Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 81, #9 Alabama 58

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2018

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

Three Key Takeaways.

Villanova Ran Through Alabama Like a Freight Train This Afternoon (USA Today Images)

  1. Donte DiVincenzo was the story of the first half. Villanova’s first half did not go as planned. Both Jalen Brunson and Omari Spellman spent more than 10 minutes of the opening stanza relegated to the bench because of foul trouble. Star swingman Mikal Bridges struggled to get anything going in the first 20 minutes, totaling just a single point on an 0-for-5 shooting performance. But amazingly, the Wildcats still held a five-point halftime lead. That advantage was largely because of an incredible first half performance from sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo. The versatile wing tallied 18 of Villanova’s 32 first half points and did so on an impressive 6-of-10 (5-of-9 3FG) shooting performance. DiVincenzo is the Wildcats’ top reserve who often plays starter minutes, so today’s performance did not come completely out of nowhere, but today’s game could have had a much different result if DiVincenzo had not been so brilliant in the early going.
  2. Mikal Bridges was the story of the second half. Bridges certainly struggled in the first 20 minutes of the game. The junior forward could not get any of his shot attempts to fall and it appeared like he was having trouble getting acclimated to the Alabama defense. That all changed very quickly when the second half commenced. The Wildcats ripped off an 18-1 run to open the stanza, with Bridges scoring 16 of those 18 points. He was effective in utilizing his athleticism to get open and he was burying jumpers over the oncoming Alabama defenders with remarkable ease. All in all, Bridges finished the second half with 22 points on 7-of-9 shooting. It was an incredible performance after what was a forgettable first half, and it propelled Villanova easily into the Sweet Sixteen.
  3. Villanova will not lose if it plays like it did in the second half. Considering what happened in Charlotte last night with Virginia and UMBC, it is difficult to make any surefire predictions about this tournament. However, it is pretty safe to say Villanova will not fall victim to the upset bug if it turns in four more performances like this afternoon’s second half effort. The Wildcats were sharp defensively, holding Alabama to just 36 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes, and they were probably better offensively. The ball moved incredibly well, leading to a number of open looks that Villanova buried with ease while building its insurmountable lead. It was truly a fantastic performance. It will be interesting to see if it will carry over to Boston next weekend.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Alabama 86, #8 Virginia Tech 83

Posted by Walker Carey on March 16th, 2018

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

Three Key Takeaways.

Alabama is a Dangerous Squad (USA Today Images)

  1. Virginia Tech missed an opportunity in the first half. Virginia Tech led by two points at halftime but that thin lead represented a missed opportunity for the Hokies. They had shot 68 percent from the field and 78 percent from the three-point line but they couldn’t get stops on the other end to build any kind of meaningful lead. Alabama on its own right shot 59.3 percent from the field and 50 percent from three in the period – and the Crimson Tide are a team that gets more dangerous as it builds confidence. That confidence allowed Alabama to stay hot in the second half while Virginia Tech regressed. The Hokies have to be kicking themselves for not getting after it more on the defensive end in the first half when they had their chance.
  2. Alabama’s talented freshmen showed out spectacularly. The Crimson Tide received massive contributions tonight from star freshman guard Collin Sexton and reserve freshman swingman John Petty. Sexton provided the energy and attitude Alabama needed all night long, finishing with a game-high 25 points and dishing out a team-high six assists. Petty came off the Crimson Tide bench and knocked down six of his eight three-point attempts on his way to totaling 20 points. Everyone knows the old adage about experience being the most valuable asset in the NCAA Tournament but Alabama seems to be doing just fine with its freshmen leading the way.
  3. How far can Collin Sexton take the Crimson Tide? There have been several examples of lead guards taking their teams deep into the bracket over the years. Collin Sexton certainly fits that mold, as he has the skills and presence to take Alabama to unprecedented heights. Sexton’s next test will not be easy, though, as the Crimson Tide will face top-seeded Villanova on Saturday. That game will present a difficult individual challenge for Sexton in matching up with Villanova All-American point guard Jalen Brunson. There is still quite a bit of basketball to be played prior to Saturday, but college basketball fans should mark Villanova vs. Alabama in the early afternoon slot as appointment viewing.

Player of the Game. Collin Sexton, Alabama. It has to be Sexton. Without the services of its star freshman, Alabama would have lost by 20 or more points. He is the engine that drives the Crimson Tide, and he went well tonight, finishing with 25 points and six assists.

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What’s Trending: Championship Week 2018

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 12th, 2018

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

The week began with CBS Sports and Turner Sports announcing a new format for revealing the NCAA Tournament. The new Selection Show process included having all 68 teams being revealed as automatic or at-large qualifiers prior to learning where they fit in the bracket.

How did people take the news of the new Selection Show format? Well, let’s just say the NCAA came up well short in terms of public opinion…

Championship Week began with a memorable moment at the end of Fairfield vs. Iona in the MAAC Conference Tournament…

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SEC Tournament Storylines

Posted by David Changas on March 8th, 2018

With the play-in round now complete, the SEC Tournament will begins in earnest this afternoon in St. Louis. The story that is dominating the headlines for the event is the return of Missouri freshman star Michael Porter, Jr., who is expected to play against Georgia today. Let’s take a look at a few of the other lingering storylines and make a couple of predictions for this weekend.

Mike White and Florida have gotten hot at the right time and may be the team to beat in St. Louis (Madison.com)

  • Team with the Most to Gain: Alabama. The SEC bubble appears to be generally settled, with one notable exception. Alabama has slumped down the stretch, losing its final five games to go from a relatively safe bet to potentially on the outside looking in. If Avery Johnson’s team cannot get past Texas A&M later today in a rematch of a game the Crimson Tide lost by two over the weekend, they are likely headed to the NIT. On the other hand, a win against the Aggies would give the Tide another shot at a quality win against Auburn in Friday’s quarterfinals. If they turn out to be unable to emerge from this weekend’s tournament with an enhanced resume and end up completely missing the NCAA Tournament, this season will be nothing short of a monumental disappointment.
  • Player to Watch: Michael Porter, Jr. This is an easy call. No one realistically expected the preseason All-American to return after suffering an injury in Missouri’s very first game of the season, but now he is set to enhance a team looking to immediately improve its postseason position. Porter can help a team that has enjoyed a nice turnaround under first-year head coach Cuonzo Martin, finishing 10-8 in SEC play. The more action the young forward can get as Missouri prepares for the Big Dance, the better — returning from a nearly four-month layoff is never easy. The fact that he returns to the Tigers’ lineup with the SEC Tournament being played just down the road in St. Louis makes this story all the more intriguing.

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Examining the SEC Bubble: Volume I

Posted by David Changas on February 8th, 2018

With just over a month remaining in college basketball’s regular season, the SEC is collectively better positioned for postseason play than it has been in a very long time. But as of today, only two teams – Auburn and Tennessee – should feel completely comfortable about making the upcoming Field of 68. On the other end of the spectrum, barring any unforeseeable late-season surges, we feel safe in saying that four SEC teams – Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, South Carolina, and LSU – will miss out on this year’s Big Dance. That leaves eight teams in the messy middle, so let’s take our first look at the otherwise crowded bubble and offer some predictions on the fortunes of those squads.

Kassius Robertson has been a huge part of Missouri’s turnaround. (Kansas City Star)

  • Kentucky. Despite the considerable angst in Lexington about these Wildcats — now 6-5 in SEC play with trips to Texas A&M and Auburn upcoming — they appear to be safe, for now. They have 10 top-100 RPI wins without any bad losses, and there will be several more opportunities for quality wins down the stretch. Chances of making the field: 90%.
  • Florida. The up-and-down Gators are a surprise on this list, and not in a good way. At 15-8 overall, they’ve now lost three in a row in SEC play and face a very difficult closing stretch. While they currently have seven top-50 RPI wins, four Tier-2 losses mean Mike White’s team needs to take advantage of its chances over the last two weeks. Chances of making the field: 85%.
  • Texas A&M. After what was the best performance of any SEC team in non-conference play, it is hard to understand how the Aggies have landed on this list. An 0-5 start in conference play will certainly do that, however, and even though they have won five of their last six SEC games and hold five Tier-1 wins, the Aggies have more work ahead. Chances of making the field: 80%.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Welcome to Conference Play!

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 30th, 2017

As 2017 comes to a close, conference play gets underway all across the country. Here are 10 questions for a busy weekend of conference games.

Is Arizona Turning the Corner on This Season (USA Today Images)?

  1. Can Arizona State beat Arizona? Arizona State is winless in seven trips to the McKale Center since 2011, and a defensive efficiency that ranks outside of the top 100 this year certainly gives Bobby Hurley reason for concern. Still, in their one true road game at Kansas, the Sun Devils won despite allowing the Jayhawks to shoot a robust 62.1 percent inside the arc. While Arizona State ranks second in the nation in free throw rate, the Pac-12 last year logged the lowest such metric among all 32 conferences during conference play.
  2. Is TCU’s Big 12 opener a must-win game? TCU opens conference play against Oklahoma this afternoon, and that game is followed by a trip to Baylor and a home game against Kansas. TCU could potentially be looking at an 0-3 start with a back-to-back at Texas and Oklahoma looming. The Horned Frogs’ non-conference perfection could very quickly turn into a conference disaster given the next couple weeks’ schedule. TCU should expect to see Sooners’ wunderkind Trae Young put up huge numbers — the freshman is averaging 31.4 PPG and 10.8 APG in his last eight games — but they must also find a way to slow down the accompanying pair of Christian James and Brady Manek. The duo have combined for 30 or more points in each of Oklahoma’s last four games.
  3. What must Villanova do to avenge a pair of losses to Butler from last season? Villanova was 14-0 last season before losing at Butler. While Jalen Brunson had games of 23 and 24 points against the Bulldogs, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo only combined to score a measly 14 points in 120 minutes of action. After scoring just 20 or more points once last season, Bridges has reached that mark six times this season and he will need to do so again to ensure a Villanova victory.
  4. Duke vs. Florida State: Which strength wins out? Duke comes into this weekend’s game against the Seminoles ranked as the most efficient offense in college basketball. The Blue Devils match up against a Florida State defense that ranks among the top 20 in efficiency, opponents’ effective field goal percentage and three-point defense. In two games against the Seminoles last season, Duke guard Grayson Allen contributed only 11 total points in a split of the two games.  Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Questions to Consider: Hall of Fame Classic Tips Off Weekend Action

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 8th, 2017

The best way to start a weekend of college basketball is by having a quality triple-header on Friday night, and the Hall of Fame Classic in Los Angeles will deliver that to us.

Trae Young Headlines a Strong Group of Teams in Los Angeles Tonight

  1. Which will prevail — good offense or good defense? The Hall of Fame Classic begins this evening with a match-up between St. John’s and Arizona State. Arizona State is ranked among the top 20 nationally in offensive efficiency, three-point percentage, and two-point percentage, while St. John’s ranks among the top 20 in effective field-goal defense, turnover, block and steal rates. In their one loss, the Red Storm allowed Missouri to shoot 51 percent from distance and gave up 26 free throws.
  2. Can USC end its losing streak? The second game from the Staples Center tonight features a pair of interesting teams in Oklahoma and USC. After starting the season 4-0, USC has dropped its last two games. One area that has let the Trojans down is fairly simple — shooting the ball. In its first four games, USC shot 41 percent from beyond the arc; in losses to Texas A&M and SMU, USC shot just 27 percent from distance. If the Trojans fail to get a win tonight against Oklahoma, USC’s resume will be devoid of a quality non-conference win.
  3. How will TCU fare with the late tip-off time? Not only does TCU have to prepare for a talented and undefeated Nevada squad, but the tip-off time back home in Fort Worth will be midnight. While TCU has held three opponents to under 30 percent three-point shooting this season, the Horned Frogs tonight face Nevada’s Caleb Martin and Kendall Stephens, a pair of 6’7″ forwards who are each shooting better than 44 percent in high-volume three-point attempts. Read the rest of this entry »
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Crucial Week Ahead for Several O26 At-Large Contenders

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 5th, 2017

For mid-major NCAA Tournament hopefuls, non-conference play offers the only realistic chance to notch marquee, resume-building wins. Teams able to capitalize on those opportunities may put themselves in position for a bid next March even if they stumble during Championship Week. With only a few weeks of non-conference action remaining, let’s examine the important week that lies ahead for a few O26 at-large hopefuls:

Big opportunities lie ahead for Nevada and Rhode Island. (John Byrne, Nevada Wolf Pack Athletics)

  • Gonzaga (7-1) This week: vs. #4 Villanova, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN, Tuesday. With another talented roster and early wins over Texas, Ohio State and #25 Creighton, Gonzaga should be in fine shape to reach its 20th-straight Big Dance, even if it slips up in the the WCC Tournament. Still, tonight’s Jimmy V Classic match-up against #4 Villanova — the best team in college basketball, according to KenPom — offers the Zags an important chance to significantly strengthen its profile. A win over the Wildcats would give Mark Few’s group a neutral court victory against a potential power conference champion. A loss, and Gonzaga — without any match-ups remaining against likely NCAA Tournament teams — will be left hoping those wins over the Longhorns, Buckeyes and Bluejays age well. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that this specific outcome could bump the Bulldogs up or down multiple seed lines come Selection Sunday.

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What’s Trending: Feast Week 2017

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 27th, 2017

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

After some drama with the NCAA entering this season, Alabama‘s Collin Sexton is wasting no time in getting up to speed. Sexton oozes swagger in this end of game sequence against Texas-Arlington…

Speaking of Alabama and Sexton… against Minnesota over the weekend, ejections, injuries and fouls led to the Crimson Tide playing the last quarter of the game 3-on-5.

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SEC Weekend Preview: Opening Night Edition

Posted by David Changas on November 10th, 2017

It has been a long time since there has been so much excitement surrounding the start of SEC basketball. With so many of the league’s football programs struggling and the promise of widespread improvement across the conference on the hardwood — not to mention the specter of an ongoing FBI investigation hanging over a few schools — everyone is ready to start playing. As we open the season at 13 of the SEC’s 14 schools tonight, let’s look ahead to this evening’s most intriguing match-ups:

  • Texas A&M vs. West Virginia – ESPN, 6:00 PM. This is the marquee game of opening night, as the #25 Aggies take on Bob Huggins’ #11 Mountaineers at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. Texas A&M gets an early chance to show that last season’s downturn was a momentary blip on its long-term trajectory, but it will have to do so without potential lottery pick Robert Williams, who is serving a two-game suspension for a violation of university policy. Freshman point guard JJ Caldwell is also suspended for the team’s first five games after an offseason arrest charge that was later dropped. That leaves it up to junior forward Tyler Davis to lead the Aggies in what promises to be a very difficult match-up with a Big 12 heavyweight.

Alabama received the good news that Collin Sexton will return next week against Lipscomb (rolltide.com)

  • Memphis vs. Alabama, 6:30 PM. The Crimson Tide will also get an early test against a rebuilding Memphis team at the Veterans Classic in Annapolis. Although Alabama got news late Thursday that highly acclaimed freshman Collin Sexton will only sit out tonight’s game and can return on Tuesday against Lipscomb, Memphis is a dangerous team to play at less than full strength. Still, this is a major development for Avery Johnson as it appeared earlier in the week that Sexton, a consensus top-10 player in the class of 2017, may not ever suit up for the Tide.

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