NCAA Championship Game Analysis

Posted by rtmsf on April 4th, 2011

Nearly 350 teams start practice on October 15 with a single goal — to play on Monday night.  UConn and Butler are the two teams left standing; it promises to be another epic national championship game for the annals. 

#3 Connecticut vs. #8 Butler – National Championship (at Houston, TX) – 9:21 pm ET on CBS.

It Says Here That Calhoun Will Hold Another One of These Tonight

A year ago, when Butler advanced to the championship game against Duke, they were an unmitigated surprise, the very essence of the Cinderella story that gets talked about every March. One look at the personnel changes since that team (losing Gordon Hayward as an NBA Lottery pick, along with all-glue guy Willie Veasley and big man Avery Jukes to graduation), coupled with the Bulldogs’ struggles early in the season this year (starting 4-4 on the season and 6-5 in Horizon League play), and most people would consider this year’s run to the championship every bit as surprising as last year. But a closer look reveals a Butler team that is now riding a 14-game winning streak, a team that has turned things around on the defensive end. After allowing more than a point per possession in their first 23 games, they’ve trimmed that number to under 0.96 points per possession by locking down opponents and cleaning the defensive glass. Coupled with their capable offense, highlighted by key veterans Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard and newly efficient contributors like Andrew Smith and Shawn Vanzant, while it is still a remarkable accomplishment for the Bulldogs to be in the championship game, it is not nearly the shocker that last year’s run was. Conversely, while the average fan will see the name UConn in the championship game and barely bat an eye, the fact that the Huskies have made it this far is a bombshell. At the start of the season, they were picked by Big East coaches to finish tenth in the conference, and only improved upon those projections by a single slot (9-9 Big East), despite being in and out of the national top ten all season. The Huskies dropped seven of their last 11 conference games and it looked like their overreliance on All-American guard Kemba Walker was taking its toll. But as they have done all season with their backs against the wall, Jim Calhoun’s club has come back swinging, winning five games in five games to take the Big East Tournament title, and backing that up with five more consecutive wins in the Tournament. While Walker has continued to be excellent, it has been the emergence of freshman wing Jeremy Lamb and sophomore center Alex Oriakhi as consistent contributors that have allowed the Huskies to flourish. Lamb has scored in double figures in every game in that winning streak, while Oriakhi has averaged just under ten rebounds per game in that stretch, acting as perfect complements to Walker’s 25.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. Freshman point guard Shabazz Napier has also been an important spark off the bench. As with any team that faces UConn, slowing Walker will be priority number one. Junior defensive specialist Ronald Nored should get plenty of up-close-and-personal time with Walker, but Brad Stevens has made it clear that containing Walker is not a one man job. Expect the Bulldogs to try to clog the lane and make it more difficult for UConn to get penetration, while still making sure to keep an eye on Lamb – the Huskies’ best three-point shooter – on the perimeter. UConn will counter offensively with a veritable ton of ball screens for Walker, and off-the-ball screens for Lamb. The Huskies will also try to get guys like Oriakhi, Charles Okwandu and Roscoe Smith involved inside, hoping to take advantage of a relatively foul-prone Butler interior players Howard and Smith. On the offensive end, Butler will look to Mack and Howard for their offense most often, but a hallmark of the Butler Way is balanced offense, with players up and down the roster called upon at various times throughout the game. In the end, expect this game again to be tight throughout. However, the Huskies have shown the ability time and again throughout this tournament to weather a big run by the opposition, change momentum on a spectacular play by Walker, and then couple efficient offensive execution with steely defense down the stretch to eke out a nailbiting win. While it is awfully hard to pick against Butler given what they’ve done, it says here that UConn has one Kemba too many for the Bulldogs. Unless, of course, they find the range and some better luck on their halfcourt bank shots at the buzzer.

The RTC Certified Pick: Connecticut 61, Butler 60.

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NCAA Final Four Game Analysis

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 1st, 2011

The Road Ends Here, states the signs on the Reliant Center and around the city of Houston this weekend, so we think we’re in the right place.  The unlikeliest of Final Fours will commence on Saturday evening, so it’s time for our game analysis and picks.  Check back Monday morning for the final edition. 

#8 Butler vs. #11 VCU – National Semifinal (at Houston, TX) – 6:09 pm ET on CBS.


The New Krzyzewski is Back in the Final Four.

 Butler is back in the Final Four but what they see on the other side of the court may look familiar. VCU is playing Cinderella this season, the same shoes the Bulldogs filled last year in Indianapolis. The Rams have dismantled four of their five NCAA Tournament opponents during their improbable tournament run, including Kansas in their most recent game. Shaka Smart’s team has increased its level of play by a wide margin in this tournament and will look to “Shaka the World,” as one VCU t-shirt says, in Houston. As if they haven’t already. VCU is a team that didn’t even expect to be in the field, choosing not to watch the Selection Show three weeks ago. Yet here they are, two wins away from a national title with the national spotlight squarely on them. To get to Monday night and a date with either Connecticut or Kentucky, the Rams need to keep doing what they’ve been doing so well in this tournament: shoot the three, defend, and force turnovers. Remarkably, VCU has been outrebounded in four of their five NCAA Tournament games. USC was the only team that couldn’t pull down more boards than the Rams, a stunning fact given how far they’ve advanced. How have they done it? VCU has shot 43.8% from deep behind Bradford Burgess and company, held four of their five opponents under 40% shooting and recorded a +23 turnover margin (+4.6 per game). By contrast, Butler is in this position thanks to clutch plays by experienced players such as Shelvin Mack and a fantastic tactician on the sideline. Brad Stevens’ bunch has won four tournament games by a total of 13 points, three of them by six total points. To beat VCU, Butler must defend the three well and protect the basketball. They’ve done a nice job of that in the NCAAs thus far, allowing only 30.4% from deep in tournament play while committing 11 turnovers per game over the same stretch. That 30.4% mark against the three ball would rank #13 nationally if it were a season average, giving you a strong indication of just how well they’ve defended recently. As it is, Butler ranks #65 in three point defense at 32.4% on the season. Both clubs rely on the trey for a large portion of their offense so expect many deep shots to be launched. The key defensive matchup will be Butler’s Ronald Nored against VCU point guard Joey Rodriguez. Nored made it a habit of frustrating opposing guards in last year’s magical run to the title game and he’s doing it again this year. If Nored can get in Rodriguez’s grill and disrupt the flow of the VCU offense, open three-point looks may become harder to come by. Rodriguez averages 5.1 APG but the Rams could grind to a halt if he is locked up by Butler’s ace defender. It is unlikely that VCU will enjoy a significantly positive turnover margin against a Bulldogs team that protects the ball fairly well and even more unlikely that the Rams will outrebound Butler. Therefore, Nored may hold the key that opens the door for Butler to advance to their second consecutive championship game. VCU, specifically Burgess and Brandon Rozzell, has to keep making threes to have a chance to win this game. On the interior, Matt Howard and Jamie Skeen will battle it out. Skeen is more athletic but these forwards have similar games. They can score in the paint or from the perimeter but Howard is more physical. Skeen hasn’t shown the aggressiveness needed to battle junkyard dog players like Howard in the post at times this season, instead relying on his athleticism and finesse to overcome his opponents’ physicality. He must be able to bang with Howard and hopefully, for VCU’s sake, get him in early foul trouble. On paper this looks like a very close game. We don’t expect anything different but the edge has to go to Butler. Experience matters a lot when you get this deep into the tournament and the Bulldogs have obviously been here before. Given the way last year’s season ended for them, they are probably playing with a chip on their shoulder as well. Butler has all the motivation in the world to get to the title game while, subconsciously, VCU is just happy to have made it this far. By no means are we saying VCU doesn’t care about getting to Monday night (they do), but we’re worried about how they’ll react in a tight situation down the stretch of a close game with the eyes of the world focused on them. Butler has been through this drill last year and during the tournament this season, plus they have tough-as-nails players like Mack and Howard. Add in Stevens, the master strategist, and you have the recipe for success in a national semifinal. We wouldn’t be surprised if VCU wins, but we can’t pick against Butler here in what looks to be a favorable matchup for the Bulldogs.

The RTC Certified Pick: Butler.

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NCAA Elite Eight Game Analysis – Saturday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 26th, 2011

There’s just a single #1 seed remaining as we head into Elite Eight weekend.

#2 Florida vs. #8 Butler – Southeast Region Finals (at New Orleans, LA) – 4:30 pm ET on CBS.

Butler and Mack are One Step Away From Repeat Final Fours

It has come down to this for Butler. One more win and the Bulldogs will head to their second consecutive Final Four after a lot of folks had them losing to Old Dominion in the first round. For Florida, they’re one win away from making it to the big show for the first time since their 2007 national championship, their second in as many years. Brad Stevens and Butler have fueled this run by taking their foot off the gas. Butler is playing at a slower pace but forcing more turnovers and that will again be a key today as it was on Thursday against Wisconsin. Butler forced the Badgers into 11 turnovers, three more than their season average of eight. A similar effort against Florida (12 turnovers per game) could be the difference and subsequently send Butler to Houston. The Gators became three-happy against BYU but survived the Cougars in overtime. Florida can’t fire up 34 threes again and expect to beat Butler, a team that defends the three better than they do inside the arc. Ronald Nored and Shelvin Mack will do a better job defensively than Jimmer Fredette did on the Florida guards and the Gators still shot only 32.4% from deep in the BYU game. The vast majority of Florida’s production comes from their five starters, all players that were around last year. Billy Donovan’s team is experienced in terms of their age and class but this group has never been in this position before. Butler has, and that should give them an edge in crunch time. Florida must work the ball inside because that’s when they’re at their best, controlling pace and creating good looks. The Gators feature the versatile Chandler Parsons along with Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus (coming off a career game) inside while Butler will go with the foul-prone Matt Howard and Andrew Smith who suffered a nasty ankle roll on Thursday but is considered “likely” to play according to Stevens. The Florida bigs are quicker and should enjoy an edge in the paint if successfully utilized by guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton. If Walker and Boynton shoot too many threes and ignore the paint, Butler will win this game. Stevens’ main concern likely is Florida’s potential to do damage in the post making it vital that Howard stay out of foul trouble and Smith remains a presence despite his injury. The Bulldogs must prevent Florida from dominating inside because the Gators will control the boards and the pace of the game if allowed to operate with little resistance under the basket. Butler ranks #19 in defensive rebounding percentage and has to keep Florida off the offensive boards. As we said, Florida is at their best when working in the paint and second chance opportunities can jump start their confidence. The Gators have more depth inside so Garrett Butcher or Khyle Marshall may be needed for some important minutes off the bench to spell Howard and Smith. Butcher came up big against front court heavy Old Dominion and it is players like him who often have solid games to push their team over the top with a lot on the line. Keep an eye on Butler’s three point shooting. If they can’t get anything going from deep against the Florida perimeter defense (allowing only 31.3%), the Bulldogs won’t be able to spread the floor or create open looks inside. This game could come down to the very end making free throws crucial. Butler would have an advantage if it comes to that. While Florida has a slight edge in terms of matchups and talent, Butler has the experience that is such a valuable asset this deep into the tournament. We think they may be able to overcome the matchups and do just enough to keep the Bulldog train chugging along to Houston.

The RTC Certified Pick: Butler.

#3 Connecticut vs. #5 Arizona – West Region Finals (at Anaheim, CA) – 7:05 pm ET on CBS.

Derrick Williams and Friends Have a Lot to Smile About

The easy storyline here is Kemba Walker vs. Derrick Williams. Two All-Americans, two larger-than-life basketball players, each player coming off dominating performances in the regional semifinal which helped his team knock off their higher-seeded opponent. And there are plenty who will tell that story. But the fact is, rarely, if ever, will those two players be matched up one-on-one on the court. And given how important each star’s supporting cast was on each team’s trip to this place, to this game, that’s not enough of the story. Take Arizona, for instance. In the first half of their win over Duke on Saturday, Williams scored more than 65% of his team’s points, and he was the only thing in the way of a Blue Devil blowout. In the second half, however, he scored less than 13% of his team’s points. Two other Wildcats (Jamelle Horne and Kevin Parrom) equaled Williams’ second half output, while Solomon Hill exceeded it with ten points, and Momo Jones doubled it, with 14. As a result, the Wildcats played what was likely their best half of basketball this season. Earlier, Walker had gotten plenty of support himself, as freshman Jeremy Lamb tied a career-high with 24 points, while fellow freshmen Roscoe Smith (five points, eight rebounds) and Shabazz Napier (six assists) and sophomore big man Alex Oriakhi (five points, nine rebound) helped get the Huskies over the top. The lesson is that while Walker and Williams are players capable of putting their teams on their backs, the collective is much better off when the stars don’t need to do that. As a result, this game may be decided not by which star has the bigger game, but which star gets the greatest contributions from his supporting cast. Now that’s not to say that Jim Calhoun and Sean Miller aren’t spending quite a bit of time this evening trying to figure out the best ways to control the opposition’s elite talent. Expect the Wildcats to start with Jones, who has proven himself a strong defender over the past month or so, on Walker, trying to send him to the inside of the court on penetration where additional Wildcat defenders can help out, and preferring that he shoot from deep rather than get penetration. On the other end, the Huskies will likely shift around trying to find the right matchup for Williams between Oriakhi, Smith and others, ready to send a double-team when necessary. Both teams would much rather that the “other guys” beat them, rather than the stars. And both coaches are preparing those “other guys” to do just that. In a tight game, however, I think the Wildcats have just a couple more options than the Huskies, giving Sean Miller a little better chance to shuffle the cards a bit and find the right combination. That, coupled with what should be a pro-Arizona crowd should give the Wildcats the tiniest of advantages.

The RTC Certified Pick: Arizona.

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NCAA Sweet Sixteen Game Analysis – Friday

Posted by rtmsf on March 25th, 2011

Last night surely didn’t disappoint, with two games going down to the wire in the early session and a Duke-struction in the second session.  Tonight’s games are heavy on the Cinderella factor, which could be a good or a bad thing, depending on your perspective.

#2 North Carolina vs. #11 Marquette – East Regional Semifinal (at Newark, NJ) – 7:15 pm ET on CBS.

Marshall Makes the Carolina Attack Dangerous

Vegas lists Carolina as only a 4-point favorite heading into the first of two excellent matchups in the Newark regional, but we anticipate a much steeper climb for Marquette than the bookmakers anticipate. The daunting challenge for Buzz Williams will be finding some way to contain the Carolina bigs on the offensive end, notably 6’11 John Henson and 7’0 Tyler Zeller. The Golden Eagles are perennially undersized and plain old toughness and heart can only carry a team so far against superior talents that hold considerable physical advantages. Moderately-used sophomore Chris Otule is the only Marquette player that stands above 6’8 and he must have a career night defensively against either Henson or Zeller. Williams will likely send double teams in the post to aid his forwards in post-up situations just as they did with tremendous success against Syracuse’s Rick Jackson. Sagging off shooters to help in the post could coax the Heels into taking a few too many outside jumpers beyond the arc, a spot on the floor where UNC shoots just 33% on the campaign. Also look for Marquette to attempt the slow the tempo and keep the game in the halfcourt to neutralize Kendall Marshall’s outstanding passing ability in secondary break situations. If Carolina gets off to their usual slow start in the first ten minutes, falls into a shooting funk and one of Henson/Zeller slips into foul trouble, pulling off the upset is a possibility. That’s a lot of ifs. Not only does Carolina hold a considerable advantage down low, but also at the all-important point guard position. While Marquette employs a platoon of actual two-guard Dwight Buycks and the rapidly improving but inexperienced Junior Cadougan, what Marshall has meant to this Tar Heels team down the stretch cannot possibly be overstated. Marshall has dished out 24 assists compared to six turnovers in the tournament thus far and Carolina has only twice to Duke since he was instituted as the starting point guard ahead of the now-departed Larry Drew. A key reason why Marquette upset both Xavier and Syracuse was turnover differential. We’re leaning towards Marshall being able to dictate tempo without turning the basketball over. UNC advances to a showdown against either Ohio State or Kentucky with a trip to Houston on the line.

RTC Certified Pick: North Carolina.

#1 Kansas vs. #12 Richmond – Southwest Regional Semifinal (at San Antonio, TX) – 7:27 pm ET on TBS.

This is the game considered the biggest mismatch of the Sweet Sixteen, with one of the two co-favorites to win the national title lacing up their sneakers to play a mid-major darling, the Richmond Spiders.  To presume Kansas will run away with this one, though, is to make an error of judgment inconsiderate of two things: a) just how well Richmond is playing lately; and b) a recurring tendency by the Jayhawks to allow lesser teams to hang with them longer than they should.  Chris Mooney’s team is built like a mid-major with some high-major talent and athletes on its roster.  The Spiders like to spread the court and play a modified Princeton offense with their big men capable of knocking down jumpers as well as hitting cutters from the high post. Nearly every Spider starter can hit threes, befitting of a team that nailed long  balls at a tenth-in-the-nation best 39.9%.  The two players that the Jayhawk must key on are all-Atlantic 10 performers Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper. Both are athletic players who can pop for 25 on a given night, and with Dan Geriot capable of pulling a Morris twin outside and hitting long jumpers in addition to the range Harper has in his arsenal, the lane should be open for the classic penetration/kicks and the backdoor cuts that the offense is noted for.  As for Kansas, its defense on the perimeter is typically good, holding teams under 30% for the season from deep, but they are small outside, and if the UR big players are able to hit shots, they will keep Richmond hanging around this one.  KU obviously has a huge advantage inside, and as Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezeli showed in the Second Round, if Kansas remembers to throw the ball into the Morris twins from time to time, the big duo should have a combined 40-50-point night.  One problem with Bill Self’s team in this tournament is that they’ve yet to put a complete performance together; they looked and played tight against Boston University for much of the game; and Self even mentioned it afterward.  There were parts of the Illinois game that looked similar.  If Richmond starts nailing some early threes and gets Kansas down 8-12 points, how will the Jayhawks react?  Will they stay calm and play to their strengths inside; or will they panic and face another Northern Iowa situation?  It’s a compelling storyline, and one that will only be answered tonight in San Antonio — it says here that the Morris twins will be too much for UR to ultimately handle.

RTC Certified Pick: Kansas.

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Arizona Dominates Duke To End Their Dreams Of Repeating

Posted by nvr1983 on March 24th, 2011

It was a defeat that was notable not only for when it happened, but also how it happened. Duke entered their game against Arizona as 9.5-point favorites and were widely expected to make a trip to Houston with a chance to defend their championship especially after UConn knocked off San Diego State, which had been considered the strongest threat to the Blue Devils as a de facto home team. Instead the Blue Devils were dominated by the Wildcats in a way that few had envisioned as possible.


Williams and the Wildcats soared over the Blue Devils (Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

After the Blue Devils went into halftime with a 44-38 lead despite a phenomenal first half from Derrick Williams (25 points and 5 rebounds in the first half alone) most analysts expected them to gradually pull away in the second half as Kyrie Irving appeared to be playing like his pre-injury self and Kyle Singler appeared to be playing like the All-American that the media had pegged him as coming into the season. Instead the few Arizona fans who made the trek to Anaheim were treated to some of the best basketball a Wildcat team has played since the days of Miles Simon and Mike Bibby. In the first half it appeared as if Williams would have to carry the load for Wildcats, but his teammates were more than capable of assisting their superstar in the second half as they carried the load scoring 48 of the team’s 55 points in the 2nd half after only scoring 13 of the team’s 38 in the first half. Led by 20 points from Lamont Jones and n will be 13 points from Solomon Hill the Wildcats appeared as if they could do no wrong and dominated every facet of the game in the second half not only outscoring the Blue Devils by a remarkable 22 points (55-33), but also dominating the boards by a margin of 25 to 9.

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NCAA Sweet Sixteen Game Analysis – Thursday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 24th, 2011

After three days of quiet, it’s time to get serious about figuring out this national championship thing.  Sixteen to twelve… let’s check out tonight’s games.

#2 San Diego State vs. #3 Connecticut – West Regional Semifinal (at Anaheim, CA) – 7:15 pm ET on CBS.

Does Fisher Have Another Final Four Run in Him?

One of these teams has won two national championships. The other just got done winning their first two NCAA Tournament games ever. While the Aztecs have had a great breakout season and now stand at 34-2 on the season, UConn has won 44 Tournament games in the Jim Calhoun era alone. Luckily for SDSU, past performances in the Big Dance need have no impact on this year’s games. If you throw out the bloodlines for the two programs, you’ll find that we have the makings for what should be an excellent game. We’ve got star power on both ends of the court, with UConn’s point guard Kemba Walker a candidate for the National Player of the Year and SDSU’s Kawhi Leonard an All-American candidate. We’ve got big name coaches with national championships and Final Four experience, as Calhoun will be matched up with Steve Fisher, who won one title at Michigan in ’89, then got back to the title game in both ’92 and ’93. We’ve got an impressive freshman class including Shabazz Napier, Roscoe Smith, and Jeremy Lamb on the UConn side matched up with three starting seniors on the Aztec squad. In short, we’ve got all the trappings of a serious battle. For the Aztecs, the big goal is going to be slowing Kemba Walker. While SDSU has had plenty of experience at trying to slow another high-scoring point guard (one Jimmer Fredette – you may have heard of him), Walker is a different challenge for SDSU, as he is a quicker, shiftier guard than Fredette, and a guy who you’d rather have shooting the three than challenging his defenders off the dribble. As a result, it is likely that D.J. Gay and/or Chase Tapley will get the majority of minutes tasked with defending Walker, while frontcourt players like Leonard, Billy White and Malcolm Thomas will be left to keep one eye on Walker while trying to body-up the Huskies’ athletic offensive rebounders up front. The SDSU frontcourt will also have to provide the majority of the scoring, and given that they haven’t seen a team as big, long and bouncy as the Huskies, they’ll need to prove that their opponents’ size does not bother them. The Aztecs figure to have plenty of support from their fans, who only need to drive about an hour north to attend the game, but they’ll need to prove that their shaky performance down the stretch in Saturday’s game against Temple was an aberration rather than the norm. Until they can close out a game in the NCAA Tournament with confidence, we’re not sure they’re trustworthy against a big-time foe.

The RTC Certified Pick: Connecticut

#2 Florida vs. #3 BYU – Southeast Region Semifinals (at New Orleans, LA) – 7:27 pm ET on TBS.

Looking at this game on paper, it’s pretty hard to find any discernible differences between these two teams. The main determinant of this game will likely be tempo. BYU would love nothing more than to get the Gators caught up in a fast-paced game, forcing them to recklessly throw up ill-advised three pointers leading to long rebounds and many Cougar runouts. Dave Rose’s team excels in transition with Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery leading the charge. While Emery is certainly a terrific point guard, his biggest impact on this game could come defensively. He’ll guard Florida’s Erving Walker in all likelihood and that could be a major problem for the 5’8 Walker. Emery’s length and quickness has the potential to disrupt the Florida floor general, plus the BYU senior ranks #15 individually in steal percentage. If Walker can’t get the offense flowing, Florida may result to lots of isolations and quick shots, certainly not ideal for a team that does its best work at a slower pace in the half court. The Gators have a big advantage inside and have to use it to win. Billy Donovan needs to keep Kenny Boynton, expected to play after spraining his ankle against UCLA, in check and make sure his guards work the ball inside to Vernon Macklin, Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus. This could very well be the game where the loss of Brandon Davies dooms BYU for good. The Cougars rank a paltry #222 in offensive rebounding percentage so Florida should hold a significant edge on the glass. BYU has been out-rebounded in four of their seven games without Davies and we expect that trend to continue tonight. Defensively, Florida has to keep Fredette off the free throw line and force him to make outside shots. It’s alright for the Gators if Jimmer drains more than a few bombs but he’s most dangerous when he can get into the lane and to the stripe, or create for others when defenders are drawn to him inside. Florida ranks #15 in defensive free throw rate and will have to keep that up against Fredette specifically. We have to wonder if Donovan will assign Parsons the task of defending Fredette. Parsons is a big man (6’9) but he’s fairly quick for his size and can bother Jimmer with his superior length. Quickness will be the issue because Fredette possess a terrific first step to blow by opponents. The Cougars will have an edge at the line if this is a close game since Florida struggles as a team (67%). It should be a terrific matchup but a slight edge has to go to the Gators in New Orleans this evening.

The RTC Certified Pick: Florida.

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NCAA Third Round Games Analysis – Sunday

Posted by rtmsf on March 20th, 2011

Well, Saturday’s games were a mishmash between unbelievable endings (seriously, unbelievable), competitive contests, and Jimmer from thirty feet.  What will Sunday have on tap for us?

Ed. note – some of the later games will be added as the day moves forward…

#2 North Carolina vs. #7 Washington – East Region Third Round (at Charlotte, NC) – 12:15 pm ET on CBS.

Arguably the best matchup of the second round takes place in Charlotte on Sunday with Washington squaring off in a semi-road game against North Carolina. One factor to immediately keep in mind is the quick turnaround for the Huskies, who had to play after midnight on Friday and prepare for a noon tip not even two days later. While this matchup could produce a high number of possessions and end-to-end action, a breakneck pace may do more harm for the underdog Huskies than anything. When the Heels are vulnerable, it’s when teams keep them glued in the halfcourt and unable to execute Roy Williams’ secondary break, where Kendall Marshall has proven himself as one of the best fullcourt passers and fast break orchestrators since replacing Larry Drew in January. The point guard duel is absolutely fascinating. Isaiah Thomas has whittled down his turnovers this season and is playing more like a true floor general, while Marshall’s insertion into the starting lineup has boosted his supporting cast and sent the Heels on an upward trajectory. While this game could escalate into the 80s if Washington’s wings get going from deep, North Carolina emerges on top because of their defense. Marshall’s story, the emergence of John Henson and the rapid improvement of Harrison Barnes shooting the basketball have been the primary headlines, but UNC has been rock solid on defense since November, ranking seventh in the country in efficiency on that end of the floor while the Huskies lag behind at 48th. Down the stretch in a tight ball game, we simply expect the Heels to generate more stops and move on to Newark.

The RTC Certified PickNorth Carolina.

#1 Duke vs. #8 Michigan – West Region Third Round (at Charlotte, NC) – 2:45 pm ET on CBS.

With Kyrie Irving, who returned on Friday for his first action since early December when he injured his big toe, the Blue Devils are an entirely different team. Not that they needed a ton of help, with National Player of the Year candidate Nolan Smith having filled in admirably at the point, but with Irving back, Smith can shift back over to his more natural two and bigs like Miles and Mason Plumlee will get a boost from Irving’s penetration ability. It remains to be seen exactly what Irving’s role will be for Mike Krzyzewski in close games, but without a doubt, Irving gives him another major weapon. For the Wolverines, coming off a thorough second half destruction of Tennessee on Friday, it all begins and ends with Darius Morris. He’s Michigan’s leading scorer and assist man, and shutting him down will be Duke’s primary focus. With Smith being an excellent defender in addition to his offensive skills, expect him to get that job. Inside, Jordan Morgan is the sole reliable big man for John Beilein, and he probably doesn’t have the ability to exploit what could be Duke’s sole weakness, it’s interior and rebounding game. While wing Zack Novak does a terrific job helping out on the glass, the combination of the Plumlees, Ryan Kelly and Kyle Singler will be enough for the Devils to win the inside game, while their guards get out and score in transition and knock down threes in the halfcourt game. Michigan can keep  the game tight for a while by controlling the pace and riding their momentum from their second round game, but there are too many talented guards here for Michigan to control.

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke.

#1 Ohio State vs. #8 George Mason – East Region Third Round (at Cleveland, OH) – 5:15 pm ET on CBS.

Ohio State’s second round entrance was no surprise, but George Mason needed some more of their March heroics in the final minutes to shut down Villanova’s guards and live another day. Luke Hancock will need to pull out a few more stepback threes from his arsenal if Mason wants to etch their program further into March lore and knock off the overall #1 seed. As you might expect, the Buckeyes are superior to the Patriots in just about every facet. Ohio State ranks in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency, third in effective FG%, eighth in turnover%, first in steal%, they shoot 42% from deep led by Jon Diebler and 53% from inside the arc courtesy of Jared Sullinger. This is a phenomenal six or seven man rotation that understands their roles and execute on both ends to near perfection. It’s going to take a yeomen’s effort from Mason to pull off the shocker, and that means excelling at what they’ve done all season and catching some breaks along the way, i.e., Sullinger picking up two early fouls or Diebler experiencing an off-day from deep. Like any mid-major looking to pull an upset, they’ll need their stellar 39% mark on the season from three to hold up, meaning Andre Cornelius, Isaiah Tate and Cam Long better have the stroke from three. Mason also held opponents to just 31% from behind the arc on the season. If they can contain either Sullinger inside or the perimeter workings of the Buckeye guards, they’ll have a shot, and Mason does happen to be the highest efficiency team a #1 seed has to face in the second round. In the end, the Bucks simply have too many options capable of springing for 20. It’s going to be a few steps down the road, if at all, until OSU is slain.

The RTC Certified Pick: Ohio State.

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NCAA Third Round Game Analysis – Saturday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 19th, 2011

Saturday promises to be a great day of matchups in the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament.  On paper at least, there isn’t a single one of the eight scheduled games that shouldn’t be competitive.

#4 Kentucky vs. #5 West Virginia – East Region Third Round (at Tampa, FL) – 12:15 pm ET on CBS.

At first glance, West Virginia would appear to match up fairly well with Kentucky. The Mountaineers employ two fifth-year seniors while Kentucky trots out three freshmen in their slim rotation. Bob Huggins is 7-1 all-time against John Calipari, including last year’s Elite Eight triumph over the top-seeded Wildcats. The frontline of Kentucky, featuring only one consistent rebounding presence in Josh Harrellson, would seem to match up poorly against the assembly line of Mountaineer forwards and centers that finished sixth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. The reason we think Kentucky bucks this conventional wisdom is twofold: 1) a predominantly young Kentucky team may have discarded of their lackluster performance in the first round when they secretly felt showing up would be enough to defeat Princeton, and 2) the Wildcats are much more adept against a zone defense than they were last season because of the shooting ability of Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb. A key factor in West Virginia’s win over Clemson in the first round was the changing defenses Bob Huggins showed the Tigers, including a 2-3 and a 1-3-1 zone at various instances. Kentucky is eleventh overall in the nation in three-point percentage at just under 40% as a team and we think Knight will be on the board a lot earlier than the final offensive play of the game this time around. Kentucky simply has much more offensive firepower than West Virginia, who will have to out-tough, out-physical and out-rebound the Wildcats to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. John Calipari’s teams never receive enough credit for being solid defensively. Against a WVU offense that shoots just 48% from two and 34% from three, we believe Kentucky’s efforts on both ends of the floor will be sufficient.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky.

#2 Florida vs. #7 UCLA – Southeast Region Third Round (at Tampa, FL) – 2:45 pm ET on CBS.

The Gators stomped all over UC Santa Barbara on Thursday while UCLA narrowly avoided what would have been an epic implosion, holding off Michigan State after nearly blowing all of a 23-point lead with under nine minutes to play. Aside from a couple of losses to Kentucky down the stretch, Florida has been playing great basketball coming into this tournament and it continued in their first NCAA game. To advance to the Sweet Sixteen, Florida has to stick to what they do best, scoring inside while knocking down some timely threes. The Gators have the height to match up with the turnover-prone UCLA forwards and should also enjoy an edge in the backcourt with a much better team three point percentage behind Erving Walker, as well as Kenny Boynton when he’s hot. The Bruins turned the ball over 16 times against Michigan State and a similar performance will result in plenty of fast break points and extra opportunities for the Gators. UCLA’s strength is up front, both offensively and defensively, but Florida can match the height and depth of the Bruins’ frontcourt. Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt need to have solid games for UCLA to be in the game down the stretch, otherwise Vernon Macklin and Chandler Parsons could take over on the boards and in the paint. These two teams are similarly constructed but the Gators have had more consistent guard play, especially from Walker. This is a really good matchup for Florida, in our opinion, and the Gators should advance from Tampa to the regional semifinals.

The RTC Certified Pick: Florida.

#12 Richmond vs. #13 Morehead State – Southwest Region Third Round (at Denver, CO) – 5:15 pm ET on CBS.

In yesterday’s interview session, Morehead State guard Terrance Hill referred to getting to the Sweet Sixteen as a goal for his team all season, “like Butler did last year.”  And his statement personified just how important this game is to non-BCS schools like Richmond and MSU — by winning one more game and advancing to the regional semifinals, it’s roughly equivalent in terms of status and prestige to a major program like Duke or Kentucky making the Final Four.  Given the fact that for both schools a power conference bully isn’t standing in their way to the regionals, neither wants to give an inch in pursuing the opportunity.  Still, even though Richmond isn’t a BCS school, they are a member of a high-mid league and Chris Mooney has a corps of four seniors in Kevin Anderson, Justin Harper, Dan Geriot and Kevin Smith who have been to consecutive NCAA Tournaments and have won ninety games in the last four years.  The offensive options available to Mooney are significantly better than those at the disposal of Morehead’s Donnie Tyndall, and it’s unlikely that the Spiders will be as careless with the ball as Louisville was on Thursday afternoon.  While Kenneth Faried is likely to pull down twenty rebounds against the slight Richmond front line, the Spider perimeter players are very good at locking down the opposing three-ball, holding opponents to a mere 30.5% (Morehead nailed nine, including the game winner, against Louisville).  Furthermore, MSU isn’t very good at stopping the three on their end, as Louisville was able to knock down ten, and UR, led by Anderson (42.7%), Harper (46.5%) and Darien Brothers (39.7%) makes a living as a team in bombing away.  With a trip to the Sweet Sixteen on the line, the smart money is on the team that isn’t as likely to have celebrated too hard — Morehead State won the biggest game in its history on Thursday; Richmond beat Vandy.  Who would you choose?

The RTC Certified Pick: Richmond.

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NCAA Second Round Game Analysis – Friday

Posted by rtmsf on March 18th, 2011

What a Thursday — there’s no possible way that Friday could ever match it, right?  We won’t know until we start playing the games.

#4 Texas vs. #13 Oakland – West Region Second Round (at Tulsa, OK) – 12:15 pm ET on CBS

On one end of the court, this figures to be a terrific matchup, as Texas is Ken Pomeroy’s most efficient defensive team in the nation, and Oakland is his 13th most efficient offensive team. The Longhorns limit their opponents to effective field goals of 42% while the Grizzlies shoot it at over 56%. And Oakland wants to get up and down the floor, while Texas plays at a more middling pace. In short, a battle between a great defensive team and a great offensive team. Keith Benson is the big man in the middle for Oakland, and his battles with Texas freshman Tristan Thompson inside could be illuminating, but the Grizzlies also get plenty of offensive production from junior point Reggie Hamilton (17.4 PPG, 5.4 APG), senior power forward Will Hudson (12.5 PPG, 7.1 RPG) and freshman guard Travis Bader (10.5 PPG, 2.7 3PG, 45.8 3P%). Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, they’ll also have to defend in order to win this game, and they’ve not been a good defensive team. They don’t force a lot of missed shots, they don’t do a great job rebounding what shots are missed and they don’t even force turnovers to make up for those deficiencies. They’ll need to rely on some combination of an out-of-their-minds defensive performance and an extra-special-bad shooting effort from the Longhorns in order to stick around. Despite the fact that Texas has played at a slower pace than Oakland this year, the Longhorns ability to play at a faster pace could be a key for them to put away this Grizzlies. Dogus Balbay and Cory Joseph are more than capable of getting Texas up and down the court, and Thompson and front-court mate Gary Johnson are comfortable getting out and running too, as are wings Jordan Hamilton and J’Covan Brown. While Oakland is use to picking up the pace, getting the more athletic Longhorns into a running game could spell their demise.

The RTC Certified Pick: Texas.

#8 Michigan vs. #9 Tennessee – West Region Second Round (at Charlotte, NC) – 12:40 pm ET on truTV.

The Volunteers started the season strong, with their wins over Villanova and Pitt, two of the better wins in the nation in the first month of the season. And since then there has long been the perception that they were a lock for the Tournament, regardless of the ups and downs they had the rest of the season. For the Wolverines, they were mostly counted out after a six-game losing streak left them at 1-6 in their conference and just barely over .500 on the season. As a result, when this matchup was announced on Selection Sunday, there were those who thought Michigan got a gift, while the Vols may have been a bit under-seeded. Closer examination reveals a Michigan team that should be favored here, based on their resume. However, Tennessee may have the two best players in the game on Friday, and if Michigan has trouble matching up defensively with freshman forward Tobias Harris and junior wing Scotty Hopson, they could have trouble. The Wolverines rely on sophomore point guard Darius Morris to run the team, make good decisions and find shooters like Tim Hardaway Jr., Zack Novak, Stu Douglass and Evan Smotrycz to knock down their threes, while freshman big man Jordan Morgan mans the paint. Given that the Vols specialize in hitting the offensive glass, grabbing 37.9% of their misses, Morgan will be on the spot and he’ll need to get help from guards and wings in limiting UT to one shot. Michigan will limit possessions and take care of the ball, but when all is said and done, their inexperience (they’re in the bottom 3% in Ken Pomeroy’s weighted experience rating) and lack of size may doom them in a close game.

The RTC Certified Pick: Tennessee.

#2 Notre Dame vs. #15 Akron – Southwest Region Second Round (at Chicago, IL) – 1:40 pm ET on TBS.

Mike Brey’s Fighting Irish have had a dream season in a year where not all that much was expected.  A run to a 14-4 record and a second place finish in the regular season of the nation’s toughest conference resulted in a #2 seed in the NCAAs and a first round matchup against another midwestern team with aspirations of playing Cinderella.  The Irish offense, the third most efficient in the nation, starts with Ben Hansbrough’s all-american numbers of 18/4/4 APG and continues on through Tim Abromaitis’ 15/6 and Carleton Scott’s 12/7.  These three players are bloody murder on a defense, combining for 199 threes over the course of the season and hitting them at a 41.8% clip, causing defense to extend well beyond their comfort zones in trying to guard these shooters.   The three-point attack, of course, sets up a drive-and-dish game with the clever Hansbrough sometimes opting to drive to the rim in the hopes that the defense collapses so that he can find one of his teammates for the easy look from outside the arc.  Akron, with 7’0 sophomore Zeke Marshall in the middle, will be better situated than most to crowd the Irish shooters, knowing that Marshall (and his 2.5 blocks per game) is waiting inside to erase any mistakes; with a deep group of experienced players at the disposal of Zip head coach Keith Dambrot, we don’t expect that his team will get rattled.  The key to this game will be whether Notre Dame is hitting their usual shots — and if they are, the Irish will advance.  If not, Akron has just enough talent and motivation to make things quite interesting.  We think Hansbrough will make the difference, though. 

The RTC Certified Pick: Notre Dame

#8 George Mason vs. #9 Villanova – East Region Second Round (at Cleveland, OH) – 2:10 pm ET on TNT.

Here are two teams entering the NCAA Tournament going in opposite directions. Before George Mason’s winning streak was snapped in the CAA Tournament against VCU, the Patriots hadn’t lost since January 8. On that same date, Villanova was riding high at 13-1 and ranked in the top ten before going a meager 8-10 to close out the campaign, giving Wildcat fans painful flashbacks to last year’s late-season collapse. Jay Wright’s team is struggling all over the floor; senior guard Corey Fisher is mired in a month-long shooting slump and Maalik Wayns has just started to make shots with any consistency in the last two games. Villanova only shoots 35% from three on the season and Mason is one of the best teams in the nation at defending the three. Quite simply, Nova needs their senior Fisher to shake off the cobwebs and spring for 20-25 points for the Wildcats to have a fighting chance, not only with his outside shooting but also his penetration ability and proficiency at the charity stripe. The Patriots have a multitude of weapons in their offensive arsenal from floor leader Cam Long to versatile big man Ryan Pearson and shooting threat Andre Cornelius. Villanova will need a strong defensive effort to limit a Mason attack that’s supremely efficient, rarely turns the ball over and shoots the three at a 40% clip. Unless the game is decided at the free throw line late, Mason is stronger across the board than their Big East counterparts. They’re confident, playing at a high level and have executed on both ends of the floor all season. Sounds like the opposite of a Villanova team that’s once again sliding in March.

The RTC Certified Pick: George Mason.

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NCAA Second Round Game Analysis – Thursday

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2011

Now that the Play-In First Four games are finished, let’s get back to normalcy with the best weekend of the year beginning this afternoon.  Sixteen games, eight sites, four television channels, and several million brackets busted by roughly 3:30 PM eastern time.

#5 West Virginia vs. #11 Clemson – East Region Second Round (at Tampa, FL) – 12:15 pm ET on CBS

Expect a low-scoring, gritty and physical opener for Thursday’s NCAA Tournament action, and not just because the tip time is barely after noon and Clemson arrived in Tampa just before the sun came up on Wednesday. Both of these teams pride themselves in their toughness defensively and play extremely hard on every possession. Clemson specializes in limiting opposing offenses inside the arc behind senior forward Jerai Grant prowess in the paint, while West Virginia limits their competition to below 30% shooting from the three-point line. While both Brad Brownell and Bob Huggins have a history of trotting out stalwart defenses, the edge offensively has to side with the Mountaineers. Kevin Jones has been playing his best basketball of the season as of late, posting three double-doubles in his last four outings. Casey Mitchell is a 38% gunner from deep that is tremendous off screens in catch and shoot situations where he barely needs any room to fire. Deniz Kilicli and John Flowers have aided what has turned out to be the sixth best offensive rebounding team in the nation, no surprise coming from a Huggins-coached squad. Clemson is merely middle of the pack in Division I in allowing offensive rebounds, so the Mountaineer frontline may be able to churn out extra possessions for their perimeter weapons throughout this game. Limiting Grant is certainly a challenge, but the WV frontline should be up to the task. Combine tired legs with Mitchell feasting on a perimeter defense that just surrendered 12 threes to UAB and the edge in this 5/12 matchup has to side with the Mountaineers.

The RTC Certified Pick: West Virginia.

#8 Butler vs. #9 Old Dominion – Southeast Region Second Round (at Washington, D.C.) – 12:40 pm ET on truTV.

Both teams have won their past nine games en route to conference tournament championships. Defense has been the key for each club during their winning streaks with Butler giving up 58 PPG and ODU at 57.7 PPG against over their last nine games. Old Dominion is one of the best rebounding teams in the nation and that is where they have to take advantage of the Bulldogs. This game will be played almost exclusively in the half court with both teams preferring a slower pace. Butler ranks #11 in defensive rebounding percentage but the Monarchs are the best offensive rebounding team in the land. Blaine Taylor’s team must win this battle and protect the basketball in order to advance. They struggle at times with turnovers and lots of giveaways will negate their expected edge on the glass. Look for the Monarchs to work inside utilizing star big man Frank Hassell as well as Keyon Carter and Kent Bazemore. Butler allows 48.7% FG inside the arc and that could hurt them against the frontcourt-oriented Monarchs. Butler shoots almost 21 threes per game behind Shelvin Mack, Zach Hahn and even Matt Howard (44%). Add in the recent play of Shawn Vanzant and you have a team playing as well as they have all year. ODU is very poor against the three, their biggest vulnerability. Bazemore is a terrific defender and needs to come up big on that end against the Bulldog guards. Both teams are experienced and obviously did well in last year’s tournament so they won’t be intimidated by the big stage. While the focus will be on Howard vs. Hassell in the post, this game could be determined by guard play.

The RTC Certified Pick: Butler.

#4 Louisville vs. #13 Morehead State – Southwest Region Second Round (at Denver, CO) – 1:40 pm ET on TBS.

We’re quite sure that Louisville head coach Rick Pitino could only shake his head in disgust when he saw his team’s opening matchup on Thursday.  An in-state mid-major whose greatest strength — a dominant glass-eater by the name of Kenneth Faried — bears stark contrast with his Cards’ greatest weakness, interior play.  Over the years, Pitino has mastered the art of using team defensive principles to stymie players like Faried by throwing two and three bodies at him everywhere on the floor.  The Cards will need to again, because Faried’s nonstop motor and Rodman-esque knack for finding the ball is the best in the nation (he corrals 20% of offensive rebounds and 31% of defensive rebounds while he’s on the floor), something his players know all too well after facing Morehead State (and Faried) in the same round two seasons ago (Faried went for 14/11 in a 20-point loss).  He’s gotten better, and so has his team.  The good news for Pitino is that MSU is often sloppy with the ball, committing nearly fifteen turnovers a game, and the Eagles don’t defend the three very well (36.9%), which will allow ample opportunities for the Louisville shooters to get good looks from deep.  Two seasons ago a stronger Louisville team went into halftime only up two points on a weaker Morehead State team; expect a similar situation this year, as the relative strengths and weaknesses offset each other.  Ultimately, the Cards will find enough points through hustle and desire to fend off the school located two hours east, but we’ll forgive Pitino if he lambastes the committee for giving him this dangerous opponent for the second time in three years.

The RTC Certified Pick: Louisville.

#7 Temple vs. #10 Penn State – West Region Second Round (at Tucson, AZ) – 2:10 pm ET on TNT.

While the Owls are 25-7 and the higher seed here, this is not a team that is at full strength. They have played their last eight games without center Michael Eric, who will not return this year, and the last seven without swingman Scootie Randall, who is holding out hope that he will be able to go Thursday. The Nittany Lions, meanwhile, are at full strength, but their full strength means that their five starters are ready to play a whole lot of minutes, with only sporadic contributions from the bench, which averages less than eight total points per game. And given the pace at which Penn State plays (their games average just 60 possessions, in the bottom two percent of the nation), a pace which Temple will have little objection to, we’ll have a low-scoring, limited possession, defensive battle that will likely come down to seeing which of the two teams makes the most plays in the final few minutes. Because of that, the Lions may have the edge. Not only do they have four seniors amongst their five main players, but Talor Battle is an explosive scorer given the limited number of possessions he works with. And, among their five man rotation, only Andrew Jones is a poor free throw shooter. For Temple to counteract the experience of the Lions, they’ll need to get plenty of inside production from physical freak Lavoy Allen, while perimeter players like Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt and point guard Juan Fernandez will have to take advantage of a PSU defense that likes to pack it in and force their opponents to beat them with their jump shot. Unfortunately for the Owls, even if Randall does make it back for this game, their most efficient offensive player does not figure to have his legs back, and Temple may come up a bit short.

The RTC Certified Pick: Penn State

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