The ABCs Of Why Oregon Is A Final Four Contender

Posted by Mike Lemaire on February 11th, 2016

We’ve been wanting to write about Oregon since the Ducks beat Arizona in Tucson two weeks ago, but coming up with new angles to discuss how good Dana Altman’s team has become is tricky. For the first time since Altman took over the program in 2010, the team is starting to garner real national attention. That of course means that most of the stories about the team’s patchwork roster and intriguing backstories have already been told. Still, the Ducks deserve all the publicity and attention they can get and we on the microsite have been severely lacking in that department, so we decided to make up for it. Rather than regurgitate observations that have already been analyzed to death, though, we instead used the entire alphabet to explain why the Ducks are legitimate Final Four contenders.

Note: This was not as easy as it might look, so we are asking for forgiveness on some of our more obvious reaches.

A is for Altman: It wasn’t very long ago that Oregon was in the middle of an ugly sexual assault scandal and some were calling for Altman’s job. Now he is coaching the best team in the conference and is in consideration for several national coaching awards as well. He gets plenty of criticism for his continued reliance on transfers, especially those from junior college, but players like Chris Boucher, Dwayne Benjamin and Elgin Cook are silencing those critics. He has also made a concerted effort to make his team adaptable and that shows in his willingness to switch up defensive schemes and tinker with lineups. It has all come together this season and now we are watching Altman’s vision come to life.

B is for Blocks: The Ducks do a lot of this, as they are tied with St. John’s for the second-highest block percentage in the country. That elite rim protection is a big reason why Oregon is way more efficient on the defensive end of the floor this season. Boucher leads the country in blocks per game (3.4) and it would be foolish to forget that sophomore Jordan Bell – who is finally rounding into form – was the conference’s best shot-blocker last season.

Chris Boucher, Casey Benson And The Ducks Are Halfway Home To A Pac-12 Title (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Chris Boucher Has Been a Game-Changing Rim Protector                                                     (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

C is for Canada: Altman and Oregon have been luring players from north of the border to Eugene for years now (remember Jason Calliste and Devoe Joseph?) but recently he has outdone himself. Ontario native Dillon Brooks is on the short list of PAC-12 Player of the Year candidates, while Montreal product Boucher may be the team’s best NBA prospect. The Ducks’ Canadian flavor would grow even stronger if Dylan Ennis, another Ontario product, were healthy.

D is for Dillon: Brooks has always been considered a good player but the sophomore has raised both his game and draft stock this season. Oregon has made a conscious effort to run its offense through the versatile Brooks, and he’s responded by averaging 16.9 points per game, shooting 48% from the floor, and grabbing 6.0 rebounds per game. He also averages 3.2 assists per game and shoots 80 percent from the free-throw line. He is still a limited shooter from three-point range and can be sloppy with the ball, but the Ducks wouldn’t be nearly as good as they are now if Brooks wasn’t in the midst of a breakout season.

E is for Ennis: The very definition of a college basketball journeyman, Ennis was supposed to use his last year of eligibility to run the Ducks’ offense this season. Instead, a lingering foot issue sidelined him for the rest of the season. He’s likely played his final minute of college basketball, as the NCAA is expected to reject his appeal for a medical redshirt. But rather than sulk or drop out of school, Ennis has been front and center as the team’s biggest cheerleader. That type of support and loyalty can make subtle, crucial differences in team morale.

F is for Frontcourt: The loss of Ennis has left a gaping hole in the depth of the team’s backcourt, but Oregon makes up for it with a frontcourt that may feature the best grouping of five forwards in the country. Boucher and Brooks need no further explanation, but Bell is a defensive monster who is still shaking off the rust from missing the first portion of the season. Senior Dwayne Benjamin isn’t a great rebounder but makes up for it with his floor-stretching shooting talents, while fellow senior Elgin Cook is the perfect swing forward, capable of filling in wherever necessary. Oh and don’t think Cook is just a role player; he is currently Oregon’s second leading scorer.

G is for Gimmes: The importance of succeeding at the free-throw line can never be understated. While the Ducks are shooting six percent worse from the charity stripe this season than they did last (76 percent has come down to 70 percent), the percentage of free-throw attempts in relation to field-goal attempts has risen sharply, from 28 percent to 40 percent. Oregon is getting to the free-throw line far more often, which is a big reason why the offense has been able to overcome its long-range shooting issues. If anything, it might be worth trying to get to the line even more often.

H is for Homecourt Advantage: Here’s the first letter that demanded a real stretch! Considering the Ducks play in a 12,000-seat arena and can barely muster an average of 8,000 fans for conference home games, the fans may not deserve too much praise. But the crowd is starting to come back (with an assist from the school athletic department) and the team is noticing and responding. The Ducks have yet to lose in Eugene and with just three manageable home dates remaining on the schedule (vs. Oregon State, Washington, and Washington State), it doesn’t seem likely they will this season.

I is for Idolization: The second stretch of the piece! But idolization is a pretty good word for Ducks’ guard Casey Benson‘s fascination with watching his brother play. The elder Benson (T.J.) played at Weber State and now coaches at Grand Canyon University, so the younger Benson had a pretty good mentor to learn from. The younger Benson is one of the best decision-makers in college basketball and has become an unexpected linchpin in one of the nation’s most efficient offenses.

J is for Jumpers: Oregon makes a fair amount of them (its 53.3 percent shooting on two-point field goal attempts is best in the conference) and last we checked, making shots is an important part of becoming a good basketball team.

K is for Knight: It is pretty near impossible to mention the success of Oregon athletics without pointing out that a big part of that success is Nike chairman Phil Knight’s deep pockets and profound love for the school’s sports teams. Matthew Knight Arena is a gleaming testament to both Phil’s son and his own generosity. It may also be the coolest court in college basketball.

Knight

Matthew Knight Arena’s Hardwood Is As Distinctive As Any In College Basketball

L is for Luck: According to hoop-math.com, opponents took 418 field goals in transition against Oregon last season and roughly 38 percent of those attempts came from downtown. Opponents made just 30.8 percent of those shots. This season, opponents have taken 255 field goals in transition (basically the same per game average as last season) and once again roughly 38 percent of those attempts have come from downtown. Opponents are now making 44.4 percent of those attempts, however. Oregon can definitely stand to tighten things up in that area, but that number screams regression. If and when that luck runs out, Oregon’s already solid defense might start looking even more efficient.

M is for Mennenga: As in assistant coach Mike Mennenga. Mennenga is in his second season as an assistant in Eugene but his strong ties to Toronto (he used to be a youth basketball coach there) are a big reason why Oregon is so popular with players from up north. We already explained how important Canada has been to Oregon’s success this season, so it is only fair we give Mennenga his due, as well. 

N is for Newcomers: Since Altman took over for Ernie Kent, the roster has seen an average of nearly eight new players each season. This season isn’t the best example of the constant turnover – in part because we never got to see Ennis play extended minutes – but at the risk of sounding redundant, Boucher and Dorsey have worked out pretty well. It takes a gifted coach and stable program to successfully integrate new players year after year. Oregon does it better than almost anyone else.

O is for Opportunity: At the risk of being a buzzkill, it is worth pointing out that there are no dominant teams in college basketball this season. This leaves a very large open window of opportunity for Oregon (and every other team out there) to climb through. If this were last season, Oregon might not even be the first or second best team in the conference, let alone the country. This is nothing to be ashamed of, but let’s not pretend it doesn’t have a big impact on Oregon’s potential tournament success.

P is for Playing Time: Ducks’ freshman Tyler Dorsey was originally committed to conference rival Arizona. But when Arizona took a commitment from Justin Simon and offered other guards, Dorsey knew his potential playing time was in jeopardy and reopened his commitment before eventually landing at Oregon. Playing time was unlikely to be the only reason Dorsey made the switch, but the point is moot now. Dorsey is suiting up for Oregon and is the team’s third-leading scorer and best outside shooter, shooting better than 40 percent from three-point range.

Q is for Quack: You know, like a Duck?

R is for Reckless: One would think that a rotation primarily comprising first or second year players would be more reckless. But in fact the opposite is true, as Oregon takes better care of the ball than almost any team in the country. Casey Benson has turned the ball over just seven times in more than 300 minutes of conference play and Boucher has just nine turnovers in nearly as many minutes. The Ducks lead the conference in turnover margin (+2.88) and are 26th best in the country in the category (ninth best among Power 5 schools).

A Casey Benson Turnover is a Rare Sight These Days

A Casey Benson Turnover is a Rare Sight These Days (Photo: John Sperry, 247Sports)

S is for Stubblefield: As in longtime Altman sidekick and ace recruiter Tony Stubblefield. Hired away from Cincinnati, Stubblefield has been the program’s best recruiter and is at least partially responsible for the commitment of Dorsey last year. He was also the primary recruiter of Oak Hill Academy forward Trevor Manuel, and 247 Sports credits him with successfully enrolling Cook and Brooks in years past.

T is for Transition Defense: Oregon opponents’ effective field-goal percentage in transition is 58.5 percent. This is in part due to the aforementioned problems defending the three-point arc, but what might be news to some is that Oregon ranks among the top 40 teams in the country in percentage of total field goals attempted in transition (18.3%) and effective field-goal percentage defense in non-transition situations (44.4%). In summation, Oregon is good at preventing opponents’ transition opportunities and is really good at defending when the opponents aren’t getting transition opportunities. This is a reminder to Dana Altman to get that transition perimeter defense cleaned up STAT.

U is for Unicorns: Unicorn was the most apt description for the type of once-in-a-generation talent and athlete Kevin Durant was and still is. Now it is being used, albeit slightly more moderately, to describe the 6’10”, 190-pound athletic freak that is Chris Boucher. There aren’t too many players in college basketball with the versatility to block seven shots and make four three-pointers in the same game. Boucher did it against Arizona State on Jan. 31. He is 23 and is essentially a walking string bean, but his arrival has been an obvious boon on both ends of the floor for the Ducks.

V is for Versatility: And versatility is something Oregon has in spades. Take a look at Oregon’s most frequently used lineups over the last five games and you will see Altman experiments with different combinations liberally. Every player in the rotation also plays more than one position. This is not coincidental. Altman readily admits that versatility is an important part of his recruiting strategy and that position-less basketball is the aim. Almost all of the Ducks are matchup problems for the opposition (especially Brooks) and that ability to play different roles is a big reason why the offense is so efficient.

W is for Warriors: To continue that thought, we won’t pretend the Ducks’ attempts to mimic the Warriors’ position-less defense is perfect. Oregon still has issues on the glass and defending the perimeter. But it is interesting to see how many similar pieces Oregon is working with. This excellent analysis of the Warriors’ ground-breaking defense can be applied to Oregon as well (to a lesser degree, obviously). The Ducks have no defensive footprint and can play man-to-man or zone depending on what suits them. They can switch on defense without worrying about size mismatches with Boucher serving as the Bogut-esque anchor. Brooks also has the potential to be an Iguodala-lite disruptor on defense. These similarities may not be perfect, but their potential existence is a definite good thing.

X is for X: This is one of those skip questions on the test and we will take the “X”.

Y and Z: Uhhhh, seems like we ran out of gas. We got nothing. Dana Altman has to hope his team has a more successful finishing flourish in them this March than we did here. And if you read all the way from A through W, you know the Ducks just might.

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Rushed Reactions: #5 Utah 75, #4 Georgetown 64

Posted by rtmsf on March 21st, 2015

rushedreactions

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

Three Key Takeaways.

Utah (USA Today Images)

Larry Krystkowiak’s Group Headed to Its First Sweet Sixteen in a Decade (USA Today Images)

  1. Efficient and Balanced Basketball. Utah was in for quite the battle but the Utes were able to eventually pull away from Georgetown behind its multiple offensive options, nearly every one of whom understands the difference between a good shot, a better shot and the best shot (see Larry Krystkowiak’s quotes below for more on this). Against a Hoyas’ defense that shuts down the interior at the expense of giving up open looks from the perimeter, Krystkowiak’s bunch capitalized on its opportunities in both ways. The Utes connected on 14-of-24 shots from within the arc (58%) and 8-of-14 shots from behind it (57%). Their 38 shot attempts marked the second consecutive game where Utah had taken that relatively low number, but it is making up for that lost offense in spades with trips to the foul line (53 attempts over two games). Furthermore, six players scored between nine and 14 points tonight. A highly efficient offensive attacked that is diversified by multiple scoring options is a tough unit to beat, and Utah is playing like it has no interest in heading home just yet.
  2. Georgetown’s Hot Start Was Fool’s Gold. The Hoyas came burning out of the gates with five threes in the first seven minutes of action. As head coach John Thompson, III, said after the game, the hot start probably made his team a little too reliant on jump shots moving forward. A 35 percent shooting team from distance on the season, the Hoyas only made four more for the rest of the game, with three coming in the second half (and one of those when the game was all but over). Utah probably wasn’t going to be beaten tonight, but the early run allowed Georgetown — a team that can often go through long offensive funks — to stay essentially even with Utah until the final four minutes of the game.
  3. Utah’s Program Turnaround. Utah is a proud basketball program with a long history of success, but the rebuild that Krystkowiak has enabled in Salt Lake City over the past four seasons has been phenonemal. His first team, a complete laughingstock in its first season in the Pac-12, won a total of six games. But the next season his Utes were competitive, winning 15 and making a mini-run in the Pac-12 Tournament. Last season was the breakthrough year, with Utah notching 21 wins and a trip to the NIT. In year four, a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. It’s unlikely that the Utes are headed beyond Houston this year, but given the preparation and efficiency with which Utah plays, it’s not easy to count the team out.

Player of the Game. Brandon Taylor, UtahThere was no single player who stood out above the rest tonight, but Taylor’s 14 points and five assists seem as good as any. In particular, he hit a couple of second half threes that gave Utah breathing room twice as Georgetown was pushing forward, so his timeliness more than anything else was worthy of this award.

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SEC M5: Thanksgiving Eve Edition

Posted by David Changas on November 26th, 2014

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  1. It is safe to say the SEC has not had the strongest of starts to this Feast Week, Arkansas’ impressive win at SMU Tuesday night notwithstanding. The league has taken a beating on the first two days of the Thanksgiving week tournaments, and it is safe to say that the SEC, as a whole, somehow is performing below its not-so-lofty preseason expectations. On Monday, LSU lost in the Paradise Jam to a Clemson team that had home losses to Winthrop and Gardner-Webb earlier this month; Missouri got trounced by Arizona in Maui; Auburn put up a whopping 35 points in an 18-point loss to Tulsa in Las Vegas; and Alabama fell to Iowa State in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, though the Crimson Tide at least showed some life, and bounced back with a 76-71 win over Arizona State in the consolation game. Also on Tuesday, Missouri was trounced by Purdue, 82-61.  There is plenty of basketball left this week, so the league has a chance to redeem itself, but based on the early returns, that does not appear likely to happen.
  2. The drama continues to unfold in the Donnie Tyndall saga, as his long-time assistant and apparent right-hand man, Adam Howard, resigned for “personal reasons.” Gary Parrish reported that, not surprisingly, the resignation of the coach who drove Tyndall to his first interview with Tennessee brass in the spring, was related to the NCAA’s investigation of improprieties that occurred at Southern Miss while Tyndall coached there. It was also learned Monday that special assistant R.J. Rush resigned before the season opener against VCU for personal reasons. This situation is far from over, but one must wonder whether, at the end of the day, Tyndall will survive in Knoxville. Long-time Knoxville News-Sentinel columnist Mike Strange, who has seen plenty of ups and downs with this program, knows that, whichever way this ultimately goes for Tyndall, the UT administration is in a very tough spot.
  3. Alabama senior guard Levi Randolph was named SEC Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 21 points and 6.5 rebounds in the Tide’s wins over Western Carolina and Southern Miss. Randolph was obviously motivated after winning the award, as he went out and scored 18 points in Alabama’s 84-74 loss to the Cyclones on Monday. He followed that effort with an even better one in Tuesday’s win, as he went for a game-high 28. Vanderbilt’s Wade Baldwin won Freshman of the Week honors, as the guard from Belle Mead, New Jersey averaged 9.5 points and a robust 7.5 assists in the Commodores’ wins over Lipscomb and Tennessee State. Baldwin, who led the team with 13 points in Tuesday’s 63-53 win over Norfolk State, is part of a talented freshman class that is giving Vanderbilt fans reasons to be optimistic about the future.
  4. Now that the season is in full swing, various power rankings are out, and to the surprise of no one, Kentucky occupies the top spot in all of them. ESPN.com‘s power rankings have the Wildcats as a unanimous selection at number one, and SI.com‘s Luke Winn has them at the top of his as well. Winn points out that Kentucky is pressing on 20.4% of its defensive possessions, which is a number nearly five times higher than average in coach John Calipari‘s previous five seasons at the school. Of course, with the amount of athleticism and depth he has, as well as the size on the back end of the press to erase mistakes, this should not be surprising. Given the way the Wildcats are demolishing everyone in their path thus far – they trounced Texas-Arlington on Tuesday 93-44 – it is unlikely Calipari will change much of what he is doing moving forward.
  5. Georgia blew a chance at a quality pre-conference win when the Bulldogs dropped their season opener to Georgia Tech in Atlanta. This week, coach Mark Fox‘s team gets a shot a redemption, and a huge resume builder, when it takes on Gonzaga in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip Off at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. It will face either Minnesota or St. John’s on Friday. This appears to be Mark Few’s best team in a number of years, and it has demolished all four of its early-season opponents, including SMU. Georgia knows this is a crucial test, and a win could go a long way toward erasing the Georgia Tech loss and building the Dawgs’ NCAA Tournament resume.
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AP Preseason All-America Team Snubs Big 12 Talent

Posted by Chris Stone on November 4th, 2014

On Monday, the Associated Press released its 2014-15 preseason All-America team. The leading vote getter was North Carolina junior guard Marcus Paige, who appeared on 58 of the 68 ballots after averaging 17.5 points and 4.2 assists per game for the Tar Heels last season. He is joined in the backcourt by Wichita State junior Fred VanVleet. The leading vote getter in the frontcourt was Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell, a 6’8″, 240-pounder who figures to be a force inside for the Cardinals this season. Harrell is joined up front by Wisconsin senior big man Frank Kaminsky and Duke’s highly touted freshman, Jahlil Okafor. Okafor is only the third freshman to make the preseason All-America team in the past five years, joining North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins in receiving the honor.

Georges Niang (AP)

Georges Niang (AP)

Noticeably absent from this preseason’s AP team were any players from the Big 12, which is a bit of a surprise given the projected strength of the league as a whole. The Big 12 has four teams ranked in the AP Top 25 preseason poll, including Kansas (#5), Texas (#10), Iowa State (#14) and Oklahoma (#19). The conference also has four other teams — Kansas State, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Baylor — that received votes in that poll. With so many quality squads playing in the conference this year, there are certainly some players who could find their way on to one of the AP All-American teams by the end of the season.

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Morning Five: 10.01.14 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 1st, 2014

morning5

  1. Welcome to October. For many Americans, the 10th month of the calendar represents the leaves changing, the heart of the football season, the if you’re over 55, the World Series. For us, it means we’re talkin’ ’bout practice. Officially, college basketball practice won’t begin until two days from now — Friday, October 3 is this year’s earliest possible date for teams to start lacing them up — but with the preseason now basically here, you’ll be hit with a flurry of previews, prospectuses and all the rest of it in short order. Forty-four days until tipoff…
  2. And just over two weeks until Midnight Madness, or what the modern-day equivalent has become with all of its high-profile musical acts, firework shows, and cults of personality. ESPNU on Tuesday announced its complete lineup for the October 17 programming, which begins at 6:00 PM ET and will cycle between both of last season’s national finalists — Connecticut and Kentucky — along with Arizona, Gonzaga, Florida and San Diego State over the next three hours. ESPN3 will offer the entire proceedings that same night from Harvard, Mercer, Kentucky, Connecticut, NC State and Florida Gulf Coast, if you’re not interested in all of the studio time cutting into the Madness festivities. And if you can’t wait a mere two weeks, ESPN3 will carry Kansas’ “Late Night in the Phog” on October 10 at 7:30 PM ET, if you want to get a first look at Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre (unsolicited advice: you do).
  3. Speaking of ESPN’s wall-to-wall college basketball coverage, the organization also announced on Tuesday that Jay Williams and Seth Greenberg will replace Jalen Rose and Digger Phelps on this year’s version of College Gameday. As Matt Yoder describes in his writeup at Awful Announcing, Williams and Greenberg have both come on strong with their sharp studio analysis in recent years, and with the stale Phelps now retired and Rose focusing on his preferred NBA, this seems like a good crew to pair with host Rece Davis and Renaissance Man Jay Bilas. But the bigger news that came out of this report from our perspective is that ESPN is planning on finally, finally, finally moving to the College Gameday football model, where the group camps out at the campus site of the week’s biggest game, regardless of whether ESPN is carrying it on prime time. Certainly there will be some overlap — do we really believe that Duke-UNC won’t be one of those games? — but this is a long-awaited improvement.
  4. Let’s talk about prestigious public universities that play college basketball, shall we? Out west, the People’s Republic of California at Berkeley has decided that a descending APR score along with middling graduation rates does not befit a school that ranks among the top 10 universities in the world. An AP report stated that Cal is likely to adopt recommendations made by a task force that will raise admissions standards for its student-athletes. Let’s just call this what it is: the Stanford Envy Rule. Given that a certain rival school a bit south and across the San Francisco Bay from Berkeley has managed to figure out a way to win in both football and basketball while retaining high APR scores (1,000) and graduation rates (83%), it was inevitable that Golden Bears’ brass was going to try something to fix the problem. It may very well improve the academic side of the equation; the athletic side, however, may need new head coach Cuonzo Martin to find more diamonds in the rough.
  5. In the Southwest, the Behemoth Otherwise Known as the Athletic Department at the University of Texas at Austin has decided that its $165.7 million in annual revenue (FY13) isn’t enough to unilaterally fund the construction of a new basketball arena to replace the sterile on-campus Erwin Center. Speaking to a local civic group earlier this week, Texas athletic director Steve Patterson told the crowd that the cost of a new $500 million arena should, at least in part, be shouldered by the taxpaying citizens of the Lone Star State. His underlying argument: that the city of Austin has enjoyed the free services of a nice mid-sized arena for 35 years without having “invested a nickel” in its construction or operation. Wow. Of course, Patterson’s flaw here is that he’s asking for public funding for a basketball arena in an area that’s lukewarm at best about the sport. Why not just build another Godzillatron and be done with it?
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: Championship Edition Part 2

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 9th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

It’s time to put a bow on the 2013-14 college basketball season, with our final NCAA Tournament Tidbits post on the aftermath of Monday’s National Championship.

Connecticut

  • Like his coach, Jim Calhoun, UConn second-year head coach, Kevin Ollie, wasn’t expected to succeed when he took over the job. However, Calhoun knew UConn had a keeper because of Ollie’s attitude as a player. “The biggest thing I saw was his resiliency and tenacity,” Calhoun said in an October 2013 Connecticut Magazine interview about Ollie. “He wasn’t flashy, not a great shooter, but he was relentless as a player and he didn’t seem to have a great ego.”
  • Coming off a postseason ban, UConn wasn’t exactly a hot pick to make noise this season. And even once the Huskies entered the NCAA Tournament as a #7 seed, it still seemed unlikely that they would go anywhere past the Sweet Sixteen, much less to the National Championship game. However, coach Kevin Ollie knew they had a shot the whole time. “Someone called us Cinderella,” Ollie said. “No. We’re UConn. This is what we do. We’re born for this. We’re bred to cut down nets.”
  • There’s no doubt Shabazz Napier was one of the premier players in college basketball this season, but what impact will he make at the next level? His lack of size and wealth of production will make him a very intriguing NBA Draft prospect.
  • Shabazz Napier had to learn how to be a leader, and once he did, he took his team, against all odds, all the way. For Napier, much of his leadership came from enduring the various hits that UConn took since he arrived in Storrs in 2010. “When you go through a lot it teaches you how to be a man,” Napier said. “Sometimes you go through the ups and sometimes you go through the downs. You’ve just got to learn from it.”
  • Much of what Kevin Ollie has learned has come from his mother, Dorothy. However, though watching his mother fight breast cancer, Ollie has gained even more from her. “She’s [Dorothy Ollie] a strong woman, he learned his resiliency from here,” [Kevin’s wife] Stephanie Ollie said. “She and his father both raised a good husband for me. … She’s a very positive woman.”

Kentucky

  • Kentucky was surprisingly positive after losing Monday night’s National Championship game, calling this past season “surreal.” For the Wildcats, their resiliency is what made this season so special. “We just turned a lot of people’s heads,” [freshman] James Young said after Monday night’s defeat. “People that didn’t believe in us at first, they believe in us, now.”
  • Kentucky will always lose numerous players to the NBA Draft, but it will still usually be back among college basketball’s best every season. However, if coach John Calipari makes the jump to the NBA, the Wildcats could be in trouble.
  • Coach Calipari’s freshmen were able to come together for a big run, but soon, like in every season he’s had as Kentucky’s head coach, there will be the “inevitable breakup.” Knowing that much of the team won’t be in Lexington next year, many of the players are just trying to focus on the present. Freshman Aaron Harrison noted that he just wants to “enjoy the rest of the school year.”
  • Kentucky’s group of freshmen wasn’t able to get over the hump, much like the Fab Five, but these Wildcats were quick to credit Michigan’s early 90s squads for paving the way. “You can’t repeat what they did [the Fab Five],” he [Kentucky freshman Julius Randle] says. “They were trendsetters. They moved the game of basketball.”
  • Many believe that Kentucky will lose much of its rotation to the NBA Draft, but imagine what it could do next year if Calipari could get some of his guys to stay. Most of them aren’t thinking about the NBA right now, but sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein, a projected mid- to late-first round pick, is. He’s remains unsure about his decision, but stated, “I feel this emptiness in me like I’ve still got something to prove and I’ve still got so much stuff to work on in my game.”
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The Whistle Blows: Big Ten Teams See Notable Increase in FTAs and Percentage

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 19th, 2013

It’s been impossible to avoid noticing the difference in foul calls so far this season. The new hand-check rules and officials intent on enforcing every foul has caused free throw attempts to shoot up and games to slow down. Across all of Division I basketball, free throw attempts are up a whopping 22.8 percent (about 4.5  more attempts per game). This amounts to about 24.3 attempts per game, the highest mark since 1971-72 when it was at 25.6 FTA per contest. This has caused some complaints among B1G coaches, most notably Purdue‘s Matt Painter, who called them “excessive” following his Boilermakers’ recent win. While the foul calls and free throws may slightly drop as officials adapt and study film, almost any contact for now causes a whistle to blow. With this in mind, it seemed like a good time to look at the Big Ten team’s free throw shooting so far this season compared to last season’s totals through roughly the same amount of games. You can look at the table below to get a good gauge of exactly what has and is happening with your favorite B1G team and the conference overall.

big ten ft diff

Some notable trends:

  • Overall, the B1G is shooting free throws at an even higher rate than the country with a 28.2 percent increase as it has attempted 232 more total free throws than at this point last season. This equates to more than 19 additional free throw attempts per team so far. Only Michigan State has shot fewer free throws at this same point, and Michigan and Minnesota are near where they were last year at this time. Every other team is up.
  • Could more trips to the line mean more comfort while there? Most teams at this point have experienced a positive change in free throw percentage, with Penn State, Indiana, Ohio State and Nebraska the four teams showing a decrease.

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Morning Five: 08.07.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 7th, 2013

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  1. Now that we’re heading over the next few weeks into the start of fall semesters at our nation’s colleges, the intensity of recruiting pitches for the top uncommitted prospects in the Class of 2014 will begin to reach a fever pitch. Prospects coming out of the summer camps have been evaluated and ranked, scholarship offers have been approved and delivered, and on-campus visits are being scheduled and discussed. A little later today we’ll be publishing a fantastic interview with ESPN‘s Dave Telep and CBSSports.com‘s Jeff Borzello breaking down their keen observations of the rising stars in prep basketball, but that won’t stop the wheels from turning on their own. The Sporting News took time Tuesday to list the top 10 consensus uncommitted prospects in the senior class, with each player’s current list of schools and corresponding official visits noted alongside. The top prospect on that list, Jahlil Okafor, announced yesterday that he will visit Kentucky for its September 9 Alumni Game, while the third prospect, Emmanuel Mudiay, narrowed his list down to five schools (including those same Wildcats). John Calipari’s squad, along with Duke, Louisville and Kansas — three of the last four national finalists, as it turns out — appear to be in outstanding position for big-time hauls at this point. The more things change…
  2. The more the NCAA looks like a clown car fire drill. Sometimes an organization simply can’t win for losing, and although nobody would agree that they’re losing in a financial sense, we’ve noted extensively in this space that the stoic institution appears to be reaching a tipping point over amateurism in the court of public opinion from which it simply cannot recover. The latest ignominy comes courtesy of ESPN‘s Jay Bilas, who tweeted that by typing player names into the NCAA’s shop search box (he started with “Nerlens Noel”), the results would show up as that player’s unnamed jersey, such as in Noel’s case, his #3 Wildcats uniform. Bilas then tried a number of other player names, both football and basketball, with similar corresponding results. As later described by Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger, the NCAA caught wind of it and immediately shut down the search functionality, but the damage was already done. Once again the NCAA has managed to find the sweet spot of hypocrite as well as laughingstock, made especially so by virtue of the fact that they’re embroiled in a high profile case with former and current athletes over the use of their likeness. Unbelievable.
  3. CBSSports.com made some waves earlier this week with its release of the results of an unscientific poll showing that Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg was the top choice among coaches in the business in terms of likelihood to jump to the NBA. Coach K, given his ties to all the stars on the US Olympic team, was unsurprisingly second. At third was Billy Donovan — who nearly went League once already — and Kansas’ Bill Self. Self — really? On Monday night at his induction to the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame, where he starred in the prep ranks before playing at Oklahoma State, Self at least entertained the notion. Predictably, a firestorm ensued on Tuesday, with everyone from KC to Liberal wondering why the nine-time defending Big 12 champion would ever consider a move to the professional ranks. Self took time to couch those comments on Tuesday, but he made sure to leave the window slightly ajar, stating that he’d made a prior mistake in telling Illinois fans that he was there “for the long haul” before staying in Champaign for a flingish three years.
  4. How about some comings and goings for a hot August hump day? First, Colorado State head coach Larry Eustachy parlayed his excellent NCAA Round of 32 season into a raise and extension to his contract. His new deal now lasts through the 2017-18 season (with options through 2021) and will pay him an average base salary of nearly $1 million per year. Perhaps the most surprising thing in a world where DePaul’s Oliver Purnell clears nearly twice that for doing very little is that Eustachy’s new deal actually puts him at the very top of the heap in the hyper-competitive Mountain West Conference. The Mountain’s powerhouse programs — San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV — all pay their top guys a salary considerably lower than Eustachy’s contract. Steve Fisher, for example, the national championship coach with a number of Sweet Sixteen runs in San Diego to his name, currently makes $800,000 per year. Maybe he should put in a call to his AD.
  5. Down in the desert, much of the offseason chatter has surrounded the haul of talent that Arizona head coach Sean Miller has in Tucson. But the best player in the state might actually be playing in Tempe for Herb Sendek; at least for one more year, that is. Coming off a very strong freshman campaign in 2012-13, Sun Devils point guard Jahii Carson turned some heads this summer with his play at the Adidas Nations Camp and is poised to become an All-American in his sophomore year. He tweeted on Tuesday that he’s looking forward to that run, but it appears that his next 10 months in the desert will be, as he called it, his last “go round.” The team is about to head to China in a couple of days — it’ll certainly be interesting to track Carson’s progress next season, regardless of how well his team does supporting him.
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Morning Five: 06.24.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on June 24th, 2013

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  1. North Carolina is not getting the headlines that other programs like Miami and Penn State have received for their respective scandals, but at some point we assume that the NCAA is going to step in on the various scandals surrounding the school. We all know about the academic scandal that the school continues to dig through, but now the school has to deal with the NCAA investigating the potential involvement of P.J. Hairston with an agent. The agent that they are investigating is Rodney Blackstock, the same agent who allegedly paid an AAU coach money to influence Ben McLemore. This only adds to a month that Hairston would like to forget as he was arrested earlier this month for misdemeanor marijuana possession. And of course there was the gun found outside of the car that we think still does not have an owner. Officials are investigating if the rental car Hairston was using at the time was paid for by Blackstock. Given the speed that the NCAA runs its investigations we would be surprised if Hairston was playing for the Tar Heels at the start of the season.
  2. Although his freshman season (0.9 points and 1.2 assists per game) was nothing to write home about (maybe to write home about transferring),the announcement that L.J. Rose was transferring from Baylor to Houston is a pretty big coup for the Cougars. Despite Rose’s meager production the fact remains that he was the #9 rated point guard in the class of 2012 and was stuck behind Pierre Jackson at Baylor, which limited his playing time and hence his numbers, but may also have taught him quite a bit about playing the position at the college level. With the pieces that Houston has put together they could be a dangerous NCAA Tournament team over the next few seasons.
  3. After a rough freshman season where he lost his starting job you would expect that Oklahoma point guard Isaiah Cousins would be working hard over the summer to prove that last season was a fluke. Instead, he was arrested on charges of public intoxication and interference on Saturday morning. For their part Oklahoma says “the matter will be handled internally”. If this is Cousins’ first brush with the law, we expect he will probably get nothing more than a slap on the wrist from the judicial system and the school. Still it cannot be comforting for Sooners fans to hand their team over to a guard. We also doubt that Cousins will be with the team on their European trip that starts on August 6.
  4. With all of the issues that the NCAA is going through some of the issues that their leadership debates continues to be a source of amusement for us. The latest example is the vote to overturn live scouting, which did not pass, meaning that live scouting will only be allowed under limited circumstances. We are not sure what those limited circumstances are (we are assuming teams and coaches can watch other teams play in tournament play before or after their games), but it appears that the original discussion was a question of resources and whether it created on unfair playing field where the more wealthy schools had access to better quality video while the other side argued for deregulation. In the end it seems like a big waste of time for an issue that isn’t nearly as important as many of the other ones the NCAA is dealing with at this time.
  5. In Friday’s Morning Five we mentioned the interesting potential case of the athlete (or athletes) who are involved in the Ed O’Bannon vs NCAA case. We briefly discussed the implications for the athlete and the extra scrutiny that they would be under. Andy Staples took a deeper look at the issue and compared it to the case of Curt Flood who was instrumental in leading a similar change in Major League Baseball and subsequently all professional sports in America. As Staples points out the athlete should ideally be one who is on television a lot to give greater publicity to the cause being championed.
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Rick Pitino’s Takedown Of Gordon Gee Echoes The Consensus Public Sentiment

Posted by Chris Johnson on June 4th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

College athletics was verbally assailed from every conceivable broad-issue dimension last week. You know this: Religion, academics and the spending habits of one (very important) conference commissioner were the highlights of Ohio State President Gordon Gee’s incendiary comments from the school’s December athletic council, all captured on tape and released to a predictably irate interweb last week. The most poignant barbs were directed at the SEC and the quality of its academic institutions, along with Notre Dame’s stubborn negotiating tactics, which Gee attributed to the large contingent of “damn catholics” active in the Irish’s athletic department. He also, in mind-numbingly idiotic fashion, went all in on his own conference, including urging Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to “keep his hands out of our pockets” and Wisconsin’s former “thug” of a head football coach, Bret Bielema, now at Arkansas. For a man of such power and outsized influence, for someone who’s been praised for his ability to rake in exorbitant sums through fundraising (and roundly mocked for his snobbish bow-tie purchases), for someone expected to project poise, public tact and the utmost aplomb in any and all public speaking situations, Gee instead turned himself into a national media punching bag, further cheapened his already disgraced national reputation (this isn’t the first time Gee has spoken out, and immediately regretted it afterwards, mind you) and prompted the trustees at OSU to issue a stern admonition that Gee just shut up before you embarrass us any more than you already have.

Coming from Gee, insentive slander is nothing we haven't seen before (Getty Images).

Coming from Gee, insentive slander is nothing we haven’t seen before (Getty Images).

In college basketball land, where a mostly quiet stasis tends to settle in around this time of year, an occasional once-or-twice-in-a-decade recruiting talent like Andrew Wiggins disrupting the calm every now and then, there was nothing particularly incendiary – besides the general religious and academic wisecracks, of course – to get worked up about. Before Gee’s full audio script was laid bare for public consumption, no one would have guessed the Ohio State President had any specific reason or ulterior motive to let his deranged blather spill into the most passionate compacted locale of college basketball diehards in the country. But then again, when was last time logic or rational thinking ever helped anyone try to understand one of Gee’s ill-mannered public monologues?

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College Basketball on the Verge Of Making Another Smart Addition to Its Season-Opening Slate

Posted by Chris Johnson on May 2nd, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

With each passing season, college basketball moves closer and closer to staging a truly definitive opening day. The goal, for obvious reasons, is to eliminate the brushed-aside nonchalance with which the general sports populace typically treats college basketball’s opening tip. The time slot is hazardous  (The NFL is the law of the land, basically, and college football after that) and aside from a few marquee events in recent years – the Champions Classic, the Ramstein Air Base adventure, the epic aircraft carrier overindulgence of last season – the non-conference season commences in a way that captures the common fan almost exclusively in non-NFL, college football-time slots. College hoops is a fallback at that time of year, an OK-because-nothing-else-is-on ordeal. All of these ambitious season-opening endeavors comprise an attempt to make it the main attraction.

If the event comes to fruition, college basketball will have improved its often overlooked nonconference season (Ardas Photography).

If the event comes to fruition, college basketball will have improved its often overlooked non-conference season (Ardas Photography).

Another such opportunity was brought to our attention late Tuesday night by ESPN’s Jason King, who reported that event management firm bd Global is working with the American Airlines Center in Dallas to stage a headlining “multi-game event featuring some of the nation’s top teams.” The AA Center stuck its toes in the college hoops realm last season when it hosted Texas and UCLA’s ugly December 8 clunker in front of meager crowd support and only a passing glance of national media attention.

This year’s proposed event would be better theoretically, and astutely planned practically. Why? The arena just so happens to be situated a mere afternoon drive’s distance (18 miles, to be exact) away from the modern sports fiefdom known as Jerry World, the site of the 2014 Final Four. Placing this event – which could include up to four games and, in lieu of more enlightening details, should feature a large contingent of Big 12 teams – near the Final Four host site will stoke local excitement in the sport and its nearby teams well in advance of the time of year casual fans typically turn their eyeballs and acknowledge college basketball’s actual existence: March.

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Wichita State’s Success Isn’t Shocking to Its Fans

Posted by BHayes on April 5th, 2013

Bennet Hayes is an RTC contributor. He can be found on Twitter @hoopstraveler.

For four of the past five years, I have taken a month out of my winter to literally chase college basketball. I have followed it to places large (Lexington, Kentucky, and Lawrence, Kansas), and small (Charleston, Illinois, and Cape Girardeau, Missouri), and along the way I have developed a few favorites. I can tell you that the only thing that surpasses the fervor of college basketball fans in Murray, Kentucky, is their hospitality. I have seen 6th Street in Austin provide as much (and sometimes more) life as the Erwin Center, and I now fully understand why Big Ten teams so rarely leave the Kohl Center victorious. But among all the memorable games and cherished college basketball experiences, one stop has always stood out – Wichita, Kansas.

Demetric Williams' And Wichita State Always Have Shocker Faithful In Their Corner

Demetric Williams’ And Wichita State Always Have Shockers Faithful In Their Corner

It was my first trip back in 2009, and I had no idea what I was getting into – in more ways than one. Travel fatigue was quickly accumulating (despite it only being week one), and the dark drive from Omaha (where I had watched Drake beat Creighton) on Saturday night was a long one. Wichita was to be but a Sunday stop-over before Bedlam in Stillwater the next day; the fact that the Shockers had a game that day was merely a superfluous reality for this naive traveler. Calling my expectations low would be false. My mind was already on Stillwater, and I had no expectations for Wichita.

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