Four Thoughts From the Atlantic 10 Championship

Posted by CNguon on March 17th, 2013

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. He covered the Atlantic 10 tournament in Brooklyn this week. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Saint Louis completed a stellar Atlantic 10 Tournament campaign with a 62-56 victory over #25 Virginia Commonwealth Sunday afternoon at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Four Thoughts:

  1. It’s the defense: The teams combined for 31 turnovers. Virginia Commonwealth used the press to force an unprecedented 18 Billiken miscues – the Rams are now 26-1 when they force 15 or more (Saint Louis is that one). Saint Louis typically forces opponents to lose about 22% of their possessions in conference this season (#2 to VCU). The Rams committed 13 turnovers, 10 in the first half alone. Combined with poor shooting (VCU was 3-of-18 on three point attempts), when the opportunity to overtake Saint Louis appeared in the second half, Shaka Smart’s team could not seal the deal.
  2. Virginia Commonwealth and Saint Louis (and Butler, Temple and La Salle) will be tough outs in the NCAA: The teams are stocked with upperclassmen, are defense-oriented and offer very different approaches to the game. “The preparation and playing against teams like St. Louis, Xavier, Butler, La Salle, that really helped us going into this tournament,” said VCU coach Shaka Smart after the championship game. “Our whole strategy is to get the other team rattled,” added Smart. The three games played this weekend offer proof that the tactic works as La Salle, Massachusetts and Saint Louis were pushed to the point of collapse by VCU’s brand of HAVOC.
    Saint Louis' Cody Ellis reacts after cutting a piece of the net after an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia Commonwealth and winning the championships of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament. (AP)

    Saint Louis’ Cody Ellis reacts after cutting a piece of the net after an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia Commonwealth and winning the championships of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament. (AP)

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Rushed Reactions: #10 Ohio State 50, #22 Wisconsin 43

Posted by WCarey on March 17th, 2013

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Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament title game between Ohio State and Wisconsin. You can follow him on Twitter at @walkerRcarey.

Three Key Takeaways.

The Buckeyes Are Big Ten Champions Again

The Buckeyes Are Big Ten Champions Again

  1. If you like offense, this was not your game. When only one team gets to the 50-point marker, you know the game is lacking in offense and that was certainly the case Sunday when the Buckeyes and Badgers battled for the Big Ten Tournament title. The two strongest defensive teams in the conference lived up to their reputations by defending hard and making things very difficult for the opposing offenses. What was pretty amazing about this game is that Wisconsin went the final 7:01 without recording a field goal and it still managed to finish with a higher shooting percentage (39.1%) than Ohio State (38.5%). Ben Brust, Wisconsin’s leading scorer, was held to just six points on only six shot attempts. Timely three-point shooting helped the Badgers get past Indiana on Saturday, but they were not able to get the same performance Sunday as they were held to a 3-of-18 performance from deep.
  2. Aaron Craft is a pleasure to watch. The Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player only finished the game with nine points, but he truly provided the Buckeyes with the gritty play and leadership necessary to bring home the title. It is quite apparent how smart Craft truly is, as the junior point guard plays his position with great intelligence. It often seems like he is a step ahead of everyone on the opposing team. While Craft is a key player for the Buckeyes on the offensive end of the court, his presence is even more valuable on the defensive end where he is usually called upon to lock down on the other team’s most explosive player. He did a fantastic job on Brust Sunday afternoon and one would imagine that he will have more solid defensive performances when the NCAA Tournament commences later this week.
  3. Ohio State’s hot streak should have its fans feeling really good as it enters the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes finished their regular season by reeling off five consecutive victories and by winning three games in three days in Chicago, they have now won eight consecutive games. Hot teams are known to be dangerous when the NCAA Tournament begins and the Buckeyes definitely qualify as a hot team. After months of fairly inconsistent play, the Buckeyes have really tightened up their game and now seem like a team that advance very far in the NCAA Tournament. Thad Matta has done an excellent job in getting his squad to right the ship and become a legitimate contender for a national title.

Star of the Game. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State. In a game where offense was definitely at a premium, the Buckeyes got a solid scoring performance from their star junior forward. Thomas finished the game with 17 points and his late free-throw shooting allowed the Buckeyes to remain ahead of Wisconsin. Thomas catches some criticism for shooting a lot, but there is no denying that he is an outstanding scoring forward.

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Rushed Reactions: Miami 87, North Carolina 77

Posted by mpatton on March 17th, 2013

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Matt Patton is an RTC microsite writer. He filed this report after Sunday afternoon’s ACC Tournament championship game.

Three Key Takeaways:

Miami Wins Its First ACC Championship

Miami Wins Its First ACC Championship

  1. Shootout: Despite both teams coming in known for their defense, the 2013 ACC Tournament championship game will be remembered for its offensive showing. Specifically, the last 10 minutes of the first half was a shooting clinic for the ages. The two teams (led by PJ Hairston, Shane Larkin and Trey McKinney-Jones) combined for 10 threes in the 10 minutes. As a result, North Carolina cut the Miami lead to three with just over two minutes to play, until a shot clock violation gave the Hurricanes the space they needed to go for the throat.
  2. Miami’s Versatility: The Hurricanes showed a versatility that should terrify opponents who find themselves in Miami’s regional. Miami went small two separate times, at the end of its win against Boston College and the end of the first half of the championship game. Both times Miami’s offense flourished. It’s no secret the Hurricanes’ defense is elite. Miami has the experience to win close games. The postgame press conference made one thing very clear: Jim Larranaga has this team in a great place. The leaders trust him and trust themselves no matter what the opponent is doing.
  3. North Carolina’s Turnaround: Just a little over two months ago, the Tar Heels looked like outside shots to make the Big Dance. They were sitting 0-2 in ACC play facing a road game against Florida State. A month after that the Tar Heels took a beating in Coral Gables before Roy Williams moved PJ Hairston into the starting lineup. The move worked out, as North Carolina’s only two losses the rest of the season came against Duke. While Hairston’s addition was the obvious change, Marcus Paige‘s improvement is just as important, if not more so. Paige played 30 minutes or more in every game except for North Carolina’s win over Maryland when he got into foul trouble. Over the 11 games in the smaller lineup, Paige averaged more than five assists per game on top of nine and a half points per outing. He cut down on turnovers dramatically — the win at Maryland notwithstanding. It’s no secret Roy Williams’ offense runs a lot smoother with a good point guard.

Star of the Game: Shane Larkin proved to be the best player on the floor. He finished with 28 points, five rebounds, seven assists and two steals. He shot 8-of-15 from the floor, 4-of-7 from three and 8-of-8 from the free throw line. Whenever Miami needed to make a play, he delivered either a bucket or a dime on command. He also played the full 40 minutes, meaning he missed a total of four of the possible 120 minutes over the course of his three days in Greensboro.

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Rushed Reactions: OIe Miss 66, Florida 63

Posted by David Changas on March 17th, 2013

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David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after this afternoon’s SEC Tournament championship game between Ole Miss and Florida in Nashville.

Three Key Takeaways.

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Ole Miss, 2013 SEC Champs

  1. No More Bubble Worries. After being involved in the bubble discussion for the past several weeks, and nearly seeing its dreams die when it trailed Missouri by double-figures midway through the second half on Friday night, Ole Miss took the issue out of the Selection Committee’s hands and earned its bid to the Big Dance the old-fashioned way. Now, the Rebels can hope to move up the seed line and draw a better spot than it could have anticipated prior to the weekend. The Rebels got their best two wins of the season this weekend, and even if they had already done enough prior to Sunday’s championship game to earn a bid, they now don’t have to worry about heading to Dayton for a First Four game.
  2. The Monkey off his Back. Andy Kennedy has done a nice job at Ole Miss, which no one would argue is an easy place to win.  He has won 20 games in six of his seven seasons in Oxford. But before today, Kennedy had not been able to get the Rebels into the NCAA Tournament. He was convinced that his team was in the Tournament even before the weekend, and certainly after it beat Missouri. Now, he can breathe a little easier and enjoy the Selection Show a little more. Kennedy is also now working under athletic director Ross Bjork, who arrived on campus a year ago. With any change in AD comes questions about whether a coach is the right fit.  With this win, Kennedy went a long way to securing his future in Oxford, as the Rebels’ appearance validates the work he has done at the school.
  3. Florida Struggles in the Clutch.  The numbers don’t lie. Florida is now 0-6 in games decided by single-digits. It’s a theme that started in the Arizona game in December, when the Gators dominated for 36 minutes but weren’t able to close out the final two minutes of each half. The Gators led this one by 12 at the break and appeared to be in control, but a 26-8 Ole Miss run in the first nine minutes of the second half put the Gators in the position of having to win a close game. Florida was dominant in most of its SEC wins, but obviously didn’t perform the way a team with its talent and experience should have in close ones. It’s a perplexing issue, but one of the Gators’ biggest problems is shot selection. They took 31 threes on Sunday, and many came outside the flow of the offense. “I don’t think our guards did a great job in the second half passing and keeping the ball moving,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said after the game. It’s a problem that is hard to correct at this time of year, and could very well doom the Gators in the NCAA Tournament much earlier than a team with as many weapons as they have should expect.

Star of the Game.  Marshall Henderson.  Who else?  The Tournament MVP scored 71 points in the three games in Nashville, and was the reason Rebels were able to win the title. All antics from the junior guard aside, Henderson is a difference-maker for Kennedy’s squad, and is a key reason the Rebels are going to the NCAA Tournament and not making a return trip to the NIT. 

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The Final Big East Tourney As We Know It: Reflections and Thank Yous

Posted by Nick Fasulo on March 17th, 2013

Nick Fasulo is an RTC correspondent. He has been at the Big East Tournament this week taking in all of the action. You can find him on Twitter @nickfasuloSBN.

Austin Croshere. That name evokes the first true memory I have of Big East basketball.  I’m not even making this up for effect.

It was 1995. My family had finally taken the plunge and signed up for, that’s right, cable television. I was young. Third or fourth grade, and nearly all of my college basketball consumption to date was through March Madness on CBS. I really liked Duke, but I also really didn’t know any better. Then when the number of available channels on my family’s living room television ballooned from five to 55, I became exposed to a whole new world. Most importantly for the development of my nascent mind: Championship Week.

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Louisville, Your 2013 Big East Champions

In that year’s Big East Tournament, Austin Croshere was a sophomore role player at Providence College. The Friars were the defending champions, but had lost key players from a season before and limped into Madison Square Garden with a 7-11 conference record. In the Friars’ quarterfinal game against Syracuse, the first sporting event broadcast on cable in my home, Croshere produced an unforgettable performance. He scored a career-high 28 points – 18 of those in the game’s final 10 minutes – and led the Friars to a dramatic upset overtime victory. The New York Post‘s Howard Blatt called Croshere “an outrageous force” in his game recap. It was truly mesmerizing theater, and something you couldn’t have watched on channels 6, 8 or 13.

On its proverbial headstone, the now old Big East Conference should have an epitaph that is something along the lines of “Never be the same again.” For me, its existence began with Austin Croshere, and ended with Montrezl Harrell. Live, right in front of me. A moment in time where I actually believe I was in the center of the universe.

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Rushed Reactions: Oregon 78, UCLA 69

Posted by AMurawa on March 17th, 2013

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Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 Conference. He filed this report after Saturday night’s Pac-12 Tournament championship game between Oregon and UCLA.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Jonathan Loyd, The Oregon Point Guard. After slowly returning from injury, this was supposed to be the week when Dominic Artis returned to form in the Oregon starting lineup. He did return to the starting lineup, but it was Jonathan Loyd who was the man at the point for the Ducks. He was terrific all weekend averaging 24 minutes and 11.3 points per game, but was particularly good in the championship, scoring 19 points and bailing out the Ducks at the end of the shot clock by knocking down jumpers. However, is that the type of offense that head coach Dana Altman really wants? After the game, Altman made it clear that there were times that Loyd took some shots that he wasn’t exactly pleased with. To be honest, often in the second half, the Ducks didn’t run particularly good sets but got bailed out either by Loyd late or by offensive rebounds off misses. Ideally, Loyd would be generating good looks for his teammates more regularly than getting his own shots, but it is awfully hard to argue with the results tonight.
  2. Life Without Jordan Adams. In UCLA’s first game following Jordan Adams’ broken foot, the Bruins clearly struggled offensively, to the tune of 0.96 points per possession — their least effective offensive performance since their Valentine’s Night massacre at the hands of California. Some of the problems can be chalked up to fatigue in the face of playing their third game in as many nights with basically just a six-man rotation, and some of it can be explained away by the idea that this team didn’t have much time to game plan for life without Adams. But, let’s just say that game one in the post-Adams era did not go smoothly. Shabazz Muhammad was limited by a defense free to key on him and Kyle Anderson was unable to step into a secondary scorer’s role, leaving Larry Drew II to pick up the scoring slack, which he accomplished to some extent (14 points on 11 field goal attempts). Norman Powell was a pretty bright spot as well, scoring 10 points on six FGAs in 37 minutes. UCLA will probably be more comfortable in its next game out, but the long-term prognosis for the Oregon offense without Adams is not bright.
UCLA's Jordan Adams Had To Spend The Night As A Spectator

UCLA’s Jordan Adams Had To Spend The Night As A Spectator

  1. Pac-12 NCAA Tournament Viability. The conference is in all likelihood going to wind up with five teams dancing, but it is hard to see one of these teams capable of making a run of any sort. UCLA without Adams doesn’t have the depth or offensive firepower to get to the second weekend; Oregon, though they righted the ship somewhat this weekend, is still not playing as well as they were prior to the Artis injury; California’s hot streak is officially over; and Colorado has never been a completely trustworthy team this season. That leaves Arizona, the most talented Pac-12 team and a team that is certainly capable of stringing together some wins should everything break right, but a team that has underachieved for since conference play began. While anything is possible in a one-game setting, none of these teams will be favored to advance past the first weekend of NCAA play. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: Louisville 78, Syracuse 61

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 17th, 2013

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Brian Otskey (@botskey) filed this report from Louisville’s second consecutive Big East championship game victory on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

Three key takeaways:

Pitino Was All Smiles After Notching Back-to-Back Big East Titles

Pitino Was All Smiles After Notching Back-to-Back Big East Titles

  1. Two words: Pressure defense. Louisville turned a 45-29 deficit into a 78-61 victory over the last 16 minutes of the game. The 49-16 run to close the contest was one of the more impressive feats I’ve seen in my years watching college basketball. After a few turnovers, it was clear Syracuse was rattled by the relentless Louisville pressure. It’s Rick Pitino’s calling card and it came through when the Cards needed it most. Louisville was awful defensively in the first half and that continued out of halftime as Syracuse hit four of its first five shots out of the locker room. That’s when everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) changed. Syracuse made just one field goal over the next 14 minutes as Louisville ran away with the game. People talk about VCU’s havoc defense but there is no team in the country that pressures the ball as hard and as efficiently as Louisville.
  2. Syracuse got flustered. Even while playing in front of a decidedly pro-Orange crowd (75-80%), Syracuse let the suffocating pressure get to them in the worst way. Nobody was more affected that Michael Carter-Williams, who until midway through the second half had played one of the finest games of his young career. Carter-Williams’ body language went south and his play suffered, culminating in a flagrant one foul call that was likely the result of pent-up frustration. The Orange were never able to regroup despite the partisan Madison Square Garden crowd and Louisville simply took it to them over the balance of the game.
  3. Louisville adjusted its offense and Syracuse failed to do the same defensively. Pitino’s team shot a robust 53% overall in the second half, including an impressive 12-of-19 shooting mark from inside the arc. Louisville worked the ball inside all second half against a Syracuse zone that had been extended out what seemed to be a good five to eight feet away from the basket all night. Louisville probed the high post and dumped it down low successfully with Montrezl Harrell turning out to be the main beneficiary of those sets. Syracuse never adjusted its defense, never more so exemplified by Kevin Ware’s baseline cruise and dunk with 8:24 to play that put Louisville up by nine points.

Star of the Game: Freshman Montrezl Harrell scored 14 of his career-high 20 points in the second half. It was a coming-out party for one of the better freshmen in the nation, someone who will make plenty of breakout player lists in 2013-14. Harrell, a former Virginia Tech commitment, had his way operating along the baseline and attacked the rim at will as the Syracuse back line defenders were helpless to stop him. This kid has the skill, athleticism and motor needed to excel at this level and will be a star in the years to come for Louisville and likely at the next level as well.

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Rushed Reactions: New Mexico 63, UNLV 56

Posted by AMurawa on March 16th, 2013

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Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s Mountain West Championship game between New Mexico and UNLV in Las Vegas.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. America: Meet Tony Snell. Those of us that have been watching the Mountain West religiously for the past three years are quite familiar with the unique combination of talent that Snell possesses: a 6’7” wing with even better length, terrific defensive ability, the ability to run off screens at an elite level, and can knock down open looks at a great rate — not to mention the jump-out-of-the-gym hops and a decent handle as well. This afternoon, he put all of that on display for a national audience. The question about him has always been whether he is too nice to be a great competitor, but that was not in doubt today: 21 points, 8-of-11 shooting, five threes and a great blow-by in the closing moments as well.
  2. Live By The Three, Die By The Three. The Rebels shot the ball 59 times on Saturday afternoon; 31 of those (a full 52.5%) came from deep. In the second half it was even worse with 17 of their 29 attempts (58.6%) coming from beyond the arc and another healthy chunk perimeter jumpers just inside it. For awhile, that worked out, as Bryce Dejean-Jones had a couple stretches where he caught fire and the Rebels were right in the game. But when that faucet got turned off, the Rebels faded. There are definitely good shooters on this team, with Dejean-Jones and Katin Reinhardt the best among them, but both of those guys have a tendency to take too many shots and, more disturbingly, to take bad shots. Then there’s Anthony Bennett, a physical specimen with a fantastic inside/out game who too often forgets about the inside half of that equation. For the Rebs to make noise in the NCAA Tournament, they need to find better balance offensively.
  3. New Mexico’s NCAA Tournament Viability. I’ve been among the doubters of the Lobos of late, in part because I haven’t entirely trusted their ability to get consistent offensive production from their guards. Today, to understate things, that was not a concern. We’ve talked about Snell, but Kendall Williams was tremendous as well, handing out seven assists, running the team well, and scoring 12 points. Then there’s Hugh Greenwood who had three early three-pointers and then never scored again. But, Greenwood did so many other things well, grabbing seven boards, handing out five assists and limiting Anthony Marshall’s production. Despite the 29 wins to this point, it has been something of an up-and-down year offensively to this point, but heading into the NCAA Tournament, this team is playing its best ball.

Star of the GameTony Snell. Five minutes into the game, you would have figured Anthony Bennett was going to be the guy. He had his team’s first 11 points in often spectacular ways, but his star faded quickly. Snell, however, played his best after the break, logging all 20 minutes, making five of seven shots (including three threes) and coming up with the big offensive play whenever his team needed a bucket.

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Kansas Wins Because It Guards, Plain and Simple

Posted by dnspewak on March 16th, 2013

Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is a Big 12 microsite writer. He filed this from the Big 12 Championship game in Kansas City.

Clank, clank, clank. In an arena jam-packed to the rafters and charged with as much emotion as any game in college basketball this season, the most prominent sound during the first half of the Big 12 Tournament title game at the Sprint Center was the sound of those clanks that Kansas State heaved repeatedly at the basket. After taking an 11-8 lead against Kansas with 11:55 to play in the half, the Wildcats did not make another field goal during the next 17 possessions. They were 0-of-11 from the field during that stretch. Five turnovers. Heroically, they trailed by just eight points at the break, but they were already buried. Once the Jayhawks found their groove offensively in the second half, Kansas State never kept pace and eventually fell, 70-54.

Kansas Added More Hardwood To Its Collection

Kansas Added More Hardwood To Its Collection

You don’t want to see the final statistics for Bruce Weber’s team. “The best thing we did was shoot free throws,” Angel Rodriguez said, “and we shot 50 percent. That says a lot.” Rodney McGruder had a simple diagnosis for the anemic offense. “It wasn’t really their defense,” McGruder said. “We missed easy baskets at the rim.” The second part of that statement is correct. Kansas State missed more open shots than an overweight, middle-aged man trying to play a game of H-O-R-S-E, especially during the drought in the first half. But McGruder is wrong about the first part — there’s another reason his team couldn’t score, and it wasn’t self-inflicted. “Our first shot defense was about as good as it’s been all year long,” coach Bill Self said. As always, it was a collective effort for Kansas. Jeff Withey, the Big 12’s leading shot blocker, finished with only one block, but he teamed with Kevin Young and Perry Ellis to bother the Wildcats’ on the interior with their length.

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Rushed Reactions: Ohio State 61, Michigan State 58

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 16th, 2013

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Another patented physical Big Ten tussle in the league’s second Tournament semifinal fell in Ohio State’s favor after a predictably even-matched run of play broke open late in the second half. Aaron Craft led the Buckeyes with 20 points and nine assists. Michigan State forward Derrick Nix finished with 17 points and nine rebounds.

Chris Johnson is a Big Ten correspondent and RTC columnist. He filed this report after Saturday’s Big Ten semifinal matchup between Ohio State and Michigan State. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Three Key Takeaways:

Sunday's title matchup should feature another hard-fought game between two defense-oriented Big Ten stalwarts (AP Photo).

Sunday’s title matchup should feature another hard-fought game between two defense-oriented Big Ten stalwarts (AP Photo).

  1. DeShaun Thomas Still Needs Help.  We’ve said this all season long, and with only intermittent evidence to the contrary, the same problem still holds true as Ohio State prepares for a deep NCAA Tournament run. The Buckeyes can guard; no one’s doubting the Buckeyes’ defensive prowess — this is the same group that, less than two weeks ago, short-circuited the nation’s most explosive offense (Indiana) in one of the most brazen, gutsiest, perception-changing road wins of the season. Finding ways to score points outside of DeShaun Thomas iso sets and late shot-clock jumpers, and doing so in a consistent context, is where OSU will run into real problems in an NCAA Tournament setting. When Ohio State comes across a strong defense, and its offense stalls out, working around a potential Thomas blockade — and rest assured, whatever higher seed Ohio State crosses paths with in the early rounds will make sure to lock down Thomas — could be the difference between advancing and a disappointing early exit. If Aaron Craft can be the offensive safety valve the Buckeyes need, then great. I’m just not convinced, even after today’s offensive brilliance, that he can for four or five straight do-or-die Tournament games over the next couple weeks. His career offensive work to date says otherwise.
  2. Ohio State and Michigan State are Sweet Sixteen Locks. Book it. There are a handful of traits that distinguish a seasoned NCAA Tournament team. Strong guard play is a big help. Coordinated team-oriented defense is as effective and portable as any group characteristic. Ohio State and Michigan State have both in spades, but that’s not all that makes the Buckeyes and Spartans two of the more dangerous low-seeds in this year’s field. What about coaching? Tom Izzo and Thad Matta tighten the screws March like few other sideline bosses around the country. Leadership? Aaron Craft marshals his charges, on both ends of the floor, better than most floor leaders on any team in the country; Keith Appling and Derrick Nix are an extension of Izzo’s composed toughness. Not only do these teams have all the obvious physical and tactical marks of championship contenders, the intangible credentials are plainly evident. For all the momentum and crowd advantages afforded to home teams in the Big Ten this season, make no mistake: MSU and OSU’s prowess is just as devastating on neutral courts. All of which makes the above claim not only credible but extremely hard to impugn. With the acknowledged anonymity of seeding and matchups, on their own merits OSU and MSU are teams you won’t regret reserving more than a couple spots for in your office pool bracket.
  3. I can’t Wait For Sunday. The first semifinal of the day continued Wisconsin’s remarkable 12-game winning streak against Indiana, and if you caught a glimpse of the Badgers’ clinical dismantling of the Hoosiers’ top-ranked effeiciency offense, you saw a Wisconsin team playing its best basketball of the season at the perfect time. Wisconsin is, inarguably, peaking in March — which is pretty much what every team would like to be able to say with at least some measure of honesty at this point of this season. And for as unassailable as Mike Brueswitz and Ben Brust and Ryan Evans look right now, Ohio State enters Sunday’s final only barely trailing Wisconsin’s imposing form. Craft will counter Badgers point guard Traevon Jackson at the point of attack. Evans will batter Thomas on the block, on offense and defense, in equal doses. Bo Ryan will crouch on the sideline, deadpanning, almost incredulously, as his team’s esteemed yet aesthetically-opposed system clogs Ohio State’s offense and installs a slow, shotclock-milking, industrious style of play. To their credit, the Buckeyes are just as capable of bringing home the conference tournament crown. For one, Ohio State’s defensive strength and apparent perimeter scoring complement, Aaron Craft, will test Wisconsin in ways Michigan and Indiana could not. The Buckeyes are slowly, if only minimally, attempting to reduce their reliance on Thomas. But maybe the biggest reason this game shapes up to be one of the most entertaining in a conference that’s produced tantalizing contests all season is the Buckeyes’ defense. Few teams are locking down opponents like Ohio State right now, and with a league tournament title in the balance, that defensive strength will clash with Wisconsin’s foolproof D to conjure up a delectable Big Ten showdown.

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With Kentucky Loss, SEC Fan Apathy For Basketball Exposed Again

Posted by David Changas on March 16th, 2013

David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report while covering the SEC Tournament in Nashville this weekend.

You’ve heard the saying, “If you build it, they will come.” When it comes to Kentucky fans and the SEC Tournament, it goes more like this: “Wherever you hold it, they will come.” Everyone knows that the Wildcats have struggled all season with almost an entirely new team, and chances are, they will miss out on the NCAA Tournament. But if you happened to be in downtown Nashville Friday evening, you would think John Calipari’s team was a prime contender for the national championship. For Friday’s blowout loss to Vanderbilt, whose campus is two miles from Bridgestone Arena, the SEC Tournament drew its largest crowd of the weekend, and of the 18,000+ in attendance, at least 15,000 were part of the “Blue Mist,” the affectionate name given to Wildcat fans who take over whatever city the annual extravaganza is being held in. The Commodores would have felt more at home if the game had been in Rupp Arena, not that it was evident from their play.

uk fans nashville

Kentucky’s surprising ouster from this tournament was not only bad for the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, which was looking forward to a St. Patrick’s Day weekend with thousands of Wildcat fans in town, but it once again brought to light an embarrassing issue for the SEC.  Bridgestone Arena had plenty of empty seats for Saturday’s semifinals, and Sunday’s championship likely will be no different.  Mike Slive has made more money for this league since he took over as commissioner in 2002 than you can count. He’s overseen expansion into Texas and Missouri, massive television contracts, and rumor has it that he’s on the verge of announcing the formation of the SEC Network, expected to launch in August 2014.  But make no mistake: That money has been made because of football. It is the cash cow of college sports in every league, but there’s no question that the pigskin is more important to the SEC than any other. And there’s no clearer of example of that than the conference’s dominance of the BCS, which it was won seven consecutive times.

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Rushed Reactions: North Carolina 79, Maryland 76

Posted by mpatton on March 16th, 2013

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Matt Patton is an ACC microsite writer. He filed this report after the ACC Tournament semifinal between North Carolina and Maryland on Saturday afternoon.

Three Key Takeaways:

Turgeon sounded as positive as ever, despite his team's loss.

Turgeon sounded as positive as ever, despite his team’s loss.

  1. Maryland Looked NCAA Good: This hasn’t been the case most of the year, but Maryland looked like an NCAA tournament team this weekend. The past couple of weeks, the Terrapins have looked much better. They’ve improved as much as any group in this league other than possibly Boston College. After the game, Mark Turgeon heaped the praise on Nick Faust, but credit also goes to the more active Alex Len and Dez Wells. Turgeon’s team — known to be very turnover prone — only finished with 10 turnovers against a very active defensive team (Faust, Pe’Shon Howard and Seth Allen combined for three between them). This team may not make the Big Dance, but there’s a lot to be positive about in College Park going forward.
  2. North Carolina Rebounding Struggles: The biggest concern people should have coming out of the game about the Tar Heels is one that will certainly rear its head against Miami. North Carolina couldn’t keep Maryland off the offensive glass. Despite only a 13-9 advantage on the offensive glass, the Terrapins owned a remarkable 24-4 advantage in second-chance points. Charles Mitchell had three offensive rebounds in 12 minutes. Jake Layman added two in 14 minutes. Len added three more. That could kill North Carolina against a team as big as Miami.
  3. Layman’s Reduced Role: After playing most of the game against Duke and acting as the Ryan Kelly stopper, Jake Layman saw his role dramatically reduced (even after starting) against North Carolina. Mark Turgeon turned to Logan Aronhalt instead, looking for another shooter and not needing Layman’s size. However the shift showcased Maryland’s youthful depth. Not only can the Terrapins execute hockey-style front line changes with Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell, they have the ability to adapt their backcourt as well.

Star of the Game: Reggie Bullock deserves a ton of credit. He shut down Dez Wells for much of the game with terrific defense, and ended up tied as North Carolina’s leading scorer with 15 points on 10 shots, four assists and no turnovers. Bullock is the best player North Carolina has on both ends of the floor. He’s a ballhawk on defense and the most consistent shooter on the roster. The only thing missing from Bullock’s game is the attitude that he needs to shoot more and take over games. 

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