Twitterati and will no doubt provide many ledes around the country’s newspapers tomorrow, but the reason Ohio State is no longer playing largely falls on Jared Sullinger’s poor offensive game. The two-time All-American shot 5-19 from the field, ending up with a very tough 13 points but wasting numerous other Buckeye possessions by choosing to shoot jumpers or taking the ball up against Jeff Withey when he clearly did not have the hops to get the ball up over him. For Sullinger to maximize his abilities, he needs to realize that he’s not a dominant big man — he’d do well to watch how former Arkansas star Corliss Williamson reinvented his game so as to become a serviceable NBA player.

Star of the Game. Jeff Withey, Kansas. Withey’s defense on Jared Sullinger in the second half of this game set the tone that Kansas was going to fight and claw its way all the way back. There was one sequence in particular where Sullinger could not get the ball up and over Withey, and although, he only ended up with seven blocks, it certainly seemed as if he had more. He only had four points (on four shots), but he also grabbed eight rebounds and provided the defensive spark in holding OSU to a 5-of-21 shooting in the second half from two-point range. There were no good looks.

Quotable. “My teammates see me… as a rim protector. When I blocked Jared, I was just staying straight up.” — Kansas center Jeff Withey, describing his seven blocks and in particular, his interior dominance over Jared Sullinger.

Sights & Sounds. The NCAA Tournament can be brutal in its finality, and this is especially true when a team loses on the biggest stage in a heartbreaker of a game. Our seat was in front of the Ohio State fan section, and there was a group of girls, aged between 8 and 12 perhaps, who screamed their heads off the entire game. They were chanting, yelling, buzzing, chirping. We love to see the spirit in young folks supporting the game, but when Ohio State let things slip away at the end, their tears and sobs told the entire story of how only one team can advance.

What’s Next? A national title game, that’s what. Kansas may have been the absolute best team in 2010, and could have been the best again last year, but both of those Jayhawk teams were unceremoniously dumped by mid-majors prior to the Final Four. Not this year. Bill Self’s plucky group will return to the SuperDome on Monday to face off with the team that everyone thinks is destined to cut the nets down this year, Kentucky. It’s Calipari vs. Self, redux, and we can’t wait.

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Rushed Reaction: #1 Kentucky 69, #4 Louisville 61

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  • Anthony Davis Took Away Nearly Everything Inside. It wasn’t just the five blocks or the 14 rebounds, it was the presence of Anthony Davis that made a huge difference in tonight’s game. The word is that Louisville blew a total of 16 dunks, layups or short ones where they were clearly thinking about the shot-blocking phenom, but often times it seemed as if the Cardinals’ best offensive play was to drive the ball, loft a crazy shot over Davis, and leave an offensive rebound opportunity available to the other players. Pitino said afterward that Davis is as “fine a player as there is,” so it’s clear that he commands the greatest respect from every other team he plays.
  • Louisville’s Offense Simply Couldn’t Manufacture Enough Points. We thought coming into this game that Louisville would have to find a way to manufacture 70+ points to win this game, and that turns out to have been spot on. Whether it was going to come from a Russ Smith explosion or some other player we weren’t sure, but we knew it had to come from somewhere. Instead, Louisville shot a mere 35% for the game and only had two players in double figures (Siva with 11; Behanan with 10). The Cards outrebounded UK and even got some help from the Wildcats’ 55% performance from the line, but there were just way too many empty trips especially when Louisville had tied the game 49-all with just over eight minutes left.
  • Kentucky Isn’t Unbeatable, But They’re Damn Near It. Kentucky was destroyed on its defensive glass with Louisville grabbing 19 offensive boards and losing the overall battle by seven. The Wildcats left nine points on the free throw line. They turned the ball over 14 times and at times looked a little sloppy against the pressure. Terrence Jones (six points) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (nine points) were largely missing until late in the game. And still, they beat the Cards by eight points and managed to stay in that range for most of the contest. Pitino alluded to this in his presser — both Kansas and Ohio State are capable of beating John Calipari’s team, but they’ll need to bring an A+ performance and hope that the Wildcats are having a “B night.”

Star of the Game. Anthony Davis, Kentucky. We mentioned his unreal defensive presence above, but his smooth 18 points on 7-8 shooting allowed Kentucky to build the early lead and created some distance when they had to pull away again late in the game. Throw in 14 rebounds, five blocks and countless other challenges, and he played like the NPOY that he has become.

Quotable. “Louisville will be rooting for Kentucky, which doesn’t happen very often, to bring home that trophy to the state.” — Rick Pitino, publicly stating that there’s no hard feelings in this intrastate rivalry.

Sights & Sounds. At the start of the game it wasn’t yet clear just how active the other fan groups of Ohio State and Kansas would be during this game, but it didn’t take long to find out. Buckeye fans in particular were almost unilaterally behind the Cardinals, presumably looking for the ‘easier’ opponent in the Championship Game on Monday night (assuming they advance themselves). Kansas fans, perhaps not wanting to jinx themselves, were not quite as vocal about their partisanship, perhaps waiting to see how things went with their game first.

What’s Next? Kentucky, of course has a date with destiny on Monday night in the National Championship game against either Kansas or Ohio State, and it will without question be the toughest team the Wildcats have seen in the NCAA Tournament regardless who advances. In some ways — shooting percentage, notably — UK played well; in others — rebounding and free throws — they didn’t. But UK-KU or UK-OSU will be one heckuva blockbuster game on Monday night.

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