Rushed Reactions: #4 Butler 74 ,#12 Middle Tennessee 65

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 18th, 2017

Butler started the game off perfect on its first four threes and ended up shooting 8-of-15 for the game, keying its 74-65  victory over Middle Tennessee tonight in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

Butler Pulled Away From MTSU to Advance to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. It truly is a” make or miss” game . The major difference in the result of tonight’s game was that Butler simply shot the ball from distance at a much better rate than Middle Tennessee. The Bulldogs shot 53.3 percent from three-point range while Middle Tennessee was only able to muster 21.1 percent. The Blue Raiders ran their offense effectively in getting a number of quality looks, but they simply couldn’t get anything to fall. Most of the other stats on the day were relatively even, but shooting — makes and misses — was the difference-maker.
  2. Butler played like an experienced team. With three graduate transfers in its rotation and a starting lineup that starts all upperclassmen but one — freshman Kamar Baldwin — Butler doesn’t lack for experience. The Bulldogs played like a team that doesn’t easily rattle tonight, taking every punch that Middle Tennessee threw at them and combating it with a key play or basket. The Blue Raiders made several short runs, but Butler and its bevy of veterans always had a counter.
  3. Antwain Johnson was the best player on the floor. Despite the loss, Antwain Johnson put together an outstanding effort tonight. Without getting big games from its three best players except for JaCorey Williams, Johnson kept the Blue Raiders in the game with his ability to get to the basket and attack from the mid-range. It was almost enough to offset a goose egg in the scoring column from Giddy Potts.

Star of the Game. Kelan Martin gets most of his recognition for being Butler’s best offensive player. He contributed a team-high 19 points today, grabbing six rebounds and dishing four assists to boot. He also did a quality job in guarding both Williams and Reggie Upshaw. The junior was mostly quiet in the First Round, so getting more games from him like this one bodes well for the rest of the NCAA Tournament.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Xavier 91, #3 Florida State 66

Posted by Walker Carey on March 18th, 2017

Rush the Court is providing NCAA Tournament coverage from start to finish over the next three weeks.

Xavier Did What Xavier Does in the Postseason (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Xavier’s outside shooting was incredible. There are games when teams just catch fire from the outside and an opponent can do nothing to stop it. That occurred tonight with Xavier, as the Musketeers finished the game hitting a scorching 64.7 percent from the three-point line. What made this performance so impactful is that it was not just one guy who caught fire — the entire team contributed. Five different Musketeers connected from long range with reserve freshman forward Kaiser Gates leading the way with four conversions. Xavier’s marksmanship thus far in the NCAA Tournament — 50 percent through two games — is completely unexpected, as the Musketeers finished the regular season ranked 211th nationally at just 33.0 percent. It will be interesting to see if Xavier is able to keep up the hot shooting next week in San Jose.
  2. Florida State’s performance left plenty to be desired. Las Vegas made Florida State a 7.5-point favorite entering tonight’s game with good reason. The Seminoles have legitimate NBA talent across the roster in guards Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, along with forward Jonathan Isaac. Having that kind of talent advantage did not do them any good, though, as Xavier dominated the game for the entire 40 minutes. Florida State looked ill-prepared on both ends of the court, as it took bad shot after bad shot on one end and allowed the Musketeers open looks on the other. It also seems dumbfounding how the Seminoles have a player like Isaac — currently projected to be the ninth pick in this summer’s NBA Draft — manage only seven shot attempts. Florida State was a bit on an enigma for the entire season, and many doubted its ability win away from Tallahassee, so losing in blowout fashion to a #11 seed proves that those concerns had merit.
  3. Xavier’s chance in the Sweet Sixteen should not be discounted. A lesson the NCAA Tournament has taught college basketball fans since its inception is to never discount a hot team. Right now, despite being an overlooked #11 seed that lost six of its last seven regular season games, the Musketeers certainly qualify. Bluiett has been excellent in the NCAA Tournament, while supporting players such as guard J.P. Macura and forwards Tyrique Jones and Sean O’Mara have provided terrific complementary performances. Chris Mack has shown time and time again that he should be considered among the country’s best tacticians, and despite losing point guard Edmond Sumner for the season in late January, his team regrouped and found a way to advance to the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend.

Player of the Game. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier. The junior forward turned in another star performance in the victory, finishing the night with 29 points on a very efficient 8-of-14 shooting. Bluiett’s length in Xavier’s 2-3 zone also bothered Florida State’s offense all night, which aided with the Seminoles only shooting 40 percent for the game. Bluiett has been a standout player for much of his career at Xavier, but he has taken his game to another level in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Gonzaga 79, #8 Northwestern 73

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 18th, 2017

Ultimately, Gonzaga did just enough today in Salt Lake City to survive and advance.  A dominant first half bought enough equity for the Zags to withstand a furious and relentless Northwestern comeback attempt that ended with some officiating controversy.

No Matter Your Opinion of the Call, Gonzaga is Moving On (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Playing less than a 40-minute game is playing with fire. Gonzaga was in total control of this game at halftime, but then came out and had very little second half answer for a Northwestern team that went all-in on trapping its posts and cheating into the passing lanes. In the second 20 minutes, the Bulldogs committed a staggering 11 turnovers and allowed 17 points off those miscues. On the other end of the floor, the Wildcats shot 50 percent from the field in the second half and posted an offensive efficiency of 129.3. As the competition level increases in coming games, Gonzaga is going to need to bring a lot more if it’s going to be as happy at the end of the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend as it is right now.
  2. Gonzaga’s frontcourt isn’t just big, it’s deep. Everyone knows about Przemek Karnowski inside but freshman center Zach Collins carried the Bulldogs in the second half, scoring 12 points on 3-of-3 shooting and 6-of-8 from the line. He regularly absorbed triple-teams and still scored, showing a great touch and an ability to finish off screen-roll dives. He wasn’t alone, however. Fellow freshman Killian Tillie also had a solid eight points, combining for 10 rebounds and five blocks on the afternoon.
  3. Officiating needs to improve significantly in the second weekend. In a game that had 150 possessions, it’s a tough case to convincingly make that a single call or play was the difference between winning and losing the game. That said, the blown goaltending combined with the subsequent technical foul on Chris Collins really diminished what was shaping up to be a legendary finish. The officiating from the notorious Pac-12 crew left much to be desired, and blowing that call — if it didn’t decide the game — at least, significantly impacted the game. Northwestern was deprived of an opportunity, and that should never happen simply because of an egregious mistake by the officials.

Star of the Game. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga. The WCC Player of the Year was the best player on the court today, blitzing Northwestern to the tune of 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists in addition to hitting a cold-blooded three to silence Wildcat fans during one of their second half runs. He can score from every spot on the floor; he is an active participant in the rebounding effort; and he’s got plenty of moxie.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Wisconsin 65, #1 Villanova 62

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 18th, 2017

In this NCAA Tournament’s first major upset, #1 overall seed Villanova fell to #8 Wisconsin in a tough, back-and-forth game decided in the closing seconds.

Greg Gard’s veteran group is back in the Sweet Sixteen. (M.P. King, State Journal)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Wisconsin showed serious grit. In control for the opening 20 minutes, Wisconsin surrendered its narrow lead midway through the second half before falling behind 57-50 with 5:31 remaining. Its defense, which had been so excellent for most of the game (“They’re good defensively… we’re trying to figure it out,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said at halftime), let off the pedal to some extent. Meanwhile, two of the Badgers’ best players — Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ — were saddled with foul trouble. Things began to look dire. So how did Greg Gard’s group respond? By preventing the reigning National Champion from making a single field goal from there on out. It was a tough, gritty performance by Wisconsin — perhaps one you’d expect from a team led by tested seniors.
  2. Remember Nigel Hayes? He’s still really good. Once considered a National Player of the Year candidate, Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes took a back seat this season to frontcourt mate Ethan Happ, who earned Second Team All-America honors. But Happ, along with point guard Bronson Koenig, were both forced to sit the bench for far longer than expected on Saturday. The sophomore picked up his third foul early in the second half; Koenig picked us his fourth with 13:40 remaining. That’s when Hayes stepped up. The 6’8″ senior scored 14 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, including the game-winning bucket with 14 seconds left. He also grabbed five offensive rebounds and was extremely active on defense. In a game that lacked much rhythm, Hayes provided a confidence and consistency that carried the Badgers to the Sweet Sixteen.
  3. Villanova never hit its stride this Tournament. The reigning National Champion was dominant for much of the regular season, slicing and dicing opponents with its tremendous ball movement and lockdown capabilities on the defensive end. But that team, the dominant one, never made it to Buffalo. After a lethargic effort against #16 Mount St. Mary’s on Thursday, Villanova put forth another sluggish, uneven effort on Saturday. This time, however — against a more evenly-matched opponent — the Wildcats weren’t able to skate by on talent alone. Big East Player of the Year Josh Hart played well (19 points), but it wasn’t enough against a tough, defensive-minded team like Wisconsin.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 West Virginia 83, #5 Notre Dame 71

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 18th, 2017

West Virginia relied on timely shooting and aggressive defense (per usual) to reach its second Sweet Sixteen in the last three years.

West Virginia is headed to San Jose next week. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. No one is immune to Press Virginia. Notre Dame entered Saturday with the best offensive turnover rate in the country, a testament to its stable of seasoned ball-handlers and deliberate approach. Faced with West Virginia’s relentless, bruising defensive pressure, though, the Irish struggled just as so many of the Mountaineers’ opponents have this season. Mike Brey’s veteran club suffered 10 turnovers in the first half alone, unable to find any offensive rhythm and surrendering easy baskets on the other end. West Virginia — which forces turnovers at a higher rate than any other team in college hoops — jumped out to a 10-0 lead to start the game and never really looked back.
  2. The Mountaineers’ offense was pretty great, too. Much of the conversation surrounding West Virginia focuses on its defense, and deservedly so. But if it was defense that gave the Mountaineers’ an initial edge on Saturday, it was the offense that ultimately carried them home. Bob Huggins’ group shot 50 percent from the field, including 8-of-14 from behind the arc and 21-of-26 at the free throw line. Especially great was West Virginia’s interior passing, which enabled Esa Ahmad (11 points), Elijah Macon (11 points), Daxter Miles (18 points), and others to routinely find easy looks at the rim. Oh, and the timely three-point shooting helped — especially from Jevon Carter (4-of-5 3FG), who drilled a clutch triple with 2:30 remaining that helped stick a fork in Notre Dame.
  3. Bonzie Colson was every bit as good as you’d expect. While Notre Dame lost, it wasn’t because Colson didn’t hold his own. The uniquely-built 6’5″ forward scored 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-5 shooting from long range along with eight rebounds. Despite picking up his fourth foul with about nine minutes left in the game, Colson remained effective on the offensive end, enabling the Irish to hang around despite facing a superior opponent. Silver lining for Notre Dame fans? The big man is only a junior, and should enter 2017-18 as a front-runner for ACC Player of the Year.

Player of the Game. Jevon Carter, West Virginia (24 points, 4-of5 3FG). For as outstanding as Colson was, Carter make the biggest difference in this game. The 6’2″ junior, known for his tenacious defense and quick hands (2.6. SPG), knocked down big shot after big shot on Saturday, including a long three-pointer from straight-on midway through the second half and that dagger triple with a few minutes remaining. He couldn’t have picked a better time to match his season-high point total.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 UCLA 97, #14 Kent State 80

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2017

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

Is It Possible For UCLA to Impress and Disappoint in the Same Game? (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. UCLA Will Go As Far as Its Offense Takes It. Note that the title to this blurb doesn’t say defense, which might be the conventional wisdom surrounding the Bruins. No, Steve Alford knows that his team’s defense isn’t going to magically become elite, capable of shutting teams down for long stretches at a time. Lonzo Ball and Aaron Holiday are his only two legitimately decent defenders, and it’s simply too late in the season to change what their teammates can do now. What this means is that if UCLA can continue to put huge numbers on the board — something it is eminently capable of doing, of course — the Bruins will have a very good chance at winning several more games. Kent State is not Kentucky, and certainly defensively-robust Cincinnati will provide a very stiff test on Sunday, but few teams in college basketball can as easily grab a defensive rebound, fire a 50-foot pass upcourt, and quickly convert on the other end. Over and over again. Their half-court game isn’t quite as polished, but it’s certainly effective as well. At the end of the day, UCLA didn’t seem to work very hard in putting together a 97-point, 62.7 percent shooting performance that corresponded to an absurd 1.39 points per possession tonight. So remember this distinction between winning through scoring and winning through defending as the Bruins move forward. They’re only going to win one way.
  2. Lonzo Ball’s Impact. So much has been written about the precocious freshman’s impact that we’re not going to repeat the same things here, but this was the first time we’d seen him play live and the thing that was most striking about him wasn’t the odd release on his shot or his supernatural court vision. It was how he could seemingly go from fast with the ball to a veritable blur with it for extremely short durations — long enough to beat a defender or create just enough space to get to the rim. Bill Walton talked about this talent during last week’s Pac-12 Tournament, and because he doesn’t look like an elite-level athlete, it seems to come out of nowhere. Looks can be deceiving. Oh, and he had a nice all-around game, with 15 points, four rebounds and three assists to support a 158.0 Offensive Rating.
  3. Kent State Challenged the Bruins. Kent State showed up in Sacramento and really only looked jittery for the first 10 minutes of the game. Once the Golden Flashes realized that they could actually score on the Bruins, they took it right at them — especially Jimmy Hall (20 points, 15 rebounds) inside. There were a few mini-runs that got Kent State back within a workable margin in the second half, but UCLA had an answer every time that happened. This relates to the first point above — if a team wants to beat UCLA, it’s going to have to be able to knock down shots No cold shooting nights. No missed layups and five-minute droughts. With this UCLA team, a five-point deficit becomes 15 very, very quickly. Kent State simply couldn’t keep up with the Bruins tonight, and nobody would blame the Golden Flashes for that. They acquitted themselves well here as the MAC champion.

Star of the Game. TJ Leaf, UCLA. Leaf put together a strong game of 23 points and six rebounds tonight in a game where there were once again several offensive stars for the Bruins. The wily freshman is one of the unsung heroes for UCLA this season, but he continues to show his value in working around the rim for easy run-stopping buckets.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 South Carolina 93, #10 Marquette 73

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 17th, 2017

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

Frank Martin leads South Carolina to its first NCAA Tourney win since 1973.
(thestate.com)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. In the match-up of great offense (Marquette) and great defense (South Carolina), something had to give. Sparked by a decided home crowd advantage — unusual for a #7 seed — the Gamecocks’ defense was more than up to the challenge tonight. Although the Marquette shooters were able to shake free for numerous threes, South Carolina got the job done in other areas, harassing the Golden Eagles into 18 turnovers and limiting them to only six offensive rebounds. In the end, Marquette scored nine points below its season average, while South Carolina scored an incredible 54 points after intermission.
  2. Marquette showed why it’s one of the most dangerous three-pointing shooting teams in the country. The Golden Eagles controlled most of the first half by hurting South Carolina from behind the arc. The nation’s best three-point shooting team made 8-of-16 in the first half and 11 of their first 22 for the game. But the Gamecocks’ relentless pressure eventually wore down their shooters, causing the Golden Eagles to misfire on their last five long-range attempts.
  3. South Carolina kept Marquette off the free throw line. Throughout his coaching career, Frank Martin’s teams have been known for their aggressive defense. Unfortunately that often results in a lot of trips to the free throw line for the opposition. Tonight the Gamecocks were able to play hard defensively without fouling, an especially important factor considering Marquette shoots 78 percent from the stripe. For the game, South Carolina only committed 13 fouls (eight under its season average) and Marquette as a result went 12-of-14 from the line.

Player of the Game. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina. The 6’5″ senior forward was easily the best player on the floor tonight, scoring a game-high 29 points in a superb all-around effort. Thornwell also led all players with 11 rebounds, blocked two shots and collected three steals. Read the rest of this entry »

Rushed Reactions: #9 Michigan State 78, #8 Miami (FL) 58

Posted by Chris Stone on March 17th, 2017

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

Miles Bridges led Michigan State into the Round of 32. (AP)

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. This was a different Michigan State team. The Spartans came into their meeting with Miami tonight as a slight underdog and 42nd-best team in KenPom. They had lost three of their last four games and for the most part had put together a disappointing season. During the Big Ten Tournament, however, head coach Tom Izzo made it clear that some of those struggles related to growing pains with his freshmen. Well, something flipped on Friday as Michigan State dominated the Hurricanes for much of the contest. The Spartans scored 1.24 points per possession, stifled Miami’s best offensive pieces, and set up an exciting matchup with Kansas in Sunday’s Round of 32. Izzo also moved to a 14-10 record as the lower seed in the NCAA Tournament.
  2. The Spartans did well to weather the early storm. Michigan State didn’t dominate the entire contest. In fact, for a while, it looked like the Spartans were going to get run off the floor by Miami. The Hurricanes opened the game by bounding out to a 10-0 lead before Michigan State closed the first half on a 38-17 run where it scored 1.23 points per possession. Miami was dogged by turnovers and gave up six offensive rebounds during the half. For the Spartans to weather such a storm while largely relying on the composure of freshmen was extremely impressive.
  3. Nick Ward powered Michigan State. Freshman forward Nick Ward has become a stabilizing presence on Izzo’s interior. When the Spartans need to find a bucket in a one-on-one situation, it’s easy for them to dump it down low to the 6’8″ forward and let him go to work. Ward put it all together against Miami tonight, scoring 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the field and grabbing three offensive rebounds. Ward’s performance was symptomatic of a larger issue for the Hurricanes as Michigan State managed to shoot 72.7 percent on its two-pointers in the contest.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 87, #15 Troy 65

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 17th, 2017

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

Jayson Tatum was excellent on both ends of the floor in his first NCAA Tourney game.
(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. When they are hitting their threes this Duke team is almost impossible to guard. The Blue Devils came out on fire from deep – hitting 10-of-17 threes in the first half. And it wasn’t just one guy going off. Grayson Allen hit all three of his attempts from distance before half time, but four others connected as well. For the game, Duke went 13-for-28 from behind the arc and that was the difference in the game. That enabled the Blue Devils to overcome an off night by Luke Kennard  —  eight points on 3-of-12 shooting — and a deficit (-2) in points-in-the-paint.
  2. Troy is a good offensive basketball team. On the season, the Trojans are among KenPom’s top-75 in adjusted offensive efficiency and they showed us why tonight. After showing initial jitters–five turnovers in its first eight possessions–Troy settled down about halfway through the first half. After trailing by 15 early, the Trojans calmed down and ran their offense well–hitting five straight shots during one stretch–to close to within seven before Duke spurted again. In the end, Troy couldn’t get enough of its threes to fall as they ended the game shooting 5-for-23 from deep.
  3. Defensive consistency is still a concern for the Blue Devils. There were several stretches in the game where the Trojans scoring rather easily, particularly on the interior. That remains the biggest question for Duke going forward. Good offensive teams often have their way with Duke in the paint. Harry Giles did not build upon his impressive performance last week at the ACC Tournament as he was scoreless and committed two fouls in four first half minutes. For Duke to survive off-shooting nights in the future, they will need more from him.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 100, #16 UC Davis 62

Posted by Chris Stone on March 17th, 2017

Rush the Court will be covering the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks. 

Kansas advanced easily in Josh Jackson’s return to the court. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. UC Davis was just totally overmatched. Not every matchup between a #1 seed and a #16 seed is a complete snoozer, but this game most definitely was. Kansas was significantly better than the Aggies tonight and it showed just about everywhere on the floor, as UC Davis looked like the team that entered the NCAA Tournament with the worst KenPom ranking of any club in the field of 68. After an early flurry of offensive fouls called on the Jayhawks, the better team settled in, moved the ball around, and picked apart the Aggies’ defense.
  2. Josh Jackson is back. The freshman has been mired in off-court controversy over the last month — and was suspended for the Jayhawks’ opening round loss in the Big 12 Tournament — but the freshman came back in a big way tonight. Jackson put together an all-around game, delivering 17 points and seven rebounds and showing the versatility that Kansas needs if it hopes to make a deep run. Few teams in the field have an equal who can match Jackson’s combination of competitiveness and athleticism.
  3. The game took a cruel turn after Jim Les’ technical foul. UC Davis was actually keeping it close for a while in the first half before things took an ugly turn when the Aggies’ head coach picked up a technical foul while arguing with an official. Ahead by only two at the time, the Jayhawks then went on a 27-7 run run to close out the half that featured plenty of alley-oops and threes. The run may have happened even without Les picking up the violation, but the four-point possession that resulted from the ensuing free throws and another pair from Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk certainly didn’t help matters.

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