2018-19 Rush the Court National Coach of the Year: Chris Beard

Posted by Walker Carey on April 5th, 2019

The 2018-19 RTC National Coach of the Year Chris Beard took a circuitous path to becoming the head coach at Texas Tech — and when considering that route, the fact that he guided his Red Raiders to a regular season Big 12 championship and to the Final Four seems too far-fetched to believe.

Beard began his high-major coaching career working as an assistant under the legendary Bob Knight at Texas Tech while the Red Raiders were experiencing a period of prolonged success. After subsequent head coach Pat Knight was relieved of his duties at the end of 2011, Beard began a stretch of employment that took him to the ABA, McMurry University, Angelo State and Arkansas-Little Rock. It was while in the state capital of Arkansas during the 2015-16 season that Beard became a rising star in the coaching world. In his lone season at the school, the Trojans stunned #5-seed Purdue in a double-overtime thriller. Following that season, Beard took the UNLV head coaching job in late March, holding it for about three weeks before Memphis hired Tubby Smith from Texas Tech, leaving the Red Raiders job vacant. Beard then spurned his new position with the Runnin’ Rebels and returned to Lubbock to try to finish what he had started a decade prior.

After a transition year when the Red Raiders finished a solid 18-14, Beard really got things moving forward during the 2017-18 season. Led by senior guard Keenan Evans and dynamic freshman Zhaire Smith, Texas Tech advanced all the way to the Elite Eight — pushing eventual national champion Villanova for 35 minutes — before the Wildcats ultimately pulled away with the victory.

It would have made sense for the Red Raiders to take a step back this season given that Evans had exhausted his eligibility and Smith had left early for the NBA. That was not the case, though, as Beard landed South Dakota transfer Matt Mooney and St. John’s transfer Tariq Owens, while developing sophomores Jarrett Culver and Davide Moretti to take on bigger roles. Those offseason maneuvers paid immediate dividends, as Texas Tech began this season 10-0 and never looked back. Ultimately, Beard’s club ended Kansas’ streak of 14 consecutive regular season Big 12 championships before entering the NCAA Tournament as a #3 seed and steamrolling Northern Kentucky, Buffalo and defending national runner-up Michigan. In Saturday’s Elite Eight, the Red Raiders used their suffocating defense and timely shooting to get past top-seeded Gonzaga and advance to the first Final Four in program history.

Texas Tech has a legitimate chance to take home the national title on Monday night in Minneapolis. It might not be the favorite, but Chris Beard has never been the favorite at any point in his career — and that has turned out just fine.

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2018-19 Rush the Court National Player of the Year: Zion Williamson

Posted by Walker Carey on April 5th, 2019

Recruiting rankings are always fun to review after the fact. You get to see which players lived up to their ranking, which players underwhelmed, and which players emerged from relative obscurity to turn into a star. The most prevalent question that will come up when reviewing the 2018 college basketball recruiting rankings will be how in the world was 2018-19 RTC National Player of the Year Zion Williamson considered the fifth-best prospect entering college basketball?

That question was apparent from Duke’s very first game of the season, when the Blue Devils eviscerated Kentucky by a preposterous 34 points. In the dominant opening night victory, Williamson announced his presence to the college basketball world by tallying 28 points on an efficient 11-of-13 shooting. From that game forward, the 6’7″ power forward (and so much more) became the story of the year in college hoops. It definitely seemed like every time you tuned into a Duke game, Williamson would do something spectacular. There was the awe-inspiring 360 dunk in the conference opening win over Clemson; there was the jaw-dropping block of a De’Andre Hunter three-point attempt in an impressive victory at Virginia; and there was Williamson leading the charge in fighting back from a 23-point second half deficit to notch an improbable win at Louisville.

Williamson’s season took an unexpectedly brutal turn in Duke’s February 20 loss to North Carolina, when he injured his knee less than a minute into the action. That injury resulted in him being sidelined for the rest of the regular season and allowed for many media outlets to question if Williamson should risk his NBA future to return to college. The freshman phenom decided to return for the ACC Tournament, where he turned in a performance for the ages — averaging 27 points and 10 rebounds per game in wins over Syracuse, North Carolina and Florida State — in leading Duke to the title. After the title game victory over the Seminoles, Williamson emphatically responded to a question about why he risked further injury by stating:

“Those six games I sat out, when you see your brothers going to war battling and there’s nothing you can do but sit on the sideline and cheer, there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m not that type of person. I want to be out there with them, and I made a commitment to them, and I would be a bad person if I went back on my commitment.”

While Duke came up just short in an epic Elite Eight battle with Michigan State last weekend, Williamson still left his mark on the NCAA Tournament by averaging 26 points and 8.5 rebounds in the Blue Devils’ four games. The loss to the Spartans marked the probable end to Williamson’s collegiate career, but his sensational performances and the manner in which they captivated the college basketball world in the Year of Zion will not soon be forgotten.

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2018-19 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on April 4th, 2019

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what will come during the regular season. There will always be several players who fall short of expectations and there will always be several relative unknowns who unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our unit of RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-American teams in November, nobody could have guessed that 10 of the 15 players chosen would live up to that lofty standing: Purdue’s Carsen Edwards; Duke’s R.J. Barrett; Duke’s Zion Williamson; Tennessee’s Grant Williams; Marquette’s Markus Howard; Virginia’s Kyle Guy; LSU’s Tremont Waters; Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter; Kansas’ Dedric Lawson, and Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ.

Here are the 2018-19 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America

  • Zion Williamson, Freshman, Duke (consensus) (22.6 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 68% FG). He may only be one player, but make no mistake about it, this college basketball season belonged to Williamson. You could not go one day without hearing something new about the freshman phenom — and with good reason — he made every Duke game this winter appointment television with his numerous highlight reel dunks and spectacular defensive plays. When the freshman was not busy igniting the internet with viral videos of his jaw-dropping plays, he was calmly and confidently leading his young Duke team to the ACC Tournament title and the overall #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Williamson was the most important cog in a Blue Devils squad that finished the season with a 32-6 record, and his importance was never more evident than when he was sidelined for six games late in the season and Duke went just 3-3 during that stretch. While it is certainly disappointing that Williamson will not participate in this weekend’s Final Four, he definitely used his time in college basketball wisely and cemented that the name Zion Williamson will live on in college basketball lore.
  • Carsen Edwards, Junior, Purdue (24.3 PPG, 2.9 APG, 1.3 SPG). Purdue was picked fifth in the preseason Big Ten poll, largely because — other than the returning Edwards — not much was known about a club facing the tall task of replacing four starters from last season’s Sweet Sixteen team. That challenge was tough at first, as Purdue sat at just 6-5 following a rough loss to Notre Dame on December 15. That loss ended up being a turning point for the Boilermakers, as they rode the heroics of Edwards and figured out their personnel en route to a 26-10 overall record and a share of the Big Ten regular season title. While Edwards certainly had a wonderful regular season, his place on the first team was guaranteed with an amazing effort throughout Purdue’s run to the Elite Eight. The junior point guard tallied 26 points in a First Round win over Old Dominion and it only got better from there, catching fire in a Second Round mauling of defending champion Villanova, and finishing with 42 points on a smoldering 9-of-16 performance from behind the three-point line. His exploits then reached another level in the South Regional, going for 29 points in leading Purdue to an upset overtime win over Tennessee in the Sweet Sixteen, before reaching an apex in an all-time performance of dropping 42 points (10-of-19 from three) in a heartbreaking overtime loss to top-seeded Virginia. While Purdue fell short of its ultimate goal of the Final Four, Edwards did his part in carrying the Boilermakers to a place the program had not been since 2000.
  • Ja Morant, Sophomore, Murray State (24.5 PPG, 10.0 APG, 5.7 RPG, 49.9% FG). Becoming a must-see attraction while playing in the Ohio Valley Conference is difficult to do, but Morant accomplished that feat this season with flying colors. The dynamic sophomore guard became the first player since the NCAA began tracking assists in 1983-84 to finish a season averaging 20+ points and 10+ assists per game. He also led Murray State through the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament gauntlet to propel the Racers to their second straight NCAA Tournament. Along the way Morant caught the eyes of NBA Draft connoisseurs, firmly establishing himself as a top prospect for this summer’s annual selection meeting. In the postseason, the explosive sophomore gave his program a final lasting memory, as he recorded the NCAA Tournament’s first triple-double since 2012 in the Racers’ First Round upset victory over Marquette. Morant’s collegiate career may have only lasted two seasons, but he certainly made his mark as one of the all-time greats to pass through the Ohio Valley Conference.
  • R.J. Barrett, Freshman, Duke (22.6 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 4.3 APG, 45.4% FG). Barrett may have been Duke’s “other freshman star” this year, but that did not keep him from establishing himself as one of the country’s best players in addition to Williamson. Known mostly for his scoring prowess, Barrett also showcased his passing and rebounding talents throughout the season. The freshman swingman twice tallied double-figure assists and grabbed 10+ boards nine times. Barrett’s premier performance came in Duke’s victory at Virginia when he turned in a game-high 26 points on a smoldering 6-of-10 performance from the perimeter. While Barrett put up big statistics throughout the regular season, his most noteworthy contribution during his freshman campaign came in Duke’s Second Round NCAA Tournament victory over UCF when he rebounded a missed free throw and converted a layup with 14.4 seconds to play to give the Blue Devils a 77-76 lead that they would not relinquish.
  • Grant Williams, Junior, Tennessee (18.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.2 APG, 56.5% FG). Williams followed up a terrific sophomore season with an even more outstanding junior campaign in Knoxville. Tennessee tied a program record with 31 wins this season and Williams’ contributions were the leading factor in the Volunteers accomplishing that feat. The big man tallied double-figure points in 19 of his 21 SEC games and his ability to hurt opponents both from the mid-range and finish through contact around the rim made him a nightmare match-up. Williams’ most noteworthy performance came in Tennessee’s overtime win over intrastate rival Vanderbilt when he saved the Volunteers by delivering a career-best 43 points while draining all 23 of his free throw attempts. The junior’s excellent season led to him earning AP First-Team All-America honors, becoming Tennessee’s first player to garner that honor since way back in 1983 (Dale Ellis).

Second Team All-America

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 2nd, 2018

With the season tipping off next Tuesday, there’s no better time to roll out our 2018-19 RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of 10 RTC writers provided their ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

  • Carsen Edwards, Purdue (unanimous) – Purdue has plenty to replace this season with former mainstays Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas now gone from West Lafayette. Luckily for Matt Painter’s Boilermakers, Edwards opted to return to Purdue for his junior season. The standout point guard will look to build on what has been a dynamic collegiate career. Following a freshman season where Edwards showed he belonged in the Big Ten, he took a big step forward in his sophomore campaign, averaging 18.5 points per game and shooting a commendable 40.6 percent from the three-point line. The Boilermakers lose nearly 50 points per game from last season’s Sweet Sixteen team, but it would not be surprising to see the play-making floor general take Purdue back to the second weekend next March. Factoid: Edwards participated in the NBA Draft combine last spring before deciding to return to Purdue. A noticeable change since his return has been in his physical stature, as he added around 10 pounds to his frame. Purdue men’s basketball strength and conditioning coach Gavin Roberts attributes Edwards’ strength gain to a “professional” demeanor in the weight room.
  • R.J. Barrett, Duke – Duke bringing in a star-studded recruiting class is certainly nothing new, but you would be hard-pressed to find another time when such a unique talent as Barrett descended on Durham. At 6’7″, the incoming freshman can handle the ball, create his own shot and relentlessly attack the basket. His size and athleticism will also allow him to effectively defend multiple positions and contribute on the boards.  The Blue Devils figure to once again be an offensive juggernaut, and it is fair to speculate that Barrett will be their most productive component. Factoid: Hailing from Canada, Barrett has a unique connection to basketball lore. He is the godson of two-time NBA MVP — and fellow Canadian — Steve Nash.
  • Caleb Martin, Nevada – Nevada exploded onto the scene last season, as the Wolf Pack won the regular season Mountain West title and earned the program’s first Sweet Sixteen berth since 2004. Expectations are now sky high for Eric Musselman’s group entering this season, as his team is already ranked #8 in the preseason AP Top 25. A major reason for all the lofty hopes in Reno is that Martin decided to put the NBA on hold in returning for his senior season. The rangy forward will look to build on a junior campaign when he averaged 18.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. If Martin can once again put up dominant numbers, the preseason hype encompassing the Wolf Pack will likely prove to be warranted. Factoid:In addition to the RTC All-America team, Martin was named a preseason first team All-American by the AP, becoming the first player in program history to receive the honor.
  • Luke Maye, North Carolina – There might not be a player in the country that has had as unique of a collegiate career as the North Carolina senior. Recall that Maye did not have a guaranteed scholarship in place when he originally committed to the Tar Heels in high school, and while playing time was difficult to earn through a majority of his first two seasons in Chapel Hill, his breakout finally came in the 2017 Elite Eight when he scored 17 points and buried a game-winning jumper to beat Kentucky. Maye followed up those heroics with a junior season averaging 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per contest while earning first team All-ACC honors. The Tar Heels have a lot of new faces in place this season, but the transition should be relatively seamless with double-double machine Maye on the blocks. Factoid: Maye joined rarefied North Carolina air last season with a 32-point, 18-rebound performance against Boston College and a 33-point, 17-rebound effort against NC State. Those two performances made him only the fourth player in program history with multiple 30/15 games in a season.
  • Ethan Happ, Wisconsin – Last March represented the first time since 1998 that Wisconsin did not earn an NCAA Tournament bid. The young Badgers battled injuries and inconsistency throughout the season as they sputtered their way to a 15-18 overall record. Despite the lost season, Happ still managed to contribute very productive numbers. Building on impressive freshman and sophomore campaigns, the junior forward tallied 17.9 points and 8.0 rebounds per game on his way to becoming a first team all-Big Ten player. Assuming Happ takes another step forward during his final season in Madison, it is likely Wisconsin will find its way back to the NCAA Tournament. Factoid: Happ was so distraught about Wisconsin not making the NCAA Tournament lats year that he kept the TV in his apartment from showing anything about March Madness.

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2017-18 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on March 29th, 2018

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what will come during the regular season. There will always be several players who fall short of expectations and there will always be several relative unknowns who unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our outfit of RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams in November; nobody could have guessed that only six of the 15 players chosen would live up to their hype: Villanova’s Jalen Brunson; Duke’s Marvin Bagley III; Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham; Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett; West Virginia’s Jevon Carter, and Michigan State’s Miles Bridges.

Here are the 2017-18 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America

  • Trae Young, Freshman, Oklahoma (consensus) (27.4 PPG, 8.7 APG, 3.9 RPG). No player dominated the national conversation this season more than Young. The freshman point guard exploded on the scene in remarkable fashion, scoring 43 points in just his fifth collegiate game (a 90-80 win over Oregon) and was both the country’s leading scorer and assist man far into the year. While Oklahoma faltered as a team, Young’s lone season in Norman was so impressive that, after the Sooners lost to Rhode Island in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, head coach Dan Hurley noted, “I made the mistake of watching some of their early games first. I didn’t sleep for a day.” Considering how quickly and easily the point guard jolted onto the college basketball scene, it is not exactly clear if Hurley was being facetious or not.
  • Jalen Brunson, Junior, Villanova (consensus) (19.2 PPG, 4.6 APG, 52.7% FG, 41.4% 3FG). Entering the season, Brunson had already developed a well-deserved reputation for being one of the steadiest players in college basketball. He took that perception to another level this season, acting as the face of an extremely even-keeled Villanova team that is headed to another Final Four. There has been a great deal of national discussion regarding how methodical and systematic Brunson appears during the course of a game that even Xavier coach Chris Mack offered his thoughts on the matter. Following his Musketeers losing by 24 at Villanova in early January, Mack implied that Brunson is a robot, stating, “You peel his face off, he’d probably have wires coming out of it.” It is currently unknown whether robots are good at basketball, but it is well-established that the junior point guard is one of the best players in the country.
  • Marvin Bagley III, Freshman, Duke (consensus) (21.0 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 61.4% FG). Every so often there is a much-ballyhooed recruit that meets and even exceeds the exorbitant hype that accompanies his arrival to the sport. That was the case for Bagley, as he ensured his only season in Durham was a memorable one. The phenomenally athletic freshman put his stamp on Duke basketball lore, as he became the first Blue Devil since the great Christian Laettner to record a 30+ point and 15+ rebound performance — and he did it four times. Despite missing five games with a knee injury, Bagley still became the school’s all-time freshman scoring leader following a 22-point effort in Duke’s Sweet Sixteen victory over Syracuse. While Duke’s season ended in a disappointing Elite Eight loss to Kansas where the precocious freshman somehow only managed nine field goal attempts, it is impossible to view his sole college season as anything other than a resounding success.
  • DeAndre Ayton, Freshman, Arizona (20.1 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 61.2% FG). Ayton was another much-ballyhooed recruit that delivered on years of promise. The Arizona big man’s dominance was expected, but that did not make it any less awe-inspiring to watch the athletic forward overpower his opposition throughout the season. Ayton is considered among the top prospects for the 2018 NBA Draft because of his incredible size — he has an ideal NBA frame and athleticism — but he is far from just an antiquated back-to-the-basket big man. It truly is a shame Ayton’s sensational freshman season will likely be best remembered for both Arizona’s First Round NCAA Tournament flameout against Buffalo and the unsubstantiated ESPN report that he was the prospect being discussed on an FBI wiretap involving an alleged pay-for-play conversation between Arizona coach Sean Miller and former ASM Sports runner Christian Dawkins.
  • Devonte’ Graham, Senior, Kansas (17.2 PPG, 7.3 APG, 40.3% 3FG). You know the senior floor general has had a substantial impact on the Final Four-bound Jayhawks when Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski noted after Kansas bested his Blue Devils in the Elite Eight: “In Graham, you have really one of the great leaders, not just players, in the country. Look, he’s one of the top five players in America, and it’s not just because he scores, but it’s how he leads. When he’s on the court, everybody is better. […] That’s why they’re as good as they are.” The Big 12 Player of the Year has been the straw that stirs the drink for the Jayhawks all season long. He has made big play after big play, and if Kansas hopes to cut down the nets this weekend in San Antonio, it is going to need Graham to play at an elite level.

Second Team All-America

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Tim Duncan and Jay Williams Lead 2017 College Basketball HOF Class

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2017

One of the most fun things about following college basketball is observing its constant evolution, but it’s also fascinating to look back on the legends who impacted the game regardless of their era. On Sunday night in Kansas City, the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame enshrined its 2017 class, whose membership ranges from a former player-turned analyst who has yet to turn 40 to a pioneer who faced impossible challenges during integration. Let’s take a look at each.

Tim Duncan was an unstoppable force for Wake Forest, showing the dazzling post moves, defensive dominance and tremendous intelligence that made him an all-time great. (Getty)

  • Tim Duncan, Wake Forest: Before he was the linchpin for one of American sports’ top dynasties with the San Antonio Spurs, The Big Fundamental put together one of the most illustrious college careers of any big man to ever play the game. In a four-year career from 1993-97, Duncan was the 1997 National Player of the Year, a two-time consensus First Team All-American, two-time ACC Player of the Year and three-time NABC Defensive Player of the Year. The reserved big man made the game look effortless by combining his raw athletic ability with a high basketball IQ in soaking up the game’s nuances faster than anyone could have imagined. He famously rejected several opportunities to go pro despite favorable projections after each year and became the first player in college basketball history to notch 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds, 400 blocked shots and 200 assists.
  • Jay Williams, Duke: With a devastating motorcycle injury that effectively limited his playing days to 75 NBA games, Williams’ professional career ended almost as soon as it began. We’ll always wonder what could have been, though, because the 2002 Duke graduate was one of the most talented, explosive and accomplished players the college level has ever seen. Williams was an all-time great college point guard and played a key role on one of the best Duke teams ever, pacing the 2001 National Championship Blue Devils in scoring (21.6 PPG), three-point shooting (42.7% 3FG) and winning the NABC’s Player of the Year award. Even though he had every reason to turn professional that summer, he returned to Durham to get his degree and put up another amazing season by sweeping every NPOY honor in 2002.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 8th, 2017

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our 2017-18 RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of 10 writers provided their ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

  • Jalen Brunson, Villanova – There are few things more daunting in college basketball than a talented team with a heady, veteran playmaker at the point guard position. Brunson certainly fits that bill, as he enters the season with great expectations following a sophomore campaign where the point guard earned unanimous all-Big East honors while averaging 14.7 points and 4.1 assists per game. Villanova is the preseason favorite to win the Big East title — and if that prediction comes true, it will be Brunson’s third in three years running the show for Jay Wright’s squad. Factoid: Many players with Brunson’s pedigree would at least test the NBA Draft waters either after their freshman or sophomore seasons, but Brunson is different, stating, “The NBA is not going anywhere. I can wait. I can still get better. I can still get my degree. That’s the approach I had. I talked it over with my parents, and they’re just 100 percent fully supporting me. So that’s where I am.”
  • Allonzo Trier, Arizona – Arizona experienced some offcourt drama late in the offseason when longtime assistant Book Richardson was arrested by the FBI on charges of bribery, corruption, conspiracy, and fraud stemming from improper conduct on the recruiting trail. That news figures to overshadow much of Arizona’s early season — which is a real shame, as the Wildcats are projected to be among the nation’s best teams. A major reason for that is the return of Trier for his junior year. The talented wing returned from a 19-game performance enhancing drug suspension during his sophomore season to lead the Wildcats to the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles. Many were surprised when Trier opted to return to Tucson in lieu of entering the NBA Draft, but he has acknowledged that last season’s suspension definitely factored in his decision to come back to school. Factoid: Trier was the subject of a New York Times Magazine feature when he was in sixth grade that highlighted his precocious basketball ability at a young age with an introduction to the AAU scene.
  • Michael Porter Jr., Missouri – A coaching change can often make a massive difference in a program’s fortunes. That was definitely the case with Missouri when the Tigers fired Kim Anderson in March after an underwhelming tenure and replaced him with Cal’s Cuonzo Martin, a coach who has long enjoyed a sterling reputation for his ability to recruit at a high level. Martin hiring paid off almost immediately when he secured the services of Porter, who was listed by 247Sports as the third-best player in the Class of 2017. The 6’10” forward will provide Missouri with scoring on the wing and has the versatility to defend a variety of positions. The Tigers are projected as one of the most improved teams in the country — and with Porter now in the fold, it will be intriguing to see just how far they can advance in the postseason. Factoid: It is a family affair for the Porters in Columbia this year, as Michael Porter, Sr. is an assistant coach, Jontay Porter reclassified to play with his brother, sisters Bri and Cierra Porter play for the women’s team, and aunt Robin Pingeton is the head coach of that women’s team.
  • Miles Bridges, Michigan State – Michigan State was the recipient of one of the best offseason surprises when the sure-fire lottery pick Bridges decided to return to East Lansing for his sophomore year. Once the national shock of the decision wore off, it became clear the Spartans would be one of the teams to beat in college basketball this season. Bridges will look to build on a terrific freshman year where he averaged 16.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. With a strong supporting cast in tow and uncertainty with many teams in the Big Ten, the star sophomore should lead the Spartans to a prosperous season on both the conference and national landscapes. Factoid: Like most of us, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo assumed Bridges would be a one-and-done player, going so far as to joke about how Bridges will have to carry bags this year as an NBA rookie. In response, Bridges may have hinted at his ultimate decision by questioning, “Coach, why you always trying to get rid of me?”
  • Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame – It is not a stretch for anyone to reference Colson as the most unique player in college basketball. After a turn as a significant role player on Notre Dame’s Elite Eight teams in 2015 and 2016, Colson became The Man in South Bend during his junior season. Standing at just 6’6″, Colson was the only ACC player last year to average a double-double — 17.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Notre Dame currently finds itself in one of the most successful stretches the program has ever had, and with the talented and experienced Colson as its go-to guy, look for the Irish to continue that run this season. Factoid: Throughout Colson’s career, he has stayed true to two beliefs: play hungry and stay humble. The ACC Preseason Player of the Year vows that will not change as he enters his senior season as one of the country’s top players.

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2016-17 RTC National Coach of the Year: Mark Few

Posted by Walker Carey on March 31st, 2017

The 2016-17 RTC National Coach of the Year Mark Few is a Gonzaga lifer. He served on Gonzaga’s staff from 1989-99 before taking over the head coaching position after Dan Monson left for the Minnesota job prior to the 1999-2000 season. Few has been wildly successful ever since. He has presided over 16 West Coast Conference championship teams and has led the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament in all 18 of his seasons in Spokane. While 36 wins, a #1 seed and a #1 ranking this season are undeniable markers of great success, Few has drawn some criticism over the years for Gonzaga’s relative lack of NCAA Tournament success. Between 2010 and 2014, for example, the Bulldogs failed to make it past the first weekend, losing five straight times in the Round of 32. The most disappointing of those early exits came in 2013 when #1 seed Gonzaga (for the first time in school history) was vanquished by eventual Final Four participant Wichita State. Gonzaga recovered nicely over the next two years, however, advancing to the Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen, respectively, before this season’s workmanlike run to Glendale. With several new shiny toys on Few’s roster this year — some key transfers and his first-ever McDonald’s All-American — it appears as if Gonzaga is poised to reach unprecedented heights.

Gonzaga completed its regular season mission with ease. The Bulldogs entered the NCAA Tournament with a 32-1 record and — just like in 2013 — the top seed in the West Region. The first weekend was far kinder to Few’s squad this time around, though, as Gonzaga coasted into the second weekend with victories over South Dakota State and Northwestern. The Bulldogs had a much more difficult task in facing a relentless West Virginia squad in the Sweet Sixteen. The Mountaineers forced the Zags into their style of basketball — an ugly, brick-filled affair — but Few pulled all the right strings down the stretch to handle the West Virginia pressure, allowing his team to advance to the Elite Eight with a gutsy three-point victory. Gonzaga then easily dispatched a plucky Xavier squad to get the proverbial Final Four monkey off the program’s back.

Gonzaga will face a difficult task this weekend in trying to take home the program’s first National Championship. It will first have to beat NCAA Tournament darling South Carolina in Saturday’s semifinal — a team known for a ferocious defensive attack that has made things a nightmare for their opponents. If the Bulldogs can surpass that hurdle, another arduous task awaits on Monday night when they would have to face either Oregon or North Carolina. With Few’s program running on all cylinders and the monkey finally removed, though, it would surprise nobody if Gonzaga becomes the first team from outside the power conference elite to cut down the nets this weekend in Glendale.

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2016-17 RTC National Player of the Year: Frank Mason III

Posted by Walker Carey on March 31st, 2017

One of the coolest things about collegiate athletics is when a relatively unheralded recruit develops into one of the country’s best players. College basketball has experienced this a few times in recent years with the likes of Trey Burke at Michigan, Victor Oladipo at Indiana and Doug McDermott at Creighton, but the case of 2016-17 RTC National Player of the Year Frank Mason III, though, is particularly unique. The Kansas point guard from Petersburg, Virginia, originally signed with Towson before a failing grade in a state-mandated government class torpedoed that plan. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the young player, as his stock rose considerably during a post-graduate year at Massanutten Military Academy (VA). Kansas was looking at a variety of point guard options at the time, but it was not until Cat Barber signed with NC State, Chris Jones went to Louisville, Demetrius Jackson went to Notre Dame, and Jordan McLaughlin went to USC that head coach Bill Self was willing to pull the trigger on Mason. That stroke of good fortune resulted in the development of a standout player who became a three-time all-Big 12 player and an All-American during a very successful four-season run in Lawrence.

While Mason was already a very good starting point guard during his sophomore and junior seasons, he took a superstar turn this season. What the dynamic playmaker lacked in stature – he stands at just 5’11” – he made up for it with a knack for making big plays and coming through in the clutch. Not only did Mason lead the Big 12 in scoring at 20.9 points per game, but he also became one of the country’s most reliable three-point shooters at 47.1 percent mark behind the arc. The performance that perfectly highlights how dominant Mason was this year came in Kansas’ regular season finale at Oklahoma State — in a battle with Cowboys’ point guard Jawun Evans, Mason finished with 27 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in an all-around effort. The floor leader turned in another virtuoso performance last week during the Jayhawks’ run to the Elite Eight. In their dominating Sweet Sixteen victory over Big Ten regular season champion Purdue, Mason controlled the entire game to finish with 26 points (9-of-11 FG and 4-of-5 3FG), seven assists and seven rebounds.

While Kansas’ season ended unexpectedly in a disappointing loss to #3 seed Oregon, it is difficult to characterize the Jayhawks’ season as a failure. Self’s team took home its 13th straight Big 12 regular season title – and considering its stark lack of depth, especially on the interior — this one was as difficult as any of the previous 12. The most important component of Kansas’s team success, though, was the steadying influence of Mason. The same Mason who was signed to play college basketball at Towson. The same Mason who ended up at an unknown military academy because of an academic misstep. The same Mason who needed several strokes of luck to wind up at Kansas, but made the most of the opportunity that he was given. College basketball success stories can be overblown and hyperbolic, but Mason’s rise to our 2016-17 RTC Player of the Year is truly one for the history books.

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2016-17 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on March 30th, 2017

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what will come during the upcoming season. There will always be several players who fall short of expectations and there will always be several relatively unknown types who will unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our outfit of seven RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams in November; nobody could have guessed that only five of the 15 players chosen would live up to their hype; Villanova’s Josh Hart, Oregon’s Dillon Brooks, Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris, Washington’s Markelle Fultz, and Kansas’ Josh Jackson. Hart was the only player projected to be a first-teamer who ended up there. The 10 other players who did not make our postseason team are Duke’s Grayson Allen and Jayson Tatum, California’s Ivan Rabb, Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes, Indiana’s Thomas Bryant, NC State’s Dennis Smith, Xavier’s Edmond Sumner and Trevon Bluiett, and Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo. All turned in varying degrees of productive seasons but were surpassed in achievements by the names that moved ahead of them on our list. Here are the 2016-17 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America

  • Frank Mason, Senior, Kansas (consensus) (20.9 PPG, 5.2 APG, 49% FG, 47.1% 3FG). After being little more than a complementary contributor during his first three seasons in Lawrence, Mason wrapped up his collegiate career this season in spectacular fashion. What the point guard lack lacks in stature (he is listed at just 5’11”), he made up for it in big time performances. Kansas earned its 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title and advanced to the Elite Eight this season, and neither of those would have been possible without Mason elevating his game to a superstar level. One of the coolest things about college basketball is when a relatively unheralded recruit develops into one of the country’s most accomplished players – and Mason certainly personified that in his senior season. Kansas fields a great team every year, but it is certain the Jayhawks will miss Mason’s services when they hit the hardwood again next fall.
  • Josh Hart, Senior, Villanova (consensus) (18.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 51% FG, 40.4% 3FG). Hart starred on last season’s National Championship team, but he took his game to another level during his senior season. The Big East Player of the Year joined Villanova legend Kerry Kittles as the only players in program history to amass 1,800 points, 700 rebounds, 250 assists, and 150 steals. Villanova’s season ended with a surprising Second Round loss to Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament, but that defeat should not cloud anyone’s perception of Hart’s season, as he was phenomenal from the opening tip of the first game to the final buzzer of the last one.
  • Lonzo Ball, Freshman, UCLA (consensus) (14.6 PPG, 7.6 APG, 6.0 RPG, 55.1% FG). Last year at this time, UCLA was coming off a very disappointing 15-17 season that suggested the 2016-17 campaign would be a make-or-break year for Steve Alford in Westwood. Luckily for the Bruins’ head coach, the arrival of Ball as the gem of a star-studded recruiting class aided significantly in morphing UCLA from a losing team to a Sweet Sixteen squad. A dynamic point guard known for his incredible court vision and ability to make his teammates better, Ball also helped had a knack for making key plays in big games – most notably in a December win at Kentucky and in a February home win over Oregon. Unfortunately for Bruins fans, they will not get to experience more of those star performances, as Ball quickly made his intention to enter the NBA Draft known following UCLA’s Sweet Sixteen loss to Kentucky.
  • Justin Jackson, Junior, North Carolina (18.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.8 APG). Following North Carolina’s heartbreaking defeat to Villanova in last year’s title game, Jackson chose to test the NBA Draft waters before ultimately returning to Chapel Hill for his junior season. At the time, Jackson stated, “The best choice for my basketball future is to return to school and play for the Tar Heels next season.” His statement turned out to be prophetic, as he became North Carolina’s go-to guy on his way to leading the team in scoring and earning the ACC Player of the Year award. The Tar Heels are a balanced unit with talent littering the roster, but Jackson’s emergence to stardom is the most important reason why Roy Williams’ team has another chance to play for the title this weekend in Phoenix.
  • Caleb Swanigan, Sophomore, Purdue (18.5 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 52.7% FG, 44.7% 3FG). The sophomore big man was a double-double machine for the regular season Big Ten champion — finishing a stellar year with 28 double-doubles and having four games where he grabbed 20 or more rebounds. A big reason for Swanigan’s increased productivity in his sophomore campaign was improved conditioning, as his minutes per game rose from 25.7 to 32.5. He also added a reliable three-point shot to his arsenal, improving his percentage in that are of the game to a robust 44.7 percent. As a result, the Boilermakers advanced to their first Sweet Sixteen since 2010, and that charge was led by a monster season from the All-American.

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