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.

Share this story

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.

Share this story

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.

Share this story

Rushed Reaction: #1 Kentucky 82, #3 Baylor 70

Posted by KDoyle on March 25th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Rebound, Pass, Score. Maybe ESPN’s Sport Science can help me out with this: I would love to learn how long it takes Kentucky to grab a rebound and then reverse the ball to the other side of the court. I cannot recall a team that fills the running lanes and pushes the ball better than Kentucky does. A big reason for their exceptional transition play is how well Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones get up and down the floor. Not to mention, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist finishes around the rim as well as anybody in the game.
  2. Why Run with Kentucky? Playing off of the preceding point, why would any team try to run up and down the floor with Kentucky? It is hard to fault Baylor for doing so because so much of their game is predicated on transition offense, but other teams would be much better served to turn their game against Kentucky into a half-court affair. Force the Cats to defend for upwards of 20-25 seconds on the defensive end, and really make them work for buckets on the offensive end. Obviously, this is much easier said than done, but methinks Rick Pitino and Louisville will employ such a strategy. According to Kenpom.com, Louisville is the top defensive team in the nation, and dating back to the beginning of the Big East Tournament they are allowing just 56 PPG. However, the Cardinals have not faced an offense like Kentucky during that period.
  3. Lockdown Defense. As impressive as the Cats’ high flying offense is, their defense ain’t too shabby either. Anthony Davis’ shot blocking and altering ability has been well-documented, but Kentucky’s perimeter defense should not go unnoticed either. Opponents are shooting just a shade over 30% from distance against them; Baylor was a mediocre 4-14 this afternoon. Sharpshooter Brady Heslip was never able to get going as he knocked down just one triple on two attempts. For the game, Baylor shot 39%, and never recovered after Kentucky went on a 25-5 run midway through the first half.

Star of the Game. Anthony Davis, Kentucky. The conversation throughout the rest of the day and during the week will no doubt surround Anthony Davis’ knee, but that aside Davis was tremendous against an exceptionally talented Baylor frontcourt. Davis played a much smarter game today than he did against Indiana where he picked up two quick fouls and was forced to sit for much of the opening half. Against Baylor, Davis was not nearly as overanxious—remember, this is the biggest stage he has played on in his young career—but still was his usual imposing self. He turned aside seven shots, while also ripping down 11 rebounds and dropping in 18 points.

Quotable. “The knees doing fine, I just bumped knees with Perry Jones, but it is okay now…I knew I needed to get back into the game to help my team get to the Final Four.” – Anthony Davis on colliding with Perry Jones III and hitting his knee. This was one everyone’s minds in the media room and, not surprisingly, it was the very first question asked. Although Davis was limping after the collision, he did play considerable minutes and did not appear to be hindered by the knee. While many may try to make this into a story throughout the week, it looks as if it is a non-issue.

Sights & Sounds. Kentucky certainly made their mark on the city of Atlanta throughout the entire weekend. They were loud, widespread, and pretty knowledgeable based on the fans I spoke to this weekend. For the game this afternoon, however, there were several Baylor supporters seated behind me that threw out some priceless one liners. After a flagrant foul was called against Baylor early in the first half: “Just because CBS wants them (Kentucky) in New Orleans, doesn’t mean you can do that!” And another gem: “Put in RG3 (Robert Griffin III)! He can throw the ball into the basket from full-court.”

Wildcard: South Regional All-Tournament Team: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Kentucky), Anthony Davis (Kentucky), Doron Lamb (Kentucky), Quincy Acy (Baylor), and Christian Watford (Indiana) 

What’s Next? Kentucky will meet Louisville down in New Orleans in the Final Four. This has got to be one of the most highly anticipated and hyped Final Four matchup in history. The media will have an absolute field day with this one and you can bet there will be plenty of questions asked of the coaches about each other.

Share this story

Rushed Reaction: #2 Ohio State 77, #1 Syracuse 70

Posted by nvr1983 on March 24th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Officiating was the story. We have tried for most of this NCAA Tournament to avoid criticizing the officials because it is a very difficult job and we cannot imagine what our jobs would be like if we had 10 million people overseeing us with the aid of HD cameras and replay, but the officials in the first half were atrocious. Early in the game, we assumed that the awful second foul that was called on Jared Sullinger with 13:42 left in the first half would change the tenor of the game and it did for a brief period, but then the officials really took over. By the end of the half, Syracuse had 12 fouls while Ohio State only had six. We would sympathize with Orange fans more, but the loss of Sullinger against the zone was huge as the second half demonstrated. Unfortunately, the questionable officiating carried over to the second half. It is unfortunate that a game with so much potential was marred by the officiating, but Syracuse was plagued with foul trouble for much of the second half. In the end it was too much for the Orange to overcome although the Buckeyes deserve credit.
  2. Syracuse was destroyed on the board. It has been a topic all year, but tonight the Orange were outrebounded by 13. While Sullinger had 7 rebounds, the Buckeyes were led by Deshaun Thomas and William Buford with 9 rebounds each. Baye Keita had 10 rebounds, but the rest of the Orange could only gather 16 rebounds combined. It is difficult to say that rebound did the Orange in with the officiating, but it certainly played a major role in their eventual demise.
  3. Sullinger is headed to the Final Four. Limited to just six minutes in the first half, Sullinger played the entire second half and came up huge. Coming into the game we figured that the Orange would not have an answer for him and although foul trouble in the first half prevented him from putting up a huge line he managed to finish with 19 points and 7 rebounds. For all the talk about Anthony Davis and Thomas Robinson it has been easy to forget about the Buckeye star, but he will be heard from in New Orleans. Whether or not the other two will join him is yet to be determined.

Star of the Game. Lenzelle Smith Jr., Ohio State. The forgotten sophomore (Sullinger, Thomas, and Aaron Craft) take all the headlines) came up huge today. He had 18 points including making 7-9 from the free throw line. The free throws at the end were particularly big when the Orange cut into the lead and Aaron Craft was on the bench leaving the Buckeyes vulnerable. Smith, a 59% free throw shooter on the year, made them when they counted and now Ohio State is headed to New Orleans.

Quotable. “No comment” – Jim Boeheim after the game and John Adams at halftime when asked about the officiating

Sights & Sounds. As you can imagine the crowd was all over the officials for the entire game. Surprisingly the language was kept PG. Maybe we are just used to big city crowds (or ones with a lot of college students), but the area we were sitting in (across from the Ohio State bench) heard very few expletives.

What’s Next? The Buckeyes march on to New Orleans where they will face either North Carolina or Kansas. In either case they will face a formidable front line, but if they draw the Tar Heels the point guard matchup, which will like be sans Marshall, will be very interesting with an untested point guard trying to bring the ball up against Aaron Craft.

Share this story

Rushed Reaction: #4 Louisville 72, #7 Florida 68

Posted by rtmsf on March 24th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Russ Smith Is Just Crazy Enough to Save Louisville. Billy Donovan called Russ Smith “crazy” in the postgame press conference, but he meant it as a compliment. And we were tweeting much the same thing during the game. You just never know what you’re going to get from the talented but playground-wild guard, and there was no better example than when he led his team offensively down the stretch. It was his offense, especially a huge three to cut the Florida from six to three points, that led to the Cardinal comeback; and his wild turnover with Louisville up only one point shows just how volatile he can be.
  2. What Happened to Bradley Beal? Through the first half, Florida guard Bradley Beal was the best player on the floor. He was patient in finding his offense, hitting on 3-of-4 shots including a couple of silky-smooth threes. He made three more shots in the early part of the second half, but after the 13:45 mark he was not heard from again until Russ Smith passed him the ball and he was so shocked he traveled with it in the last minute of the game. Beal was the most talented player on the floor, and for the Gators to get to New Orleans, he was going to have to carry them. Instead, the black hole of Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker (combined: 7-21 FGs) once again sunk Billy Donovan’s team.
  3. Nobody Saw This Coming. With no reliable and proven scorer, Rick Pitino has molded his team into a defensive force, and even with Florida shooting an absurd 67% in the first half (including eight three-pointers), it was Louisville’s defense that proved the difference in the last eight minutes of the game. A 65-54 Gator lead became a 72-68 loss, which meant that the Cardinal defense held UF to only three points on 1-12 shooting (and 1-4 from the line) in the most crucial part of the game. Could anyone have imagined that this Louisville team would win the Big East Tournament and make another Final Four without a true star player? It’s inconceivable, and yet, they’re heading to New Orleans.

Star of the Game. Russ Smith, Louisville. As mentioned above, Smith’s energy and offensive prowess gave Louisville just enough to make the successful comeback down the stretch. He ended the game with 19 points and five rebounds (along with four turnovers), but there’s no way that Louisville wins this game without him.

Quotable. “I call hims Russticulous, because he’s ridiculous. He averaged 33 points a game in high school, and he shot eight ridiculous shots a game. I said, ‘can we get to five?’ and then three, and then two…” — Louisville head coach Rick Pitino describing the playground in Russ Smith’s game.

Sights & Sounds. It’s an interesting tradition that both the Louisville and Kentucky bands play My Old Kentucky Home after the game, so could we be treated with both bands doing it next week in New Orleans? If Kentucky wins tomorrow, just go ahead and set the Bluegrass State on fire for the next six days, will ya?

What’s Next? Louisville moves on to its second Final Four in the Rick Pitino era, where it will await Sunday’s game to see whether it will face Kentucky or Louisville. Could we have Dream Game II?

Share this story

Rushed Reaction: #1 Kentucky 102, #4 Indiana 90

Posted by KDoyle on March 24th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. No Pace is Too Fast. Kentucky dictated the pace of the game from the opening tip, and Indiana simply had no answer. When Indiana missed, which they rarely did tonight, Kentucky would corral the rebound and after two passes and a couple dribbles of the basketball the Cats would already have it underneath the Hoosiers’ basket. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague are at their very best when running rampant and Indiana did nothing to stop them from acting as gazelles running the floor.
  2. Indiana Couldn’t Get the Important Stop. Credit to Indiana, they managed to keep themselves within striking distance up until the final minutes, but their inability to string a series of stops together is what ultimately did them in. Christian Watford and Cody Zeller were tremendous, but Kentucky feasted on Indiana’s vanilla man-to-man defense throughout the entire game. This begs the question: Why didn’t Tom Crean throw a zone defense at Kentucky? Indiana surrendered 102 points on the night so clearly zone could not have been much worse than man. In games that Kentucky has struggled on offense—namely against Old Dominion and at Georgia—the opposition played zone exclusively. Kentucky’s next game against Baylor is a very intriguing one as Baylor plays primarily a zone defense.
  3. Restating the Obvious: Kentucky is Best. If it wasn’t already obvious before tonight, it should be now: Kentucky is the best team in the country, and if they are to not win the National Championship it will be because they have beaten themselves or did not bring their ‘A’ game. Anthony Davis, the National Player of the Year, was invisible for the entire first half plagued with foul trouble, and only scored nine points for the game. Yet, there are so many weapons on this squad that it didn’t much matter.

Star of the Game. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky. Only a freshman, the Kidd-Gilchrist is playing like a savvy veteran. He didn’t force his shots tonight, allowed Marquis Teague to create for him, and picked his spots beautifully of when to take over on a possession. 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 10-10 from the stripe. It is scary to think what happens if he—and others—return for another season.

Quotable. “I don’t know when this year, but we as a program really came together. We as a team won all our games a different way, so that’s a huge step for us. I mean, we’re not satisfied with just making it to the Sweet Sixteen. It’s time to get back to work.” – Junior guard Jordan Hulls on Indiana “turning the corner” this season.

Sights & Sounds. It isn’t called “Catlanta” for nothing. Driving up to the Georgia Dome this afternoon at 3 PM—roughly seven hours before Kentucky was scheduled to tip-off against Indiana—it was a sea of blue and white shirts littering the streets, restaurants, bars, and parking lots. It was very clear from the outset that the Dome was going to be rocking tonight, and it certainly was. There were many eruptions of applause throughout the game, but the biggest was probably before the game when Kentucky came onto the floor and went through their warm-up lines. The SEC may be a football conference, but Kentucky makes it very relevant from a basketball perspective.

Wildcard. A minor statistic that must be highlighted: Kentucky shot 35-37 (95%) from the free throw line. Absolutely remarkable, especially considering their season average is 72%.

What’s Next? In the most up-and-down, fast paced basketball game you will probably see all season, Kentucky will meet Baylor with the winner advancing to the Final Four in New Orleans. I promise, there will not be a shortage of high-flying slam dunks in this one.

Share this story

Rushed Reaction: #2 Kansas 60, #11 North Carolina State 57

Posted by dnspewak on March 23rd, 2012

Three Takeaways.

  1. Nearly Unraveled: As the seconds ticked away and North Carolina State began to charge, Bill Self grew more and more anxious on the Kansas sidelines. He stomped around, cursed at his players, and grimaced repeatedly almost as if he wished he could skip this Regional entirely and simply move on to the Final Four. Can you blame him? During the past two years, Self has watched his team choke away top seeds in the NCAA Tournament, and it appeared the Jayhawks may collapse in the same vein tonight as Northern Iowa and VCU. When it needed to make a defensive stand, though, it did. The Jayhawks forced Scott Wood into a contested three-pointer as they clinged to a one-point lead, and they caught a break when Wood stepped out of bounds with a chance to tie the game from beyond the arc. If you would like to claim North Carolina State blew the game more than Kansas won it, that’s fine. Self might not disagree with you, but all that matters is the Jayhawks survived a late surge and advanced to the regional final.
  2. Jeff Freakin’ Withey: The center blocked 10 shots– yes, 10– and that’s unheard of at the college level. When a reporter asked C.J. Leslie to assess Withey’s performance, he was essentially speechless. He even asked the reporter to repeat the question because he didn’t know how to answer. That’s how good Withey was. He tipped balls and got his hands on everything, finishing with perhaps the most productive eight-point effort in NCAA Tournament history.
  3. Tough Rims: Kansas made just one three-pointer and found a way to win, but the story here is how many poor shots North Carolina State took from the perimeter. The Wolfpack forced shot after shot, finishing 6-21 from three. Wood in particular missed seven of nine attempts, and his team settled for jumpers because Withey occupied the perimeter. The Jayhawks harassed Mark Gottfried‘s team, keeping Wood in check and holding the Wolfpack to 16.7 percent from the field in the second half.

Star of the Game. Jeff Withey, Kansas. Thomas Robinson could have easily earned this honor after another double-double, but Withey single-handedly changed the game by walking onto the floor. Take this sequence in the first half, for example: Withey enters the game and immediately (1) blocks a shot, (2) tips two balls on the offensive end to result in offensive rebounds, and (3) grabs a defensive rebound. All in the matter of only a few possessions.

Quote to Note: “[Withey’s] length really bothered us. And it affected how we shot the ball around the basket, seemed like we were always trying to make a tough shot. So he definitely had an impact on the game.”

Sights and Sounds: There’s a reason Self’s staff has been so successful: preparation and execution. Tonight, every one of his assistants seemed to know exactly what North Carolina State would run on the offensive end. It was uncanny. Possession after possession, N.C. State would cross halfcourt and an assistant would immediately identify an offensive set. Early in the second half, the staff shouted that the Pack was running “Wheel,” but the KU players didn’t recognize it and Wood buried a three. A few possessions later, the staff again called out “Wheel”– but this time, they snuffed it out and didn’t even let Wood get the ball. Kudos to the Jayhawks’ staff for that.

What’s Next: Kansas advances to face top-seeded North Carolina in the Elite Eight on Sunday afternoon. It will be interesting to see how the Tar Heels adjust after a lackluster performance in their first game without Kendall Marshall. The Jayhawks should probably come into this game as the favorites even though their own guards struggled too. The key to the game may be whether or not Harrison Barnes shows up as he did not in the game earlier tonight.

Share this story

Rushed Reaction: #1 North Carolina 73, #13 Ohio 68 (OT)

Posted by dnspewak on March 23rd, 2012

Three Takeaways.

  1. Ohio Ran Out of Gas: Whether Ohio physically felt fatigued in the extra period hardly matters. What matters is Ohio missed all six field goal attempts in overtime, suddenly looking lost after shredding North Carolina’s defense throughout the second half. Reggie Bullock set the tone by draining a three on the first possession of overtime, then UNC sealed the game at the free throw line after clamping down defensively. D.J. Cooper‘s woes continued in overtime, as he missed two threes and threw the ball away with 32 seconds remaining. The star point guard finished 3-20 from the field, though he did dish out six assists.
  2. Reggie Bullock and Tyler Zeller Carried The Heels: Harrison Barnes found his stroke in overtime and made a critical three-pointer to tie the game in the second half, but he disappeared for much of the game in a 3-16 shooting effort. Luckily, Bullock emerged to hit two late threes to give the Heels the lead, and Zeller played like a madman for 45 minutes. Ohio had no answer for his size and tenacity — he fought, fought and fought some more for 23 rebounds and 20 points. He may not have made a defining, highlight-reel shot in a critical moment, but his presence changed the game for UNC.
  3. A Valiant Defense Effort: After shooting 23% in the first half, it seemed unbelievable the Bobcats trailed by just seven points. They hung around because North Carolina committed 13 turnovers in the first half, but once the shots began to fall for Ohio, the game tilted in coach John Groce‘s favor. Walter Offutt made five three-pointers after halftime and even added an and-1 to take the lead late in the second half. The Bobcats took their energy from the defensive end and translated it to the offensive end, as it harassed a Kendall Marshall-less UNC team for every single second of both halves and overtime. They weren’t kidding about this defense — it ranked fourth nationally in turnovers forced entering the game, and Ohio turned UNC over a total of 23 times.

Star of the Game. Tyler Zeller, North Carolina. An easy choice here. Zeller’s double-double was a man’s man’s double-double, as he bullied the small Bobcats frontline possession after possession. He scored eight points in the first five minutes of the game and threw down a few dunks with authority to signal his presence right out of the gate. Zeller hardly says much on the court, and his expression never changes. But in the end, his physicality in the post wore down Ohio.

Quotable. “They just stepped up and made some plays. And we didn’t.” — D.J. Cooper, Ohio.

What’s Next. North Carolina survives to face either Kansas (for a Roy Williams special) or North Carolina State on Sunday, either game a sure-fire maelstrom of emotion and rivalry.

Share this story

Rushed Reaction: #3 Baylor 75, #10 Xavier 70

Posted by KDoyle on March 23rd, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Baylor’s Defense Was Tough. Yes, you read that correctly. After being scrutinized and maligned for much of the season, especially during Big 12 play, Baylor’s stout defense made life difficult for Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons all night. Although the two scored in bunches in the final minutes — when the bulk of the scoring was done — that would prove to be too little, too late. Scott Drew elected to play man-to-man defense for much of the game, and threw in the zone defense sparingly. More than anything though, it was the sheer length, athleticism, and speed of Baylor that made their defense so effective. It begs the question, with lockdown defenders and such speed, why is a zone defense even necessary?
  2. Running, Hops, and Flushes. With a flurry of dunks slammed home by Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III, Baylor’s offense replicated a game of Slamball at one point. Many already knew this, but Baylor’s exceptional play in transition confirmed they can run with any team in the nation — even Kentucky; they have the horses and a steady point guard in Pierre Jackson. Conversely, like most transition-oriented teams, Baylor’s offense stalls in the halfcourt for long stretches. When Xavier was able to cut into Baylor’s lead, it was because they limited Baylor’s transition opportunities.
  3. Kenny Frease Needed More Touches. Xavier got away from what they were doing best—and what got them back into the game — feeding big Kenny Frease the basketball. Frease was 7-10 for the game, and whenever he got a touch something good seemed to happen. The senior from Ohio, who has the physical appearance of one who cuts down trees or wrestles grizzly bears for a living, exploited Baylor’s thin front line. While Jones III and Acy are phenomenal offensive threats and move better than many players with their height, they struggle to defend an opposing post player one-on-one. With Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones looming on the horizon — potentially — this has to be a concern for Scott Drew.

Star of the Game. Pierre Jackson, Baylor. Many will point to Quincy Acy as the star for Baylor—it sure is hard to ignore the several highlight reel dunks he had — it was point guard Pierre Jackson who led Baylor’s fast break and offense to perfection. Jackson had 10 assists to just two turnovers, while knocking down three shots from behind the arc to boot.

Quotable. “Baylor fans have been blessed, the nation’s been blessed, and he is a better person than a player.” — Baylor head coach Scott Drew on the play of senior forward Quincy Acy.

Sights & Sounds. Without question, the most humorous moment during the game ironically had nothing to do with the teams competing on the floor. The loudest the arena got during the game was not after a monstrous dunk or big three, but when the Kentucky band entered the arena. Yes, that is right, the band. Not the basketball team, but the band. Big Blue Nation erupted when a collection of tuba and trumpet players walked out of the tunnel.

What’s Next? Baylor moves onto the Elite Eight where they will play the winner of Kentucky vs. Indiana. Just two years ago, the Bears stumbled at this juncture of the Tournament against Duke, but this is a different Baylor team. Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller were tearing up the AAU circuit, and Pierre Jackson was elsewhere too. Will Scott Drew be able to get over the Elite Eight hump and make it all the way to New Orleans?

Share this story

Rushed Reaction: #7 Florida 68, #3 Marquette 58

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Florida Out-Toughed Marquette. Except for a few moments where Marquette brought its patented Buzz Williams hustle and toughness to the fore, the ‘soft’ Gators mostly out-toughed the Golden Eagles on this night. They beat them on the boards by one, blocked six more shots, and didn’t back down at all when MU got in their face. We’ve been critical of Billy Donovan’s teams (other than the “oh-fours”) in the past because of too much perimeter play and a lack of fortitude, but this bunch never wavered when facing a team that makes its living of off that stuff.
  2. Marquette’s Stars Never Seemed Comfortable. It’s hard for us to give too much credit to Florida’s defense, but something was definitely bothering both Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom tonight. The two players combined for a 10-30 shooting night, and without their offensive capabilities, Marquette was never going to seriously threaten the Gators. Perhaps worse than that, though, with the two stars struggling, the rest of the starting lineup didn’t do much better. Jamil Wilson, Vander Blue, and Junior Cadougan went for 11 total points on 4-20 shots themselves. Ugh.
  3. Gators’ Lack of Size Hasn’t Hurt Them Yet. This wasn’t the matchup where the Gators’ lack of talented size caught up with them, but you have to figure that it will eventually. Sometimes with the right matchups, though, a team can get on a roll, and that’s exactly what the Gators have done. Billy Donovan talked about how the team didn’t appear to play very well down the stretch of the regular season, but he attributed much of that to the level of competitions they were playing in those games. We’re not sure what that says about this year’s NCAA Tournament field (at least the Gators’ path to the Elite Eight), but with how well Louisville is playing, they’ll have to earn it on Saturday afternoon.

Star of the Game. Bradley Beal, Florida. Beal looked like the future lottery pick that he will be tonight, as he carried the Gators through some key stretches with his drives to the goal and timely three-point shooting. He ended up with 21 points, eight rebounds, four assists and only missed two field goal attempts on the night. Superb outing for the freshman.

Quotable. “Beal is their swing vote… because he’s so multi-talented.” Marquette head coach Buzz Williams, on the Florida guard’s play tonight.

What’s Next? Florida will advance to play the surging #4 Louisville Cardinals with a trip to the Final Four on the line. Billy Donovan, with two national championships and three trips to the Final Four on his resume, will play his mentor, Rick Pitino, with a single national title and five trips on his resume. Wow.

Share this story

Rushed Reaction: #2 Ohio State 81, #6 Cincinnati 66

Posted by nvr1983 on March 22nd, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Aaron Craft struggles, but still came up big. Craft has become a hero for the fans of advanced metrics and hard-nosed defense, but he struggled tonight for a large part of the game. He played his usual excellent defense, but the shots were not falling and he made several ill-advised passes and missed his first five shots before getting his shot to fall. His totals were not impressive (11 points, four rebounds, and five assists) he provided the defensive pressure that kept the Bearcats from breaking through when they came on strong in the second half.
  2. Give credit to Cincinnati for rebounding. They may have come up short in the second half against the Buckeyes, but Bearcat fans should look back on the second half of this season fondly. After the team could have (and probably should have) imploded following their brawl against Xavier, the team struggled while it was getting players back from suspension, but then rebound to finish the season impressively going from close to the bubble to becoming a #6 seed with an impressive run that saw them knock off a #1 seed (Syracuse), a #2 seed (Marquette), and a #3 seed (Georgetown) before losing to a Louisville team that will be playing in the Elite Eight on Saturday. Mick Cronin and his players took a lot of heat in the aftermath of the event, but now they deserve some praise.
  3. Where was William Buford? Several key players came up big for the Buckeyes, but their senior guard was not one of them. He finished with just four points on 1-8 shooting. In fact, you could point to him picking up his fourth foul with 9:16 left as the turning point in the game. After that point the Buckeyes took over and never looked back. Everybody is allowed to have a bad game, but when you get this far into the NCAA Tournament you need to be able to rely on your seniors for somewhat consistent play. The Buckeyes will need more out of him if they are going to beat the Orange on Saturday.

Star of the Game. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State. The third most lauded of the Buckeye sophomore, exploded in the first half with 20 points on 8-12 from the field including 3-5 from 3-point range. While he cooled off considerably in the second half finishing with 26 points on 10-17 from the field it was his first half explosion that helped carry the Buckeyes at the beginning of this game. With the way that Thomas has been playing, do not be shocked if you hear his name mentioned as a potential early entry.

Sights & Sounds. Neither coach was as demonstrative as Bo Ryan was in the last game, but the Buckeye fans were seated directly behind us. What was unusual about them (or at least the ones behind me) was that they were not as loud and boisterous as I would expect, but instead were more analytical. Maybe I just got lucky, but all game long they kept on commenting on great Craft was on defense.

What’s Next?  The Buckeyes get the matchup that everybody was pointing to when the brackets came out. Syracuse may not be quite as formidable as many had thought now that Fab Melo is off the team, but as they proved tonight they are a more than worth adversary. Jared Sullinger should have his way on the inside without a great defensive presence to disrupt him, but the Orange have a variety of perimeter players to throw at Craft, Thomas, and company. We cannot imagine any way that it does not turn out to be a great game.

Share this story