Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 85, #2 Duke 81 (OT)

Posted by Walker Carey on March 25th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Omaha for the Midwest Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas Outlasted Duke to Get Bill Self to His Third Final Four (USA Today Images)

  1. Kansas winning the rebounding battle was surprising and played a huge role in the win. Leading into the game, a lot of the talk about tonight’s Elite Eight match-up was focused on how Kansas was going to have a very difficult time keeping Duke off the glass. It turns out all that talk went for naught, however, as Kansas was the team that dominated the rebounding category. The Jayhawks finished with a 47-32 advantage on the glass while grabbing an amazing 17 offensive rebounds. The most impressive Jayhawk on the glass was senior guard Svi Mykhailiuk, who finished with 10 caroms — and it sure seemed like each one came at huge spots in the game. Sophomore big man Udoka Azubuike battled foul trouble for most of his night, but he still found a way to collect eight boards (five offensive) while freshman reserve forward Silvio De Sousa played 26 important minutes and gathered 10 more rebounds of his own. It was a team effort for the Jayhawks on the glass and that cohesiveness and hard work led to them finishing with such an advantage over what was considered a far superior rebounding team.
  2. Duke’s offensive strategy was perplexing. Kansas is an excellent offensive team but it had struggled throughout the season on the defensive end of the court. A lot of the Jayhawks’ struggle was because the Jayhawks exclusively play four guards and teams with good size could often take advantage. Duke certainly qualifies as a team with more size than Kansas, but the Blue Devils were unable to take advantage of that frontcourt disparity. At no point during the game did it seem like Duke was making a concerted effort to run its offense through its incredibly talented front line. Freshman star forward Marvin Bagley III only finished the game with nine field goal attempts. Fellow freshman big man Wendell Carter Jr. battled foul trouble for much of the game while only attempting nine shots of his own, and sophomore reserve Javin DeLaurier did not appear engaged on the offensive end in his 13 minutes of action. The Duke guards dominated the ball throughout the game, with Grayson Allen, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr. finishing with 13, 16 and 18 field goal attempts, respectively. There are no sure things in life or college basketball, but it certainly seems like Duke would be headed to the Final Four instead of Kansas if it had found a way to get Bagley and Carter more involved.
  3. Malik Newman was the best player on the court. Duke was supposed to have all of the stars in this game. Grayson Allen is probably the most famous player in college basketball. Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, Jr. will both be lottery picks very soon. Trevon Duval and Gary Trent, Jr. arrived in Durham as ballyhooed prospects. The Blue Devils were supposed to have the best player on the court, but it did not turn out like that as Kansas sophomore Malik Newman took on that role from the opening tip to overtime’s final buzzer. Newman finished with a game-high 32 points and it was his three-pointer from the corner with 1:49 remaining that gave the Jayhawks a three-point lead that it would never relinquish.

Player of the Game. Malik Newman, Kansas. The sophomore guard came up time after time again tonight for the Jayhawks. Each time Kansas needed a big shot, it seemed like the transfer Newman came through with the goods. He scored all 13 of the Jayhawks’ points in the overtime period — 32 in total for the night — and he also did an excellent job defensively on Duke’s Grayson Allen. Allen finished his final collegiate game with just 12 points on 3-of-13 shooting. If Kansas wants two more wins in San Antonio, it is going to need this version of Newman to make the trip.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 71, #3 Texas Tech 59

Posted by Matt Patton on March 25th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Matt Patton (@mpatton08) is in Boston for the East Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Donte DiVincenzo ignites the Villanova crowd in the second half of their Elite Eight win (photo credit: AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  1. Villanova doesn’t have to outshoot its opponents to win. Villanova won this game for two main reasons, and neither is a hallmark of this squad. First, the Wildcats dominated Texas Tech on the glass. They rebounded 37 percent of their own misses (20 offensive boards in all), extending their possessions and shortening the game. While they didn’t get all that many second-chance points, those rebounds forced the Red Raiders to expend more energy on defense with less time to mount a comeback. The second reason Jay Wright‘s team won today was because of their work defending the paint. Villanova had a good two-point defense this year (holding opponents to 49 percent shooting from the field), but their work in Boston this weekend was phenomenal. Wright’s team held Texas Tech to 7-of-24 shooting on layups despite foul trouble for much of the game for big man Omari Spellman. In fact, Texas Tech missed their last 10 layups of the game, covering the last 12 minutes of action (which was also when they were trying to mount an ultimately futile comeback).
  2. Villanova’s ball movement is probably unparalleled in college basketball. The threes didn’t fall for Villanova today, but the Wildcats space the floor better than any other team in college basketball. The whole rotation can shoot, so Jalen Brunson will frequently drive the ball inside as the other four players on the floor spread themselves around the perimeter. If Brunson’s pass to the corner or wing doesn’t find a wide-open shooter, the swing pass does. This exact scenario played out multiple times per game against West Virginia and Texas Tech this weekend. Brunson also doesn’t have to drive the ball to be successful. He posted up and backed down his Texas Tech defender multiple times today — most of the time he was looking for his own shot there, but he also had ample opportunity to pass out if anyone even hinted at helping off their man.
  3. Keenan Evans didn’t provide the spark Texas Tech needed from its best offensive player. Evans, who disclosed after the game that he has been playing for the last month with a broken big toe, wound up shooting 3-of-14 from the field, missing all four of his attempts from three. He was able to get to the line, which is another place the Red Raiders struggled, but when Texas Tech cut it to five points with five minutes left in the game, it seemed like the moment when Evans might step up. It’s hard to say how painful that injury was for him, but you can bet that it affected his explosiveness and balance with the ball throughout the postseason this year.

Player of the Game. Eric Paschall finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds (six on the offensive ends) today, and was really the guy who stymied both of Texas Tech’s best opportunities to come back in the second half. When Brandone Francis hit a three-pointer to cut the deficit to five with six minutes remaining, it was Paschall who blocked Zach Smith’s subsequent layup that would have made it a one-possession game. With four minutes to play and the deficit again five points, it was Paschall who hauled in Brunson’s missed three while getting fouled.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Michigan 58, #9 Florida State 54

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 24th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is in Los Angeles for the West Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Michigan is Headed to Its Second Final Four Under John Beilein (USA Today Images)

  1. A Game of Runs. After a first half that was like a tired slog through thick mud, Michigan followed up a Seminoles’ hoop on the first possession with an 11-0 run that spanned two Florida State timeouts and a media timeout and gave the Wolverines 10 points worth of breathing room. The Seminoles then spent most of the rest of the half digging out from that hole, finally getting back within three at the six-minute mark. But just a couple minutes later, a gorgeous hoop by Charles Matthews was followed by a Zavier Simpson layup and a Duncan Robinson three, making a 7-0 run that put the Wolverines back up 10 with just over two minutes remaining. Michigan had to withstand a late Florida State run fueled by their problems at the free throw line, but barring those two runs, the Wolverines would be headed back to Ann Arbor instead of on to San Antonio.
  2. Defense Doesn’t Lose Championships. Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen win on Thursday night was highlighted by beautiful offensive basketball. Tonight? Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In a much punchier game, both teams sold out on the defensive end and made things difficult for their opponents. Florida State’s defense forced 11 turnovers, swatted seven shots and forced Michigan into just 31.4 percent shooting from the field, including just 4-of-17 on shots from deep. But as good as Florida State was defensively, the Wolverines were even better. The Seminoles earned seven second chance points and eight points off turnovers. But when forced into the half-court, the Wolverines made them earn every point, forcing drawn-out possessions that often ended in poor looks. And while all this defense may sound like the recipe for a terribly ugly game, it was a hard-fought and high-wire contest that ultimately delivered.
  3. Foul Shooting Issues. Michigan is headed to the Final Four behind a great defense and an offense capable of exploding. But if they have a possible Achilles’ Heel, it was on display in the final two minutes when they struggled to put the game away due to missed free throws. Simpson, in particular, struggles mightily from the line to the tune of 51.8 percent on the season, a serious issue from a guy who handles the ball so often and well. He missed the front-end of a one-and-one and went just 1-of-3 down the stretch. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman also missed a front-end and it took Robinson knocking down a pair with 21 seconds left to finally put away the Seminoles for good. But, as the stakes increase again next weekend, Michigan’s free throw challenges could be a looming problem.

Star of the Game.  Charles Matthews. While I’m torn about putting anyone’s name other than Michigan catalyst Zavier Simpson here, Matthews had a truly incredible game. Against the long and athletic Seminoles, he stood toe-to-toe with them, playing above the rim when needed, pulling down seven boards and even swatting away a couple of shots. He was a force in transition, both on the offensive break and in helping to slow down Florida State’s manys advances. And his beautiful jump-stop and fadeaway jumper in the lane with 3:51 remaining put the Wolverines up 49-44 and sparked a 7-0 run that just about put the game away.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Loyola-Chicago 78, #9 Kansas State 62

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 24th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Atlanta for the South Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Loyola drove past Kansas State and is going to its first Final Four in 55 years.
(Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. This South Regional bracket may have been the wackiest quadrant in NCAA Tournament history. This year’s South Region has produced some historic results: the first #16 Seed (UMBC) beating a #1 Seed (Virginia); the first Sweet Sixteen without any top four seeds; lower-seeded teams winning more than 50 percent of the time (9-6). So it’s fitting that not only did we have the first regional final between a #9 seed and a #11 seed, but the mid-major Ramblers run Kansas State out of the building just like UMBC had done to top-rated Virginia a little over a week ago. Loyola was clearly the better team from the start, shooting 55.6 percent from the floor en route to a 12-point halftime lead. It was more of the same after intermission as Loyola sank 10 of its first 12 shots to build an insurmountable 23-point lead. The Wildcats made a gutsy comeback attempt but could no closer than 11 points the rest of the way as Loyola cruised to its first regional title in over 50 years. The Ramblers simply shredded the Wildcats’ defense — something that no other K-State opponent had been able to do in the tournament.
  2. All the standard cliches apply to this Loyola team. (1) “They are a very balanced team.” On the season, five Ramblers average double-figure scoring, but none comes in above 13.5 points per contest. (2) “Experience matters.” Among the top six in Porter Moser’s rotation, five are in their fourth year of college — three seniors, two redshirt-junior transfers. (3) “They have a winning mentality.” According to Moser, seven of his current players won state championships during their high school days. All three of these applicable cliches are represented by the fact that three different Ramblers nailed game-clinching jumpers in their first three tourney games — Donte Ingram (versus Miami), Clayton Custer (Tennessee) and Marques Townes (Nevada). No last-minute heroics were necessary tonight, though, as the confident Ramblers put together their most complete performance of the NCAA Tournament with a trip to the Final Four as a result.
  3. Kansas State’s Barry Brown is a tremendous defender. Brown is probably the most versatile shut-down perimeter defender we’ve seen in the NCAA Tournament since Butler’s Ronald Nored handcuffed opposing guards during the Bulldogs’ back-to-back trips to the title game in 2010 and 2011. In the first two rounds of this year’s tourney, Brown stymied Creighton’s Marcus Foster (5 points, 2-11 FG), and Jairus Lyles (12 points, 4-15 FG) of UMBC. Coming into the Sweet Sixteen, Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was on fire, but Brown effectively doused his flames — Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 15 points, but only shot 2-of-10 from the field and committed five turnovers. And when three of his teammates fouled out late in that game, Brown (6’3″) moved over to check 6’9″ Kevin Knox and more than held his own. Tonight Brown guarded Custer for most of the night, holding the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year to just seven points and 2-of-8 shooting from the floor. But it didn’t really matter against the balanced Ramblers — others stepped up for Loyola and Brown couldn’t guard but one of them at a time.

Player of the Game. Ben Richardson, Loyola-Chicago. As we mentioned above, Loyola gets production from a number of different players with new guys stepping up game to game. Tonight it was the Richardson show from start to finish. Primarily known as a defensive stopper, the senior exploded for a career-high 23 points behind a blistering 6-of-7 from three-point land.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Texas Tech 78, #2 Purdue 65

Posted by Matt Patton on March 24th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Matt Patton (@pattonm08) is in Boston for the East Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Texas Tech’s depth is a big part of their run. (Photo credit: Lubboc Avalanche Journal)

  1. Texas Tech is deep. The Red Raiders outscored Purdue’s bench 33-6 tonight. Four players wound up in double figures, and Niem Stevenson had nine of those points. For most of the game All-American Keenan Evans was ineffective (he was 1-of-6 from the field at the under-eight media timeout in the second half), but Texas Tech remained in control. Somehow he still ended up Texas Tech’s leading scorer, but his points mostly served to maintain rather than build the lead. In contrast to the injury-hampered Boilermakers, only Evans finished with more than 30 minutes. That bodes well for the quick turnaround coming before Sunday.
  2. Carsen Edwards versus Jalen Brunson was the matchup we’ll never get to see. With the rest of his team ineffective and hesitant, Edwards was poetry in motion tonight. He finished with 30 points on 20 shots and, amazingly, only one turnover. Edwards has a nose for the ball and like Brunson always finds a way to carve up double-teams. Edwards kept the Boilermakers within striking distance until the last five minutes of the game when an 11-0 Red Raiders run sealed it. The backup matchup of Brunson and Evans should still be must-see basketball, but their styles of play are much more distinct.
  3. Injuries bite. Without Isaac Haas, Purdue had no viable inside presence to combat Texas Tech with tonight. Matt Haarms and Vincent Edwards were non-factors. Edwards’ four offensive boards were more than cancelled out by his six turnovers. Haas’ absence hurt Purdue’s presence on the defensive boards and probably contributed to the team’s turnovers. Without being able to play inside-out, the offense sputtered for long stretches at a time. After the game, Purdue head coach Matt Painter noted, “Empty possessions really hurt us where we weren’t getting a shot at all, and that was probably the hardest thing for us, where they were getting in transition, getting the layups and the dunks.” In addition to dominating the bench points, Texas Tech owned a 15-2 advantage in points off turnovers. Had Purdue not hit nearly 40 percent of its threes this evening, this game could have been incredibly ugly.

Stars of the Game: Justin Gray and Zhaire Smith played like stars in finishing a combined 13-of-18 from the field for 26 points and 12 boards (five offensive) collectively. They’ll need to continue their excellence on Sunday and Beard will need a lot out of Gray in particular against Villanova’s more intact frontline.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 69, #11 Syracuse 65

Posted by Walker Carey on March 23rd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Omaha for the Midwest Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Coach K’s 1,100th Win Pushed Duke to the Elite Eight (USA Today Images)

  1. It was not aesthetically pleasing. It should be known by now that a close game does not always mean a good game. Tonight’s battle between ACC foes was assuredly a close game, but it was certainly far from a well-played or aesthetically pleasing contest. Duke won the game despite shooting just 39.3 percent from the field and 19.2 percent from the three-point line. The Syracuse zone repeatedly forced Duke into bad possessions that resulted in difficult shot attempts. A deeper look at the offensive statistics finds it pretty amazing that Mike Krzyzewski‘s group was able to advance. One of the main reasons why the Blue Devils emerged victorious this evening was because its own zone was impactful in forcing Syracuse into careless turnovers that limited its scoring chances. The Orange finished with 16 turnovers and Duke converted those into 18 points of its own. It was a mistake-ridden game all around, but both teams deserve a lot of credit for not allowing their miscues to bury them and prevent this one from being close until the final buzzer.
  2. Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. were too much for Syracuse. Syracuse presented Duke with an unusual challenge. The Blue Devils normally have a decided size advantage over every team they play, but the Syracuse front line of Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj and Paschal Chukwu is as big as any group in the country. That aspect did not end up mattering too much tonight, however, as Duke freshmen big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. were arguably the most important players on the floor. Bagley turned in a game-high 22 points and bucked the Duke poor shooting trend by hitting eight of his 12 shots. Carter got to the free throw line 11 times and was a significant factor on the glass — he finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Even when Duke does not have the size advantage, the precocious talents of Bagley and Carter sure make it seem like the Blue Devils do.
  3. Duke is going to need to shoot much better if it wants to log a trip to the Final Four. The Blue Devils will certainly take tonight’s victory over the Orange, but they will need to shoot much better on Sunday against Kansas if they hope to advance to the Final Four. Duke can survive and advance one game in this tournament on 39.3 percent shooting, but when you are matched up with a blue-blooded team of Kansas’ caliber, it is going to need to hit more shots to log the victory. Most notably, senior guard Grayson Allen will need to improve on tonight’s 4-of-15 (3-of-14 3FG) performance because Kansas definitely has the horses to take advantage if one of Duke’s main offensive weapons has another off game.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 90, #5 West Virginia 78

Posted by Matt Patton on March 23rd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Matt Patton (@pattonm08) is in Boston for the East Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Jalen Brunson was the best player in the country Friday night. (Photo credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. West Virginia controlled the first 30 minutes of the game. Villanova was uncharacteristically sloppy. Donte DiVicenzo and Mikal Bridges were totally lost. Even when the Wildcats avoided turnovers, they took contested (often rushed) shots. If Jalen Brunson was the best player on the floor — keeping the Wildcats within striking distance — it was his former teammate on the other side, Jevon Carter, who set the tone for the game. With 11:08 remaining, the Mountaineers were up six and looked like they had seized control. To that point Villanova was 2-of-11 in the half with a whopping zero points in the paint. Then everything fell apart for Bob Huggins’ team.
  2. And then Villanova settled down. From that point, Villanova outscored West Virginia 36-18 the rest of the way. Brunson started things off, as he always seems to do, with an and-one, and the Wildcats ripped off 11 points in a row to regain control of the game. The Mountaineers missed nine straight shots over the next five minutes before finally getting something to drop at the 6:25 mark. Villanova, on the other hand, made 10 of their last 14 field goal attempts while committing only two turnovers (both of which came when the outcome was effectively decided). But even so, the game felt much closer than the final score. West Virginia compounded their closing woes with missed layups, open threes and free throws.
  3. Villanova is the favorite to cut down the nets in San Antonio. The Wildcats looked rattled at times against West Virginia’s relentless press, but they also run the prettiest offense in college basketball, bar none. They space the floor as well as an NBA team, and Brunson will be the best player on the floor no matter the possible remaining opponent (even against Duke). And considering that Villanova looked totally rattled (apart from Brunson), they were only down six to West Virginia tonight. Their ceiling is as high as any team remaining, but their floor is quite a bit higher than the rest of the field.

Star of the Game. Jalen Brunson, Villanova. Brunson kept the Wildcats from being run out of the gym during the first 30 minutes of the game. He looked every bit the National Player of the Year candidate that he is, creating opportunities for himself as well as his teammates. He broke the West Virginia press with ease for most of the night. He drew fouls when necessary. It felt like he never missed an open look. His closing line was 27 points and four assists in 37 minutes of floor generalship.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 80, #5 Clemson 76

Posted by Walker Carey on March 23rd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Omaha for the Midwest Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas Heads Back to the Elite Eight For the Third Year in a Row (USA Today Images)

  1. Udoka Azubuike showed how important he is to Kansas’ success. The sophomore big man is finally back from a knee injury that kept him out of the Big 12 Tournament and limited his minutes during the First and Second Rounds of this NCAA Tournament. With Azubuike now healthy, Kansas forced the issue with him early and often as he finished the evening with 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. While those statistics suggest to the casual eye that he just had a good game, you have to look beyond the box score to realize just how important he is to Kansas’ success. The Jayhawks at the very least look his way for an easy bucket every time he’s on the floor, and he is a stalwart in the middle on the defensive end. If Kansas is to win Sunday and advance to Bill Self’s third Final Four, what Azubuike brings to the fold on both ends of the court will be an important factor.
  2. Devonte’ Graham needs to play better if Kansas wants a trip to the Final Four. The final statistics show that Graham finished with a pretty standard outing, totaling 16 points while collecting five rebounds and four assists on the night. While the senior point guard gathered his numbers, he would also be the first to say that he did not play nearly as well as he needs to for his team to advance to San Antonio. Graham made just one of seven shots from three-point range and finished just 4-of-12 from the field. He also committed three uncharacteristic turnovers, including one where he threw the ball away followed by an ill-advised foul that gave Clemson an and-one opportunity. Graham has been quite steady throughout his collegiate career so it is certainly reasonable to expect he will play better against Duke or Syracuse on Sunday. Kansas is going to need a quality performance from him because it cannot advance to another Final Four without Devonte’ Graham playing like the Big 12 Player of the Year.
  3. Clemson deserves a ton of credit for fighting until the final buzzer. There are no good losses or moral victories in the NCAA Tournament, but Clemson’s performance tonight would certainly qualify if there were. Playing in front of a very partisan Kansas crowd, the Tigers fell behind by 20 points early in the second half and it looked like their run was over. It would have been understandable if Brad Brownell‘s squad simply went through the motions for the remainder of the game, but the Tigers instead fought tooth and nail to the final buzzer to lose by only four points. Behind senior guard Gabe DeVoe‘s career-high 31 points and some tenacious defense, Clemson put considerable game pressure on Kansas as the final minutes ticked away. Their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, but you would have to be a significantly jaded individual if you do not come away from that game impressed with Clemson’s fight.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Florida State 75, #4 Gonzaga 60

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 23rd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is in Los Angeles for the West Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Florida State Was All Smiles After Outlasting Gonzaga (USA Today Images)

  1. It Doesn’t Have to Be Pretty. And this game certainly wasn’t. The stop-and-start pace of the game because of all the fouls (22 in the first half led to 38 overall) didn’t help matters. Neither did the forced offense on both ends. Or the cold shooting from deep (a combined 11-of-40 from deep). Let’s face it, after the offensive beauty that Michigan displayed in the first game of the evening, this was not a game for the faint of heart. But years from now, all that will matter was that Florida State won and advanced to just its third Elite Eight in program history.
  2. Depth. Even on its best days this season, Gonzaga, which basically plays seven players, was not a deep team. When sophomore Killian Tillie became a late scratch after re-aggravating a hip injury during warmups, it became even more of an issue. Against a Florida State team that has no problems going 10 deep, the Zags were simply outmanned. The Seminoles subbed early and often (those 10 players all played at least 10 minutes each) and used physical switching defenses to their advantage, not worrying so much as the fouls piled up. Early in the second half, the Zags looked like they were going to crawl back into the game, but the Seminoles never let their foot off the gas as the Bulldogs faltered late.
  3. Balance. Terance Mann wound up with 18 points to lead all scorers, but no one else on his team scored in double figures. However, six other Florida State players scored at least six points each. The team combined for nine blocks, led by freshman Mfiondu Kabengele; but six other guys chipped in to reach that number. Likewise, six Seminoles combined to swipe nine steals. Long story short, this team is built around the idea of every player on the team picking up for every other player and every guy having everyone else’s back. It worked tonight.

Star of the Game.  Terance Mann. After suffering a groin injury in the Seminoles’ first round win over Missouri, the junior wasn’t expected to play in the round of 32 against Xavier. He toughed it out for 24 minutes of less effective play than normal. But tonight, that injury appeared to be a thing of the past, as evidenced by four dunks on the night and non-stop energetic play. After a quiet first half with just six points on five attempts, the upperclassman picked up the pace in the second half, pouring in 12 on eight attempts, including four dunks on the night.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Kansas State 61, #5 Kentucky 58

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 22nd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Atlanta for the South Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Xavier Sneed led Kansas State in its upset over Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen.
(Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. The South Region delivers again. Kentucky was a heavy favorite in Atlanta and had heavy crowd support throughout the game, but the Wildcats were in trouble most of the way tonight. Kansas State exploded for an early 13-1 lead and took a four-point lead into the break. Then when it looked like Kentucky would blow past them midway through the second half, Kansas State spurted back ahead by nine. But to Kentucky’s credit, John Calipari’s youngsters kept fighting and clawed their way back yet again. The final push led to a riveting game-ending few minutes, with the lead going back and forth between Wildcats. With under 20 seconds to go and the score tied, Barry Brown made a clutch driving layup to put Kansas State ahead by three, but the game wasn’t decided until Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s three clanged off the back iron at the buzzer. That leaves us with the most improbable Elite Eight matchup we could ever imagine, which is par for the course in this year’s South Region.  
  2. Kansas State is a really good defensive team. It’s not a coincidence that every team that plays the Wildcats struggles on the offensive end of the floor. Kentucky came into tonight’s contest averaging 86.5 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, but the Wildcats couldn’t crack the 60-point mark against Bruce Weber‘s defense. For the game, Kentucky shot just 38.1 percent from the floor and went 3-of-12 from three-point land. The Wildcats in purple were giving up almost four inches per man against Kentucky, however, and it took its toll in the form of foul trouble. Three Kansas State players fouled out and two others finished with four violations, but the tough-minded Big 12 Wildcats hung on to win.
  3. Kentucky’s youth finally caught up with them. Against a physically inferior squad, the Wildcats wearing white made too many mistakes to beat a Kansas State bunch intent on not giving in. In the key moments down the stretch of this game, Kentucky may have felt the pressure of being the favorite — missing free throws (23-of-37 in the game), committing ball-handling mistakes (15 turnovers) and taking a number of questionable shots. Kentucky had been playing great over the last month of the season, but they looked young in the late parts of tonight’s game — failing to get a decent look on either of its last two possessions.

Player of the Game. Xavier Sneed, Kansas State. Sneed led the way with 22 points and nine rebounds despite fighting foul trouble for much of the night. He was particularly effective from deep, sinking more than half of his team’s threes by going 5-of-8 from behind the arc. 

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