Circle of March, Louisville Edition (Animated)

Posted by rtmsf on April 11th, 2013

The finality of it all hits sometime around Wednesday evening after the National Championship game. What, no college hoops to look forward to this weekend? Just NBA Draft announcements and the coaching carousel from now until the first heat of summer? That’s right. On March 5, we began our annual foray into the Circle of March with 310 teams pursusing a shot at the title. After 35 days of fascinating and compelling elimination basketball, we were left with only one outfit still standing. The Louisville Cardinals are your 2013 National Champions, a group as deserving as they are engaging. It’s time for the CoM to retire for another year…

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Team Eliminated From National Title Contention (04.08.13)

  • Michigan
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Look at That: Michigan-Louisville Saved a “Terrible” College Basketball Season

Posted by Chris Johnson on April 9th, 2013

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Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Conclusions are designed to summarize. They are added on the ends of books to pithily sum the events of previous chapters. They tie together loose ends, pull things together. Everything falls in line, any earlier doubts crystallized into a clear and concise synopsis. Everything makes sense. When it doesn’t – that’s when you question, when you wonder, when you’re truly flabbergasted by the events unfolding in front of you.

That was the feeling I got Monday night watching one of the most insane first half performances of any national championship game in any season in any level of competitive basketball. Spike Albrecht blew my mind. Yours, too: In the matter of 16 minutes, Albrecht – called into action after National Player Of The Year Award-gathering point guard Trey Burke picked up a sketchy second foul – scored 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting and 4-of-4 from beyond the arc. He entered the game at a precarious time for Michigan, what with their floor leader and undisputed best player sent to the bench, and when he left, Albrecht was a legend.

An enormous burst of energy from Albrecht gave michigan a huge jolt in the first half (Getty Images).

An enormous burst of energy from Albrecht gave michigan a huge jolt in the first half (Getty Images).

It didn’t stop there. Louisville responded – check that. National semifinal hero Luke Hancock responded with a ridiculous four threes on four consecutive possessions, all launched from the same general right-wing location, each purer than the one preceding. At the end of 20 minutes, two teams went to the locker room separated by one point. It was one half of basketball, and the nation had already enjoyed quite enough excitement for one night – more excitement than this college basketball season, this no-dominant-team, down-tempo, micromanaged, low-standard-of-play, bring-back-the-good-old-days season provided over five months of games.

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The running theme in college hoops circles these days goes a little something like this: The sport is irredeemably destroyed, all the way down to its most basic components – team unity, player motivation, coaching greed and, my personal favorite, parity. As if a relatively equal playing field, and a complementary absence of a Kentucky 2012-level alpha dog, is such a bad thing. As if competitive basketball between two evenly-matched outfits on national television in an arena packed 75,000-strong is a detestable element of the game we’ve come to accept, a sign of deteriorating talent and viewability?

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Louisville 82, #4 Michigan 76

Posted by rtmsf on April 9th, 2013

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RTC is reporting from the Final Four in Atlanta, Georgia, this weekend.

Five Key Takeaways.

Kevin Ware Gives the L Wearing One of the Championship Nets

Kevin Ware Gives the L Wearing One of the Championship Nets

  1. They Did It For Ware, But They Were Going to Do It Anyway. Louisville was the best team this season, and they played like teams that are the best teams typically do. No matter what Rick Pitino says about how the NCAA Tournament field was wide open this year, the Cardinals had the appropriate toughness and ability on both ends of the floor to successfully handle any type of opponent. In both Final Four games this weekend, his team came back from double-figure deficits, and they did so by avoiding any natural tendency to panic on the big stage and having the confidence in unlikely heroes to step up when called upon. It was Luke Hancock and Chane Behanan tonight. It was Tim Henderson and Hancock on Saturday night. Russ Smith was the star of the first four games of the Dance. Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng have certainly had their moments. Even Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear have stepped up when needed. The Cards ran off 17 games in a row after a wild five-overtime defeat at Notre Dame on February 9, and 20 of 21 since late January. The only real question mark with respect to this team was what might happen if the starting backcourt pair of Siva and Smith were both having bad offensive nights — like, perhaps if the pair combined for 15-of-57 (26.3 percent) in back-to-back games at the Final Four? The Cards had the answer all along — a shooter by the name of Luke Hancock (11-of-15) who would make up for what they were lacking on that end. Well played, Louisville.
  2. Welcome to the Atlanta Gun Show.  In all our many years of watching college basketball, we’re not sure we’ve ever seen a player knock down four consecutive bombs in the way that Michigan’s Spike Albrecht did followed by an opposing player answer with four consecutive bombs in the way that Luke Hancock did. Hancock’s were more rapid-fire than Albrecht’s in that they came literally over a two-minute span to get the Cards back into the game, but Albrecht’s bombing may have actually had a bit of a stagnation effect on the rest of his teammates. With Albrecht playing so well offensively, John Beilein elected to rest his NPOY starting point guard, Trey Burke, for 14 minutes of the first half, and although it’s tough to argue with a Michigan lead taken into halftime, it seemed as if the other major (and necessary) contributors — Glenn Robinson III, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Nik Stauskus — were having difficulty finding their spots. The Albrecht Show was great theater in the Georgia Dome this evening, but it may have had a negative effect for Michigan in the long term by not allowing Burke to facilitate his team better.
  3. Why Didn’t Michigan Foul Sooner? With 52 seconds left in the game, Michigan was only down four points but had stepped on the baseline on a rebound to give the Cards a full shot clock again. At the time the Wolverines only had five team fouls. They allowed 15 full seconds to run off the clock before Jon Horford gave one for the team’s sixth foul. Then Michigan allowed another eight ticks to expire before fouling Luke Hancock with 29 seconds remaining to send him to the line for the bonus. When John Beilein was asked about this decision (or lack thereof) to not foul afterward, he said, “I thought we were in the 1-and-1. That was a coaching error.” The gasps of shock were heard throughout the Twitter-verse… how he couldn’t have known the number of team fouls they had seemed borderline ludicrous. It says here that Beilein knew exactly how many fouls there were — he’s too smart and too good of a coach to miss that — but for some reason his players did not follow his instructions precisely in the execution of whom and when to foul — so he’s simply covering for their mistakes. At the end of the analysis, it’s reasonable to still say that the mistake is completely his fault, and you’d be right — but we’re not buying the concept that a coach as accomplished as Beilein made such an egregious error in the closing minute of a National Championship game without more evidence to support it.
  4. A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats. We’ve said this many times before this year, but Louisville HAD to win this championship to validate its program as a national powerhouse in contrast to the monolith that resides 70 miles east in Lexington. Nobody on the Cardinals would address the topic, but it goes without saying that Louisville’s “little brother” status in the Commonwealth of Kentucky is a persistent pain in the rear of the Louisville program. Duke became great because Coach K put Dean Smith’s North Carolina program directly in his crosshairs in the mid-1980s; Kentucky’s recent success under John Calipari has put the pressure on Rick Pitino and the Louisville players to counter the Wildcats’ momentum in order to stay relevant. Everyone knows what kind of recruiting class UK is bringing in next season — at worst, the 2013-14 Wildcats are likely to be like the 2010 John Wall/DeMarcus Cousins group; at best, like the 2012 Anthony Davis/Michael Kidd-Gilchrist unit. Louisville knew all too well that this year’s team, with an experienced, tough and talented mix of multi-functional players, was going to be the Cards’ best chance in a while to stem the blue and white tide rising all around them. Rick Pitino, having coached at both schools, is no dummy — he and his team weren’t going to waste this opening.
  5. Were We Not Entertained? For our money, this was the most entertaining National Championship game since the monster 1999 battle between Connecticut and Duke. (2008 Memphis-Kansas was fun, but missed free throws by the Tigers down the stretch spoiled it). The first half alone was one of the most entertaining 20 minutes of high-level basketball that we’ve ever encountered, and although Michigan didn’t stay tight enough with the Cards to produce a monumental finish, the up-and-down high-flying nature of the game was still outstanding throughout. Consider this: The best offense in the country lost despite hitting 52 percent of its shots and making eight threes; the best defense in the country won despite giving up those numbers and only causing a relatively low 12 turnovers. It was a contrast of styles wherein Louisville had to win an offensive-minded game and Michigan had to manage to find enough stops, and both teams performed admirably in pushing back against the other team’s strengths. This was a masterful finish to a wide open and often-bizarre college basketball season.

Star of the Game. Luke Hancock, Louisville. The Final Four Most Outstanding Player had another great game tonight, scoring 22 points and handing out three assists while knocking down all five of his attempts from beyond the arc. He saved his best for last, as his two games here in Atlanta represented his two highest regulation scoring outputs of the entire season. And the timeliness of his four first-half bombs brought the Cards from an 11-point deficit to just a single point right before the intermission. Again, it’s questionable whether Louisville could have won this game without Hancock’s huge and timely performance.

Pitino Interview. After the game, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino discussed his team’s long winning streak to the title, the greatness of the game, election to the Hall of Fame, and winning two championships.

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Circle of March: Vol. XX

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2013

And after 35 days of the Circle of March, we’re down to just two schools — Louisville and Michigan. We’ll leave it at this for now, but just a reminder to check back on Tuesday for the animated version of the CoM as we narrowed the competitors down from 310 possibilities to just a single champion. Enjoy Monday Night.

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Teams Eliminated From National Title Contention (04.06.13)

  • Syracuse
  • Wichita State
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National Championship Game Analysis

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 8th, 2013

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Brian Otskey is an RTC Contributor and filed this preview of tonight’s game for all the marbles. Follow him on Twitter @botskey.

The National Championship Game: #1 Louisville (34-5) vs. #4 Michigan (31-7) – 9:23 PM ET on CBS. Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr will have the call live from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia.

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After five months and 5,744 regular season, conference tournament and NCAA tournament games, the college basketball season comes down to one game on one night in Atlanta. Top overall seed Louisville enters the game as the favorite but by no means will this be a walk in the park. The Cardinals are in search of their third national championship this evening and their first since 1986. On the other side, Michigan is looking for its second national title, having won it all once before in 1989. It is somewhat hard to believe given the strength of the two leagues over the years but this is the first national championship game between Big East and Big Ten schools since the aforementioned Wolverines held off Seton Hall in overtime to win it all at the Kingdome in Seattle 24 years ago.

Louisville has now won 15 straight games after surviving a major scare from Wichita State on Saturday night. In fact, the Cardinals have won 18 of their past 19 games since a three game losing streak in January and the one loss was in five overtimes to Notre Dame. This game features the nation’s best defense (Louisville) and the most efficient offensive team in the land (Michigan) going head to head in what should be a terrific basketball game. For the Cardinals to win, they must attack the rim and use their defense to fuel their offense. Rick Pitino’s team is no slouch offensively (#5 in efficiency), but its offense is largely predicated off its ability to create live ball turnovers and score in transition. Louisville is lethal in transition but not great in the half court unless it attacks the basket, either with its guards off the bounce or great athletes like Montrezl Harrell and Chane Behanan working the baseline and the low block. In Saturday’s national semifinal, Wichita State forced Louisville into way too many jump shots for Pitino’s liking and it almost cost the Cardinals dearly. The Shockers were rattled by a series of turnovers late in the second half and lost the game because of it. Louisville’s ball pressure is the best in the country and it starts with Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. Both play the passing lanes so well but Smith in particular is among the nation’s best defenders. After it scores, Louisville’s full court pressure takes full effect. The big question in this game will be whether the Cardinals (#2 in forcing turnovers) can turn over the Wolverines (#1 in ball protection) enough to fuel their offense. When Michigan played VCU in the round of 32, the Wolverines obliterated Shaka Smart’s “havoc.” There is, however, one major difference between VCU and Louisville. The Rams are not a great defensive team in the half court while Louisville plays the best half court defense of any team in America. Siva has to slow down Trey Burke, who picked up just about every imaginable award this week. Michigan showed just how good of a team it is by winning its semifinal game against Syracuse without its star sophomore point guard being a major factor. While it’s fair to say Michigan has never seen a defense like this all season long, Louisville hasn’t seen an offense with as many weapons as this one. When Michigan has the ball, the battle between the best offense and the best defense could be one of epic proportions.

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Rick Pitino a Win Away From an Unprecedented Two Championships at Different Schools

Posted by Chris Johnson on April 8th, 2013

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Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

If you’re under the impression your life is generally going in the right direction, that you’re happy with your family and friends and place of employment, allow me to invite you to reassess: Rick Pitino is absolutely loving life these days. Wait — Don’t you mean will love? As in, if his Louisville team manages to top Michigan in tonight’s NCAA Tournament National Championship game?. Yes and no. A national championship would certainly lift Pitino’s spirits, just as it would Michigan coach John Beilein’s. But there are plenty of other reasons why Pitino could lose to Michigan, return home to a mildly disappointed fan base and still head into the offseason with a demonstratively optimistic grin.

One more win Monday night will put Pitino in exlusive company (US Presswire).

One more win Monday night will put Pitino in exclusive company (US Presswire).

First and foremost, in a storyline shrouded by officiating scandal and abusive coaching behavior, is Pitino receiving word over the weekend that he will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. There’s also the personal matter of his son, Richard Pitino, the beneficiary of Minnesota AD Norwood Teague taking a huge leap in coaching faith by hiring the younger Pitino after just one season at FIU. An alternative sporting exploit only adds to Pitino’s mini golden-age – his horse, Goldencents, won the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday, thus making it one of the contenders in the Kentucky Derby, horse racing’s marquee annual event. All of those accomplishments are worth talking about, and Pitino will have an entire offseason to appreciate each in due measure. But the biggest prize of them all, one no other coach has ever accomplished in college basketball history, is something not all fans will enjoy the same way. In fact, one half of one hoops-obsessed state will absolutely detest what Pitino is on the precipice of claiming Monday night. If Louisville beats Michigan, Pitino will have become the first coach to win national championships at two different schools.

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Unsung Stars Henderson, Albrecht, LeVert & Hancock Define Final Four Winners

Posted by Chris Johnson on April 7th, 2013

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Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

When people cite intangible qualities like “clutchness” and “savvy” and “composure,” the descriptions typically fall in line with the quantifiable aspects of a player’s game. Otherwise, the descriptions are casual characterizations of ultimately inexplicable qualities. False conceptions are generated, players are ridiculed – he’s no good in the clutch! He’s terrible in the locker room! – and this whole college basketball analysis thing degenerates into a free-for-all personality profiling exercise. I’m likewise reluctant to throw out loose generalizations about any player’s on-court traits, but there is one point I won’t begrudge – the best players should step up in big games. It’s difficult to define what “best” or “big” even means, quantitatively, but if you were to poll any official authority on college hoops about the definition of the terms, they’d point you directly to the two games played in the Georgia Dome last night. The Final Four is as big as it gets, and when last night’s games lay in the balance, waiting to be seized by each team’s starring individuals, something profoundly strange happened: many of those stars didn’t rise to the occasion.

The driving forces behind Louisville's second half run, Henderson and Hancock, pushed Louisville over the top Saturday night (AP Photo).

The driving forces behind Louisville’s second half run, Henderson and Hancock, pushed Louisville over the top Saturday night (AP Photo).

That’s not odd just because Michigan and Louisville have been sporting “Rise to the Occasion” Adidas warm up gear throughout Tournament play. It’s weird for other reasons, some of them more easy to understand than others. The players who couldn’t meet the demands of Saturday night’s spotlight – Trey Burke, Peyton Siva and Michael Carter-Williams, for starters – created a void of opportunity, which allowed some new faces to step up, greatly affect the outcome of the games and assume the leading roles otherwise dominated by their routinely starring teammates. It’s time to honor Saturday night’s less-heralded stars. Their seasons may not measure up to their household-name-recognizable teammates, but in many ways, the outcomes of last night’s games were the product of their routinely overlooked actions on the court.

Tim Henderson, Louisville. The only circumstance under which you could honestly describe Tim Henderson’s performance Saturday night as anything other than “remarkable” is if your name is actually Tim Henderson, and I’m not so sure even he knew he was capable of sparking the game-changing second half rally that lead Louisville past Wichita State in the national semifinal. True story: With the Cardinals trailing by 12 and the clocking slowly ticking into late second-half panic territory, Henderson buried two triples on consecutive possessions to cut the Cardinals’ deficit in half. Wichita State burned a timeout, the Louisville-half of the Georgia Dome crowd reached full throat, and everything snowballed from there. Louisville’s press started forcing turnovers. Wichita State was suddenly crumbling as the momentum shifted in the Cardinals’ favor. It was a major turning point in a second half that, had Henderson not intervened, may have ended just as it began, with the Shockers calmly deflecting Louisville’s defense and matching the Cardinals blow-for-blow and doing everything, almost everything, to knock off the No. 1 overall seed. Henderson stopped Wichita’s upset bid dead in its tracks.

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ATB: Final Four Edition

Posted by Chris Johnson on April 7th, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Tonight’s Lede. Four Entered, Two Remain. College basketball teams divide postseason accomplishments into two categories. There are national championships, the crowning light at the end of a season-long tunnel, and there are Final Fours, the penultimate step on the ladderer to net-cutting bliss. The paths teams take to reach these accomplishments vary. Some outfits dominate all the way through, much in the way Kentucky obliterated its 2012 regular season competition en route to a national championship. Others peak at the opportune moment. Still others are just downright inexplicable – hey 2011 Butler!. This year’s Final Four offered none of those extremes, but the characterizations were granted willingly all the same, starting with Wichita State’s Cinderella description; or the sudden realization that yeah, actually, Louisville is the “dominant” team existing in a year where the theme of “no dominant team” and “parity” was rammed down our throats to the weekly rhythm of AP Poll variance. Those liberal generalizations were put to the test Saturday night, and at the end, two teams were left standing, awaiting their shot at a national championship, one step away from eternal hoops immortalization. It’s the Final Four, you know the deal – need I continue and longer?

Your Watercooler moment. Wolverines Survive Syracuse’s 2-3.

Another strong performance in an overall brilliant Tournament from McGary helped Michigan break through Saturday night (AP Photo).

Another strong performance in an overall brilliant Tournament from McGary helped Michigan break through Saturday night (AP Photo).

It took 10 tries for John Beilein to beat one of the greatest coaches of all time, but when it finally happened, the one positive result – Saturday night’s five-point Final Four win over Syracuse – made every ounce of previous negative history feel like a distant memory. Beilein’s Wolverines did just enough over 40 minutes to topple the Tournament’s hottest and most challenging defense to date, and the next step (Lousville) involves an equally perplexing defensive puzzle. Mitch McGary stood tall amongst Syracuse’s unrivaled length and defensive pressure, and in the end, his passing out of the high post and rebounding efforts (12) made all the difference. When McGary wasn’t on the court, the Orange extended their zone and closed out on shooters and consumed any and all free space in the paint. Michigan’s offense stagnated, and just when the situation called for player-of-the-year-award-hoarder Trey Burke to put the game out of reach, his cold shooting (1-for-8) only exacerbated the situation. Michigan deciphered Syracuse’s 2-3 riddle despite Burke playing one of his worst games of the season, but against a team that mixes similarly frightening defensive prowess with a more competent offense (at least in this Tournament), Burke will need to rediscover the all-purpose talents that made him the best player in the country throughout the regular season.

Before Michigan, the nation’s No. 1 efficiency offense, begins to even think about taking on Louisville, the nation’s No. 1 efficiency defense, the Wolverines can bask in the two decades-awaited opportunity to win a national championship. There were plenty of reasons to dismiss Michigan towards the end of the regular season. Its youth and lack of attention to defensive details were glaring flaws. Burke wasn’t good enough to carry everyone on his back. There was no reliable inside scoring presence. The Wolverines have answered all of those questions in a thrilling Tournament run that began with an opening-round slog against South Dakota State and added the latest unlikely chapter Saturday night. And with just one more stepping stone at hand, a strength-on-strength battle that shapes up as one of the most intriguing stylistic bouts we’ve seen all season, Michigan is well-suited to win its first national championship since 1989. All the regular season doubt has long been rendered misguided; Michigan’s here because it deserves to be. Few actually expected the Wolverines to reach this point, but now that they’re here, and McGary has turned into an All American-level star, and Michigan is winning games with Burke scoring two points, every conceivable outcome is officially on the table Monday night.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Michigan 61, #4 Syracuse 56

Posted by rtmsf on April 6th, 2013

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RTC is reporting from the Final Four in Atlanta, Georgia, this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

The Wolverines Survive and Advance Against Syracuse

The Wolverines Survive and Advance Against Syracuse

  1. Michigan Attacked the Zone, Sorta. As well as anyone has to this point, at least. And, really, only in the first half at that. In what became something of a night of unsung stars, the Wolverines got four threes from Spike Albrecht and Caris Levert in the first stanza, helping to make up for cold halves from their typical gunners, Nik Stauskus, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway (2-of-11 in the first half). That trio didn’t get any better in the second half, finishing with a combined 4-of-18 night from beyond the arc, but the real key to beating the zone was the play of Mitch McGary in the high post. Michigan mostly looked offensively lost and tentative when McGary was out of the game, but even when he was on the court, the second half was mostly spent hanging on to a lead rather than aggressively trying to expand it. In other words, Michigan did just enough just enough times to beat the zone, and that’s still significantly more than the other teams not named Louisville have been able to do against it in the last three weeks.
  2. So… About Those Free Throws. Michigan should have won this game comfortably after taking a five-point lead and the ball into the final 1:10 of the game. Regrettably, the Wolverines missed five of its gimmes down the stretch (six, if you include one of McGary’s attempts that didn’t count) and that, combined with Michigan’s lack of timeouts (using the last one at 1:51 remaining), left a cavernous-sized opening available for the Orange. Ultimately, Syracuse had two chances in the final 30 seconds to either tie or take the lead and a questionable Brandon Triche offensive foul and an even more questionable decision by Trevor Cooney put an end to that mess in short order. Michigan certainly put an exclamation point on the notion of survive and advance.
  3. No Shows. Syracuse was unlikely to win this game without another sterling performance from its oft-schizophrenic point guard, Michael Carter-Williams, and the prophecy came true. MCW delivered a real stinker of a two-point, five-turnover, five-foul game, which was too much for CJ Fair (22 points, six rebounds) and Brandon Triche (11 points, eight assists) to compensate for themselves. On a similar note, the Michigan starting backcourt was mostly awful as well, hitting only 5-of-29 from the field and contributing a total output of 20 points tonight. But special and equitable mention needs to go to everybody’s NPOY Trey Burke, who played a solid floor game (four assists, five rebounds), but couldn’t hit the broad side of a Georgia barn (1-of-8 from the field) in the dome tonight. It’s unlikely that he’ll have two awful shooting games in a row, so that’s something to keep an eye on heading into Monday night’s game with Louisville.

Star of the Game. Mitch McGary, Michigan. No other choice here. He only had 10 points, but his 12 rebounds and six assists were absolutely vital to Michigan’s fortune tonight. Five of those rebounds were on the offensive end, no doubt contributing to the 14 second-chance points that the Wolverines were able to put down against the Syracuse zone. McGary’s six assists led to another 15 points, so if you do the math, you quickly understand that McGary had a hand in more than half of Michigan’s points tonight. And they really needed just about every one of them to hang on.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Louisville 72, #9 Wichita State 68

Posted by rtmsf on April 6th, 2013

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RTC is reporting from the Final Four in Atlanta, Georgia, this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Luke Hancock's Game of His Life Ensured Louisville Advanced Tonight

Luke Hancock’s Game of His Life Ensured Louisville Advanced Tonight

  1. The Game Was Ugly, But Louisville Can Do Ugly. One reason the Cards are so difficult to match up against is that they are just as comfortable playing an ugly, foul-ridden, poor-shooting train wreck of a game as they are an up-and-down virtuoso performance. This was the former. In the first half, the Cards allowed Wichita to force them to settle for long-range jumpers to the tune of 4-of-13 with only seven field goal attempts coming from two-point range. By the time Louisville had fallen behind 12 points just shy of midway through the second half, those numbers looked even worse — 18 shots from three and only 11 from within the arc. Only when Louisville started driving the ball inside to a more equitable split (the Cards finished the game with a 25/24 ratio) did openings appear for the only hot shooters on the floor, Luke Hancock and Tim Henderson. 
  2. Tim Henderson and Luke Hancock Saved the Day. Speaking of those two, there’s no question that their contributions on nights where Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng couldn’t make shots (they combined for a 1-of-10 performance) saved the Cardinals’ hides tonight. It wasn’t so much as the volume of scoring — Hancock ended up with 20 points, while Henderson had six — but it was the when that mattered most. After the Shockers’ lead ballooned to 12 points, it was Henderson who nailed consecutive threes to bring the lead back to a much more manageable six very quickly. If Wichita had pushed its lead up to 15 or more at that point, it’s questionable whether the Cards would have found enough offense to come back in this one. After Henderson’s pair of bombs, it was Hancock’s turn. He followed up with a pair of layups and a three, ensuring that the Louisville push was for real, and then not only gave the Cards its first lead in a long time with a three at the 6:30 mark, but essentially sealed the game with another one at two minutes. He also managed to get his hands on some balls for deflections and steals, but the key point is that 13 of his 20 points came in the last 12 minutes of the game. More on his Final Four-saving performance below.
  3. Wichita Was One Bad Stretch From the Unthinkable. For much of this game, the appearance on the floor was that Gregg Marshall’s group was the better team. Their ability to not fall victim to the Louisville pressure was outstanding for the majority of the contest, mishandling the ball only five times in the first 33-plus minutes of action. Once Louisville started to finally get some shots to go down, Wichita got rattled for the first time all game, turning it over four times in the next two minutes and three more times down the stretch. It’s certainly not worthwhile to delve too much into hypotheticals, but Wichita had the exact game plan and execution it needed to win this one. Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng were offensive nightmares. Russ Smith was solid, but high-volume in his attack. Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan weren’t going to beat the Shockers tonight. It really took a totally couple of unexpected efforts from Hancock and Henderson to make the difference here in Atlanta, or it says here that Wichita would have been playing on Monday night.

Star of the Game. Luke Hancock, Louisville. Certainly didn’t have that one on the SOTG pool, and I’m not sure anyone else did either. As noted above, it wasn’t just his overall numbers — 20 points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals, on 6-of-9 from the field, including 3-of-5 from distance — it was that so much of his offensive effort was exactly when Louisville needed a player to step up. Hancock averaged 7.4 PPG this season and only hit the 20-point mark once all season (22 against Notre Dame in 46 minutes of action).

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.05.13 Edition

Posted by WCarey on April 5th, 2013

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The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.

Michigan

  • Michigan point guard Trey Burke‘s postseason award tour continued Friday when he was named as the winner of the Wooden Award.
  • Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr. writes on his shoes before every game to honor friends and family who have passed away.
  • Michigan sharpshooter Nik Stauskas entered Sunday’s Elite Eight game against Florida in a tough shooting slump – he was just 2-of-16 from deep in his last four games – but the freshman found his stroke in the team’s victory over the Gators, finishing 6-of-6 from deep. With Stauskas in a groove from the three-point line, Michigan’s offense has yet another dimension entering Saturday’s game against Syracuse.
  • Throughout his 35-year coaching career, Michigan coach John Beilein has been quite meticulous in his game preparation and that has not changed this season, as the veteran coach is still a stickler for all the details.
  • Michigan senior captain Josh Bartelstein has not made much of an impact for the Wolverines on the court, but his leadership off the court has been quite significant for the youthful squad.

Syracuse

Louisville
  • Louisville coach Rick Pitino is expected to be selected for enshrinement into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. The official announcement will come Monday at 11 A.M.
  • Is there a bit of the Big East in the way Wichita State plays defense? Louisville coach Rick Pitino thinks so. He described the Shockers defense, as “Marquette on steroids.”
  • Louisville sophomore forward Wayne Blackshear was named the recipient of the Elite 89 Award for the 2013 Final Four. The Elite 89 Award is presented to the player with the highest-cumulative grade point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA’s championships.
  • Former Louisville assistant coach Ralph Willard will be collecting a dinner from Cardinals coach Rick Pitino in the future, as Pitino once wagered a meal with Willard that dynamic guard Russ Smith will never be a prime time player for Louisville.
  • Louisville swingman Luke Hancock transferred to the program from George Mason after Jim Larranaga was hired by Miami in 2011. Hancock’s college career was almost entirely different, as Larranaga almost passed on offering a scholarship to him.

Wichita State

  • In the current culture of conference realignment in collegiate athletics, Wichita State has remained the rock of the Missouri Valley Conference.
  • Before arriving in Wichita, Shockers coach Gregg Marshall had a very successful tenure as the head coach at Winthrop. Marshall’s success at Winthrop led to him getting the Wichita State job and the rest has been history.
  • Rob Dauster of NBC’s CollegeBasketballTalk writes that Wichita State will benefit from the absence of Louisville guard Kevin Ware. With Ware sidelined, Louisville will have to turn to seldom-used walk-on Tim Henderson to play a much bigger role in Saturday’s game.
  • Wichita State forward Carl Hall has overcome a heart problem, known as neurocardiogenic syncope, to become a standout on the Shockers’ run to the Final Four.
  • Wichita State guard Ron Baker is from the small town of Scott City, Kansas. While Baker is still a small-town kid, his impact on the Shockers during their tournament run has been quite large.
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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Final Four

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 5th, 2013

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Two games to get to Monday night… here are our breakdowns.

#1 Louisville vs. #9 Wichita State – National Semifinal (at Atlanta, GA) – 6:09 PM ET on CBS

Pitino is Inching Closer to His Second Title (AP)

Pitino is Inching Closer to His Second Title (AP)

Let’s get this out of the way right off the top – Louisville is the heavy favorite. Vegas calls them a 10-point favorite and KenPom.com agrees. They’re on a 14-game winning streak and have won those games by an average of 18 points. In a season where for the most part there has been no clear-cut favorite all year long, we certainly have a clear-cut favorite now. If some team other than the Cardinals are cutting down the nets on Monday night, it will be a surprise. So, with that said, let’s ask how Wichita State can keep this game close? First, it begins with playing the type of defense it has played in the tournament so far (0.94 PPP allowed in their four games). In particular, the Shockers have caused trouble for some big-time guards, limiting Tray Woodall of Pitt to what he called his worst game ever, harassing Kevin Pangos into 6-of-17 shooting, holding La Salle’s perimeter players to a combined 14-of-47 shooting, and making Aaron Craft a non-factor offensively. If guys like Malcolm Armstead, Tekele Cotton, Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker can turn in a similar performance and limit potentially erratic guards like Russ Smith and Peyton Siva (who, for instance, in Louisville’s last loss, combined to shoot just 5-of-25 from the field in a five-overtime loss) to poor shooting nights, that is step one for the Shockers.

Step two is having the Shocker “big” guys, Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall (both just 6’8”), stay out of foul trouble and stay effective against the likes of Gorgui Dieng inside. Hall and Early have both been foul prone this season, but on a team without a ton of skilled depth up front, Gregg Marshall will need the services of those two for the bulk of the game. But not only are the Cardinals a potent offensive team, they are the nation’s best defensive team – by a long shot. In the KenPom era (dating back to 2003), they’re the only team with an adjusted defensive rating below 82.0, essentially equivalent to allowing less than 0.82 points per possession. And while Wichita has had good success offensively in this tournament (1.09 PPP), they are about to face a whole different animal. The good news is, they just got done withstanding the pressure defense of Craft, one of the nation’s best perimeter defenders. The bad news is, Smith is even better. And he’s paired with Siva who is also one of the nation’s best on-ball defenders. And should Wichita escape the perimeter pressure and get the ball inside, either on the bounce or on the pass, there’s Dieng waiting for them as a potent shot-blocker. For Wichita to have success against that defense, they’ll need to have guards like Baker, Armstead and VanVleet to connect from deep, and they’ll need Early to be able to bring his man out of the middle and knock down some perimeter shots as well, essentially softening up the Cardinal interior for exploitation later in the game.

One bit of good news for the Shockers, with Dieng attempting to block almost every shot in the paint, the Cards don’t do a great job cleaning the defensive glass, while the Shockers are among the best in the nation at getting on the offensive boards; that trend will also have to continue for the Shockers to have a chance. So, those are a whole lot of ifs and buts. And we haven’t even mentioned potent Louisville weapons like Chane Behanan, Luke Hancock, Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear. The fact is, it is going to take a major confluence of events for the Shockers to stick around in this game. They’ve shown that they not only get great coaching, but they take that coaching well. And, as always, they’re going to play angry, so if you look up at the final media timeout and see the Shockers in the ball game, don’t be, well, shocked. But more likely the talent advantage that the Cardinals have slowly but surely wears Wichita down and Rick Pitino advances to his third national championship game.

The RTC Certified Pick: Louisville

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