2018-19 Rush the Court National Player of the Year: Zion Williamson

Posted by Walker Carey on April 5th, 2019

Recruiting rankings are always fun to review after the fact. You get to see which players lived up to their ranking, which players underwhelmed, and which players emerged from relative obscurity to turn into a star. The most prevalent question that will come up when reviewing the 2018 college basketball recruiting rankings will be how in the world was 2018-19 RTC National Player of the Year Zion Williamson considered the fifth-best prospect entering college basketball?

That question was apparent from Duke’s very first game of the season, when the Blue Devils eviscerated Kentucky by a preposterous 34 points. In the dominant opening night victory, Williamson announced his presence to the college basketball world by tallying 28 points on an efficient 11-of-13 shooting. From that game forward, the 6’7″ power forward (and so much more) became the story of the year in college hoops. It definitely seemed like every time you tuned into a Duke game, Williamson would do something spectacular. There was the awe-inspiring 360 dunk in the conference opening win over Clemson; there was the jaw-dropping block of a De’Andre Hunter three-point attempt in an impressive victory at Virginia; and there was Williamson leading the charge in fighting back from a 23-point second half deficit to notch an improbable win at Louisville.

Williamson’s season took an unexpectedly brutal turn in Duke’s February 20 loss to North Carolina, when he injured his knee less than a minute into the action. That injury resulted in him being sidelined for the rest of the regular season and allowed for many media outlets to question if Williamson should risk his NBA future to return to college. The freshman phenom decided to return for the ACC Tournament, where he turned in a performance for the ages — averaging 27 points and 10 rebounds per game in wins over Syracuse, North Carolina and Florida State — in leading Duke to the title. After the title game victory over the Seminoles, Williamson emphatically responded to a question about why he risked further injury by stating:

“Those six games I sat out, when you see your brothers going to war battling and there’s nothing you can do but sit on the sideline and cheer, there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m not that type of person. I want to be out there with them, and I made a commitment to them, and I would be a bad person if I went back on my commitment.”

While Duke came up just short in an epic Elite Eight battle with Michigan State last weekend, Williamson still left his mark on the NCAA Tournament by averaging 26 points and 8.5 rebounds in the Blue Devils’ four games. The loss to the Spartans marked the probable end to Williamson’s collegiate career, but his sensational performances and the manner in which they captivated the college basketball world in the Year of Zion will not soon be forgotten.

2018-19 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on April 4th, 2019

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what will come during the regular season. There will always be several players who fall short of expectations and there will always be several relative unknowns who unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our unit of RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-American teams in November, nobody could have guessed that 10 of the 15 players chosen would live up to that lofty standing: Purdue’s Carsen Edwards; Duke’s R.J. Barrett; Duke’s Zion Williamson; Tennessee’s Grant Williams; Marquette’s Markus Howard; Virginia’s Kyle Guy; LSU’s Tremont Waters; Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter; Kansas’ Dedric Lawson, and Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ.

Here are the 2018-19 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America

  • Zion Williamson, Freshman, Duke (consensus) (22.6 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 68% FG). He may only be one player, but make no mistake about it, this college basketball season belonged to Williamson. You could not go one day without hearing something new about the freshman phenom — and with good reason — he made every Duke game this winter appointment television with his numerous highlight reel dunks and spectacular defensive plays. When the freshman was not busy igniting the internet with viral videos of his jaw-dropping plays, he was calmly and confidently leading his young Duke team to the ACC Tournament title and the overall #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Williamson was the most important cog in a Blue Devils squad that finished the season with a 32-6 record, and his importance was never more evident than when he was sidelined for six games late in the season and Duke went just 3-3 during that stretch. While it is certainly disappointing that Williamson will not participate in this weekend’s Final Four, he definitely used his time in college basketball wisely and cemented that the name Zion Williamson will live on in college basketball lore.
  • Carsen Edwards, Junior, Purdue (24.3 PPG, 2.9 APG, 1.3 SPG). Purdue was picked fifth in the preseason Big Ten poll, largely because — other than the returning Edwards — not much was known about a club facing the tall task of replacing four starters from last season’s Sweet Sixteen team. That challenge was tough at first, as Purdue sat at just 6-5 following a rough loss to Notre Dame on December 15. That loss ended up being a turning point for the Boilermakers, as they rode the heroics of Edwards and figured out their personnel en route to a 26-10 overall record and a share of the Big Ten regular season title. While Edwards certainly had a wonderful regular season, his place on the first team was guaranteed with an amazing effort throughout Purdue’s run to the Elite Eight. The junior point guard tallied 26 points in a First Round win over Old Dominion and it only got better from there, catching fire in a Second Round mauling of defending champion Villanova, and finishing with 42 points on a smoldering 9-of-16 performance from behind the three-point line. His exploits then reached another level in the South Regional, going for 29 points in leading Purdue to an upset overtime win over Tennessee in the Sweet Sixteen, before reaching an apex in an all-time performance of dropping 42 points (10-of-19 from three) in a heartbreaking overtime loss to top-seeded Virginia. While Purdue fell short of its ultimate goal of the Final Four, Edwards did his part in carrying the Boilermakers to a place the program had not been since 2000.
  • Ja Morant, Sophomore, Murray State (24.5 PPG, 10.0 APG, 5.7 RPG, 49.9% FG). Becoming a must-see attraction while playing in the Ohio Valley Conference is difficult to do, but Morant accomplished that feat this season with flying colors. The dynamic sophomore guard became the first player since the NCAA began tracking assists in 1983-84 to finish a season averaging 20+ points and 10+ assists per game. He also led Murray State through the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament gauntlet to propel the Racers to their second straight NCAA Tournament. Along the way Morant caught the eyes of NBA Draft connoisseurs, firmly establishing himself as a top prospect for this summer’s annual selection meeting. In the postseason, the explosive sophomore gave his program a final lasting memory, as he recorded the NCAA Tournament’s first triple-double since 2012 in the Racers’ First Round upset victory over Marquette. Morant’s collegiate career may have only lasted two seasons, but he certainly made his mark as one of the all-time greats to pass through the Ohio Valley Conference.
  • R.J. Barrett, Freshman, Duke (22.6 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 4.3 APG, 45.4% FG). Barrett may have been Duke’s “other freshman star” this year, but that did not keep him from establishing himself as one of the country’s best players in addition to Williamson. Known mostly for his scoring prowess, Barrett also showcased his passing and rebounding talents throughout the season. The freshman swingman twice tallied double-figure assists and grabbed 10+ boards nine times. Barrett’s premier performance came in Duke’s victory at Virginia when he turned in a game-high 26 points on a smoldering 6-of-10 performance from the perimeter. While Barrett put up big statistics throughout the regular season, his most noteworthy contribution during his freshman campaign came in Duke’s Second Round NCAA Tournament victory over UCF when he rebounded a missed free throw and converted a layup with 14.4 seconds to play to give the Blue Devils a 77-76 lead that they would not relinquish.
  • Grant Williams, Junior, Tennessee (18.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.2 APG, 56.5% FG). Williams followed up a terrific sophomore season with an even more outstanding junior campaign in Knoxville. Tennessee tied a program record with 31 wins this season and Williams’ contributions were the leading factor in the Volunteers accomplishing that feat. The big man tallied double-figure points in 19 of his 21 SEC games and his ability to hurt opponents both from the mid-range and finish through contact around the rim made him a nightmare match-up. Williams’ most noteworthy performance came in Tennessee’s overtime win over intrastate rival Vanderbilt when he saved the Volunteers by delivering a career-best 43 points while draining all 23 of his free throw attempts. The junior’s excellent season led to him earning AP First-Team All-America honors, becoming Tennessee’s first player to garner that honor since way back in 1983 (Dale Ellis).

Second Team All-America

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Eight Questions for the Final Four: Virginia vs. Auburn

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on April 4th, 2019

The right side of the bracket features the South Region champion Virginia and Midwest Region champion Auburn. In a matchup of ACC and SEC powers, here are four questions I have for each team regarding the upcoming match-up.

Virginia

Virginia Overcame Its Demons to Get to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

1) Should Virginia be concerned with its recent three-point defense? While on the season Virginia owns the third-best three-point defense (28.7% 3FG) in college basketball, eight of the Cavaliers’ last nine opponents have shot better than 30 percent from distance. Even more startling, opponents have made 39 percent of their long-range shots over the last five games.

2) Will De’Andre Hunter regain his shooting touch? While De’Andre Hunter is shooting a robust 42.4 percent on 99 three-point attempts this season, the sophomore has made just five of his last 22 attempts from beyond the arc. In Virginia’s two wins in Louisville last week, Hunter combined for 21 points on 8-of-23 shooting from the field. For a player that was among the ACC’s most efficient and effective scorers this season, things have not been easy for Hunter lately.

3) Does Virginia’s offensive tendencies create a glaring mismatch against Auburn’s defense? According to Synergy Sports, Tony Bennett’s squad creates 12.5 percent of its offense coming off of screens, nearly three times as much as the national average. Auburn, on the other hand, gave up 0.99 points per possession in those situations — a mark that ranked 295th in the nation.

4) Can Mamadi Diakite continue his recent hot play on the offensive side of the ball? Virginia’s hero of the Elite Eight, Mamadi Diakite, is averaging 13 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. Prior to the start of the event, Diakite was averaging just 6.8 points per game. The junior forward led the ACC in blocked shot rate during conference play and was a constant threat on the offensive glass this season, but as teams have geared their defensive strategies toward Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter, Diakite has stepped up to help his team’s offense.

Auburn

Auburn Heads to Its First Ever Final Four (USA Today Images)

1) Will Auburn dominate the three-point line? In Auburn’s 30 wins this season, the Tigers have made on average four more three-pointers than their opponents. In their nine losses, Auburn does not even make one more three than its opponents. Bruce Pearl’s team takes nearly 50 percent of their shots from behind the arc and the Tigers make a high percentage of them (38.3% 3FG). Defensively, Auburn has generally allowed teams to shoot a high volume of threes against it, something that could prove costly against a Virginia team that owns a top 10 three-point shooting percentage of 39.4 percent.

2) Will Auburn’s defense be able to create turnovers from Virginia? No team in the country has created turnovers at a higher rate than Auburn (24.9% TO), and the Tigers have forced 14 or more turnovers in each of their four previous NCAA Tournament games. Virginia is one of the toughest teams to force into miscues, however, having turned the ball over just 8.5 times per game so far in the NCAA Tournament.

3) How much will Chuma Okeke be missed in this game? The emotional jolt gained by Auburn in its desire to win for Chuma Okeke was certainly unmeasurable. But while Bryce Brown and Jared Harper were able to carry Auburn to an overtime victory against Kentucky, losing the 13.8 points per game that Okeke was averaging in March could prove very tough against the stingy Virginia defense.

4) Can Auburn find a way to speed up Virginia? Auburn’s offense thrives in transition — only American had a higher effective field-goal percentage in transition this season than the Tigers. In 20 Auburn games where the possession total was 70 possessions or higher this season, Bruce Pearl’s club logged an effective field-goal percentage of 56.6 percent that included 39.7 percent from three-point land. In nine games where Auburn was held to 63 or fewer possessions, the Tigers logged an effective field-goal percentage of just 50.1 percent and their three-point percentage dropped to just 33 percent.

What’s Trending: A Wild Weekend in the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on April 1st, 2019

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

After a relatively chaos-free opening two rounds of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, the madness arrived in earnest over the weekend. Taking a look back at the memorable moments begins in the East Region where Virginia Tech and Duke found themselves in a battle to the very end.

While Zion Williamson marvels those that watch Duke play with his dunks, it is plays like this that truly show how unique he is. With Duke nursing a narrow three-point lead, Williamson gets crossed-up by Virginia Tech’s Justin Robinson. Despite the blow-by, Williamson recovers like few others playing high-level basketball can…

Just days after surviving at the buzzer against UCF, Duke found itself in a similar situation again. The Blue Devils were up two points with just over one second to go when Virginia Tech drew up this perfect play to send the game to overtime… minus the finish.

The East Region Sweet Sixteen also featured Michigan State’s 80-63 win over LSU. In that game, the Spartans’ Aaron Henry scored a season-high 20 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists. This performance by Henry came on the heels of Tom Izzo’s outrage at the talented freshman in Michigan State’s opening round win. After the win against LSU, Izzo was quick to credit young Henry and his teammates…

The Elite Eight match-up between Duke and Michigan State was a game that many were looking forward to the second the bracket came out. With the lead going back and forth throughout much of the second half, Michigan State’s Matt McQuaid pushed the Spartans back in front with this layup that will not be forgotten…

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Rushed Reactions: NCAA Tournament, Elite Eight

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2019

RTC continues its coverage of the NCAA Tournament through the regionals this weekend, at each of the four sites. Using social media to share information, we produced Rushed Reactions threads in Twitter for each game in those locations. Click within each tweet to see the entire RR thread for each game. Have a look below from all of this weekend’s games.

#3 Texas Tech 75, #1 Gonzaga 69.

#1 Virginia 80, #3 Purdue 75 (OT).

#5 Auburn 77, #2 Kentucky (OT).

#2 Michigan State 68, #1 Duke 67.

Eight Questions For The Elite Eight

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 30th, 2019

The Road to the Final Four has one final stop for the eight remaining teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament. As the weekend advances, here are the eight questions I have for the match-ups ahead.

The Zags Push For Their Second Final Four Appearance in History (USA Today Images)

Gonzaga vs. Texas Tech

Gonzaga: Will Gonzaga’s offense solve a Texas Tech defense that dominated Michigan for 40 minutes? Mark Few’s Bulldogs rank first in the nation in offensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage and two-point field goal percentage. According to Hoop-Math, Gonzaga also owns the fifth-best shooting percentage on attempts at the rim, an area that could be tested by a Red Raiders defense that blocks a lot of shots inside.

Texas Tech: Do the Red Raiders have enough size to compete against the large Gonzaga front line? Gonzaga’s bigs of Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and Killian Tillie will be up against a Texas Tech squad that will play just two players 6’8″ or taller in Tarriq Owens and Norense Odiase. Texas Tech’s ability to stay out of foul trouble on its front line will be imperative in attempting to slow the Bulldogs’ interior game.

Virginia vs. Purdue

Virginia: Can the Cavaliers snap out of their shooting woes? Over Virginia’s last four games, the Cavaliers are shooting a woeful 26.9 percent on 104 three-point attempts. In the five games prior to that stretch they converted 54.2 percent on 107 attempts. Kyle Guy has most notably found himself in a staggering slump, having made just five of his last 31 attempts after shooting 42.7 percent on the season.

Purdue: Will Purdue’s recent struggles at the free throw line keep it from reaching the Final Four? While the Boilermakers have shot 71.9 percent from the line on the season, they have made just 63.4 percent from the stripe in seven March games. Purdue survived in its win on Thursday night against Tennessee despite missing 17 of its 33 attempts. And remember, points always come at a premium against Virginia.

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Rushed Reactions: NCAA Tournament, Sweet Sixteen

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2019

RTC continues its coverage of the NCAA Tournament through the regionals this weekend, at each of the four sites. Last night we had correspondents in Anaheim and Louisville. Using social media to share information, we produced Rushed Reactions threads in Twitter for each game in those locations. Click within each tweet to see the entire RR thread for each game. Have a look below.

#2 Michigan State 80, #3 LSU 63.

#5 Auburn 97, #1 North Carolina 80.

#1 Duke, #4 Virginia Tech

#2 Kentucky, #3 Houston

THURSDAY NIGHT

#1 Gonzaga 72, #4 Florida State 58.

#3 Purdue 99, #2 Tennessee 94 (OT).

#3 Texas Tech 63, #2 Michigan 44.

#1 Virginia 53, #12 Oregon 49.

Eight Questions For the Sweet Sixteen

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 28th, 2019

The lack of major upsets in the opening two rounds of the NCAA Tournament has created numerous intriguing match-ups for the upcoming Sweet Sixteen. Here are the questions I have for each match-up:

Thursday Games

Brandon Clarke Has Been Putting on a Show for the #1 Zags (USA Today Images)
  • Florida State vs. Gonzaga: Does Gonzaga have a Rui Hachimura problem? While Hachimura is averaging 19.7 points per game this year, he is coming off of a season-low six-point performance against Baylor. Hachimura scored in double-figures in each of the first 32 games of the season, but has failed to eclipse 10 points in two of his previous three games. What’s going on with the junior All-American? The 6’8″ forward will be put to the test against the length of the Florida State front line.
  • Purdue vs. Tennessee: Will Carsen Edwards’ shooting be the difference? Carsen Edwards is coming off of an explosive 42-point performance against Villanova — a game in which he went 9-of-16 from beyond the arc. Tennessee’s three-point defense ranks below the national average and the Volunteers allowed Colgate to shoot 51.7 percent from distance in the First Round.
  • Texas Tech vs. Michigan: Which offense will be more dynamic in a match-up of elite defenses? According to KenPom, this game features the top two defenses in college basketball, as both teams have held their Tournament opponents under 60 points. The Wolverines are led offensively by freshman Ignas Brazdeikis — who scored just five points on 2-of-8 shooting against Florida — while Texas Tech is led by Jarrett Culver, who is averaging 25.5 points per game over his last four outings. The Red Raiders’ All-American, however, has shot only 20.6 percent from beyond the arc in games Texas Tech has lost.
  • Oregon vs. Virginia: Can Oregon’s defense stifle the immensely efficient Virginia offense? Since being blitzed for 90 points in a loss at UCLA, Oregon has given up an average of just 54.2 points per game over its last 10 contests. During that stretch, the Ducks have held their opponents to a sterling 20.9 percent on three-point attempts. While Virginia has shot over 40 percent from distance on the season, the Cavaliers have gone just 29.8 percent so far in the Tournament.

Friday Games

Duke Survived the UCF Push (USA Today Images)
  • LSU vs. Michigan State: Will LSU be able to put together a full 40-minute performance against Michigan State? Through two NCAA Tournament games LSU is +25 in the first half and -18 in the second half. That disparity features a 30.8 percent field-goal percentage in the second half and an even worse 16.7 percent from beyond the arc. Over their last five games, the Spartans, on the other hand, have outscored their opponents by 36 points in the second half.
  • Auburn vs. North Carolina: As hot as Auburn can get offensively, can its defense slow down North Carolina? Auburn has played 13 games against opponents with adjusted offensive efficiency rankings of 40th or better, and the Tigers have gone just 5-8 in those games. Additionally, the Tigers are just 2-6 in games against an opponent with an offensive rebounding rate that ranks among the top 20 in college basketball. For your consideration, North Carolina owns the nation’s eighth most efficient offense and has a top 20 offensive rebounding rate.
  • Virginia Tech vs. Duke: Can Virginia Tech replicate its winning formula against Duke? The Hokies defeated Duke, 77-72, back in late February in a game both Zion Williamson and Justin Robinson missed. Kerry Blackshear had a season-high 23 points to lead the Hokies in an all-around balanced effort. The return of the point guard Robinson will give Buzz Williams’ squad an extra ball-handler to deal with the pressure defense of Tre Jones.
  • Houston vs. Kentucky: What will the status of PJ Washington be come tip-off time? Kentucky’s PJ Washington missed the first two games of the NCAA Tournament and his availability remains unclear for Friday night’s game. Washington was the SEC’s second-best three-point shooter in conference play and is a player that would help spread the floor for a Wildcats’ team that has made just 25.9 percent of its 27 three-point attempts in the NCAA Tournament.

Rushed Reactions: NCAA Tournament, Second Round

Posted by rtmsf on March 25th, 2019

Over the weekend RTC had correspondents reporting in real time from the Columbus, Columbia, Hartford, San Jose and Salt Lake City pods. Using social media to share information, we produced Rushed Reactions threads in Twitter for each game in those locations. Click within each tweet to see the entire RR thread for each game. Have a look below.S

#12 Oregon 73, #13 UC Irvine 54.

#1 Virginia 63, #9 Oklahoma 51.

#2 Tennessee 83, #10 Iowa 77 (OT)

#3 Purdue 87, #6 Villanova 61.

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Rushed Reactions: NCAA Tournament, First Round

Posted by rtmsf on March 25th, 2019

Over the weekend RTC had correspondents reporting in real time from the Columbus, Columbia, Hartford, San Jose and Salt Lake City pods. Using social media to share information, we produced Rushed Reactions threads in Twitter for each game in those locations. Click within each tweet to see the entire RR thread for each game. Have a look below.

#12 Oregon 72, #5 Wisconsin 54.

#1 Virginia 72, #16 Gardner-Webb 56.

#2 Tennessee 77, #15 Colgate 70.

#13 UC Irvine 70, #4 Kansas State 64.

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