Rushed Reactions: Jabari Parker Makes His Case To Be #1 But So Does Kansas

Posted by nvr1983 on November 13th, 2013

Coming into this season we found it strange that nearly every media outlet was ignoring Jabari Parker, who was a Sports Illustrated cover boy and the #1 player in the class of 2013 for much of his time in high school. We figured it was the explosiveness of Andrew Wiggins, the raw power of Julius Randle, or the rustiness that Parker showed recovering from a foot injury to explain his absence from much of the discourse. Perhaps it was a combination of all three. Regardless of what led the media to forget about Parker, his play tonight should remind everybody that the race for the #1 spot in the 2014 NBA Draft is still a three-player race.

Jabari Played Great In His Homecoming, But Was Overshadowed

Wiggins is an obvious choice given his unmatched athleticism. Randle makes a strong case with his ability to dominate around the basket. The case for Parker is a little more complex in that he is a more complete player right now than the other two. He does not have one skill that will take your breath away, but he does nearly everything well. Whether it is driving to the basket, finishing a dunk that reminds you of Grant Hill in the 1991 National Championship game, hitting almost every kind of jumper imaginable, or defending a potential NBA center in Joel Embiid despite being nearly half a foot shorter, Parker exhibits everything you would expect from a future NBA star. And for much of tonight it appeared that he was going to make Chicago his city as he had done for his four years at Simeon. Unfortunately for the Duke freshman and the locals who came out to support him, Bill Self and the Jayhawks had a very different narrative to write tonight.

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Rushed Reactions: A #1 vs. #2 Matchup That Lived Up to the Hype

Posted by nvr1983 on November 12th, 2013

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Early-season match-ups with the hype that tonight’s Kentucky-Michigan State had rarely live up to expectations. Tonight’s game was the exception as it had a little bit of everything and showed us the good and bad of both teams:

For Michigan State, the Spartans got the win that should confirm their status on the short list of favorites to win the NCAA title:

  • They demonstrated an enormous amount of composure in losing a big early lead that evaporated late in the second half as Kentucky began to exhibit what some might consider its superior talent. Like the veteran team that they are, the Spartans were able to make the plays that they needed to in order to walk out of the United Center with a hard-fought win. This shouldn’t be a surprise for a Tom Izzo-led team, but it should be reassuring for Spartan fans that this team won’t fold under serious pressure.
Gary Harris Had a Great First Half in Tonight's Game Credit: (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Gary Harris Had a Great First Half in Tonight’s Game Credit: (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Coming into the season the one knock on the Spartans was that they lacked the star power of the other favorites. There may be some validity to that (more on this later), but as Gary Harris (20 points), Adreian Payne (15 points), and Keith Appling (22 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists) showed they still have some of the best players in the country. Harris and Payne seem like almost certain first round picks with Harris in particular probably a lottery pick. Appling won’t be a first round pick and might not even end up in the NBA, but he has become a solid collegiate point guard and one capable of leading a team to a National Championship, which is not something we would have said last season. In fact, Appling was probably the best player on the court for the Spartans tonight given his consistent all-around play, whereas the other two disappeared for spots.
  • When Branden Dawson tore his left ACL in March 2012 and came back looking like a shell of his former self we wondered if we would ever see the player who previously had appeared to be on the verge of being a superstar. We may never see what Dawson could have become in a Spartan uniform, but he showed some flashes of his former explosiveness tonight. First there was an easy dunk on transition that should have erased any questions about how he was doing physically, but even more telling was his offensive rebound and putback with 10 seconds left to essentially seal the victory for the Spartans.
  • Having said that, the big question of who the Spartans will use to take over will remain. Despite having three stars in the lineup, they lack a true superstar who they know they can go to when they need somebody to produce. Now this is not a necessity for a team to win a championship, but in a year filled with freshmen phenoms who are capable of doing so, it remains a concern. The most likely player to develop into this type of alpha dog is Harris, but Tom Izzo will need a more consistent effort from him before we can consider him that kind of player.

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Rushed Reactions: #6 VCU 88, #12 Akron 42

Posted by Will Tucker on March 21st, 2013

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Will Tucker is a RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #6 VCU and #12 Akron from Auburn Hills. You can also find him on Twitter @blrdswag.

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. As if there was any doubt, VCU proved it’s back in Tournament form. After losing a tough Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament championship to Saint Louis, the Rams showed no semblance of a hangover. They mercilessly inflicted their havoc system on Akron for 40 minutes, generating 34 points off of 22 Akron turnovers, 20 of which came on fast breaks. A Zips player told reporters after the game, “We used so much energy trying to get the ball up the court that we couldn’t guard them.” After shooting below 34% and hitting 3-of-18 three-point attempts against SLU, the Rams found their range in their NCAA opener, draining 8-of-16 from beyond the arc and shooting 54% overall.

    Shaka Smart and his fiest VCU squad jumped all over Akron Thursday night. (Getty)

    Shaka Smart and his fiest VCU squad jumped all over Akron Thursday night. (Getty)

  2. Lack of size didn’t hamper the Rams against the bigger Zips and 7’ senior Zeke Marshall. There were concerns that VCU’s undersized frontcourt would be a significant liability in the Tournament, but in their first game the Rams used a collaborative effort to defend and rebound inside. 6’9″, 235-pound Juvonte Reddic, the team’s biggest starter, scored 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting and grabbed five boards. His teammates did the rest, as five of them grabbed three or more rebounds, helping to build advantages of 36 to 29 in rebounding and 40 to 28 in points in the paint.
  3. The game was essentially over after VCU doubled up on Akron 50-25 at halftime, but Shaka Smart didn’t let up. The Rams again doubled Akron’s scoring in the second half, led by 48 with 6 minutes left, and their 46-point margin of victory was apparently the largest ever in a 6/12 seeding matchup. This was particularly uncomfortable because Smart and Akron coach Keith Dambrot are close friends, but the Zips coach said it wasn’t a disrespectful gesture. “He’s got a job to do. His job is to prepare his team to win the next game, and I don’t take any offense to it,” Dambrot said. For his part, Shaka insisted the Zips were victims of circumstance and a poor matchup, and that he called off his trap with nine minutes left and his press with seven remaining. “There was a lot of time on the clock. We’re not just going to fall back in a zone, that’s not what we do,” Smart said.

Star of the GameTroy Daniels edged Reddic for this one after scoring 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting, hit 6-of-11 threes, and grabbed five rebounds in 21 minutes. Most importantly, the 6’4″ senior guard atoned for a scoreless performance in 17 minutes against SLU.

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Rushed Reactions: #23 North Carolina 79, Maryland 68

Posted by IRenko on March 6th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent based in D.C. and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between North Carolina and Maryland. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Three Key Takeaways:

  • One Team is Dancing, and the Other Is (Probably) Not — This was UNC’s sixth straight win and clinched a share of third place in the ACC. The Tar Heels’ recent run, which includes victories over Virginia and NC State, has solidified their hold on an at-large bid. A win over Duke on Saturday would leave no doubt, but even a loss followed by another in the first round of the ACC Tournament should not jeopardize their at-large hopes. Maryland, on the other hand, is headed in the opposite direction. The Terps badly needed this win after recent losses at Boston College and Georgia Tech. Without it, they’ll probably need to beat Virginia on Saturday and make a deep run in the ACC Tournament to have a shot.
  • McAdoo  vs. Len Disappoints — The marquee match-up coming into the game was the battle between big men James Michael McAdoo and Alex Len, but it proved to be a disappointment. Len excited the crowd with some putbacks, but both players looked tentative and ineffective trying to create offense. McAdoo finished with 10 points and two rebounds. Len added just eight points. To some extent, the letdown was a microcosm for their seasons. Both players entered the year with high expectations — perhaps unfairly high — that they haven’t quite matched. McAdoo was in early National Player of the Year conversations, but has drifted well out of the NPOY race as well as NBA Draft lottery projections. Len remains a projected lottery pick, but he has struggled down the stretch, scoring in single digits in seven of last 11 games (after scoring in double digits in 15 of his first 18 games). I don’t pretend to be a draft expert, but one has to wonder if we may see both of these guys back in college uniforms come November.
P.J. Hairston's Aggressiveness and Physicality Helped he Tarheels to the Win in a Hostile Environment (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

P.J. Hairston’s Aggressiveness and Physicality Helped he Tarheels to the Win in a Hostile Environment (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

  • Maryland’s Shooting Woes Continue – UNC offered a great chance for Maryland to break out of its outside shooting slump, as the Tar Heels’ defense is vulnerable to the three-point shot. And, sure enough, the Terps had plenty of good looks, particularly off post kickouts and ball reversals. But they couldn’t capitalize, shooting an ugly 3-of-23 from behind the arc. They are now shooting 17.9 percent from three over their last three games and 27.3 percent over their past six. The Terps tried to compensate for their woeful shooting against UNC by pounding the offensive glass and attacking the paint. They were effective, outscoring the Heels in the paint, 38-16, and on second-chance points, 20-11. But they still lost the game by 11 points, thanks to their disastrous night from outside.

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Rushed Reactions: Maryland 72, Clemson 59

Posted by IRenko on February 23rd, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent based in D.C. and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between Maryland and Clemson. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Three key takeaways:

  • Maryland’s Tournament Hopes Are Alive — Last weekend’s win over Duke gave the Terps’ Tournament hopes a big boost, but a letdown loss at Boston College on Tuesday left them on the thinnest of ice. A loss to Clemson at home would have been a big blow, and it seemed a real possibility when the Tigers pulled to within a point just after halftime. But a 21-6 run gave the Terps a comfortable 16-point cushion with 11:20 to play, and from there, they eased to a comfortable 13-point win, keeping their Tournament hopes alive. While acknowledging his team’s somewhat slow start, head coach Mark Turgeon was quite happy with the Terps’ second-half performance, crediting their defense even more than their offense for enabling them to take control.
  • Maryland’s Freshman Frontcourt May Be Its Future — Sophomore Alex Len has been the focus of the media’s attention for most of the year, but Maryland’s freshmen frontcourt shows signs of being a real force for years to come. Jake Layman, Charles Mitchell, and Shaquille Cleare were averaging just 5.2, 5.5, and 4.2 points coming into today’s game, but they scored 12, 8, and 10 respectively today. More than that, they showed a certain kind of maturity and poise that belied their status as freshmen. The 6′ 8″ Layman is a swing forward with the athleticism, quickness, and shooting touch to play on the perimeter. He has been a full-time starter since late January, and the confidence and skill he displayed against Clemson show why. Mitchell and Cleare are a pair of big bodies who are still refining their post moves, but are strong finishers and rebounders who use their bulk to great effect. They added 6 and 7 boards apiece today and were a big reason Maryland was able to dominate the paint against a typically stout Clemson defense. Their physicality will suit the Terps well when they make the transition to the Big Ten.
  • Clemson’s Offense Is In A Deep Funk – The Tigers have a strong defense, as they showed in taking Miami the distance last week in a 45-43 loss. But their offense has struggled and especially badly of late. This was the fifth straight game in which they scored less than a point per possession. For a team that is likely looking forward to next season already, the news gets worse — two of their three leading scorers, Devin Booker and Milton Jennings, graduate this year. That leaves a heavy load for K.J. McDaniels, who managed seven points against Maryland, and Jordan Roper, who scored a very inefficient 13 points on 5-of-15 FG shooting.

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Rushed Reactions: #25 Notre Dame 104, #11 Louisville 101 (5OT)

Posted by WCarey on February 10th, 2013

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Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday night’s game between Louisville and Notre Dame. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. This Game Was Completely And Totally Insane. When it appeared that all hope was lost for Notre Dame and Louisville was going to leave South Bend with the victory, Notre Dame junior guard Jerian Grant stepped to the forefront and nailed three consecutive three-pointers and converted on an old-fashioned three-point play to tie the game and send it to overtime. Grant’s heroics were only possible because while he was scoring 12 points in just 42 seconds, Louisville only converted on 6-of-8 free throws, thus making a tie game possible. When overtime began, chaos overtook the Purcell Pavilion. In the first four overtime periods, there were 10 ties and 10 lead changes. When Notre Dame needed a basket, Notre Dame got a basket. When Louisville needed a basket, Louisville got a basket. This is how completely insane this game was: Notre Dame forward Garrick Sherman did not play in regulation and still managed to finish the game with 17 points. Saturday night’s tilt in South Bend is a game that will not be forgotten any time soon.
  2. Russ Smith Does Not Belong In The National Player Of The Year Discussion. Throughout the game, Louisville guard Russ Smith made baffling decision after baffling decision. He also took bad shot after bad shot. For the game, Smith finished with 21 points, but he reached that figure on just a 4-of-18 performance from the field. It is impossible to deny that Smith is a very talented player, but his decision-making really prevents him from being the player he could be. A big deal is made about his nickname, “Russdiculous,” but it might be time to look at just how much his play hurts Louisville at times.
  3. Notre Dame’s Resiliency Was Unbelievable. Forward Jack Cooley is arguably Notre Dame’s best player, but the Irish were without the services of the senior big man after he fouled out with 6:54 to play. Forward Tom Knight soon joined him as a foul casualty and the two big men were joined on the bench by Grant, who fouled out towards the end of the first overtime period. With three starters disqualified, Notre Dame relied on reserves Cam Biedscheid, Zach Auguste, and Sherman to play big minutes and all three came through for the Irish giving them quality performances on both ends of the court. The Irish believed in themselves all night and received contributions from everyone. It was a total team effort and Mike Brey has to be thrilled with how well everyone fulfilled their roles and contributed to the cause.

Stars of the Game. Jerian Grant, Eric Atkins, and Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame. Grant’s 12 points in 42 seconds are what made the five overtime madness possible. When it looked like all hope was lost for the Irish, Grant put the team on his back and took it to the extra periods. Atkins did not have the best game statistically (14 points on just 5-of-19 shooting), but the decision-making of the junior guard was tremendous for all 60 minutes he was on the court. Without the leadership of Atkins, there is little chance Notre Dame could have been victorious. Connaughton filled out the stat sheet for the Irish, finishing with 16 points, 14 rebounds, and seven assists. While his statistics were fantastic, the sophomore’s toughness was what made him so valuable to his team in the victory.

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Rushed Reactions: #13 Butler 59, George Washington 56

Posted by IRenko on February 9th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent based in D.C. and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between Butler and George Washington. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Three key takeaways.

  • GW is Getting There — Down 53-38 with under eight minutes to play, George Washington staged a furious 18-4 run, powered by an aggressive full-court defense and a renewed toughness on the glass. But with three chances to tie the game on the final possession, the Colonials couldn’t convert. This is the third time that the Colonials lost a game on the final possession to a high quality opponent at home, after falling to Kansas State 65-62 and Temple 55-53. But in his second year at the helm, Mike Lonergan has molded the Colonials into a very competitive team. At 5-4, they already have as many wins in A-10 play as they had all of last year. They’re also a very young team, starting four freshman and a junior, which should give Colonials fans optimism about the future. On Saturday, in spite of an abominable shooting performance (27.9% FG shooting), the Colonials managed to claw their way back against one of the best teams in the country. That kind of toughness and resilience that should serve them well the rest of the year and into the future.
Mike Lonergan Has Molded the Colonials Into an A-10 Contender (GW Hatchet / Jordan Emont)

Mike Lonergan Has Molded the Colonials Into an A-10 Contender (GW Hatchet / Jordan Emont)

  • Butler Is Not Exactly What You Think It Is – If you don’t watch Butler much, you might stereotype them as a team with good fundamentals, strong three-point shooting, and a solid, compact defense. The reality is more complicated.  First, as they showed in the first half against George Washington, many of Butler’s guards — Rotnei Clarke, Roosevelt Jones, Kellen Dunham, and Chase Stigall — can drive the ball to the basket. This is not just a team that comes down the floor looking to free up shooters with off-ball screens. Casual fans may also be confounded by the fact that Butler has a propensity to turn the ball over. It’s the weakest part of their offensive game, and against George Washington, it showed. The Bulldogs committed 19 turnovers, including five in the final 2:15 of the game, breathing life into George Washington’s late rally. Walk-on point guard Alex Barlow has a great story, but his ability to take care of the ball has been less great; more than 37 percent of the possessions he uses result in turnovers. Oh, and one other surprising fact — Brad Stevens gets upset … sometimes. He may be more calm than the average Division I coach, but a game-long bird’s eye view confirms that he can be just as excitable about perceived officiating errors and bad turnovers as anyone.
  • To the Victor of the Glass Go the Spoils — Butler built its nine-point halftime lead in large part because of their rebounding dominance. They outrebounded the Colonials 30-19 overall and pulled down 50 percent of their own misses, which they converted into eight second-chance points. But George Washington turned the tables in the second half. They rebounded more than 70 percent of Butler’s misses and more than 40 percent of their own en route to finishing the game with 20 second-chance points. Crucially, they pulled down seven offensive boards in the last six minutes of the game, helping to power the 18-4 run that put them in position to tie the game on the final possession.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Miami 87, North Carolina 61

Posted by nvr1983 on February 9th, 2013

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Rush the Court’s East Coast boss was courtside from Miami’s dominating victory over North Carolina. Here are his three thoughts from the game:

  1. Miami is playing like a #1. And we are not just talking about a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. With the way that teams have been losing in the past few weeks you can start to make a legitimate case for the Hurricanes as a potential #1 team in the country. Sure they don’t play in the Big Ten, which is by far the best conference in the country this season, and the ACC may be down this year, but there is something to be said for beating the teams you are supposed to beat. Now I probably wouldn’t pick the Hurricanes to win the Big Ten, but it is hard to argue against a team that hasn’t lost a game when it has had its full roster. Don’t be surprised to see the Hurricanes at or at least near the top of the polls on Monday.
  2. UNC is getting close to the bubble. If the Selection Committee had to make up a bracket tomorrow the Tar Heels would probably still be in, but they are getting perilously close to being on the wrong side of that bubble. Now they have to bounce back from this embarrassing loss to travel to Cameron to take on a Duke team that has played well since they were embarrassed in their trip to Coral Gables. After that they still have a game against NC State and another game against Duke to end the regular season. If they stumble in any other games or get knocked out early in the ACC Tournament it could be a very nervous Selection Sunday in Chapel Hill.
  3. Miami is putting together a great season, but maybe not a great program. Obviously this season has been a great one for the Hurricanes program even if they fall apart later in the season, but don’t be so quick to put them up with the ACC’s elite. Joining that group requires consistency and the Hurricanes have only put together part of one season. The media is trying to spin a narrative that Jim Larranaga has built up this program to be one of the best in the ACC going forward, but that isn’t the reality of the situation. Outside of Shane Larkin the entire starting lineup will be gone after this season and the incoming class is not exactly stellar (two recruits: one four-star and one three-star). The hope for Miami’s fans should be that this season shows recruits what can happen at Miami (and that the shots of the weather outside during the games can be some extra motivation).

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Rushed Reactions: Miami 90, #2 Duke 63

Posted by nvr1983 on January 23rd, 2013

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RTC’s East Coast Boss was courtside for Miami’s dominating 90-63 win over #2 Duke on Wednesday night.

Five Key Takeaways.

  1. Before the season all of the talk in the ACC was about North Carolina State, but that quickly evaporated as we saw that their run last March was nothing more than a hot streak. Duke stepped in to fill the void as the dominant team in the ACC and appeared for a while to be the best team in the country, but with Ryan Kelly’s injury which we will get to in a bit, the door to win the ACC is wide open and Miami has stepped in. After tonight the Hurricanes are two games up in the ACC with only three truly challenging games remaining — at home against North Carolina and on the road at North Carolina and Duke. While they can certainly slip up in conference road games, they are successfully positioning themselves to be in contention for the ACC regular season title. I’m still not sure how good this Hurricane team is, but they have wins over a Duke and Michigan State at home and North Carolina on the road. All of those teams have their weaknesses, but Miami is looking like it could be a very dangerous team in March.

    Miami Fans Might Be Rushing The Court A Lot This Year

    Miami Fans Might Be Rushing The Court A Lot This Year

  2. Duke really needs Ryan Kelly to come back. I am not sure I can emphasize that enough. Kelly won’t win any Player of the Year awards and he might not even be First Team All-ACC, but the way this Duke team is constructed they might need his presence more than any other player on the team. Mason Plumlee is by far the best all-around player on the squad, but he lacks Kelly’s versatility, which is key when your bench is as short as Duke’s. Having said all of that, Duke needs to weather this stretch without Kelly which should theoretically be close to ending based on earlier reports from the school. Of course, that says nothing of how Kelly is actually healing. If he returns at 100% Duke should be fine, but their performances thus far following his injury demonstrates just how fragile this team is.
  3. Reggie Johnson could be an asset to Miami down the line, but he isn’t there yet. Before the game there had been rumors that Johnson might play tonight, but it wasn’t until just before tipoff that it was apparent that he would play (he was in the lay-up line without any protection on his broken left thumb). Johnson contributed in spots primarily with his girth filling space against a small Duke front line, but his impact was largely minimal (fill in your ground-shaking jokes). Johnson was only out of the lineup for about a month, but his conditioning looks horrible. He will never run up and down the court with the Cody Zellers of the college basketball world, but Jim Larranaga should have put Johnson on the treadmill for the past month. If Johnson can regain his previous form in the next few weeks, he could insert another dimension to this team although his return could affect the obvious chemistry the Hurricanes developed without him. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #13 Butler 64, #8 Gonzaga 63

Posted by WCarey on January 19th, 2013

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday night’s game between Gonzaga and Butler. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. The Atmosphere At Hinkle Fieldhouse Was Sublime. With ESPN’s College GameDay broadcasting live from Hinkle Fieldhouse, the Butler fans definitely brought it all night long. Not only did the place fill up long before the opening tip, the place was loud long before the opening tip. The noise level only rose as the night went on, seemingly reaching new heights at different points in the game. The Butler faithful were dead set on letting Gonzaga know just how devoted and faithful they are. Gonzaga did not shoot one free throw without being under a copious amount of verbal harassment from the Butler fans. When Roosevelt Jones nailed the game-winning buzzer-beater, the fans spilled out onto the court and joined the team in what was essentially a mob. As the team made its way to the locker room, the fans stayed on the court to celebrate the hard-fought victory.
  2. Despite Defeat, Gonzaga Once Again Showed Its A Very Good Team. On a night where Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. combined to score just five points, the strength of the Gonzaga frontline was on display all night. Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk, and Sam Dower each turned in impressive performances going up against a player in Andrew Smith, who had essentially contained Cody Zeller earlier this season. Harris threw in 20 points and collected seven rebounds. Olynyk added 14 points and seven boards. Dower came off the bench and provided a great spark by scoring 20 points – 16 of which came in the first half. Not only did the Zags’ frontline perform well offensively, it also turned in a strong effort on the defensive side of the court. Smith, who entered the game averaging 12 points per game, was held to just seven points and was only able to get off five field goal attempts. While Gonzaga is surely not pleased in defeat, it should be pleased with the effort it got from its interior players.
  3. Never Count Butler Out. Ever. Butler has been college basketball’s darling for quite a few years now and there has been no indication of that changing any time soon. Earlier this season it was sophomore former walk-on Alex Barlow who hit a shot with 2.1 seconds left in overtime to top then number one Indiana. Against Gonzaga, Butler looked to sophomore guard Roosevelt Jones for the late-game heroics. After Butler turned the ball over trailing by one with just 3.5 seconds seconds to play, Jones intercepted the Gonzaga inbounds pass and raced into the lane putting up the game-winning shot a fraction of a second before the final buzzer sounded. Considering Butler’s history in close games against strong opponents, no one should be surprised with how the Bulldogs topped Gonzaga. Butler is a team that has adopted the calm and collected demeanor of its coach Brad Stevens and uses this approach no matter the situation. With Stevens at the controls and Butler playing as a team, there really is no situation this team cannot handle or conquer.

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Rushed Reactions: UCLA 97, #9 Missouri 94 (OT)

Posted by AMurawa on December 29th, 2012

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It was one of the more thrilling games of the young season, an up-and-down affair featuring great individual performances, scoring in bunches, and little of that pesky defense that can serve just to ugly things up. No, this was a track meet, a sprint. And one that needed some extra distance to decide a winner.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. This is What The Buzz Was About. We spent much of the offseason hearing about how great this UCLA recruiting class was and just how high the ceiling was for this team, but for much of the first month and a half of the season, the Bruins just didn’t live up to the hype. But quietly over the last couple weeks, UCLA has gotten on an offensive roll, racking up efficient offensive performances against questionable competition. Leading the way has been Shabazz Muhammad, one of the top two recruits in this year’s freshman class, depending on whom you ask. Tonight was his, and really, the entire UCLA team’s chance to show the strides that they have made. Muhammad poured in 27 points, including seven of UCLA’s nine points in overtime, and flashed the athleticism and killer instinct that was long rumored about him. While there is still plenty of room for improvement (case in point, he grabbed just one rebound in 34 minutes of play), we’re starting to see what we expected to see. And in proximity to the rumors that had been swirling about Ben Howland’s job being in jeopardy, this win may have come at just the right time.
  2. Phil Pressey. He Good. Phil Pressey, on the other hand, was a guy who had been largely living up to the high standards that he had previously set for himself. Tonight, he found himself facing a team with an up-tempo, minimal defense in which he can thrive. And thrive he did, wowing Tiger and Bruin fans alike to the tune of 19 points and 19 assists, setting a Missouri record for dimes in a game. The assists are the big story, and they came in a variety of ways: whip-aheads on the fast break; drive-and-dish jobs creating easy looks for big guys like Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers; and crisp passes to spot-up shooters for threes. And when he wasn’t handing out assists, he was creating for himself. He knocked down a late three (one of three on the night) in the face of Larry Drew II, he got into the lane and flipped in runners, and he knocked down pull-up jumpers. Just looking at the 8-for-22 effort in the box score could give one pause, but he was everything for the Tigers, accounting for 67 of their 94 points on just his shots and assists alone.
  3. Defense? What Defense? Much of the talk during the game on Twitter was about the lack of defense being played. And, yeah, there is little arguing that this was not exactly a fine example of defensive basketball. When all was said and done, the two teams combined to give up 1.18 points per possession. But you know what? At least for UCLA, that’s something to be okay with — at least there were signs of improvement. While they allowed far too much dribble penetration, at least it was to a point guard the quality of Pressey. And UCLA forced 17 turnovers (five from Pressey) which led to 36 points, quite possibly the difference in the game. At no point is this UCLA team going to be a shining example of Howland’s great defensive coaching, but if the Bruins can bolster its already potent offense by forcing turnovers and creating fast break opportunities, at least that can help to mitigate some of the easy points they give up.

Stars of the GameThe Wear Twins. Yeah, this should probably go to Pressey. Or maybe if you really want to hand it out to a player on the winning team, Muhammad. But I’ve already talked plenty about those two. How about the Wear twins though? Though they are a pair much maligned by large fan bases on both coasts, they were both excellent tonight. Travis Wear set a new career high, knocking in 22 points, grabbing nine boards and swatting a couple of shots. His brother, despite some early foul trouble, made all seven of the shots he attempted from the field on his way to 16 points and six boards. And, while a guy like Alex Oriakhi will get more attention as the big athletic dude in the middle, the Wears outplayed him, frustrated him, and, frankly, out-toughed him. Now there’s a sentiment I never thought I’d have. And, finally, with the game on the line, it was not Muhammad, it was not Jordan Adams (who was on the bench with leg cramps after being the guy called on at the end of regulation), it was not Kyle Anderson to whom the Bruins turned in the final moments of overtime. It was Travis Wear, who responded with a nice turnaround jumper to put UCLA up three with 13 seconds remaining.

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Rushed Reactions: New Mexico 55, #10 Cincinnati 54

Posted by rtmsf on December 27th, 2012

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Some quick thoughts from tonight’s inter-regional battle between New Mexico and Cincinnati

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Unbeaten No More. Cincinnati is #8 in the AP Poll, #8 in the ESPN/Coaches Poll, and #10 in the RTC Poll this week, but we are not sure anyone actually believed the Bearcats were that good or if simply the momentum of an unbeaten campaign had put them there. They play hard and defend well, but this is a guard-heavy, flawed team. And when the guards are not hitting — the starting backcourt of Cashmere Wright, Sean Kilpatrick and JaQuon Parker went 14-of-42 including an astonishing six total makes from inside the arc — Cincinnati has a lot of trouble scoring. The good news for Mick Cronin\’s team is that his squad can put the flawless record behind them as Big East play approaches. His team is good enough to finish in the top quarter of the league this season, but they have to find a way to get more balance in their offense (11 points from the front line) before we will see them pushing the upward boundaries of the polls again.
  2. Still Uncertain About New Mexico. Steve Alford’s squad is a tough team to get a read on this season. They have beaten a bunch of good-not-great teams but it is tough to discern what they actually do very well. Tony Snell and Kendall Williams are certainly capable players, but neither will take a game over in the same way that some of the other stars in the Mountain West will. Their defense and length was solid tonight, but they were playing a smallish, guard-oriented team in the Bearcats. They appear well-coached, but it\’s difficult to say how much that will matter against conference foes that already know who they are dealing with. The gut says that the Lobos are an NCAA Tournament team again — probably somewhere in the neighborhood of a #7-#10 seed — but that they are not quite in the same class with UNLV and San Diego State this season.
  3. Impressive Effort From New Mexico’s Role Players. Everyone is familiar with the talents of Lobo stars like Tony Snell and Kendall Williams (who combined for 26 points and six rebounds), but I also came away impressed with the skill and effort level of two of New Mexico’s lesser-known players, Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow. Neither is the type of player for whom you run offensive sets, but both guys exhibited a knack for getting their hands on the ball near the basket, resulting in 22 points, 13 rebounds and an untold number of tips, scrapes, and clear-outs with their aggressive dispositions.

Star of the Game. Alex Kirk, New Mexico. As mentioned above, Kirk’s activity around the basket was impressive enough tonight on its own merits, but his proper positioning to maneuver in place to reject Sean Kilpatrick’s long jumper attempt with two seconds remaining ensured the big road win for the Lobos. Throw in 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting, seven rebounds and countless hustle points, and it was clear that the seven-foot sophomore was the difference in tonight’s game.

Quotable.

  • “I thought I had him… I coulda drove him left but I didn’t.” – Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, referring to the final play of the game where his long jumper was blocked by Alex Kirk.
  • “Sorry I’m late, I had to talk to Coach Knight. I wasn’t leaving until he said I was finished.” – New Mexico head coach Steve Alford, proving that a quarter-century of time doesn’t always change relationships.
  • “That’s why you gotta be able to dance to every dance.” – Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin, on playing different styles successfully.

Sights and Sounds. For much of the game Cincinnati fans’ eyes and ears were split between the game on the court and the school’s football team playing Duke in the Belk Bowl. With all the plasma screens in the luxury boxes tuned to the football game, it was easy enough for much of the crowd to keep tabs on the Bearcats’ gridiron fortunes. When arena staff flashed that UC had taken a seven-point lead with a minute remaining, Fifth Third Arena erupted.

What’s Next. The immediate future gets no easier for either team, as both squads will suit up on New Year’s Eve for tough road games. Cincinnati travels to Pittsburgh for its AFC Central Big East opener, while New Mexico continues its tour of the Midwest by traveling to St. Louis.

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