Bill Self’s One-And-Done Experience: Success Or Failure?

Posted by Chris Stone on March 26th, 2015

For the second straight season, Kansas was knocked out of the NCAA Tournament in the Third Round. The early exits have begun to wear on one of the nation’s most passionate fan bases as the Jayhawks have been eliminated prior to the Sweet Sixteen in five of Self’s 12 seasons in Lawrence. The most recent, vocal criticism of Self relates to his recruitment of potential one-and-done players. Self’s two best teams did not feature the standard-bearers for the elite in college basketball these days. The 2008 Jayhawks won the national championship with only one freshman, Cole Aldrich, playing in more than 20 percent of the team’s minutes. The 2012 team that lost to Kentucky in the championship game had only one freshman, Naadir Tharpe, who played in more than 10 percent of the team’s available minutes. That narrative, though, paints an incomplete picture of Self’s experience with one-and-done talent.

Bill Self is being questioned after another early exit from the NCAA Tournament. (Photo credit: AP Photo).

Bill Self is Wondering What Went Wrong After Another Early Exit (AP)

Talent is indispensable in college basketball and one-and-done players are the epitome of talent. They have program-changing potential and their inclusion in a rotation certainly doesn’t hurt teams seeking deep runs in the NCAA Tournament. This year’s Sweet Sixteen provides great support to that notion. Most notably, Arizona (Stanley Johnson), Duke (Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow), Kentucky (Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, and Trey Lyles) and Utah (Jakob Poeltl) all have at least one freshman likely to be in June’s NBA Draft playing a significant role for their team. Read the rest of this entry »

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Five Keys For Wisconsin Against North Carolina Tonight

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 26th, 2015

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Lost in the anticipation of a Wisconsin vs. Arizona rematch in the Elite Eight is the fact that the Badgers still have to get there by beating a North Carolina unit that has played its best ball of the season since the calendar turned to March. While the Badgers are favored to win the game, it won’t be an walk in the park for a number of reasons. Here’s are five ways that Bo Ryan’s squad can keep things rolling against the Tar Heels in Los Angeles.

Bronson Koenig needs to help Wisconsin control the tempo if they want to beat North Carolina.  (AP)

Bronson Koenig needs to help Wisconsin control the tempo if they want to beat North Carolina. (AP)

  1. Control the Tempo: North Carolina likes to push the ball upcourt and get easy baskets in transition. They don’t necessarily do so by forcing a bunch of turnovers; rather, the Heels like to grab the ball off of either a make or a miss and run their patented secondary break. Wisconsin doesn’t get sped up too often but the Badgers still need to ensure that this remains a half-court game rather than a track meet. The days are gone when Wisconsin cannot keep up with the Tar Heels athletically, but it still doesn’t make sense to try to run with them. Half-court execution and good shot selection will win the day; the leadership and facilitation of Bronson Koenig and Traevon Jackson (assuming he plays) will be the keys here.
  2. Win the Battle of the Boards: Wisconsin ranks fourth in the nation in defensive rebounding while North Carolina comes in fifth on the offensive glass. Roy Williams may be without its leader in this department with Kennedy Meeks and his 12.9 percent offensive rebounding rate potentially sidelined with a knee injury, but backup Isaiah Hicks (11.3%) is no slouch here either. Without anyone who can shoot consistently from deep, the Tar Heels’ best offense on many possessions is just to hit the boards. If the Badgers control the glass tonight, they can force a bunch of one-possession trips from the Heels and effectively shut down their offense. Read the rest of this entry »
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How Will Traevon Jackson’s Return Impact the Badgers?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 26th, 2015

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There isn’t much stopping Wisconsin’s offensive stride right now. The Badgers won the Big Ten regular season and tournament championships by averaging a whopping 1.21 points per possession despite playing the last 17 games of the season without senior point guard Traevon Jackson, who broke his foot on January 11. Some observers thought that the injury would set the Badgers back on both ends of the court but Wisconsin instead has held strong with its only loss since coming at Maryland. Sophomore replacement Bronson Koenig has done a terrific job of running the offense by hanging on to the ball, distributing it in the right spots and shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc.

Traevon Jackson's confidence to take big shots during the final minutes of key games will be needed over the Sweet 16 weekend of Wisconsin.

Traevon Jackson’s confidence to take big shots for Wisconsin during the final minutes of key games will be needed in the Sweet Sixteen and possibly beyond. (Getty)

Jackson said yesterday that he has confidence in his foot and he is “100 percent” ready to play against North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen. With two more wins needed to reach the program’s second consecutive Final Four, it is an intriguing dilemma for Bo Ryan to determine how many minutes Jackson should play. The argument against inserting him completely back into the rotation is that the move could disturb the seamless rhythm of what has been an offensive juggernaut. The argument for playing him is that he was the starter of last season’s Final Four squad and it’s not as if the Badgers were doing poorly before he was injured (15-1 with the sole loss coming to Duke). Ryan will definitely play his senior point guard some minutes tonight, but the question is how much and in what spots? The reason that this is a particularly difficult decision for the head coach is because Koenig has been a more effective player than Jackson.

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ACC Must End Final Four Drought to Claim Best Conference Status

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 25th, 2015

With a record-tying five schools in the Sweet Sixteen, the ACC has received a lot of praise this week as this year’s best conference. There’s no doubt that tying the 2009 Big East with the most teams to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament is quite an impressive feat. But it’s also not totally unexpected either, considering that the league placed five teams among the top four seed-lines of the bracket. The only real surprise is that the ACC’s regular season champion, Virginia, is not among the quintet still playing, replaced instead by #8 seed N.C.State (which knocked off #1 seed Villanova). There are many different metrics that are used to rank leagues: overall average team rankings (RPI, KenPom); head-to-head results between the major conferences; NCAA Performance (teams in the Big Dance, total wins, Sweet Sixteen schools, Final Four teams, Championships); and combinations of them all. And while the ACC has historically outperformed every other conference in most if not all of those categories, the league has slid in what we feel are the most important areas — Final Four appearances and national championships — over the last nine years.

35 Years

The table above shows how well the ACC has done over the past 35 years in getting to the Final Four and winning the National Championship. We used 1980 as the starting point in our analysis because that was the first truly “open” tournament. Up until 1975, only conference champions were invited to the NCAA Tournament, and for the next five years (1975-79), the maximum number of teams allowed from a single league was limited to two. In addition to results from actual conference membership at the time, just for fun, we also added results from a current league affiliation perspective. For example, in the current membership column, the ACC loses Maryland’s two Final Four appearances but gains the many earned by Syracuse and Louisville as members of the Big East and other leagues. Now let’s look at just how far the ACC has fallen in recent NCAA Tournaments, starting with the first 26 years of the open tournament era.

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Unlikely Yet Capable, Oklahoma and West Virginia Look to Carry Big 12 Flag

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 25th, 2015

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Let’s rewind to last Thursday morning. If I had told you that the Big 12 would send just two of its seven NCAA Tournament teams to the Sweet Sixteen, you’d probably feel let down. Conference members have struggled to make many deep runs over the last 10 years, and while it didn’t appear that there was a national title contender among the group this season, there were plenty of teams that were good enough to survive the first weekend. A flawed Kansas team had scrapped and defended its way to an 11th straight conference crown. Iowa State had shown great resilience in erasing one double-figure lead after another on its way to a Big 12 Tournament title. Scott Drew’s Baylor team was arguably better than the one that went to the Sweet Sixteen last season.

Can the new-look Mountaineers help the Big 12 save face? (Greg Bartram/USA TODAY Sports)

Can the new-look Mountaineers help the Big 12 save face? (Greg Bartram/USA TODAY Sports)

As we all now know, none of those three promising teams are still standing, and the also-rans of the bunch — Oklahoma State and Texas — fizzled out as well. That leaves us with Oklahoma and West Virginia as the Big 12’s two survivors. While the Sooners and Mountaineers are very good teams led by two of the most experienced and successful coaches in the game, their presence in the Sweet Sixteen still feels like a bit of a surprise. Oklahoma’s ability to play great defense while utilizing an uptempo attack is impressive, but there were plenty of reasons to be suspicious of the Sooners. They played poorly in two losses to downtrodden Kansas State, struggled to find consistency against competitive teams away from Norman, and their composure fell under increased scrutiny after they coughed up a pair of big leads to the Cyclones. While similar criticisms can be made of other teams still playing (see: UCLA), you would have a good case if you wanted to remain skeptical on Lon Kruger‘s team. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Three-Pac of Teams in the Sweet Sixteen Party

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 25th, 2015

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Four of our friends were invited to this party last weekend along with a bunch of other people. It’s been a crazy, crazy time. If I told you about everything that went down, it would probably burn off both your ears. We’ve got some stories we’ll tell the next time this group gets together, but for now, three of our crowd are still going strong. And the way things are going, there’s a chance at least one of this cast of characters closes this party down. Before we get to those party animals, let’s pay tribute to the one we lost along the way.

Oregon Is The Only Pac-12 Team To Leave The Party Early (USA Today)

Oregon is the Only Pac-12 Team To Leave The Party Early. (USA Today)

Oregon came into the year a complete mess. The offseason was literally scandalous. There was a whole new group of players to meet. Expectations were low. The whole thing could have gone off the rails at any time. Instead, chalk up a Pac-12 Player of the Year award, a Pac-12 Coach of the Year award, a second-place conference finish, an NCAA Tournament win and another chance to throw one hell of a scare into Wisconsin before fading late. By any reasonable measure, this season in Eugene will go down as a resounding success. Joseph Young’s trailblazing two years came to an end, but a fine young group of talented players remain in his stead. And frankly, a changing of the guard could be the breath of fresh air the program needs. Jordan Bell and Dillon Brooks will headline a group of talented sophomores, while Snoop Dogg Dwayne Benjamin will be the scrappy play-making veteran he established himself as this year. As long as Dana Altman returns along the sideline (which, given that previous scandal, is not exactly a 100 percent sure thing), there’s no reason to expect anything less than another strong upper-division finish next year from the Ducks. Read the rest of this entry »

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Kansas State’s Spring Cleaning Could Help Wildcats Grow

Posted by Chris Stone on March 25th, 2015

Kansas State announced in a statement last night that the program will undergo several roster changes that will impact the 2015-16 season. Specifically, the Wildcats dismissed sophomore Marcus Foster and freshman Tre Harris from the team. Head coach Bruce Weber was succinct when he said, “Marcus and Tre have been unable to live up to the standards that we expect of our players.” Foster had already been suspended by Weber in February for violating team rules, and even though he had expressed a strong desire to return to Manhattan next season, his head coach obviously had different plans. In addition to the dismissals of Foster and Harris, Kansas State also announced the transfer of freshman point guard Jevon Thomas. Thomas too missed the Wildcats’ regular season finale against Texas for disciplinary reasons, and even though the freshman returned for the Big 12 Tournament, he was clearly displeased with Weber after finding out about his suspension via social media.

Marcus Foster was dismissed from the Kansas State program on Tuesday evening.

Marcus Foster was dismissed from the Kansas State program on Tuesday evening. (AP)

These roster changes will have an immediate effect on the Kansas State program as it attempts to improve upon a rather disappointing 2014-15 campaign. The losses of Foster, Harris and Thomas in combination with the graduations of Thomas Gipson and Nino Williams create a massive hole on the team’s depth chart. Kansas State will lose its top four players in minutes played from this season, and Foster, Gipson and Williams were the team’s leading scorers. To put that into perspective, Kansas State, a team that averaged just 63.0 points per contest this season, stands to lose 43.5 points per game with these departures. And Foster, despite a disappointing sophomore season, proved during his freshman year that he has star power. These are substantial losses, but despite all of that lost productivity, Weber’s house-cleaning could provide Kansas State with an opportunity to grow as a program. It is clear that the head coach struggled to get through to his players this season, ultimately resulting in a frustrated plea from him after a loss to TCU. “I just want guys that care,” he said. “That is all I want, guys that care and want to play for K-State and want to play to win and will play hard.”

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Michigan State Turnaround Started When Izzo Spurned the NBA

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 25th, 2015

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There’s not much that can be said about Tom Izzo as a basketball coach that hasn’t already been said. After Michigan State’s upset of #2 Virginia in the Round of 32, there was overwhelming media praise for the 60-year old icon and his ever-growing reputation in March. It’s an accolade that’s well-deserved — in 20 years as the Spartans’ head coach, Izzo has taken Michigan State to six Final Fours, eight Elite Eights and 13 Sweet Sixteens (including this season). He also won a National Championship in 2000 – representing the last Big Ten coach to successfully reach the mountain top. While he was certainly a celebrated figure well before this weekend’s upset victory, this season’s run is earning him even more praise because of the flawed roster he’s taken there. Because of Villanova and Virginia’s losses in the East Region, the Spartans find themselves with a realistic path from the Sweet Sixteen to the Final Four. Even more remarkable is that Izzo’s latest run comes merely a year after he seriously considered a jump to the NBA because of frustrations with the current environment of college basketball.

Izzo

Tom Izzo Could be Coaching the Detroit Pistons Right Now (USA Today Images)

Last May, Izzo faced quite a professional choice. He could either take an offer to finally move on to the NBA – where the Detroit Pistons were set to pay him a hefty salary and give him general management responsibilities over the franchise – or he could return for his 20th season to a Michigan State club where three crucial players had moved on. Add that to the fact that he had experienced some high-profile misses on the recruiting trail and was apparently growing increasingly frustrated with the entire process — it just seemed as if all the stars had finally aligned for him to make the jump to the pros, a move he had flirted with as recent as 2010. He obviously chose East Lansing, which meant that he would be returning to what appeared to be on paper a flawed team. From a talent perspective, the Spartans looked barely capable of making the NCAA Tournament with only one blue-chipper, Branden Dawson, on the roster. That result still seemed possible in early February when Michigan State lost to Illinois in the Breslin Center, sinking them to 6-4 in the Big Ten standings. Since then, however, Izzo has done what he does best — push his team with a late surge so that it was playing well enough to finish among the top four of the Big Ten and make a run in March. Is anyone surprised that Michigan State nearly upset Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament championship game a couple of Sunday ago, or that his group is among the last 16 schools standing? Read the rest of this entry »

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The Big East Fell Flat, or Did It?

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 25th, 2015

A curtain of despair has suddenly fallen over the Big East’s 10 members. After starting off with an unblemished 4-0 record in the first day of the NCAA Tournament, five of the league’s six invited teams peeled off over the remaining three days, save Xavier (which played Cinderella story, Georgia State). What was considered the second-best conference from top to bottom now stands at just 5-5 with the Musketeers facing a significant battle against Arizona on Thursday night in Los Angeles. Even the conference’s biggest proponents can’t mask their disappointment with how things have played out. A whopping 60 percent of the league’s teams qualified — five of which were granted a #6 seed or better — and yet here we are, with only one school advancing past the first weekend. So what happened? Is this a problem with the conference as a whole or simply those individual teams? Or is it a problem at all?

Villanova Piccolo Girl Signified the Disappointment of an Entire League

Villanova Piccolo Girl Signified the Disappointment of an Entire League

To preface this examination, I had set the over/under at 2.5 for the number of Big East teams advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. This was under the presumption that Villanova was a near-lock and that two of the remaining schools would receive favorable enough draws to break through. The results were not ideal but the league’s overall performance cannot be blamed on the quality of the conference itself. Anyone who thinks that the Big East didn’t have talented players or deserve its six bids hasn’t watched the league this season. Sure, it wasn’t as top-heavy as the ACC but nearly every game was competitive and served to battle-test each team. Still, a team’s ability to achieve postseason success does not necessarily correlate with regular season scheduling. Teams likes Wichita State, Butler, Davidson, Northern Iowa and Gonzaga have had successful postseasons in years past despite playing softer conference schedules.

The Big East’s under-performance this March lies in individual games where opponents exploited weaknesses and exposed mismatches. No specific team other than Villanova lost a game it truly had no business losing. The results alone start to appear bad when we examine the conference as a whole. Let’s dig into each team’s situation:

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Putting Herb Sendek’s Firing Into Perspective

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 24th, 2015

With eight minutes left in Arizona State’s Pac-12 Tournament opening round game, they were up 14 on last place USC and headed for a quarterfinal rematch with UCLA, a team that they had just beaten in Tempe a few weeks before. The Sun Devils needed to win the Pac’s automatic bid in order to earn an NCAA Tournament appearance, but all things considered, the future looked reasonably bright. And then things drastically changed. Arizona State was outscored 21-4 over the final 8:29 of the game by the Trojans, and that seemingly bright future in the desert dimmed significantly. The blown lead a couple of Wednesday nights ago in Las Vegas did not simply mean the end to a season. It effectively meant the end to Herb Sendek’s career in Tempe. After increasing speculation about his position, Sendek was oficially fired on Tuesday. Doug Haller reports that the Sun Devils’ 42-point loss at Utah late in the season opened up the possibility of a change, and the USC debacle cemented it.

After Nine Seasons And Two NCAA Tournament Appearances, Herb Sendek Was Fired At Arizona State

After Nine Seasons And Two NCAA Tournament Appearances, Herb Sendek Was Fired At Arizona State

First, let’s wrap up Sendek’s career in Tempe. Nine seasons; two NCAA Tournament appearances; a record of 154-132; a conference record of 72-90. He landed the best recruiting class in the history of the school in 2007 when he pulled James Harden out of southern California, beating out schools like UCLA and Arizona for the future superstar’s services. He brought five ESPN top 100 recruits to Tempe and won just a single NCAA Tournament game, a win over Temple in 2009. In a vacuum, none of that is particularly impressive. Okay, so let’s remove that vacuum and give you some context about Arizona State basketball. In 1978, this program, along with Arizona, joined the Pac-8 to create the Pac-10. Thirty-seven college basketball seasons have gone into the books since then, and the Sun Devils have posted conference records of .500 or better 16 times. Sendek coached nine seasons in Tempe and recorded six of those. Bill Frieder is the other coach with any significant recent success at Arizona State – he tallied six .500-or-better seasons in eight years (before resigning in the wake of a point-shaving scandal and numerous other off-court issues). In those 37 seasons, Arizona State has made the NCAA Tournament seven times: twice under Sendek; twice under Frieder, once under Rob Evans; and twice, way back in the early 80s under Ned Wulk.**

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Ben Howland: An Odd Fit That Might Just Work Out For Mississippi State

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 24th, 2015

Several weeks ago I wrote on this microsite that it was shaping up to be the rare offseason where no SEC schools would be welcoming new coaches. That turned out to be a very incorrect notion. Anthony Grant was fired by Alabama on Selection Sunday and Mississippi State followed that up about a week later by announcing that Rick Ray would not be given a fourth year at the helm in Starkville. Ray’s firing registered higher on the “surprise meter” than that of Grant — the Bulldogs had just posted their best SEC record during his tenure (6-12), were expected to return an experienced nucleus of core players, and had signed a trio of three-star prospects in next year’s class. That clearly wasn’t enough for athletic director Scott Stricklin, and it did not take the school very long to name former Pitt and UCLA head coach Ben Howland as its next men’s basketball coach. Howland was loosely connected to seemingly every major job that opened a year ago but he was reportedly never seriously considered at any of Missouri, Tennessee or Marquette. He recently told USA Today that he regretted turning down three schools last offseason (one of these appears to have been Oregon State), two of which were in the process of rebuilding. This year Howland wasn’t willing to wait around, jumping on the first job opportunity that came his way.

Ben Howland, UCLA

Ben Howland inherits a Mississippi State program that struggled under Rick Ray (Kelvin Kuo/US Presswire)

Is this a good fit? For one, the Bulldogs couldn’t have landed a more accomplished coach, what with Howland’s three Final Fours at UCLA, two Sweet Sixteens at Pitt and another NCAA Tournament appearance at Northern Arizona. At the same time, the Bulldogs would also be hard-pressed to find a coach with more baggage, primarily stemming from a 2012 Sports Illustrated story that alleged that Howland had let things spin severely out of control in Westwood. Also working against him is that he has no real ties to the SEC nor the South other than his hiring of former UCLA and LSU assistant Korey McCray, who made his name as the coach of the influential AAU program Atlanta Celtics. Still, the move has been roundly praised by writers. Howland’s adaptability to his geography seems to be a strong suit, as he’s won on the West Coast, Southwest and the Northeast.

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Sweet Sixteen Reset: Big Ten Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 23rd, 2015

We’re now down to only two B1G teams left playing in the 2014-15 season, as Michigan State and Wisconsin are the only two teams that won both their games this weekend. This is one less team that made the Sweet 16 one season ago, as these two along with Michigan were still alive one year ago. Here are some other quick takeaways from the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament as it relates to the B1G.

Sam Dekker had 17 points to lead to Wisconsin past Oregon and into the Sweet 16 Sunday night. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker had 17 points to lead to Wisconsin past Oregon and into the Sweet 16 Sunday night. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

  • They are Who We Thought They Were: Having two teams left in the field sounds about right for a league that was down a bit this season. As ludicrous as it is to completely bemoan a conference for being overrated (Big 12), or underrated (Pac 12) based simply off the small sample size that is the Big Dance, the Big Ten generally did about as well as expected. They had five teams in the round of 32, which is about the same number of teams that were in or around the top 25 all year. Maryland got a tough break with being a bit underseeded, and paid the price in losing to West Virginia. Iowa and Ohio State played about to expectations, as they would have had to pull off outstanding performances to get the best of Gonzaga and Arizona respectively. Michigan State was a bit of a surprise, but anyone who has seen Coach Tom Izzo‘s March resume, or saw how Sparty played in the Big Ten Tournament knows that this team was geared up to potentially make another March run.

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