Looking Back at Kentucky’s Remarkable Run

Posted by David Changas on April 11th, 2014

On March 1, Kentucky‘s season hit its lowest point when the Wildcats lost to SEC bottom-feeder South Carolina, 72-67. Talk of a 40-0 season was a distant memory, and an early exit from the NCAA Tournament seemed likely. After that loss, Kentucky went on to lose twice to SEC champion Florida, but it was during the second of those losses – a one-point SEC Tournament Championship Game thriller that the Wildcats had a chance to win – that gave coach John Calipari’s team confidence that all was not lost. Kentucky received a #8 seed from the selection committee, and the path ahead of it would consist of games with the region’s top seed and the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament with an undefeated record in 23 years, Wichita State, as well as a possible rematch with arch-nemesis Louisville. The regional final projected as a game against the team that lost to Louisville in last year’s national championship game, Michigan, or SEC rival Tennessee. The Wildcats were able to beat Kansas State with relative ease in the opening round, and then proceed to win thrillers against the Shockers, Cardinals, and Wolverines to advance to their third Final Four in Calipari’s five years at the helm of the program.

Kentucky Will Play For The Program's Ninth National Title On Monday Night

Kentucky Celebrated Its Way to the National Title Game

At the outset of the season, Kentucky was the nation’s consensus No. 1 team, and there was some serious talk in the Bluegrass State that the Wildcats could reach 40-0. That dream was dashed with an early-season loss to Michigan State at the Champions Classic, and then Kentucky followed that with pre-conference defeats to Baylor and North Carolina. If those losses didn’t cause significant concern, the Wildcats’ play in the lowly SEC did. They were swept by the Gators and by Arkansas, and narrowly avoided a sweep by LSU. By the time the SEC Tournament arrived, many wondered whether it was too late for the club to figure things out and salvage their season. After dominant wins over LSU and Georgia, the Wildcats appeared headed for another blowout loss in the title game to Florida. They trailed the Gators by 16 early in the second half, but eventually cut the lead to one point with the ball before James Young slipped and lost control, costing the Wildcats a chance to win. While Kentucky wasn’t able to complete the comeback, that game was the impetus for the turnaround. Willie Cauley-Stein called the performance “a big confidence-booster” afterward, and said that the Wildcats were a “new team” coming out of Atlanta. While winning the daunting Midwest region appeared to be a near-impossible task for a team that entered the NCAA Tournament with 10 losses, the 78-76 second-round win over Wichita State in what many considered the best game of the Big Dance served notice that the Kentucky team many had expected had finally arrived.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Breaking Down the Top 10 SEC Likely Returnees

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 10th, 2014

No player on the lengthy 2013-14 all-SEC first team will be back next season (barring a couple of unlikely reversals), leaving the conference leaderboards completely up for grabs. The top returnees feature a heavy number of sophomores, and could be shaken up depending on some of the announcements out of Lexington over the next few days. Here are the top 10 SEC players to watch for in 2014-15.

Bobby Portis will anchor Mike Anderson's 2014-15 Arkansas squad (wholehogsports.com).

Bobby Portis will anchor Mike Anderson’s 2014-15 Arkansas squad (wholehogsports.com).

  1. Bobby Portis, Arkansas. Portis’ offensive efficiency stood out most during his freshman year, but he also was in the SEC’s top 10 in rebounds and blocks per game. He also has experience as a marked man as he became the Razorbacks’ primary option as the season wore on. Portis should flourish in his sophomore campaign, especially if Mike Anderson relents and plays him more than 30 minutes per game.
  2. Jordan Mickey, LSU. Mickey had a better statistical season than Portis, but he did so with Johnny O’Bryant commanding the bulk of attention. O’Bryant is now gone, and Mickey will become the Tigers’ top option in the low post. If his jumper continues to improve (39.3% on two-point jump shots) he’ll be a load on offense. Mickey also had the sixth most blocks in the country as a freshman.
  3. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky. Harrison and his brother are expected to return to Lexington, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they both left school either. If they do stick around, they’ll look to turn solid play in the NCAA Tournament into breakout sophomore seasons. Andrew gets the nod here merely because his position is more important, but he’ll need to improve on the 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio he posted as a freshman. He could become a Tyreke Evans-type lead guard who looks to score first and creates offensive rebounding opportunities for his frontcourt with penetration and shots at the rim. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Arizona State

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 10th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Up first, Arizona State.

What Went Right

Jermaine Marshall and Shaquielle McKissic were largely excellent in their only seasons in Tempe (McKissic will be petitioning the NCAA for an additional season of eligibility). Jordan Bachynski capped his stellar Sun Devils career with his best season and an all-time conference record for career blocked shots. And Herb Sendek and the Sun Devils earned their first NCAA Tournament appearance since James Harden was on campus.

Arizona State

Arizona State Went Dancing, But It Ended With a Heartbreaking Putback by Texas

What Went Wrong

Still, despite that major accomplishment, you’ve got to feel that this team left money on the table at the end of the year. First, just the way they lost their NCAA Tournament game, falling to Texas on a buzzer-beater when the Longhorns’ last two buckets came on offensive rebounds after airballs – ouch! And Jahii Carson, the team’s best player and arguably a more talented player than what he showed, struggled through a rough season, with questions about his game confirmed and others about his leadership raised anew. Sendek did a solid job with this team, a squad that had some obvious holes in it. But still, this feels like a team that had an NCAA Tournament win (or two) in them but failed to get the job done.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Your Way-Too-Early Big Ten 2014-15 Power Rankings

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 10th, 2014

The Big Ten was once again a juggernaut during the 2013-14 campaign, as the league was arguably the best conference in America, or at worst second behind the Big 12. There were six teams invited to the NCAA Tournament, three of which made the Elite Eight, and the league was also the home of the NIT Champion. One thing that cannot be disputed is that the bottom half of the league’s teams were much better. This meant that some games that were considered big upsets early became much less surprising as the season went on. With this year in the books, the league is set to add newcomers Maryland and Rutgers to the mix for 2014-15. With 14 teams and a plethora of players slated to return, it’s time to construct some kind of pecking order as we head into the long offseason.

Look for Nigel Hayes to take on a much bigger role for Wisconsin next season. (AP)

Look for Nigel Hayes to take on a much bigger role for Wisconsin next season. (AP)

  1. Wisconsin: The Badgers are only projected to lose starting guard Ben Brust right now. Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky could both leave school, but neither is anything close to a certain first round pick. If they return, the Badgers would have four upperclassmen starters in the lineup, plus sophomores Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes ready to take on bigger roles. This team could be scary.
  2. Michigan: While the Wisconsin situation looks much more settled, Michigan is an absolute wild card at this point. The Wolverines could very well lose any combination of Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III. Stauskas is the only player who is thought to be a certain first-rounder, however, and a team that brings back Robinson, McGary, Caris LeVert, and Derrick Walton Jr. could easily build off of their Elite Eight appearance and battle Wisconsin for the league title.
  3. Ohio State: The Buckeyes have the best recruiting class in the Big Ten coming in, with D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, and Jae’Sean Tate on the majority of the top 100 lists. Combine this infusion of young talent with a solid group of upperclassmen and graduate transfer Anthony Lee coming in from Temple, and Ohio State should be better next year than it was in 2013-14. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Another Year, Another Doughnut: What’s Wrong With the Big 12?

Posted by Kory Carpenter on April 10th, 2014

The Big 12 has a problem. It spent most of the regular season perceived as the best conference in the country but went another year without a national champion. Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1984, only two Big 12 teams have won the national title. Both teams were Kansas (1988 and 2008). That represents fewer titles than any other Big Five conference and just one more than UNLV. In the last decade, in fact, Kansas is the only school to make a Final Four appearance as a member of the Big 12 (West Virginia made the Final Four in 2010 while still in the Big East). Since then, the ACC has sent five schools to the Final Four, the SEC seven, and the Big Ten eight. Even the one year-old American Athletic Conference has had a national champion, thanks to Connecticut. This is partly a Kansas problem, as the Jayhawks have missed good opportunities for Final Fours at least four times in the last 10 years. But without the Jayhawks the rest of the Big 12 would resemble Conference USA. It has been full of teams that were good but never considered great, and there is no better example of that than this season.

For the eighth time in the last ten years, the Big 12 failed to send a team to the Final Four.

For the eighth time in the last ten years, the Big 12 failed to send a team to the Final Four.

Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, and Texas spent time together in the Top 25 this season, but only the Jayhawks were considered legitimate threats to go deep in March. Iowa State, for example, cruised to a 13-0 start with a few good wins over Michigan and Iowa, so when they lost to Oklahoma, it meant the Sooners must be good. Or so we thought. And after Kansas State — which lost to Northern Colorado and Charlotte in November — beat a couple of ranked teams like Oklahoma State and Texas, people thought the conference was full of really good teams beating up on one another. But after another disappointing March, it’s time to realize that the Big 12 has one great program and a bunch of other ones capable of playing well for a few weeks at a time. Michigan State has Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin. North Carolina has Duke and Syracuse. Kentucky has Florida. Kansas has a handful of teams capable of upsetting them in their building and disappearing a week later. This is most evident in the fact that Kansas has won 10 straight regular season titles. Bill Self is a future Hall of Fame coach and is on one of the best regular season runs we have seen in decades, but would he have 10 straight titles in any other major conference? Not a chance. And with Self’s prowess on the recruiting trail lately, it’s hard to see any Big 12 team ending the Jayhawks’ run of conference titles.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

2013-14 ACC Season Review – Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins on April 10th, 2014

Now that the 2013-14 season is all over, let’s take a look back at how each ACC team performed. We will do so in three parts, dividing the league into groups of five teams based on ACC Tournament seeding. For each school, we’ll compare its actual season results with preseason expectations, and point out the surprises in each case — both the pleasant and unpleasant. Finally, we will take a quick peak at the short- and long-term prospects for each program. In Part II today, we’ll look at the middle-of-the-pack, teams that finished #6 through #10 in the league standings. This includes the team that overachieved the most compared to expectations, and one that was disappointing in its last season in the league.

6) Clemson (23-13, 10-8 ACC) - NIT (L: Semi-Finals)

Clemson is Off to Surprising ACC Start Led by K.J. McDaniels. (Photo: Ken Ruinard)

If Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels returns next year, the Tigers may contend for an upper level ACC finish.
(Photo: Ken Ruinard)

Clemson came in to this season with low expectations, picked to finish #14 in the ACC media’s preseason poll. But led by all-ACC first teamer K.J. McDaniels, the Tigers’ came within a whisker of making the NCAA Tournament. Only an extremely weak non-conference schedule tarnished their resume. Of course when Brad Brownell set that schedule up, he was probably more concerned with building a young team’s confidence heading into a stronger ACC with the additions of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame.

  • They were who we thought they were. During his four years at Clemson, Brownell’s squads have been much better defensively than offensively. This year was a perfect example with the Tigers finishing fifth in the league in defensive efficiency and #13 in offensive efficiency.
  • We didn’t see this coming. In his junior year, McDaniels exploded into a star on both ends of the court. He accomplished the rare feat of dramatically improving his offensive efficiency (ORtg – 111.4) while also increasing his usage (28.6%). As a sophomore, those numbers were 102.4 and 23.0, respectively. In addition, McDaniels was voted the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
  • What the future holds. If McDaniels returns for his senior year, the Tigers will return basically intact and be expected to compete for a high finish in the ACC. If McDaniels enters the NBA Draft instead, Clemson will have even a harder time scoring than they usually do. For long-term success, Clemson must recruit more talented offensive players. It will also be interesting to see if Brownell will look to toughen up that non-conference slate next year. Perhaps McDaniels’ decision will impact that too.

7-Tied) N.C. State (22-14, 9-9 ACC) - NCAA (L: 2nd Round)

As often happens with Mark Gottfried teams, N.C. State played better than expected after losing five of their top six players from the prior year. Of course, that one returnee, T.J. Warren, turned out to be pretty darn good. Actually, Warren had a tremendous season and carried the Wolfpack all the way to a surprising NCAA Tournament bid. After a First Four win over Xavier in Dayton, N.C. State was looking good against #5 seed St. Louis before a monumental collapse brought the Wolfpack’s season to a screeching halt.

  • They were who we thought they were. With a team as young as this year’s Wolfpack, ups and downs were going to be expected. That was reflected in some extreme performances. N.C. State lost six home games during the season, but posted four ACC road wins and also beat a good Tennessee squad in Knoxville. Sometimes, the inconsistent play showed up within the span of a single game, such as blown late leads at Syracuse, versus North Carolina at home, and of course against St. Louis. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Joel Embiid Headed to the NBA: What Does Kansas Do Next?

Posted by Taylor Erickson on April 9th, 2014

Joel Embiid officially declared his intention to enter the 2014 NBA Draft in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon. Embiid is projected as a top three pick in the upcoming draft despite missing seven games at the end of this season because of a stress fracture in his lower back. Given how rare it is for big men to come along with a demonstrated ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor, it should come as no shock that the seven-footer from Cameroon has decided to leave Kansas after just one abbreviated season.

Kansas big man Joel Embiid will enter the 2014 NBA Draft.

Kansas big man Joel Embiid will enter the 2014 NBA Draft.

The most optimistic Kansas fans, however, were holding out hope that Embiid’s comments to ESPN earlier this year would convince him to stick around in Lawrence for another season. In that January article, Embiid talked about studying other talented big men and cited how many years they stayed in school as a contributing factor to become the best at his position one day. But make no mistake about it, the game isn’t the same as when Olajuwon, Duncan, and Shaq were dominating college campuses. Players now more than ever are drafted on potential, and in Embiid’s case, he has it in spades. In the end, this announcement comes down to making a sensible business decision, and capitalizing on the opportunity to make life-changing money — something that could be significantly hindered if he were to return to campus and experience another year of back problems.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Farewell, and Thank You, to Pac-12 Writer Connor Pelton

Posted by AMurawa on April 9th, 2014

As the 2013-14 season wraps up, so too does the third season of the Rush the Court Pac-12 microsite. And, as we put a bow on another great college basketball season, we also have reached an end of an era here in our own small little corner of the college hoops universe, as my right-hand man here for the past three seasons, Connor Pelton, will be moving on to greener pastures. Connor and I have had more than a little help manning the RTC Pac-12 beat (dap to Parker Baruh, Adam Butler, Kenny Ocker, and others), but by and large, if you’ve read much about Pac-12 basketball at Rush the Court the past three years, it’s likely been the two of us you’ve been reading. Along the way, we’ve spent time disagreeing about Tony Wroten, Jahii Carson and Joseph Young, etc., bemoaning the failures of the conference we write about, and generally having a lot of fun. While Connor’s input here will be greatly missed, we wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors. And you can bet we’ll be bugging him on the regular to send us over a guest post every now and then.

As for the offseason plans, we’ve got team-by-team post-mortems planned for the near future and posts as events warrant them, so be sure to check back in between now and next season as we continue to keep you up to date on the trials and tribulations of the Pac-12 conference.

Share this story

Your Way-Too-Early 2014-15 Pac-12 Power Rankings

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on April 9th, 2014

Another season in the books; another Pac-12 disappointment. We’ve got plenty of time to look back on the 2013-14 season, but it is onward and upward from here as we briefly look ahead to next year. We’re still not entirely sure exactly which of the players we watched this year will move on to greener pastures, and there are sure to be some surprise transfers (both incoming and outgoing) ahead of us, but in the days after the national championship, it is time to start dreaming about the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Below are our way-too-early Pac-12 power rankings.

Arizona's Back In The Familiar Spot of A 1-Seed And An NCAA Favorite (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

McConnell, Hollis-Jefferson, and Tarczewski, Among Others, Make Arizona The Pac-12 Favorite Again (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

  1. Arizona – Sure, Aaron Gordon’s stay in Tucson was brief. And yeah, Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson may join him in the NBA. But barring some surprises, five of the following six players are going to be comprising Sean Miller’s starting lineup next season: T.J. McConnell, Gabe York, Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski. Goodness gracious sakes alive, that is a lot of talent. And, the West Regional will not be held in Anaheim next season, so let’s go ahead and pencil Miller and his Wildcats into his first-ever Final Four.
  2. Stanford – Johnny Dawkins and company broke through this year with their first NCAA Tournament appearance under the current regime. And while some important players move on, a returning nucleus of combo guard Chasson Randle, wing Anthony Brown and big man Stefan Nastic is solid. Throw in a recruiting class with four different four-star recruits (as ranked by ESPN) and a bevy of talented returning youngsters and we’ll make the Cardinal the best bet in the league to challenge the Wildcats. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Can Michigan State Get to the Final Four Without an Elite Point Guard?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on April 9th, 2014

About six months ago, when we kicked off RTC’s Big Ten microsite for the 2013-14 season, one of the first articles written was a discussion about Michigan State’s reliance on Keith Appling. “If Appling is effective, then the Spartans are arguably the best in the country, and without him, they lack the leadership to make the Final Four.” Fast-forward six months from that piece, and we saw Appling average two points per game during four games in the NCAA Tournament (that is not a typo). Tom Izzo’s offense looked completely lost during the final 10 minutes of its Elite Eight loss against Connecticut, and they were headed down a similar path against Virginia  before Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson muscled their way to a victory. This particular discussion is not about why Appling was so ineffective because it is likely that he was still hurting from his wrist injury and just could never get back to 100 percent. Instead, the last two weeks proves the importance of Izzo’s dependence on effective point guard play, because every one of his Final Four teams relied heavily on a true point guard who could lead the team during crunch time.

Tom Izzo's teams are at their best with an effective point guard.

Tom Izzo’s teams are at their best with an effective point guard. (Getty)

Let’s start with the late 1990s when Izzo raised Michigan State basketball to a whole new level on the national stage by taking them to three straight Final Fours. There was a guy named Mateen Cleaves who had a pretty good handle on running the point, essentially acting as an extension of Izzo on the court. Even after Cleaves graduated, Charlie Bell handled the point guard duties effectively in the half-court, while the emergence of Jason Richardson on the wing improved the overall offense. Following that three-year stretch of playing on the last weekend, Izzo couldn’t get them back to the Final Four even though he recruited some excellent guards – Chris Hill and Maurice Ager were excellent scorers, but they couldn’t command the offense because of their skill sets better suited for calling their own numbers. Then came Drew Neitzel, a true point guard who was comfortable dishing the ball and letting the talented wings produce the bulk of the offense. Without Neitzel, Hill and Alan Anderson would have been the first set of seniors that would have graduated under Izzo without making a Final Four (until this year of course). Consider the next two Final Four appearances by the Spartans and another effective point guard, Kalin Lucas, dominated on both ends of the floor. Lucas was hurt during the NCAA Tournament for one of those runs, but Korie Lucious was able to step in effectively to cover the point guard position.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Your Way-Too-Early 2014-15 Big 12 Power Rankings

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 9th, 2014

While the Big 12 catapulted a league-record seven teams into the Big Dance this season, the absence of a Final Four team among the ranks marked the latest in a series of missed opportunities for the conference to assert itself in the national conversation. The NCAA Tournament is chaotic by nature, but failing to send a single team to the final weekend eight times in the last 10 years is not the kind of distinction that the league’s administrators and coaches pride themselves on. Still, the Big 12 remains a very good league, and even though the statuses of a few NBA Draft hopefuls remain up in the air, there’s enough continuity remaining for us to ballpark the conference’s pecking order heading into next season. This is far from a predicted order of finish, but in the second week of April, here is how we think things stand.

1. Kansas

Betting against Kansas to win the Big 12 is a fool's errand, but if they want to make noise in March, they need to resolve their point guard issues.

Everyone knows that betting against Kansas to win the Big 12 is a fool’s errand, but if the Jayhawks want to make noise next March, they need to resolve their point guard issues.

  • Departures of Note: Andrew Wiggins, Tarik Black, Joel Embiid (probable)
  • Notable Returnees: Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden, Conner Frankamp, Naadir Tharpe, Brannen Greene, Jamari Traylor, Frank Mason
  • New Additions: Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander, Hunter Mickelson (Arkansas transfer)
  • Outlook: The back line should be very solid once again, especially if the Jayhawks can land Myles Turner. That possibility only figured to be an option if Joel Embiid left, and all indications are that the Cameroonian center will announce his departure later today. Perhaps of greater note is that there’s no imminent cure for the Jayhawks’ backcourt problems, though they do have options in Mason and Frankamp.

2. Texas

  • Departures of Note: None
  • Notable Returnees: Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes, Isaiah Taylor, Javan Felix, Conner Lammert, Prince Ibeh
  • New Additions: Jordan Barnett, Obinna Oleka (JuCo transfer)
  • Outlook: The Longhorns figure to return everyone from the cohesive group that got Rick Barnes comfortably off the hot seat and in the direction of conference Coach Of The Year accolades. Texas will be good again next year, but swaying the commitment of in-state standout big man Myles Turner could provide the program the opening it needs to dethrone Kansas.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

2013-14 ACC Season Review – Part I

Posted by Brad Jenkins on April 9th, 2014

Now that the 2013-14 season is all over, let’s take a look back at how each ACC team performed. We will do so in three parts, dividing the league into groups of five teams based on ACC Tournament seeding. For each school, we’ll compare its actual season results with preseason expectations, and point out the surprises in each case — both the pleasant and unpleasant. Finally, we will take a quick peak at the short- and long-term prospects for each program. In Part I today, we’ll start with the teams with the most room for improvement, the bottom five of the league. Three of these teams are changing head coaches, and another will probably do so next year if that team finishes in this group again.

11-Tied) Georgia Tech (16-17, 6-12 ACC) - No Postseason

Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory lost out on one, maybe two important prospects recently. (Icon Sports Media)

Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory will be on the Hot seat in 2014-15. (Icon Sports Media)

The Yellow Jackets were #11 in the preseason ACC media poll so they finished as expected, but with Notre Dame and Boston College having disappointing seasons, they could have threatened to do better. No doubt, it was troubling to see teams with seemingly equal or inferior talent (namely, Clemson and Miami) finish above Georgia Tech in the standings. In fairness, Brian Gregory’s team was dealt a bad blow when Robert Carter Jr. missed the first 10 ACC games with a knee injury, as Georgia Tech dropped seven of those games and never recovered.

  • They were who we thought they were. Coming into the season, Georgia Tech’s offensive firepower was suspect, and that turned out to be the case as they finished #14 in the league in offensive efficiency.
  • We didn’t see this coming. After effective freshman campaigns, the sophomore trio of Carter Jr., Marcus Georges-Hunt and Chris Bolden were expected to make strides in production, but that didn’t happen. They only raised their combined scoring averages from 28.0 PPG as rookies to 28.5 PPG this season.
  • What the future holds. Probably no ACC head coach will have his job on the line more than Gregory next year. If the Yellow Jackets don’t make the NCAA Tourney it will likely be his last in Atlanta. It won’t be easy with the loss of three key seniors, including center Daniel Miller who was selected third team all-ACC. Next year’s junior class holds the key to the next couple of seasons, with the aforementioned trio of Carter Jr. Georges-Hunt, and Bolden needing to produce.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story