Rushed Reactions: #1 Virginia 81, #16 Hampton 45

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 17th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

London Perrantes hit three first half three-pointers to lead Virginia to a comfortable First Round win over Hampton. (foxsports.com)

London Perrantes hit three first half three-pointers to lead Virginia to a comfortable First Round win over Hampton. (foxsports.com)

  1. Virginia didn’t mess around this time. Two years ago in this same building, another #1 seed Virginia team struggled mightily with #16 Coastal Carolina — the Cavaliers trailed at the half before rallying for a skittish 11-point victory. For awhile today, things seemed headed down a similar path as Hampton came out strong and only trailed by two points with just under six minutes left in the first half. But Virginia went on a three-point shooting spree to close it out and took a comfortable 19-point lead into the locker room from which it never looked back.
  2. As expected, Hampton really struggled to score. Before this game, the Pirates had only been held under 70 points 10 times this season. Against the Virginia pack line defense, Hampton mustered only a season-low 45 points and shot a frigid 30 percent from the floor. The Pirates were really cold from long-range, making only 3-of-19 from outside the arc. Hampton has made the NCAA Tournament in two consecutive years but don’t expect the Pirates to be back in the Big Dance next season. Coach Edward ‘Buck’ Joyner will lose five of his top six players from a team that claimed both the MEAC regular season and tournament titles.
  3. At least for one game, Virginia regained its shooting touch. Maybe it was North Carolina’s defense or the rigors of a third tough game in three nights, but for whatever the reason, Virginia’s guards did not shoot well in last Saturday’s ACC Championship game. The jumpers were falling this afternoon as the Cavaliers went 12-of-25 from behind the arc. London Perrantes led the deep-ball barrage with four made threes, and four of his teammates hit two three-pointers each.

Star of the Game.  Anthony Gill, Virginia. The senior forward helped the Cavaliers control the paint at both ends. Gill finished with 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting while also grabbing seven boards and dishing out four assists.

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Rushed Reactions: Virginia 73, Miami 68

Posted by Matt Patton on March 12th, 2016

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Three Key Takeaways:

  1. This game featured a ton of experience. Miami started three seniors and two juniors with a senior as the first player off the bench; Virginia started two seniors and a junior with a senior as the first player off the bench. That experience helped Miami hang tight with Virginia throughout, but it also aided Virginia in stopping Miami from ever taking a lead. Jim Larranaga was frustrated by his team’s uncharacteristic mistakes (notably turnovers and fouling), but their opponent didn’t make anything easy, either. London Perrantes deserves credit for not committing a turnover all game. Maybe because the top of the league is so blessed with experience (the top four seeds all feature experienced lineups), there has only been one upset so far in the ACC Tournament — at least according to seed.

    Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon (15) is pressured by Miami guard Sheldon McClellan (10) during the semifinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington DC, Friday, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

    Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon (15) is pressured by Miami guard Sheldon McClellan (10) during the semifinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington DC, Friday, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

  2. Angel Rodriguez giveth and taketh away. On the same play, he threw a ridiculous behind-the-back pass at Ivan Cruz Uceda that should have been taken the other way for an easy two by Virginia. Instead Rodriguez got it back and hit a three to cut the game to a single possession. He was nearly perfect from the field, but turned the ball over once casually dribbling behind his back (he kicked it out of bounds) and once palming the ball. In a way, Rodriguez’s play was emblematic of his team’s performance, as every time they cut the game to three or four points a bad pass would wind up in Virginia’s hands.
  3. Virginia’s bigs didn’t have stellar games. Mike Tobey disappeared in the second half and Anthony Gill was saddled with foul trouble. Miami also did a great job of getting into the paint (the Hurricanes scored 32 of their 68 points in the paint, and that number would be much higher if you included free throws resulting from paint touches). The Cavaliers must defend that area of the floor better tomorrow or North Carolina’s front line will feast inside. Virginia also doesn’t have the depth up front to afford foul trouble against a deep Tar Heels front line.

Star of the Game: Malcolm Brogdon wasn’t perfect. He missed a lot of shots but he was still the player Virginia turned to whenever it needed a big bucket and he iced the game from the free throw line. His generally unflappable persona played a big role in Virginia’s cool demeanor when it looked like Miami might go on a run. Just on defense alone, Brogdon deserves national recognition, but his importance to the Cavaliers’ offense should make him a consensus first team All-American. It certainly made him the most important player on the floor tonight.

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Rushed Reactions: #10 Virginia 70, #14 West Virginia 54

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 8th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. “Press Virginia”. Bob Huggins’ athletic group of Mountaineers imposed their style of play from the opening tip, forcing Virginia into 11 first half turnovers. The Cavaliers came into the game averaging only 7.3 turnovers per game, best in the country. It was amazing to watch West Virginia make Virginia look like an awful ball handling team. Even when the Cavs were able to get the ball over half court, the hectic pace still forced them into a number of mistakes. West Virginia certainly came prepared on both ends of the floor, but Virginia’s discipline and experience took control after halftime, as the Cavaliers finally looked like themselves. It’s the mark of a great team when it can look completely overmatched in the first half of the game but make the proper changes and go on to dominate the second frame. The halftime adjustments made by Virginia’s experienced backcourt is the main reason the Cavaliers prevailed.
  2. Virginia has a handful of great players but London Perrantes may be the most important. The junior guard was shut out in the first half tonight in his first game back after recovering from an appendectomy, but Perrantes was the Cavalier catalyst in the second half. College basketball is a guard’s game and Perrantes is one of the finest point men in all the land. He does an incredible job running the team on the floor and makes it look effortless — almost as if he never breaks a sweat while working hard. His strengths go beyond his poise, however. Perrantes is a sniper from beyond the arc, and it was his trey from the left wing with 4:38 to play that pretty much salted this game away. Perrantes totaled 13 second half points while assisting on three UVA buckets. Tony Bennett is happy to have him back.
  3. The pack-line stood tall in the end. After surrendering 24 points in the paint to West Virginia in the first half, Virginia constructed a fortress around the basket after halftime. The Mountaineers managed only 10 points in the paint after halftime (and just 18 total for the half) in a game that was quite clearly a tale of two halves. UVA did a good job containing Devin Williams offensively (18.7 PPG on the season, just 10 tonight) while also limiting him to just three rebounds. Virginia as a team controlled the glass (+5 in rebound margin) — an incredibly important task against any Bob Huggins team.
Anthony Gill's 15 Point, 8 Rebound First Half Kept Virginia Close (Photo: USAT Sports)

Anthony Gill’s 15 Point, 8 Rebound First Half Kept Virginia Close Early (Photo: USAT Sports)

Star of the Game: Anthony Gill, Virginia. Gill kept his team afloat during a difficult first half, scoring 15 points on an efficient 7-of-9 shooting. For the game, he totaled 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, his first double-double of the season. While Perrantes highlighted the second half, Gill was the one constant on the floor for the Cavaliers. His leadership and energy were crucial in Virginia’s efforts to keep the game close early on, giving the Cavs the chance to eventually turn it around and take control in the second half.

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Rushed Reactions: #13 Michigan State 79, #4 Kansas 73

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 18th, 2015

RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes was in Chicago for the Champion’s Classic.

Three Key Takeaways: 

Denzel Valentine Stole The Champion's Classic Show Tuesday Night (Photo: Spartan Avenue)

Denzel Valentine Stole The Champion’s Classic Show Tuesday Night (Photo: Spartan Avenue)

  1. Denzel Valentine Is Really Good. The Spartan senior delivered the individual performance of this young college basketball season, producing a 29 point, 12 rebound, 12 assist triple-double. Valentine had the ball in his hands in the crucial moments of almost every Spartan possession, particularly in the second half. His final shooting numbers don’t dazzle (10-23 from the field), but you can’t underemphasize Michigan State’s reliance on their do-it-all senior leader. Tom Izzo completely abandoned his offense down the stretch to give Valentine the ball and run him off of ball screen after ball screen, a strategy that paid massive dividends on this night. Demanding this much out of Valentine may prove sketchy as a long-term offensive solution, but for now, Michigan State is 2-0 and has Valentine to thank for it.
  2. Kansas’ Champion’s Classic Struggles Continue. If Bill Self wants to look on the bright side, the Jayhawks are probably leaving Chicago feeling better about themselves than they were this time last year. And really, a neutral site loss to a team likely to be very relevant come March will hardly cripple the Jayhawks’ season. Still though, Tuesday night’s result has to be extremely disappointing. Kansas had this game under control for the better part of 35 minutes and lost largely out of an inability to control one player on the other side. Redemption for Champion’s Classic failures of years past was well within reach. Once again, KU fell short.
  3. Michigan State Controls Backboards. With Spartan forward/center Gavin Schilling out again Tuesday night with turf toe, Kansas’ talented corps of big men had to enter the United Center with designs on dominating the glass. If they did have that plan, it didn’t come to fruition. Tom Izzo called his team’s first half performance “very soft”, but Michigan State had collected 10 more rebounds than the Jayhawks by the time the final buzzer sounded. Kansas must be tougher – and has the personnel to do so – moving forward. On the Michigan State side, continued success on the backboards, perhaps paired with a heavy dose of Valentine, could be a nice recipe for success moving forward.

Star of the Game: Denzel Valentine, Michigan State. No surprise here, as Valentine delivered a personal masterpiece that may not be topped anytime soon in 2015-16. One statistic that may be lost in the recounting of his heroics: Valentine finished with just one turnover. It may be the most telling statistic of any, as Valentine seemed to control nearly every second of the last ten minutes.

Quotable:

  • “I didn’t think he was going to hit them. He showed some nuts on that one.” –Valentine on freshman forward Deyonta Davis knocking down two key free throws with 23 seconds to play
  • “I felt stupid at halftime for telling everyone this was one of the better shooting teams I’ve had, shooting 33 percent. Of course that may be true, we’ve shot 28 percent some years.” –Izzo on his teams’ opening half offense
  • “He is like Draymond. There’s a million things he’s not good enough at, but winning he is good enough at.” –Izzo, comparing Valentine to former Spartan star Draymond Green
  • “We did some good things to get control of the game the first 33 minutes or so, then they made a ton of plays late.” –Bill Self
  • “I always thought he was a good player. Tonight I think he proved to everyone that he is an exceptional player.” –Self on Valentine 

Sights and Sounds: Things quieted down a bit for the second game of the Champion’s Classic, but the United Center stayed noisy throughout. Kansas fans impressively invaded Big Ten country, with Jayhawk supporters outnumbering their Spartan counterparts. Still, Valentine’s second half heroics kept a healthy back-and-forth going between fan bases. November did a very good March impersonation in Chicago tonight.

What’s Next: The Jayhawks get six days off before their next contest, a first round game in the Maui Invitational against host Chaminade. The Silverswords should offer KU little resistance, but tricky matchups could arrive on the following two days. Either UCLA or UNLV will be the Jayhawks’ opponent in game two, while possible finals opponents include Vanderbilt and Indiana. Michigan State will also be making a journey west for an in-season tournament, but not before a quick stop in East Lansing for home dates against Arkansas Pine Bluff and Eastern Michigan. The Spartans open the Wooden Classic with Boston College on Thanksgiving; probable opponents in later rounds of the event include Boise State and either Arizona or Providence (on Friday and Sunday, respectively).

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Kentucky 74, #5 Duke 63

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 17th, 2015

RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes was in Chicago for the Champion’s Classic.

Three Key Takeaways:

Tyler Ulis And Jamal Murray Had It Going Tuesday Night Against Duke (Photo: Staff Herald-Leader)

Tyler Ulis And Jamal Murray Had It Going Tuesday Night Against Duke (Photo: Staff Herald-Leader)

  1. Kentucky Veterans Step Up. Nowadays, in a Kentucky-Duke matchup that takes place in November, you’re a veteran if you’ve played more than a handful of college games. Kentucky freshmen (most notably Skal Labissiere) have dominated early headlines in Lexington, but a trio of UK returnees delivered invaluable contributions tonight. Tyler Ulis’ floor game was solid as ever, and the sophomore captain pitched in 18 points and 6 assists, all without a turnover. Up front, it was Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress that keyed Wildcat surges in the late first half and early second with energy in transition and on the backboards; the duo finished with a combined 19 points and 17 rebounds. College basketball will be as dominated by freshmen as ever this season, but this trio of Wildcats displayed the value of having veterans capable of major contributions.
  2. Grayson Allen struggles. Allen has had the college hoops world buzzing for quite awhile. His 16 point effort in Duke’s title game victory started the noise, and a combined 54 points in Duke’s pair of opening weekend victories only raised the volume. Things might quiet down a little bit now, however, after Allen finished two for 11 from the field in scoring just six points against the Wildcats. He missed all nine of his first half field goal attempts, failed to score a point in the first 28 minutes of game action, and looked generally defeated for most of the second half. The fearless attacks of the rim that proved successful against Siena and Bryant over the weekend were easily neutralized by the Kentucky front line, and Allen took far too long to adjust to the elevation in competition. The sophomore may be best suited playing off the ball, which makes Derryck Thornton (who showed flashes of ability tonight) only that much more important.
  3. Tempo And Turnovers. Kentucky showed a willingness to play fast and frequently capitalized in transition on Duke’s 16 turnovers, scoring 17 points off them. Kentucky didn’t play at any sort of breakneck pace last season (251st nationally in possessions per game), but a trio of savvy ballhandlers – Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe – could make this year’s Wildcats more dangerous in transition. They showed glimpses of it tonight.

Star of the Game: Tyler Ulis, Kentucky. It was the smallest man on a court filled with with tall, long athletes who proved most important. Ulis orchestrated the Kentucky offense beautifully all evening, pushing tempo when Wildcat numbers were favorable and managing the halfcourt offense when circumstances demanded a dose of patience. Kentucky turned the ball over just nine times all night (none of which were attributed to Ulis himself), and the Cats were generally in control of this game from the start, in no small part due to Ulis. He finished with 18 points, six assists and four rebounds, but the pretty stat line is almost superfluous – Ulis dictated the outcome of this game in every little way a point guard should.

Quotable:

  • “We’re gonna be trouble in a fast-paced game like that…we’re very unselfish with each other…we play well off each other.” -Ulis
  • “He’s kind of like a baseball player that watches the ball and he can see the seams. The game happens slower for him.” –John Calipari on his point guard, Tyler Ulis
  • “I don’t want him to be a bully. I want him to be an elite athlete. See a bully’s easier you can just stay on the floor and push around and be a lug…You know he hit his tooth, like, on the rim? You hit your tooth on the rim? So why don’t you do that all the time?” –Calipari on his expectations for Alex Poythress
  • “God was good to him. The gene pool was good. They didn’t give him height, but they gave him a heart that is probably five times bigger than most people…he’s just a heck of a player.” –Mike Kryzewski, on why Ulis is so effective
  • “I admired his face and his presence throughout the game. It was the face of a winner and a leader.” –Coach K, again talking about Ulis
  • “We weren’t who we should be tonight. From the start.” –Coach K

Sights and Sounds: Blue. Lots of it. If not for Michigan State, the Champion’s Classic would be an annual blue-out, and both Kentucky and Duke brought their share of the event’s official color to the United Center Tuesday night. There was little doubt which team had more of it, however, as Big Blue Nation lived up to its reputation as the best traveling fans in the sport. The Wildcat faithful also had more to cheer about, of course, but it’s a testament to the power of these two programs that this opener significantly outdrew the second game of the night, despite Michigan State and Kansas’ relative proximity to the Windy City.

What’s Next: Things get easier for Kentucky, as three of their next four are at home against mid-major foes. The fourth is a neutral site matchup with South Florida and former Calipari assistant Orlando Antigua, but the Bulls already own home losses to Troy and NJIT. No such lull awaits the Blue Devils, as Duke heads to New York City to face VCU Friday and either Wisconsin (in a national title game rematch) or Georgetown on Sunday. Potentially pesky home dates against Yale, Utah State and Indiana await the Blue Devils upon their return from the Big Apple.

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Rushed Reactions: #14 UAB 60, #3 Iowa State 59

Posted by Walker Carey on March 19th, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

It wasn't a good day for the Cyclones. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

It wasn’t a good day for the Cyclones. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

  1. This was an enormous upset. Iowa State entered Thursday’s game as a 14-point favorite. This large of a point spread made sense as the Cyclones were fresh off taking home the Big 12 Tournament title and were widely seen as a team that could possibly get to the Final Four. UAB only earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament by making a surprising run to the Conference USA Tournament title. No one really gave the Blazers much of a chance in this game. Only 6.9% of the brackets entered on CBSSports.com picked UAB to advance. There was really nothing in the statistics or the schedules that even suggested that this game would be close. This was March Madness at its very best. Just like that… Iowa State is going home and UAB is advancing to the Round of 32.
  2. UAB controlled the glass all afternoon. The biggest factor that went into UAB pulling off the upset was its utter dominance on the glass. The Blazers ended the game with a 52-37 rebounding advantage today. In that rebounding advantage was a striking 19-9 advantage on the offensive glass. Tyler Madison, a reserve swingman, collected nine offensive rebounds alone in just 14 minutes of playing time. This vast rebounding advantage allowed UAB to take Iowa State out of its offensive rhythm and really slow down the game.
  3. Georges Niang turned in a nightmare game in the loss. Thursday afternoon will be a day to forget for Niang. Less than a week after taking home the Big 12 Tournament Most Outstanding Player award, the junior had a game to forget as his team was sent to an early exit. Saddled by early foul trouble, Niang was never able to get into any sort of offensive rhythm. While 11 points and seven rebounds is not a terrible line to finish with, Niang went just 4-of-15 from the floor and committed three of Iowa State’s 11 turnovers. Sometimes good players just have off games. That was certainly the case with Niang in Iowa State’s stunning defeat.

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Villanova 68, #18 Butler 65

Posted by Walker Carey on February 14th, 2015

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday night’s game between Villanova and Butler in Indianapolis.

Three Key Takeaways.

Darrun Hillard (USA Today Images)

Darrun Hilliard Blew Up Butler on Saturday (USA Today Images)

  1. Darrun Hilliard picked a great night to turn in a career-best performance. Villanova’s leading scorer took his game to another level against Butler, finishing with a career-high 31 points on 9-of-16 shooting (8-of-13 from three) to go along with eight rebounds. Hilliard really got things going in the second half, as he hit 5-of-7 from three and 5-of-5 from the charity stripe in the game’s second stanza. He also showcased his knack for knocking down the big shot after Butler swingman Roosevelt Jones tied the game with 18 seconds to play. With teammate Ryan Arcidiacano double-teamed at the top of the key, Hilliard called for the ball from the right free throw line extended and drained a wide open three to give the Wildcats a 68-65 lead with just 1.2 seconds to play. At 23-2 on the season, Villanova is currently in the discussion for a potential #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If the Wildcats can get similar performances from Hilliard for the remainder of their Big East slate, they could easily be on that top line when Selection Sunday arrives.
  2. Both teams were great defensively in the first half and great offensively in the second half. Throughout the first half, this game looked like it was going to be a slow-paced and physical slugfest. Villanova held a 27-22 lead at the break and neither team put up strong offensive numbers in the opening 20 minutes. It might have been their way of paying homage to the frigid conditions outside, but Villanova shot just 36.7 percent from the field while Butler made just 30.8 percent of its attempts. The offensive end of the court was much kinder to both teams in the second half with both teams topping 40 total points (Butler outscored Villanova 43-41 in the second half) and 50 percent shooting (Villanova shot 60 percent and Butler shot 56.5 percent). It was almost like the first half and second half were two completely different games. With that being said, it was clear as day that both Villanova and Butler have the ability to get it done on both ends of the court.
  3. Villanova pretty much locked up its second straight regular season Big East title with the victory. With Saturday evening’s victory, Villanova moved its Big East record to 10-2. That conference mark gives the Wildcats a two-game lead in the conference standings and the schedule the rest of the way is very favorable for Jay Wright’s squad. Villanova will go on the road three more times, but games at Marquette, Xavier and Creighton are certainly winnable. It is definitely reasonable to believe that the Wildcats will finish the regular season with a 29-2 overall record and a 16-2 mark in Big East play.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Notre Dame 77, #4 Duke 73

Posted by Walker Carey on January 29th, 2015

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between Duke and Notre Dame in South Bend.

Irish Eyes Were Smiling Wednesday Night (USA Today Images)

Irish Eyes Were Smiling Wednesday Night (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Jerian Grant proved that he is one of the best players in the country. The senior guard turned in an amazing performance on Wednesday night, finishing the game with game-highs in both points (23) and assists (12). His dozen assists also set a new career-high. None of those assists were more important than the one he threw to sophomore guard Steve Vasturia for an open three to put the Irish up by four with 22 seconds to play. Points and assists were not the only categories where Grant excelled, though, as he showcased his durability by playing all 40 minutes and picking up six rebounds, three steals, and two blocks. Notre Dame is now 20-2 on the season and 8-1 in ACC play, and the biggest reason for the team’s incredible start to the 2014-15 campaign has been the All-America play of the team’s senior leader. The Irish now expect to be an ACC contender for the rest of the season, and if Grant can continue his play at such a high level, that expectation will become a reality.
  2. This was an incredible college basketball game. There has been talk this season about how college basketball has been a bit unwatchable, but that was absolutely not the case on Wednesday night as Notre Dame and Duke completed one of the most entertaining games of the regular season. Swings in momentum came fast and furious. For example: Notre Dame led by seven at the 9:01 mark of the first half before Duke went on a big run to take a three-point lead into the half; Duke then led by 10 at the 10:58 mark of the second half before being outscored 22-8 the rest of the way. Another reason why Wednesday’s battle in South Bend was so entertaining was that two of the best players in college basketball turned in star performances. Jerian Grant’s stat-stuffing game was mentioned above and Duke freshman big man Jahlil Okafor also turned in a performance that has practically become the norm for him during his first year in Durham. The freshman finished the game with 22 points on 10-of-18 shooting to go along with a game-high 17 rebounds. Sure, there are some nights where college basketball doesn’t put its best foot forward, but Wednesday night at Notre Dame, those nights seemed very distant. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #3 Virginia 62, #13 Notre Dame 56

Posted by Walker Carey on January 10th, 2015

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday evening’s game between Virginia and Notre Dame in South Bend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Virginia Came Through in the Clutch on Saturday at Notre Dame (USA Today Images)

Virginia Came Through in the Clutch on Saturday at Notre Dame (USA Today Images)

  1. Virginia’s defense is as good as advertised. The Cavaliers entered play Saturday second in the country in both points per game defense and field goal percentage defense. They lived up to those high marks Saturday, as Notre Dame was held to a season-low 56 points and shot just 33.9% from the field. Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon was instrumental to the suffocating defensive effort, as he played lockdown defense on Notre Dame star guard Jerian Grant all night. Grant finished the game with just six points on 2-of-8 shooting. Virginia also did an exceptional job in taking the Notre Dame bigs out of the game, as Notre Dame’s post players  finished with just a combined five points on 2-of-11 shooting to go along with just seven rebounds. The win moved Virginia to 15-0 on the season and if it can maintain this level of defensive intensity, that unbeaten mark may stay clean well into league play.
  2. The Cavaliers saved their best basketball for winning time. After Notre Dame swingman Pat Connaughton hit a three-pointer to give the Irish a 51-50 lead at the 4:53 mark of the second half, Virginia went on a 12-5 run to finish the game. Brogdon and fellow backcourt mate Justin Anderson each hit important three-pointers down the stretch that helped lead to the Virginia victory. In close games, the victor is usually determined by which teams executes better and plays with more poise down the stretch, and that was no different Saturday as Virginia made the right plays at the right times to help secure the win.
  3. Notre Dame needs more out of its frontline if it wants to be a factor in the ACC race. When Notre Dame won at North Carolina this past Monday night, Irish forward Zach Auguste led the way with 18 points. Saturday was a different story for Auguste, as the junior battled foul trouble for much of the game and finished with just four points and five rebounds to go along with a team-high four turnovers in 22 minutes. Virginia forward Darion Atkins was able to take advantage of Auguste’s off-night, as the senior finished with 14 points on 7-of-11 shooting to accompany his team-high eight rebounds. There are plenty of solid big men in the ACC, and if Notre Dame wants to finish near the top of the league, it is going to need Auguste to become a much more consistent post presence on each side of the court.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 66, Connecticut 56

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 19th, 2014

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Brian Otskey filed this report from the Duke-Connecticut game at the Izod Center on Thursday night.

Three Key Takeaways.

Duke and Connecticut (USA Today Images)

Duke and Connecticut Battled Out in an Ugly Game in New Jersey Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Duke found a different way to win. On a night when the shots did not fall at anywhere near the rate they have for most of this season, the nation’s top team in adjusted offensive efficiency won with defense and rebounding. The Blue Devils held the Huskies to 40.7 percent shooting in the second half, snuffing out any possibility of an extended Connecticut run. Duke also turned the ball over much more than usual (19 times), leading to plenty of extra UConn possessions. With Amile Jefferson and Jahlil Okafor combining for 21 rebounds, however, Duke was able to negate the Connecticut advantage in shot attempts. Getting to the free throw line was also key, as the Blue Devils attempted 34 free throws to Connecticut’s 13. Kevin Ollie refused to take the bait from the assembled media after the game, instead placing the onus on his players for committing too many fouls.
  2. It can’t just be the Ryan Boatright show. While Boatright scored 22 points, he was bothered by Quinn Cook for much of the evening. When he did get free, usually through screening action along the three-point line, Boatright knocked down some impressive three-pointers with a quick release. With Shabazz Napier no longer around, though, opposing defenses can key in on the UConn guard and contain him to a degree. You also see that when Boatright gets frustrated, his shot selection suffers greatly. That can’t continue to happen because it results in a wasted possession and can lead to a long rebound and a runout for the opposition. Kevin Ollie touched on it a bit in the postgame press conference, so he knows that his team must find another reliable scoring option besides Boatright.
  3. Jahlil Okafor is not normal. We know this by now, but it deserves to be repeated. From his post-up moves to defense and court vision, Okafor has the complete package. What is most impressive is his ability to immediately recognize a double-team and find an open man in an instant. In a way, his passing reminds you of a good NFL quarterback under pressure. Okafor threw a couple of lasers to teammates tonight, usually resulting in points for Duke. One nice thing about Okafor’s game is he actually “plays big,” so to speak. When he receives a post entry pass, he usually makes a strong move to the basket or keeps the ball in an elevated position where it cannot easily be stolen. Should he decide to make the move and shoot, Okafor has tremendous awareness. He knows when and where to make the move, and it often results in a bucket. Having the presence of mind to know where to go with the ball is one thing, but combing that with the touch and skill level Okafor possesses puts him far and away above any other college big man. I’m sure a few NBA bigs are below his level too.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Arizona 61, #15 San Diego State 59

Posted by rtmsf on November 27th, 2014

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Three Key Takeaways.

Arizona the 2014 Maui champs. #mauihoops

A photo posted by RTC (@rushthecourt) on

  1. San Diego State Needed This More Than Arizona. And they weren’t able to get it, in large part because of the same old bugaboo that has limited Steve Fisher’s teams the last few seasons: offensive production. From the 9:17 to the 0:18 mark of the second half, the Aztecs scored a grand total of three points on a Skylar Spencer free throw and a Trey Kell jumper. What will cause Steve Fisher to lose even more sleep over this loss tonight is that Arizona only moderately took advantage of the drought (going from a one-point deficit to a six-point lead) — opportunities were there, and Fisher mentioned as much in the postgame press conference. But far too often, the Aztecs simply don’t know what to do with the basketball on the offensive end other than to give it to Winston Shepard (14 points, six rebounds) and ask him to create something. There’s more on a possible remedy to that problem below, but the bigger takeaway here is that this was a winnable game that could have really bolstered the Aztecs’ seed line in March when they have another gaudy record that people are uncertain about. Arizona, on the other hand, will play Gonzaga and Michigan in coming weeks to bolster its bona fides as the Wildcats position themselves for another #1 seed in the West Region.
  2. Stanley Johnson is the Real Deal. I’m not sure if I was more impressed with the all-around abilities of Johnson in his Tournament MVP performance, or his relative nonchalance while dominating the action here in Maui. With four California state titles under his belt, Johnson was as well-decorated as they come heading into college. But his demeanor on the floor is so unflappable that, incessant chewing of the mouth guard aside, it belies his relative inexperience in a college uniform. In what was easily the poorest shooting night of his young career (4-14 FG), he still found plenty of ways to impact the game beyond scoring (which he made up for at the line): nine rebounds, including five offensive; three big steals; a block; an assist. Sean Miller said after the game that Johnson has only recently — the last month or so — started to understand what it takes to be successful at this level: “He couldn’t have won Tournament MVP a month ago.” God help us all once he puts it all together. He’s a game-changer in the best possible way.
  3. The Offensive Development of Trey Kell Will Make or Break the Aztecs. San Diego State will beat a bunch of teams with its defense alone, but in order for this group to break through and realistically become a Final Four contender, Fisher needs Trey Kell to become his second reliable scoring threat. Dwayne Polee is a nice third guy in an offense — the kind of player who is best served when defenses aren’t designed to specifically stop him — but Kell showed through three games in Maui that he is more than capable of putting up nice numbers (14.7 PPG on 60% FG and 76% FT) for a team that ranks among the slowest-paced 20 percent of all Division I teams. The question is really whether he can do it reliably. Shepard, as talented and versatile of a player as he is, needs a teammate who can take the offensive pressure off of him, and the freshman clearly has the stones (hitting the big four-point play to give SDSU its final life with 18 seconds remaining) to make a run at it. Mark this down: If Kell becomes an all-Mountain West caliber player this season, San Diego State will play in the NCAA’s second weekend and have a favorable match-up’s chance at the program’s first Final Four.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kentucky 72, #5 Kansas 40

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 19th, 2014

Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) is in Indianapolis for the Champions Classic games tonight.

Three Key Takeaways:

Kentucky was clicking on all cylinders against Kansas tonight. (Photo: AP Photo/James Crisp)

Kentucky was clicking on all cylinders against Kansas tonight. (Photo: AP Photo/James Crisp)

  1. Kentucky’s size is peerless. Kentucky ranks first in the nation in effective height, but it doesn’t take an advanced statistician to know that the Wildcats are really, really big. That size and length proved the difference against Kansas tonight, as Bill Self’s club was unable to find consistent looks near the basket and shot poorly from the outside – an obviously lethal combination. Altogether, Kentucky blocked 11 shots and held the Jayhawks to eight – yes, eight – two-point baskets on the night (19.5% 2FG). With five contributors standing 6’9’’ or taller, including two seven-footers, the Wildcats’ interior defense is seemingly impregnable. The only way to beat Calipari’s group may be from the outside, and even that remains to be seen.
  2. The platoon remains for now. After the game, Calipari noted, “we’ll figure it out as we go, as far as ‘are we going to be able to play this way?’” and suggested that a more conventional lineup – one based on performance – could develop over time. But after a 32-point thrashing, on a night filled with so much national attention and fanfare, the fact that postgame conversations seemed less about ‘egos’ and ‘one-and-dones’ and more about “just how good can this team be?” suggests that the platoon system will remain in place for the foreseeable future. Five guys in, five guys out.
  3. This is more about Kentucky and less about Kansas. Sure, the Jayhawks were dominated, but Bill Self’s club is and should remain a top-10 team and perceived Big 12 favorites. Fact is, Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor and Cliff Alexander will be far more productive against normal-sized front lines; the team won’t shoot 20 percent from behind the arc each night; and Frank Mason will develop into a more consistent point guard. Considering Kansas’ talent and Bill Self’s track record, there are numerous aspects about tonight’s game that his staff might be better off just ignoring, moving on from, and chalking up to the fact that Kentucky is just ridiculously talented. There are better days ahead in Lawrence.

Star of the Game: Karl-Anthony Towns. There are no stars in Calipari’s platoon system! Or, there are many stars in Calipari’s platoon system! Either way, freshman center Towns was excellent tonight, logging nine points, eight rebounds and four blocks in just 17 minutes and 34 seconds on the court. It’s all about efficiency for Kentucky this year, and efficient he was.

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