Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 60, #8 Kentucky 54

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2014

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Rush the Court is covering the Final Four from Arlington, Texas, this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kevin Ollie is a First Time Participant and National Champion

Kevin Ollie is a First Time Participant and National Champion

  1. Shabazzketball. Shabazz Napier said after the game that he told his teammates back in a January home loss to Louisville — the first of three to the defending national champs, none of which were close — that he believed in his team and that they were going to make a run to eventually win the National Championship. While there’s no way to know if Napier is joshing us or simply retelling a tidbit that the team probably repeated many times during the season, the salient point is that Connecticut fulfilled the prophecy to once again raise the gold trophy for the fourth time in 16 seasons. The brash, cocksure point guard from the Boston area is the primary reason why. Napier’s 22 points (including four big threes), six rebounds, and three steals have become par for the course throughout Connecticut’s run to the title, but on a night when the team needed a first half lift because DeAndre Daniels was slow getting started, Napier’s 15 points allowed the Huskies to build an early cushion to put the pressure on Kentucky to make yet another second half comeback. The comeback happened twice, but each time that the Wildcats had whittled the lead down to one point, Napier had an answer. His first response was right out of the half, when he drove into the lane to earn two free throws (both makes, of course); the more important second instance was with six minutes remaining, when it appeared that UConn was wearing down and the Cats were surging forward. Napier put an end to that notion with a calm and accurate three-pointer to push the lead back up to four. After a subsequent Randle two and Giffey three, Kentucky never got closer than four points for the rest of the game. There aren’t many players these days who stick around long enough to win two national titles, and especially three years apart, but Napier has certainly proven that he belongs among the list of greats for his performances in March Madness.
  2. Kevin Ollie Bum Rushes the Tourney. The last time a coach won the national title in his first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the year was 1989 and Michigan’s brand-new head coach Steve Fisher led Glen Rice and friends on a magical run to victory. Kevin Ollie had a little more experience coming into this year’s Dance than Fisher was awarded some 25 years ago, but he should absolutely be commended for the belief that he instilled in his players and the resolve that they exhibited on the court during this Tournament. They beat teams bigger than them, more physical than them, deeper than them, better shooters than them, and more experienced than them. What you’re going to read about a lot in the next 24 hours is how it was UConn’s defensive commitment and resolve that won the school its fourth championship. While the Huskies played excellent defense in the gut-check games against the likes of Michigan State, Florida and Kentucky over the past 10 days (holding the three teams to 0.90, 0.93 and .90 points per possession), it was actually the hyper-efficiency of UConn’s offense that made the difference. Over the six-game NCAA Tournament run, Kevin Ollie’s team never dipped below a 1.00 PPP average (vs. Michigan State and Kentucky), and it maxed out with a necessary 1.24 PPP mark against St. Joseph’s and a 1.23 PPP mark against Iowa State. It’s not a true calculation because every game is different, but some back-0f-the-envelope math suggests that the Huskies averaged about 1.11 PPP in its six wins while holding opponents to 0.99 PPP on the other end. And it did so against five of KenPom’s top 20 teams, with the strange outlier the game against St. Joseph’s that UConn very well could have lost. Crazy.
  3. Kentucky’s Magical Run Ends One Game Short. This Kentucky basketball season was without question one of the strangest that we’ve ever experienced. The highs and lows of it were simply astonishing. From a preseason #1 ranking and at least mild entertainment of the idea of an unbeaten 40-0 season, to the harsh reality of non-conference losses to Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina, to head-scratching but not awful SEC losses to Arkansas, LSU and Florida, to end-of-season disasters vs. Arkansas in Rupp and on the road at South Carolina and Florida, to The Tweak before the SEC Tournament and a solid performance there, to the subsequent three weeks of phenomenal play — especially at the end of games against high-quality competition — that ran all the way to the verge of a National Championship. Life is stranger than fiction, and it certainly felt coming into tonight that all the jabbering about 1-and-done and right way/wrong way and the rest of the related nonsense surrounding John Calipari and how he runs his program was going to be finally put to rest. Alas, UConn had other ideas. Regardless of tonight’s outcome for the Wildcats, there’s absolutely no shame in a runner-up finish, and most Kentucky fans would have taken that in a heartbeat in early March. As for Calipari, this was without question one of his finest coaching jobs — he very nearly lost this team at the end of the season, but he was able to use his magic wand to get their attention, buy into his conceptual framework of team and selflessness, and damn near ran his team to another National Championship. Because of his recruiting prowess, he doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but he’s a top-five coach in this game no matter how you slice it.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 74, #2 Wisconsin 73

Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2014

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Rush the Court is covering the Final Four from Arlington, Texas, this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Aaron Harrison, Redux.

Aaron Harrison, Redux.

  1. Stone. Cold. Aaron. Harrison. Wow, just wow. Every time you think that these Cats have run out of lives, they just continue to make just enough plays, often in astonishing fashion, to survive and advance. One Wildcat in particular — freshman guard Aaron Harrison — has taken the notion of clutch to a whole new level. One week after drilling a long contested three to send the Wildcats to the Final Four, he drilled another from very near the same spot to push his team into a National Championship game that few would have anticipated several weeks ago. After the game, he said that he didn’t feel like he has a clutch gene, but we’d beg to differ. The fact of the matter is that Harrison, along with many of these Kentucky kids, are supremely confident in their gifts, which gives them the requisite swagger to both take and make these big shots.
  2. Calipari’s Tweak Has Worked. For any number of reasons, whatever Calipari and his staff were doing for the first three-quarters of this season only marginally worked. The Wildcats only had one five-game winning streak all season long, and that was from mid-November to early December against the likes of Robert Morris, UT-Arlington, Cleveland State, Eastern Michigan and Providence (average KenPom rank = #131). Kentucky’s current five-game winning streak includes wins over Kansas State, Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin (average KenPom rank = #13). Even accounting for a four-month lapse in time from those games, it’s not like the Wildcats set the world on fire in the SEC either, with a 12-6 league mark. Since the postseason began, though, Calipari has seemed to successfully remove the pressure from the heads of his kids by simplifying the game for each of them at an individual level and referring to sorcery and magic to keep the media at bay. No matter the reason, it’s worked and it’s still working. After all of the ups and downs throughout the season, Kentucky finds itself exactly in the position that many expected before the realities of a long and growth-filled regular season came to pass. Calipari is many, many things, but his best attribute is simply getting players to believe.
  3. Wisconsin is Crushed, But Has No Reason To Hang Its Head. The Badgers did everything required to win this game, as it held a two-point lead with six seconds left against a team running an isolation play for a mediocre shooter beyond the three-point line. In most scenarios, Bo Ryan’s team walks away with a win there and we’re not talking about the Wisconsin players being crushed (and they were absolutely heartbroken, make no mistake about that). But considering that Ryan’s program made the leap this season by getting to his first Final Four and eschewing some of the (deserving) reputation that the Badgers were a defense-only grind-it-out team, he is poised to start making these events more frequently. Hopefully tonight’s game, where the Badgers proved it could go toe to toe offensively with a boatload of NBA prospects, will help to combat some of that perception. Even better for Wisconsin, Ryan expects everyone except for Ben Brust back next season. Expect a top five national spot in the 2014-15 preseason polls for the Badgers.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 63, #1 Florida 53

Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2014

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Rush the Court is covering the Final Four from Arlington, Texas, this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Calhoun

Former Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun Was All Smiles After the Game

  1. Tale of Two First Halves. The tone for this game was set in the first half, with Florida running out to a seemingly dominant 16-4 lead with 10 minutes gone. At that time, the Gators looked nothing less than dominant on both ends of the floor — bigger, stronger, and methodically having their way with the Huskies. The problem was that the lead needed to be bigger than it was, because from the 8:49 point of the first half UConn closed to take a 25-22 halftime lead and kept it up to ultimately double up one of the nation’s best defensive teams by a margin of 59-37 the rest of the game. UConn did it by making some timely shots, of course — DeAndre Daniels’ pair of early threes in particular — but where the Huskies were really able to stifle the Gators was in completely shutting down Florida’s starting backcourt of Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier (3-of-12 FG for seven points). The backcourt duo had essentially taken turns leading Florida offensively through the South Region, but without either capable of getting anything going tonight, it was left to Patric Young (19/5) and Casey Prather (15/6) to carry the load. In a game where points were at a premium, the Gators’ defense wasn’t going to be able to manufacture enough to compensate for a rough 39 percent overall and 1-of-10 from three shooting performance.
  2. On Florida’s Go-To Guy. With 49 seconds remaining, the game was all but final when Florida’s senior leader, Scottie Wilbekin, shot a horrifically off three-point airball that caused a shot clock review. There were a couple of notable moments related to that miss. First, it iced the game for the Huskies and all of the Gators’ body language afterward clearly exhibited that fact. But it also served to illustrate why Florida spent all year gambling in its reliance on a crafty, steady, solid point guard like Wilbekin to become its bona fide go-to guy. Billy Donovan’s team had a magnificent college basketball season, ending a 30-game winning streak with a 36-3 record and a loss in the Final Four — there’s no shame anywhere in those numbers. But as he noted after tonight’s game, “Given our talent level, we played way better than our potential.” And he’s right, with Wilbekin as Exhibit A to that notion. The NCAA Tournament is a cruel mistress, and many players far better than him have been eliminated much earlier than the Final Four, but it’s really difficult for a really good collegian with no professional prospects to have so many good offensive performances in a row (against high-quality competition).
  3. The Huskies Won Without a Huge Night From #shabazzketball. So if you were told before the game that Shabazz Napier would have a pedestrian 12-point, six-assist performance in the Final Four, there’s no way that you pick the Huskies to win, right? That’s what is somewhat scary about how well some of the other UConn players are performing right now, particularly DeAndre Daniels. In a low-possession game (57), a quiet night from Napier is perfectly fine so long as Kevin Ollie also gets 11 points from Niels Giffey, 13 from Ryan Boatright, and 20 from Daniels, all coming in an efficient manner. What he can’t have is guys spraying wild shots all over the place, and I for one can’t remember more than a couple of questionable takes from Ollie’s group all night. The proof is in the pudding, too — the Huskies hit 77 percent of their foul shots, 61 percent of their twos, 41 percent of their threes, and lit up the Gators’ defense for 1.11 points per possession. That kind of full-team performance is how you beat #1 seeds.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 75, #2 Michigan 72

Posted by Walker Carey on March 30th, 2014

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 Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is RTC’s NCAA Midwest Regional Correspondent.
Three Key Takeaways.
  1. This was an unbelievable game. Just one week after Kentucky beat one-seed Wichita State in what, at the time, was considered to be the best game of the tournament, the Wildcats were once again locked in another epic. In a game that saw seven ties and three lead changes, both Kentucky and Michigan showcased some excellent basketball. The Wolverines exploded out of the gates and built a 10-point lead with 5:10 to play in the first half. The Wildcats then roared back to end the half on a 15-5 run to tie the game at the break. Soon after the second half began, it was Kentucky that stormed out the gates, but Michigan had an answer for every Wildcats run. Kentucky led by seven with 6:31 to play, but the resiliency of John Beilein‘s squad was on display, as it stayed the course and eventually tied the game at 72 with 27 seconds to play. From there, the game belonged to Kentucky freshman guard Aaron Harrison, who hit a very difficult and contested three-pointer with 2.6 seconds remaining to give the Wildcats the 75-72 lead (which turned out to be the final score).
  2. Marcus Lee was a revelation. Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Julius Randle, and James Young are the Kentucky freshmen that everyone knew about and with good reason, as those five have played a ton of minutes and made a lot of plays that helped Kentucky have the opportunity to even play Sunday. One freshman, however, who had not received much attention this season was forward Marcus Lee. The McDonald’s All-American did not see too much playing time during his freshman season in Lexington. His last points before Sunday came on February 22 and he did not even play in the tournament wins over Kansas State and Wichita State. With Willie Cauley-Stein sidelined with an ankle injury, John Calipari turned to Lee to play big minutes Sunday and that paid off in a big way. Lee gave the Wildcats 10 big points off the bench, while collecting eight rebounds (seven offensive) and being part of an interior defensive attack that made things very difficult for Michigan inside all game. Considering how highly touted Lee was coming out of high school, his production in Sunday’s victory should not be all that surprising. It was just a matter of a talented player getting a chance to make an impact and Lee took full advantage of that chance.
  3. Aaron Harrison is Mr. Big Shot. Aaron Harrison was struggling. At halftime, the freshman had zero points, two fouls, and was having a hard time stopping Nik Stauskas on the defensive end of the court. Instead of losing confidence in himself and letting the poor play continue, Harrison rose to the occasion in the second half, by knocking down four of his five three-point attempts and hitting the game-winner with 2.6 seconds to play. While that shot got Kentucky to the Final Four, it was not the only important shot Harrison hit during the weekend. In Friday’s regional semifinal victory over Louisville, Harrison nailed a three with 39 seconds to play that gave Kentucky a lead it would not relinquish. Having a clutch performer is very important in the postseason and Aaron Harrison has shown that he is very capable of hitting the big shot.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 60, #4 Michigan State 54

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 30th, 2014

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Brian Otskey (@botskey) is RTC’s NCAA East Regional correspondent.

Three key takeaways.

  1. Vintage Connecticut. Kevin Ollie only took over the Connecticut job last season but he has wasted no time in carrying on Jim Calhoun’s legacy of hard-nosed defense. The Huskies limited Michigan State to 39.1 percent shooting and, more importantly, kept them out of the paint and off the free throw line. It was a game of runs with Connecticut jumping out to an early lead, Michigan State firing back and the Huskies eventually closing the door. The Huskies did a great job limiting any dribble penetration by the Spartans and swarmed Adreian Payne any time he touched the ball deep in the post. In the end, it was consistent defense and a great game plan by Kevin Ollie and his players that carried them to the win.
  2. Michigan State couldn’t get anything inside.  For the game, Michigan State was limited to six points in the paint. With Gary Harris (who had a great game) content to shoot jumpers and Keith Appling still bothered by a nagging injury, the Spartans got very little, if any, dribble penetration. When they looked for Payne in the post, he was double or even tripled teamed at times. After a great game against Virginia on Friday night, Branden Dawson (five points) was a non-factor against the physical Huskies. With Michigan State content on shooting jumpers (29 of its 46 shots were three pointers), it also had great difficulty getting to the free throw line. The inability to score inside and get to the line was Michigan State’s downfall in this game.
  3. The free throw line made the difference. Coming into the game, more focus was on the great perimeter shooting both teams featured. That proved not to be the deciding factor in any way as Michigan State was 15 percentage points better than Connecticut from deep. However, it was the free throw line that won this one for the Huskies. Connecticut made 21-of-22 free throws (95.5 percent) while Michigan State only made eight trips to the charity stripe. The Spartans, who entered today’s action ranked an abysmal No. 316 in free throw rate, simply shot too many jumpers and never adjusted to what the Huskies were doing defensively in the paint. With Appling’s injury still being a factor, Michigan State just could not get any dribble penetration and their half court offense looked rather stagnant. Give the Huskies credit for not fouling, too. They recorded only 12 fouls for the game.

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Rushed Reaction: #2 Wisconsin 64, #1 Arizona 63 (OT)

Posted by AMurawa on March 29th, 2014

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Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent. He filed this report from Anaheim after #2 Wisconsin’s 64-63 overtime win over #1 Arizona. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Elite Eight and Final Four. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Celebrate Bo Ryan - you are finally going to the Final Four. (Getty)

Celebrate Bo Ryan – you are finally going to the Final Four. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Late-Game Controversy. The officiating was a topic of conversation throughout the game, but it all boiled to a head in the final seconds of overtime. With under five seconds left and Arizona down a bucket, Nick Johnson drove to the hoop, looking to get a shot up. Contact was made between Johnson and Josh Gasser, the official blew the whistle and … charge. Reasonable minds can – and have – differed on whether it was the right call, whether a call should have been made at all, but without a doubt, there was going to be controversy of some sort on that play, regardless of what the official did. The officiating was put on focus again on the next play, as the Wisconsin in-bound pass was challenged by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and knocked out of bounds. The officials went to the monitor for minutes on end, and despite what appeared to be inconclusive evidence, the refs gave the ball back to Arizona, setting up Johnson for redemption. But after inbounding the ball with 2.3 seconds remaining, Johnson took three dribbles and the buzzer went off and the clock expired before launching the shot.
  2. Wisconsin’s Pace. The game was definitely played at the pace the Badgers were comfortable. Arizona went without a single fast-break point throughout, the Badgers fought the Wildcats to a draw on the glass and Wisconsin was plenty happy to slow the game down when they had the ball, using an average of 24 seconds on their possessions.
  3. Toughness. The Badgers, for all the things they do well, are not a stunningly athletic team. While Arizona’s got guys like Aaron Gordon and Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson who can leave your jaw on the floor with athletic above-the-rim plays, Wisconsin is not blessed with those types of players. So, in turn, they had to impose their will on this game. That included slowing the game down, limiting fast-break opportunities, and finding ways to manufacture points on the offensive glass. Sean Miller made a point on Thursday night to acknowledge that the perception that the Wildcats are a great rebounding team may not be true anymore since the Brandon Ashley injury. It became apparent that the Badgers sensed a little blood in the water, as Wisconsin does not normally dedicate a lot of resources to offensive rebounding (they were 280th in the nation in offensive rebounding this season), but tonight, they made additional effort to hit the offensive glass, grabbing 42.1% of offensive rebound opportunities in the first half and 33.3% over the course of the game. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #1 Florida 62 # 11 Dayton 52

Posted by David Changas (@dchangas) on March 29th, 2014

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David Changas (@dchangas) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. He filed this report after #1 Florida’s 62-52 win over #11 Dayton. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Elite Eight and Final Four. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion, @RTCsouthregion, and @RTCwestregion

Many have argued that the Gators are the best in the country. Now Billy Donovan's crew will be on the biggest stage to prove it. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Many have argued that the Gators are the best in the country. Now Billy Donovan’s crew will be on the biggest stage to see if they can prove it. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Stingy Gator Defense. Florida came into the game with one of the nation’s best defenses, and the Gators showed why on this night. They held Dayton to 39.6% shooting. Florida made it especially difficult the Flyers to score from inside the arc, as the Flyers made only 11 of 30 two-point attempts. We expected Dayton would have a much more difficult time scoring on against Florida than it did against Stanford on Thursday, but given the Flyers’ excellent ball movement, we didn’t expect it to be this tough. With Patric Young and Will Yeguete holding things down in the middle, Dayton’s offense was simply over-matched on the interior.
  2. Controlling the Glass, Again. One of the keys to Florida’s win over UCLA was its ability to limit the Bruins’ second chances. Against Dayton, Florida had an 18-15 rebounding edge at the half, as the Flyers held up well and held the Gators to only four offensive boards. The second half was a different story, as Florida out-rebounded Dayton by eight and ended the game with a 37-26 advantage on the glass. Late in the game, when Dayton cut the lead to eight with just under four minutes to play, the Flyers allowed the Gators to get three offensive rebounds and run over a minute off the clock. Though Florida didn’t score on the possession, it was able to take precious seconds off the clock, and essentially took away any chance Dayton had to get close enough to have a chance to win.
  3. Dayton Held its Own. The Flyers became the Cinderella story of this Tournament by knocking off three higher seeds on the way to their first Elite Eight appearance since 1984. And while they simply didn’t have enough to take down the Tournament’s top overall seed, the Flyers acquitted themselves quite well on the big stage. At several points in this game, the Flyers could have packed it in, but they refused to. They trailed by 14 at the half, but came out in the second with two quick threes to cut the lead to 8. Though they never got any closer than that, Florida had a tough time putting them away. Dayton coach Archie Miller served notice that as long he’s at the helm of the program, bright days are ahead.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 74, #4 Louisville 69

Posted by Walker Carey on March 29th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent. He filed this report after #8 Kentucky’s 74-69 win over #4 Louisville. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

Three Key Takeaways.

Julius Randle has been as advertised this season (sportsillustrated.cnn.com).

Julius Randle has been as advertised this season (sportsillustrated.cnn.com).

  1. The atmosphere was unbelievable and the game lived up to the hype. The build up for the Sweet 16 edition of the Battle for the Bluegrass rightfully garnered a ton of national attention leading up to the tip. And boy, was it worth it. Lucas Oil Stadium was overtaken by Louisville and Kentucky fans. Red and blue were all over the place and both factions were loud and involved throughout the night. The game, itself, was a nail-biter to the very end. Both sides were living and dying with every possession and that made for an amazing atmosphere. When Kentucky emerged victorious, the Kentucky section acted as if a weight had been lifted from its shoulders. On the other hand, the Louisville fans were heartbroken over the close lose to their bitter rivals.
  2. Free throw shooting and rebounding did Louisville in. In a close game like Friday night, you can often pinpoint factors that played a big role in deciding the game. Those two factors in Louisville’s loss were its poor free throw shooting and inability to keep Kentucky off the offensive glass. The Cardinals were just 13-of-23 (including 6-of-15 in the first half) from the free throw line. Included in that statistic was that senior standout guard Russ Smith went just 4-of-10 from the charity stripe. Louisville also struggled keeping Kentucky’s bigs off the rebounding glass. The Wildcats out-rebounded the Cardinals 37-29 and gathered 15 offensive rebounds that led to 18 second chance points. A huge Kentucky offensive rebound came at the 2:11 mark when sophomore forward Alex Poythress grabbed a putback and converted a three-point play to turn a 66-63 deficit into a 66-66 tie – and that helped set the stage for the Wildcats to ultimately grab the lead and get the victory.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Michigan State 61, #1 Virginia 59

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 28th, 2014

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Brian Otskey is RTC’s NCAA East Regional correspondent.

Three key takeaways.

Adreian Payne and Sparty advanced to Sunday in a hard fought game. (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

Adreian Payne and Sparty advanced to Sunday in a hard fought game. (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

  1. A heavyweight fight. It was a shame that one of these teams had to go home. This game seemed more like a national semifinal than a regional semifinal when you combine the quality of play and the atmosphere in the arena. The defense from both sides was incredible as neither team took a single play off. It was a great battle between two coaches who have instilled heart, toughness and a commitment to defense into their respective programs. The Spartans were down a possession or two most of the early part of the second half but never once packed it in. They kept going to what was working and that was Branden Dawson in the paint. This relentless attitude was also on display when looking at Virginia. All in all, what a tremendous regional semifinal this was. The Spartans earned this victory.
  2. Michigan State discovered the low post. In a game packed with bruising defense on both sides, the Spartans out-toughed the Cavaliers on the low block. Dawson and Adreian Payne in particular were phenomenal and threw down some thunderous dunks in the process. A second half 13-2 MSU run sparked the comeback and the Spartans guards found their forwards with terrific penetration and interior passing to boot. Sparty scored 30 points in the paint to Virginia’s 22.Tom Izzo’s team had the look of a determined team from the beginning of this game and came up big in a terrific 40-minute effort that looked like the vintage Izzo teams of the past.
  3. Defense is the name of the game in March. Countless times we have seen mediocre defensive teams get bounced out of the NCAA tournament early, including Creighton and Duke this season. There is a reason that, in the Ken Pomeroy advanced statistics era, elite defensive teams win the national championship. Both teams fit that bill tonight but Michigan State was just a little bit better for all 40 minutes. While Michigan State entered the game with an adjusted defensive efficiency ranked No. 40 nationally, the effort tonight shows that if the Spartans are to lose, it likely will not be because of failings on the defensive end.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Michigan 73, #11 Tennessee 71

Posted by Walker Carey on March 28th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent. He filed this report after #2 Michigan’s 73-71 win over #11 Tennessee. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

Three Key Takeaways.

Stauskas Carried His Team for Another Round (Gregory Shamus, Getty)

Stauskas Carried His Team for Another Round (Gregory Shamus, Getty)

  1. Michigan’s first half explosion was the reason it was able to win. The Wolverines have been an extremely high octane offensive unit all season and that continued against Tennessee. Michigan scored 45 points in the first half. It shot 61.5% overall and 77.8% from three in the opening 20 minutes. John Beilein’s squad was moving the ball around so easily and efficiently that it was easy to see why its shooting numbers were so good, as they were getting such open looks. In a game that came down to the wire, Michigan being able to use its phenomenal offense to grab an 11-point halftime lead was a ridiculously huge factor in it ultimately being able to leave with the victory.
  2. Tennessee stormed back with great tenacity. The Volunteers fell behind by 15 with 10:56 to play before storming back to trim Michigan’s lead to just one with 10.8 seconds to play. Tennessee was led on the comeback trail by senior guard Jordan McRae, who recorded 16 of his 24 points in the second half. McRae’s ability to both hit shots and get to the rim had the Michigan defense in disarray for a good portion of the final 20 minutes of the game. After pretty much allowing Michigan to do anything offensively over the first 30 minutes of the game, Tennessee made adjustments to lock down defensively and force several key turnovers late in the game. Cuonzo Martin’s squad is probably hurting now because its season is over, but those players have nothing to hang their heads about. Michigan was given everything it could handle and then some. That was a gutty and resilient second half from the Volunteers.
  3. John Beilein deserves more attention for his coaching job this season. Michigan went to the National Championship game last year due in large part to the contributions from guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. and the emerging force of Mitch McGary. After the season, both Burke and Hardaway Jr. wisely declared for the NBA Draft and Michigan was left with a lot of inexperience in its backcourt. The Wolverines’ winning experience took another hit in late December when McGary was lost with a back injury. Somehow, Michigan is still advancing to its second straight Elite Eight and a majority of that credit should go to coach John Beilein. Under Beilein’s guidance, Michigan has become an extremely cohesive unit that has time and time again, found a way to win this season.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 81, #3 Iowa State 76

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 28th, 2014

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Brian Otskey is RTC’s NCAA East Regional correspondent.

Three key takeaways.

Shabazz Napier had a big night, and the Huskies are heading to the Sweet Sixteen. (Credit: UConn Athletic Communications/Stephen Slade)

Shabazz Napier and the Huskies are heading to the Elite Eight 

  1. Defense and length. Connecticut set the tone for this game from the opening tip. The Huskies, who sport three players 6’9” or taller, clearly bothered the smaller Cyclones all game long. Iowa State had tremendous difficulty getting anything to fall around the rim, where it shot 7-for-23 (30.4 percent) in the first half. Kevin Ollie’s team made a concerted effort to limit DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim and it did just that. Iowa State’s usually dynamic duo combined for only 23 points on 9-for-31 shooting. Dustin Hogue had a terrific night but it was not nearly enough for Fred Hoiberg’s team to advance. Combating Connecticut’s efficient and stingy defense was a concern coming in for the Cyclones and it proved to be among the deciding factors in the outcome of the game.
  2. DeAndre Daniels was the difference maker. Nobody ever questioned Daniels’ talent, it was just a matter of his consistency (or lack there-of). On this night, Daniels decided he was going to be the game changer. The junior forward poured in 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in perhaps his best overall game of the season. Daniels and his large, wiry frame played a major role in clogging up the middle where Iowa State could not get anything going.
  3. Connecticut won the game at the three point line. For the game, the Huskies shot 47.4 percent from beyond the arc but it was the major difference in the first half and allowed them to build their lead. Connecticut shot the three ball at a scalding 58.3 percent in the first half en route to building a 10-point lead at the break. Iowa State’s three point defense (ranked No. 9 in Big 12 play) had to be a concern for Hoiberg coming into the game and it proved to be the case. Connecticut has been one of the nation’s best three-point shooting teams all year long and showed it tonight in front of a relatively local crowd at Madison Square Garden.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Arizona 70, #4 San Diego State 64

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on March 28th, 2014

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Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent. He filed this report after #1 Arizona’s 70-64 win over #4 San Diego State. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Fighting Through A Tough Game. Nick Johnson, the Pac-12 Player of the Year  and a rock for the Wildcats, started the game missing his first ten field goal attempts and, even more confusing, getting scored on at the other end of the court by guys like Xavier Thames and Dwayne Polee. This was a bad sign, as one thing previous Arizona losses had in common were cold shooting nights by Johnson. But at no time was he ever visibly down on himself or giving anything less than 100% effort. And after a T.J. McConnell steal turned into an easy hoop for Johnson on the break with just under three minutes left in the game, that broke the seal. He hit a dagger three on the next Arizona possession to put the Wildcats up six and then made ten straight clutch free throws down the stretch to ensure that the Wildcats’ lead would be safe. It probably wasn’t the type of game Johnson envisioned prior to the game, but his ability to keep his head in the game and stick with it through his struggles bear the hallmark of a champion. And, in the end, he still wound up tied with Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as the Wildcats’ leading scorer, with 15. After the game, Sean Miller’s main theme was his pride in his team’s resiliency, and Johnson was a perfect example.

    Nick Johnson Did Not Have A Great Game, But He Stuck With It To Help His Team Win (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

    Nick Johnson Did Not Have A Great Game, But He Stuck With It To Help His Team Win (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

  1. San Diego State Rebounding. In their first matchup, Arizona dominated the glass. They grabbed 40.6% of offensive rebound opportunities and controlled 74.3% of defensive rebound chances. For the first San Diego State possession of the night, you could tell that those types of stats were drilled into the Aztecs’ heads. On the first possession, Skylar Spencer and Josh Davis were each credit with a single offensive rebound before Davis put the ball back in for a hoop.  And the Aztecs may have been under-credited there. On the third possession, the Aztecs were credited with three more offensive boards before Davis again wound up putting the ball back in. A tone was set early and it continued throughout the first half and throughout the game. But, you can bet that Miller mentioned the rebounding disparity to his team at the half, because down the stretch Gordon grabbed a couple of huge offensive rebounds on consecutive possessions under the six-minute mark that turned into big buckets for the Wildcats. Arizona made the final rebounding margin a bit more respectable, but the Aztecs’ work on the glass helped keep them in this game.
  2. Rebounding, Redux. Arizona has now been outrebounded in every game they’ve played in this tournament, quite a change for a team that was in the top 25 in the nation on both ends of the court coming into this game. Miller noted after the game that this may just be who the Wildcats are these days – a good rebounding team, but no longer a great once since the loss of power forward Brandon Ashley. “People say that we’re a big team. Since Brandon left us, our size is good, but not great… Our room for error rebounding the ball is lost. We don’t beat you up any more… We’ve need all five guys on every shot to box out, we have to work hard to get second shots.” The Aztecs certainly opened up a lot of eyes to that fact and now, with a Wisconsin team that does a terrific job cleaning the defensive glass, second chance opportunities on Saturday will be hard to come by. Read the rest of this entry »
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