Final Four Fact Sheet: South Carolina Gamecocks

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 28th, 2017

Now that we’re down to the Final Four, let’s take a deep dive into each of the four remaining teams. Today: South Carolina.

How South Carolina Got Here

South Carolina is headed to its first Final Four ever. (Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images)

East Region Champions. Despite entering Selection Sunday having lost six of its previous 10 games, South Carolina was given a surprisingly-high seed (#7) in a surprisingly-favorable location: Greenville, South Carolina. The Gamecocks took full advantage, crushing #10 seed Marquette before pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the NCAA Tournament against #2 Duke, scoring 65 points in the second half en route to an 88-81 runaway victory against the National Championship favorite. In its first Sweet Sixteen since appearance since 1973, South Carolina then held #3 Baylor to a season-low 0.76 points per possession; two days later, the Gamecocks put the finishing touches on their Cinderella run by upending SEC rival #4 Florida, limiting the Gators to 0-of-14 three-pointers in the second half on their way to a seven-point triumph.

The Coach

Frank Martin. In just five short years, Martin — a former nightclub bouncer and perhaps the scariest man in college basketball — has lifted a program from the depths of irrelevance to its first Final Four in school history. And he’s done it with the same hard-nosed, defensive-minded coaching style that made him successful in his first Division I coaching stint at Kansas State (2007-12). The former Bob Huggins assistant has clear stylistic similarities to his mentor, employing an aggressive, relentless brand of basketball intent on wearing down opponents mentally and physically. In eight of his 10 years as a college head coach, Martin’s teams have ranked among the top 40 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Miami native spent 15 years coaching high school basketball in his hometown before joining Northeastern as an assistant in 2000, so his decision to take the South Carolina job in 2012 — a program with only three Sweet Sixteen appearances in its long history — was not overly surprising. Martin knows how to be patient. After missing the NCAA Tournament in his first four seasons, that patience is finally paying off.

Style

For South Carolina, success starts on the defensive end. The Gamecocks rank second nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, fourth in defensive turnover rate, 12th in effective field goal percentage defense, and perhaps second to only West Virginia — Huggins’ group — in sheer physicality. Led by a pair of elite defenders in 6’5” Sindarius Thornwell and 6’6” PJ Dozier, South Carolina presses and traps all over the court, making it difficult for opposing ball-handlers to cross the timeline, much less comfortably run offensive sets. In the half-court, the Gamecocks aggressively extend on shooters, preferring to commit fouls over allowing open shots from the perimeter. Their length and knack for swarming to the ball (often employing a half-court trap) makes clean interior looks nearly as difficult, especially with 6’9” Chris Silva — a good per minute shot-blocker — manning the paint. They simply deny everything. Offensively, aggression remains the name of the game: South Carolina scores a whopping 23 percent of its points from the free throw line and another 50 percent from inside the arc, attack the basket at will, often off of turnovers. Having big, physical guard/forwards like Thornwell and Dozier helps.

Strengths

Sindarius Thornwell has been Superman for the Gamecocks this season. (Getty Images)

  • Limiting three-pointers. South Carolina does an exceptional job of taking away perimeter jumpers, allowing opponents to score just 25.6 percent of their points from behind the arc. The Gamecock guards relentlessly press up on shooters, sometimes resulting in fouls, but often resulting in forced jumpers or haphazard drives late in the shot clock. Really, the same reason opponents have such a difficult time shooting three-pointers is the same reason South Carolina forces turnovers at a higher rate than all but three other teams in the country: opposing guards simply can’t breathe once they cross half-court.
  • Attacking the basket. Thornwell is in a class of his own when it comes to attacking the rim. The senior ranks 13th nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, a testament to his bullish aggressiveness in the lane and willingness to push the ball as far and as fast as back-peddling defenders will allow. When South Carolina forces turnovers (which is often) he and his teammates waste no time getting downcourt—the Gamecocks average just 16.6 seconds per offensive possession. They also pound the offensive glass, cleaning up misses at the third-highest rate among SEC teams. Between free throws, offensive rebounds, and plain strong drives to the hoop, South Carolina is able to sustain itself offensively despite its poor shooting numbers.
  • Endurance. According to this account, South Carolina full-court presses during the majority of practices and often plays five-on-seven (advantage to the offense) in order to whip its dogged defense into shape. That grueling work ethic clearly pays off on game day. The Gamecocks are +54 in the second half during the NCAA Tournament, wearing down opposing offenses to such a degree that their offense — which, again, thrives on attacking the rim — can flourish. South Carolina’s second-half blitzes against Duke, Marquette, and Florida are shining examples. Conditioning, both mental and physical, seems to matter.

Weaknesses

  • Shooting. At 47.4 percent eFG, South Carolina ranks 299th nationally in effective field goal percentage. That’s not good. Outside of Thornwell (39.4% 3FG), there really aren’t any serious outside shooting threats on the roster. Guard Duane Notice (10.2 PPG) is capable of getting hot, but he’s also very streaky. Dozier (13.8 PPG) takes a lot of shots, but he’s usually not all that efficient. If Thornwell is off and Silva isn’t going to work inside, the Gamecocks can become very stagnant very fast.
  • Foul trouble. That aggressive defense has one glaring downside: free throws and foul trouble. Not only do South Carolina’s opponents score almost 27 percent of their points from the charity stripe, but several crucial Gamecock players — most notably Silva —are often forced to take a seat early. The 6’9” forward has fouled out 10 times this season, seven of which South Carolina lost. Dozier, another superb defender, also runs into similar trouble from time to time. Against talented offenses like Gonzaga, North Carolina and Oregon, free points and foul trouble could become an issue.
  • One-dimensionality. It may be oversimplifying things to say that South Carolina’s success boils down merely to defense and Sindarius Thornwell, but it’s not that far from the truth. Fact is, the Gamecocks must continue dominating on defense, and the senior sensation must continue to playing at a high-level offensively in order for Martin’s team to have a chance in Phoenix. If one of those two elements slips — say, the defense sputters like it did against Arkansas in Feburary, or Thornwell struggles like he did against Alabama in the SEC Tournament — it’s hard to envision South Carolina recovering.

Go-To Scorer

For South Carolina to succeed in Phoenix, PJ Dozier must keep performing offensively. (fansided.com)

Sindarius Thornwell (21.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.2 SPG). Before Duke’s Round of 32 loss to South Carolina, Mike Krzyzewski called Thornwell “the best, unheralded, great player in the United States.” And even that might be an understatement. The 6’5” in-state product is averaging nearly 26 points per game during NCAA Tournament play, showcasing his relentless aggression (he’s already attempted 39 free throws), shooting ability (42% 3FG over four games), and superb defensive skills. He’s also an outstanding offensive rebounder, once ripping down 10 offensive boards en route to a ridiculous 44-point, 21-rebound stat line against Alabama on February 7. Among players who have attempted 250+ free throws this season, only a handful of players boast a higher free throw percentage than the senior (83% FT). Thornwell also led the SEC in steal percentage during the regular season. There’s a reason he was the coaches’ choice for Conference Player of the Year (not to mention 7th in KenPom National Player of the Year rankings)—Thornwell is great.

X-Factor

PJ Dozier (13.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG). For better or worse, the talented sophomore takes a staggering 31 percent of his team’s shots while on the floor, which is roughly 70 percent of the time. That shot rate is higher than Thornwell’s (28.7%). When he shoots 50 percent or better from the field, South Carolina is 11-0; when he shoots under 40 percent, Martin’s team is 10-6. That seem like “picking and choosing” statistics, but it’s hard to deny that the Gamecocks’ offense is markedly better when Dozier is efficient. Silva, and bench production from players like forward Maik Kotsar (12 points vs. Florida), will also be key.

Outlook

When are we going to learn? South Carolina has entered each of its last three games as the underdog, yet won each contest by an average 11.3 points. It hadn’t scored over 1.1 points per possession since February 15 prior to Selection Sunday; in the four games since, Martin’s group has surpassed that mark three times. Tough, confident, and afraid of nobody, the Gamecocks now face their most difficult opponent yet: a Gonzaga team that boasts the nation’s most efficient defense with nearly an offense to match. Still, count South Carolina out at your own risk.

Final Four Fact Sheet: Oregon Ducks

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 27th, 2017

Now that we’re down to the Final Four, let’s take a deep dive into each of the four remaining teams. Today: Oregon.

How Oregon Got Here

Oregon hopes to continue riding high in Phoenix (Getty Images).

Midwest Region Champions. After receiving a lower-than-expected #3 seed on Selection Sunday, Oregon rolled past #13 Iona 83-67 in its NCAA Tournament opener. Two nights later, it required a pair of clutch Tyler Dorsey three-pointers for the Ducks to survive #11 Rhode Island, which led by as many as 10 points in the second half. Oregon’s late-game execution continued against #7 Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen, where it held the Wolverines scoreless over the game’s final two minutes en route to a 69-68 victory. Finally, despite facing #1 Kansas in Kansas City on Saturday—a road game by almost any standard—the Ducks drilled 11 three-pointers, held the Jayhawks to their worst offensive output of the season (0.94 points per possession), and advanced to their first Final Four since 1939.

The Coach

Dana Altman. The 58-year-old Nebraska native has quietly had one of the most successful careers among active Division I basketball coaches — a career now punctuated by his first Final Four appearance. Altman ranks 10th on the all-time wins list among working head men (597 wins), joining Jim Boeheim, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Bill Self and Tom Izzo as the only active coaches with 20+ consecutive winning seasons. After spending 16 years at Creighton (and becoming the Bluejays’ all-time winningest coach in the process), Altman has turned an inconsistent Oregon program into a perennial threat to win the Pac-12. Prior to his arrival, the Ducks had reached the Sweet Sixteen three times in program history, and won 30+ games only once; since Altman took the job in 2011, Oregon has doubled that number of Sweet Sixteen appearances and won 30+ games twice. He may well be a future Hall of Famer.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 75, #2 Kentucky 73

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 26th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Luke Maye capped a phenomenal individual weekend with one of the biggest shots of this, or any, NCAA Tournament (Photo: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

Key Takeaways.

  1. First half foul trouble and questionable officiating. Kentucky clawed its way back into this game in the second half, but early foul trouble and a tough first half whistle greatly imperiled the Wildcats’ bid to advance to another Final Four. De’Aaron Fox watched 75 percent of the first half from the sideline after picking up two early fouls, and backcourt mate Malik Monk joined him there later in the half after also picking up his second foul. There were also a number of questionable first half calls that seemed to go North Carolina’s way every time, including a Bam Adebayo tip-in that was ruled offensive goaltending. North Carolina emerges as a deserving victor, but Kentucky wasn’t helped at all by the first half whistle.
  2. Where was the offense? After the Tar Heels and Wildcats combined for 203 total regulation points in December, there was going to be an offensive come-down. However, few could have expected the drop-off in combined offensive efficiency to be so severe. The two teams combined to shoot just 44 percent from the floor, 29 percent from three-point range, and 67 percent from the free throw line. We have seen far uglier offensive games in this NCAA Tournament, for certain, but the early season wizardry in Las Vegas delivered by these teams allowed us to dream of a more explosive, uptempo battle than what played out.
  3. Justin Jackson and Malik Monk duel. The individual match-up between Monk and Justin Jackson was much discussed before action tipped, and with good reason. These two stars combined for 81 points in the first game, and each player has repeatedly showed the ability to single-handedly take over games. No such dominance was on display today, however, as Jackson harassed Monk into a quiet 12-point afternoon. The UNC star wasn’t at his best today, but his two-way effort (he had 19 points on the other end) gave him the edge in this decisive matchup.

Star of the Game. Luke Maye, North Carolina. Maye posted an unlikely but casual double-double on Friday (16 points, 12 rebounds), yet saved plenty of energy for a memorable encore. He made six of his nine field goal attempts en route to a 17-point night, including the game-winning jumper just before the final horn that won’t soon be forgotten by North Carolina fans. Maye played with swagger and energy all afternoon, and ultimately it was his contributions that pushed the Tar Heels into next weekend’s Final Four in Glendale.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 South Carolina 77, #4 Florida 70

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 26th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) is in New York City this weekend.

South Carolina Keeps Its Cinderella Run Going (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. The story of the NCAA Tournament remains the Gamecocks’ offensive turnaround. All season long, Frank Martin’s group subsisted on its stingy defense to compensate for a pedestrian offense. In conference play, South Carolina averaged an average 1.00 points per possession, good for 11th in the SEC. But Greenville and New York City have been much kinder: In its four-game run to the Final Four, this metric has ballooned to 1.16 PPP. This boon can be attributed to a greater degree of success on the offensive glass, thereby generating higher percentage shots around the rim and incremental opportunities at the free throw line. Against a stout defensive team in Florida, South Carolina scored 42 of its 77 points in the paint, with an additional 23 points coming at the free throw line.
  2. In a rare turn of events, South Carolina’s defense was exposed and looked beatable in the first half. The lightning quick Florida backcourt was largely neutralized, something the Gamecocks have been doing all season via ball pressure and jumping the passing lanes. So even though Mike White’s team committed 16 turnovers, Florida’s multifaceted offense proved effective throughout most of the game. The pick-and-roll offense forced South Carolina to send help to the paint, tacking fouls onto Chris Silva and leaving them exposed on the perimeter. As such, Florida wings Devin Robinson and Justin Leon had countless open looks, but could not convert on enough down the stretch to compensate; the Gators went a miserable 0-for-14 from three in the second half.
  3. SEC country is everywhere, and it’s not just limited to football. There were some comments after the first game on the surprising turnout from South Carolina fans for a basketball game in New York City. Naturally, Frank Martin was quick to challenge the surprising nature of it. Bandwagon fans or not, the collective attendance from Gamecock and Gator fans here this weekend certainly changed a common perception about the SEC. Like their football counterparts, they too can bring any basketball stadium to life.

Star of the GameSindarius Thornwell, South Carolina. The senior guard took charge of the game again today on both ends of the floor, compiling 26 points and seven rebounds on 8-for-13 shooting. It’s also no surprise that Thornwell won the East Region Most Outstanding Player award. South Carolina’s time in the spotlight has been a major benefactor for Thornwell’s nationwide recognition as well as his draft stock. Read the rest of this entry »

Rushed Reactions: #3 Oregon 74, #1 Kansas 60

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 25th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) is in Kansas City this weekend.

Oregon Shocked Kansas in Kansas City Tonight to Advance to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Oregon rides explosive first half and timely second half shots to Glendale. The Ducks made every kind of shot you could think of in the early going, but unlike Purdue in its hot start against Kansas on Thursday night, Oregon was able to make it stick. The Ducks then proceeded to pour it on the Jayhawks to the tune of 1.42 points per possession in the first half, topped off by a Tyler Dorsey three-pointer from beyond NBA range just before the buzzer sounded. Though the offense regressed in the second half when the Ducks worked on killing the clock, they made shots seemingly every time Kansas appeared to go on a run.
  2. Jordan Bell stops Kansas silent at the rim. The Ducks’ hyper-athletic forward controlled the paint on defense, blocking eight shots and altering several more in addition to pulling down 13 rebounds. Bell’s presence inside was so intimidating that Kansas seemed to either think twice before attacking the lane or made costly mistakes whenever they got close to the bucket. The Jayhawks shot an uncharacteristic 8-of-17 on layups and were significantly influenced by the work inside of the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
  3. Frank Mason gets little from his supporting cast. The leading candidate for National Player of the Year came to play tonight (21 points, four rebounds, four assists), but his teammates came well short of expectations — especially considering their performance to this point and the location in a familiar environment. Josh Jackson picked up two early fouls and didn’t crack the box score until midway through the second half. Devonte’ Graham was similarly quiet after coming into Saturday’s game on an absolute tear, and frontcourt stalwart Landen Lucas was outrebounded by every Oregon starter save for point guard Dylan Ennis. The Jayhawks had their share of looks from long range in the second half, but went just 1-of-15 from deep after halftime, sending Kansas home earlier than the Jayhawks had planned.

Star Of The Game. Tyler Dorsey (27 points, 9-of-13 FG, 6-of-10 3FG). There’s a very good argument for Bell in this space, but Dorsey’s shot-making and the confidence he inspired lifted Oregon in the closest thing this NCAA Tournament had to a true road game. He gets extra points here for his execution in the second half, as he became the go-to guy whenever Kansas started to get the crowd involved.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Gonzaga 83, #11 Xavier 59

Posted by rtmsf on March 25th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Gonzaga is Final Four Bound (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Gonzaga’s Offensive Explosion From Three. The key number in today’s Elite Eight game is 12, as in 12 made three-pointers on 24 Gonzaga attempts. The Zags started the game with seven of its first nine shots from beyond the arc, which was both surprising and troubling because three-point shooting (both in conversions and attempts) really isn’t the Zags’ modus operandi. But they made three of those seven and it only improved from there as Gonzaga slowly adjusted to figure out Xavier’s zone defenses. An 8-of-13 first half supported a 10-point lead at the intermission, and two more quick threes to start the second half quickly pushed the lead over Xavier to an irrecoverable 16 points. From there, Mark Few’s team never looked back on its way to Glendale. As Chris Mack noted afterward, the Zags do not particularly shoot many threes (256th nationally) nor do they shoot them at an elite level (37.8% after tonight) — but given their impressive frontcourt and consistently strong defense, it is a nearly impossible task to beat them when they’re knocking down outside shots at such a prodigious rate.
  2. Its Defense Wasn’t Bad Either. No doubt some regression to the mean here, but Gonzaga did a great job of shadowing and covering the red-hot Trevon Bluiett everywhere on the floor. The junior wing came into today’s game averaging 25.0 PPG and shooting 13-of-23 from three-point range, but the Bulldogs never let him get comfortable in holding him to 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting. Many of the easy looks that Xavier found on Thursday night against Arizona were no longer there, with the beefy size of Przemek Karnowski, Zach Collins and Johnathan Williams making life in the lane uncomfortable for the much-smaller Musketeers. The Zags own the nation’s top defense for a reason, and a complete start-to-finish performance that included holding Xavier to 13 percent from three-point range and 36 percent for the game is a great example of why.
  3. Xavier’s Fiery Run. Considering that Xavier took its February performance and burned it in a showing of mutual solidarity, the Musketeers should still feel great about how they salvaged what appeared to be a lost season. From the calendar-burning moment on, Xavier won six of nine games including a run to the semifinals of the Big East Tournament and the Elite Eight. Maybe Mack should think about using a similar gimmick every year, but the point remains. The loss of Edmond Sumner in late January ensured that the Musketeers would experience bouts of inconsistency, but not even the most faithful Xavier fan believed that a team basically without a point guard could make a run through Maryland, Florida State and Arizona to reach the regional final. Mack deserves all credit for keeping his team focused in a situation that would have destroyed most squads.

Star of the Game. Johnathan Williams, Gonzaga. The transfer from Missouri certainly could not have asked for a better outcome to his decision to leave the SEC for the WCC. As his former school continues to languish — recently hiring a new coach for the third time in six seasons — the junior forward’s play today ensured that Gonzaga’s season would continue into the final weekend. He contributed early, hitting for 12 easy points (on 5-of-6 shooting) near the rim as the Zags worked to solve the changing Xavier defenses. His final totals of 19 points and eight rebounds allowed Gonzaga to establish its inside game and provide openings for its shooters.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Florida 84, #8 Wisconsin 83 (OT)

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 25th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) is in New York City this weekend.

The Agony and the Ecstasy of the NCAA Tournament (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. In a battle first of defenses and then of hero ball, Florida was just a little bit better. The three-headed trio of KeVaughn AllenKasey Hill and Chris Chiozza flustered Wisconsin’s ball-handlers all night long, picking them up full court and playing with a hand in their jerseys on every screen. It forced the Badgers into an uncharacteristic funk, one in which they committed 16 turnovers and struggled to work their patented inside-out offense to its full effect. Wisconsin is usually a team that dictates its own pace on the offensive end, so being pushed into a higher tempo affair undoubtedly worked to Florida’s advantage. Nonetheless, Wisconsin down the stretch channeled its penchant for late game heroics yet again, overcoming a 10-point deficit that culminated with an acrobatic runner to tie the game… only to be topped with the answer of all answers in overtime. Sometimes, luck bests itself.
  2. Florida’s pick-and-roll offense dismantled Wisconsin’s defense. Simply put, Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter were not quick enough to stick with Florida’s guards off the screens, and Florida’s roll men are skilled at drawing fouls. Wisconsin forwards Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown found themselves glued to the bench down the stretch with foul trouble, further exposing the Badgers inside. The Gators are highly efficient around the rim, converting on 65.3 percent of their shots, so it should come as no surprise that they were able to take advantage of the undermanned front line.
  3. He might be third on the team in scoring, but Wisconsin’s offense runs on Nigel Hayes. Florida’s first half run coincided with Hayes spending time on the bench in foul trouble. His eventual return quickly righted the ship and reignited the Badgers’ offense. The 6’8″ senior plays a “bully ball” type of offense in which he utilizes his physicality and speed to torture both big and small defenders. He posed an inherent mismatch for the Gators’ front line and capitalized on every opportunity, particularly in overtime, totaling 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting. But to Wisconsin’s demise, his overtime efforts were ultimately undermined by missed free throws.

Star of the GameKeVaughn Allen, Florida. After a rugged start to the NCAA Tournament, the Gators’ leading scorer got back on track tonight. He picked apart the Badgers with a combination of steals, three-pointers and drives into the paint before finishing with 35 points on 11-of-24 shooting.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Kentucky 86, #3 UCLA 75

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 24th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

De’Aaron Fox knifed through the UCLA defense to the tune of an NCAA Tournament-high 39 points (Photo: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Battle of the freshmen backcourts. It’s not impossible that three of the top four picks in this June’s NBA Draft occupied three of the four spots in the starting backcourts of this game. All showed flashes of brilliance, but the shine was far brighter on the Kentucky side. De’Aaron Fox darted through the UCLA defense time and time again en route to a career-high 39 points, while Malik Monk caught fire on either end of halftime, scoring 17 of his 21 points in a seven-minute stretch that straddled intermission. UCLA’s Lonzo Ball got teammates involved early and finished with eight assists, but the Bruins’ star never found his stroke in missing five of his six three-point attempts. There’s little doubt that tonight’s 40 minutes will be mentioned often during discussions of Ball and Fox’s draft stock in the coming months, but the trio combined to put on the show everyone had hoped for.
  2. Tempo quickens in second half. With two efficient, fast-paced offenses doing battle, most expected a high-possession, high-scoring game. The first half was not that – only 69 total points were scored, and most of them came in the half-court – but the second half ushered in the uptempo basketball that had been anticipated. Monk and UCLA’s Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton took turns splashing in jumpers during a breathless first four minutes of the frame, and the Memphis crowd channeled the newfound energy on the floor. Ninety-two total second half points later, Kentucky was through to the next round and fans were fully satiated by a dazzling offensive display.
  3. UCLA, Alford’s uncertain future. The Bruins erased memories of a disappointing 2015-16 with a highlight-laden 31-win season, one that may have cooled Steve Alford’s warm seat in Los Angeles yet also made him an attractive hire to one of the few programs he might consider bolting for — Indiana. The Hoosiers’ coaching vacancy is unlikely to be filled without at least a call to Alford, and there’s little indication he wouldn’t listen to an offer from his alma mater. Apathy around the UCLA program has been difficult to fully eradicate, even during this turn-back-the-clock season, and Indiana should be able to provide Alford heavy doses of both cash and nostalgia. It’s far from a certain marriage, but the uncomfortable irony of this unexpectedly successful UCLA season is that it may have been good enough to lead to a new coaching search.

Star of the Game. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky. The Wildcats’ freshman sensation played the game of his college career, scoring a career-high 39 points. He added four assists against just one turnover and thoroughly controlled a game that featured an even more hyped freshman point guard. Fox’s 39 points also stand as the high point total of the NCAA Tournament (no player had gone over 30 until tonight), and they were more than enough to compensate for a sluggish night from the backcourt’s supporting cast. Fox dominated tonight in Memphis.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 South Carolina 70, #3 Baylor 50

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 24th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) is in New York City this weekend.

South Carolina Keeps It Going (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Sometimes, defense can be fun. Following the elimination of both Villanova and Duke, the East Region became the “Region of Defense.” Per KenPom, all four Sweet Sixteen teams ranked among the top 13 nationally in defensive efficiency. Stylistically, the game wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but watching even a handful of possessions showed just how far great defense can take a team. Among the remaining group of teams, South Carolina’s offense is the least efficient by far and yet the Gamecocks controlled every aspect of the game — forcing Baylor’s guards to over-dribble, make poor passes and take contested jumpers. Midway through the first half, the Gamecocks held Baylor scoreless for nearly seven minutes in the midst of an 18-0 run.
  2. Sindarius Thornwell is the most underappreciated player of the NCAA Tournament. Sure, he’s been picking up steam as the Gamecocks continue their run, but he’s still a ways off from becoming a bona fide media darling. The 6’5″ senior is responsible for a +0.18 PPP differential when he’s on the floor and could very well be the best two-way player in the country. Thornwell fills up the stat sheet in every way imaginable: he leads his team in scoring, rebounding and steals while also contributing nearly a block per game. Baylor’s backcourt struggled mightily with his on-ball pressure and never looked comfortable initiating the offense in its half-court sets.
  3. Baylor fell victim to its weak spot: turnovers. Even when things appeared to be turning around for the Bears on the tail of a second half run, Baylor simply couldn’t overcome its season-long plague of poor ball handling. Scott Drew’s group committed 16 turnovers, a string of which interrupted its second half momentum. An offense undermined by a 20.5 percent turnover rate (305th nationally) is a recipe for disaster against the pressure-centric defense of South Carolina.

Star of the GameSindarius Thornwell, South Carolina. Thornwell continued his torrid shooting tonight with a 24-point, six-rebound performance against one of the best defensive teams in the country. Outside of Thornwell, the Gamecocks lack consistent breakdown scorers, so his contributions on that end of the floor play a vital role in extending and maintaining leads.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 92, #4 Butler 80

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 24th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Kennedy Meeks and the Heels had a lot to cheer about Friday night (Photo: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Tar Heels explode in the first half. North Carolina raced out to a 16-point lead in the first 10 minutes and never looked back. The Tar Heels would maintain that edge for the second 10 minutes of the first half, taking a 52-36 advantage to the locker room. Three Tar Heels scored in double figures – Justin Jackson with 17 points, Luke Maye with 14, Joel Berry with 10 – in a quintessential display of Carolina offense. They played fast (43 possessions), made three-point shots (8-of-17 from long-range), and exploited their size advantage inside in outrebounding Butler by 11. UCLA and Kansas each boast offenses as good, if not better, than that of North Carolina, but neither possess the inside-outside balance of the Heels. The first 20 minutes of this game was a potent expression of this reality.
  2. Unexpected and expected Carolina contributors. UNC has relied upon Jackson and Berry all season, and the Tar Heels’ junior duo delivered again tonight. They combined for 50 points, five three-pointers, and committed just three turnovers. However, it wasn’t just Jackson and Berry fronting the load this evening. Maye provided an unexpected spark in leading the first half surge, scoring 14 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in the opening frame. Roy Williams expressed immense appreciation for the contributions and skills of UNC’s very unlikely catalyst, saying he was not surprised by Maye’s night because he sees it every day in practice. Either way, the Heels should benefit from a confident Maye, as his ability to step out and shoot the three provides a nice balance to the bruising interior duo of Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks.
  3. Butler three-point shooting struggles. The Bulldogs were an efficient offensive outfit for the better part of their first 33 games of the season, with top-100 percentages nationally in 3FG, 2FG, and FT%. However, the 21st-most efficient offense in the country struggled to generate the points needed to hang with North Carolina this evening. The origin of the drought was obvious, as Butler made just eight of its 28 three-point attempts. Chris Holtmann couldn’t have had a problem with most of the rest of the offensive stat sheet, as his team shot 55 percent from two-point range, 86 percent from the free throw line, and turned the ball over just nine times in a high-possession game. Missed three-point shots is a familiar killer of seasons this time of year; tonight, Butler’s long-range struggles ensured its season would not continue.

Star of the Game. Justin Jackson, North Carolina. The versatile Tar Heels star had the full arsenal working Friday night. He was confident and effective in shooting the three, lofting floaters in the half-court, and getting out on the fast break for easy buckets. Jackson finished with 24 points, five rebounds, and five assists. Honorable mention goes to Maye, who unexpectedly delivered a career high 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Berry, who finished with a game-high 26 points.

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