Rushed Reaction: #8 Iowa State 77, #9 Connecticut 64

Posted by jstevrtc on March 15th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Pardon Our Cliches… If you watched this game, you saw exactly what we did, in terms of the most important takeaway from this game. Connecticut’s roster oozed with talent. Kentucky fans stuck around for this game because they feared seeing UConn again, and for good reason. UConn had enough NBA talent on that roster to frustrate Kentucky. Both Kentucky- and non-Kentucky fans knew it. It was evident in the Big East tournament last week, even in the close loss to Syracuse. All they needed to play like that is motivation. You would think that, this being the NCAA Tournament and all, motivation would be the last of a talented roster’s problems. So here it comes: Connecticut had more talented individuals. Iowa State, from tip to buzzer, was the better team.
  2. Whither Jim Calhoun? Given his health problems and frequent absences from games this season, will it be back to Storrs next year, or will that loss be how he departs the scene? Twitter buzzed with this question in the dying moments of this game, and the speculation will continue until he puts paid to the question with a definitive statement. And we wouldn’t expect that until after the tournament is over. He would not address the issue in the post-game.
  3. Royce White Won the Key Battle. You would never have thought such a sentence would have ever been written a while back when White made that strange exit from Tubby Smith’s Minnesota squad, but the matchup everyone was watching tonight was White versus (sometimes) whiz-kid Andre Drummond. The latter was virtually non-existent (two points, three rebounds) save for four blocks, and his head was clearly elsewhere all night. White wasn’t exactly himself for the first 30 minutes or so, but took over on both ends of the floor late, just like a leader should. He ended with 15/11 on 6-10 shooting, and a new legion of  believers, we’d say.

Star of the Game. White impressed us with his leadership late in the proceedings, especially when Ryan Boatright shrank the ISU lead down to six with a 5-0 run of his own making. Aside from that, though, the most important part of this game was the opening punch landed by Cyclone guards Scott Christopherson and Chris Allen, outhustling the Huskies’ backcourt, getting into the lane easily, and propelling ISU out to an early 20-point lead. Connecticut never really recovered except for the small run in the second half that amounted to little. Those guards deserve some of the SOTG credit.

Quotable. Jim Calhoun: “They played 40 minutes. We played sporadically.” Completely true. It would be interesting to put some of these Huskies on a polygraph and ask them if they’re just a little bit glad this season is over. We don’t think they totally mind this. Calhoun tried to dilute it by saying, “If Connecticut wins 20-25 games a year and goes to the NCAA Tournament, we’ll always be happy,” but that is not the Connecticut standard. It’s been a tough season, and Calhoun admitted as much, and we think it’s one the program is glad to see the back of.

Sights & Sounds. As mentioned, most Kentucky fans stayed for this one. No question the added fan support was appreciated by Iowa State. We, uh, wouldn’t count on that come Saturday. Great motivational tactic for the Cyclones, right? We can already hear Fred Hoiberg and the ISU coaches whispering in their players’ ears, “They stayed to root for you because they thought you were the weaker team. Make them regret they cheered for you.”

What’s Next? Obviously, Iowa State gets Kentucky in the marquee game on Saturday night. Royce White has the last word, speaking about Kentucky: “You see them every night on ESPN. They have a great team, they’re number one for a reason. Great coach, great tradition, great program there, Kentucky basketball. We’re gonna go back and watch some film, and we’re gonna try and figure out their strengths and weaknesses, just like every other team has tried. I’m sure our coaches will come up with a solid game plan just like they have all year long.” He does not sound intimidated.

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SEC NCAA Tournament Primer: Thursday/Saturday Games

Posted by EMoyer on March 15th, 2012

On Thursday, Kentucky and Vanderbilt open their NCAA Tournament runs facing Western Kentucky and Harvard, respectively. Here we preview the Thursday/Saturday possibilities for the Wildcats and Commodores.

SEC NCAA Tournament Thursday/Saturday Capsules

SOUTH Region 

  • #1 Kentucky: Championship Appearances: 53; Record 107-47; Best Finish: Champion – 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996, 1998; How Qualified: At-Large, SEC; Last Appearance: 2011 – L, National Semifinal
  • #16 Western Kentucky: Championship Appearances: 22; Record 19-22; Best Finish: Third Place – 1971; How Qualified: Automatic Bid, Sun Belt Conference; Last Appearance: 2009 – L, Second Round
  • #8 Iowa State: Championship Appearances: 14; Record 12-13; Best Finish: Final Four  – 1944; How Qualified: At Large, Big 12; Last Appearance: 2005 – L, Second Round
  • #9 Connecticut: Championship Appearances: 47; Record 35-43; Best Finish: Champion – 1999, 2004, 2011; How Qualified: At Large, Big East; Last Appearance: 2011 – Champion
All-Time Meetings
  • Kentucky vs Western Kentucky: Kentucky leads 3-2; Last Meeting: Nov. 15, 2001 (Western Kentucky 64, Kentucky 52)
  • Kentucky vs Iowa State: Kentucky leads 2-0; Last Meeting: Mar. 22, 1992 (Kentucky 106, Iowa State 98)
  • Kentucky vs Connecticut: Connecticut leads 3-1; Last Meeting: April 2, 2011 (Connecticut 56, Kentucky 55)
A Starting 5 of the Top Players Kentucky Could Face
  • Derrick Gordon, Western Kentucky, Fr., G: Gordon has amassed 400 points in his first year as a Hilltopper. Only two freshmen have scored more points in Western Kentucky history (Courtney Lee, 467;  Ralph Crosthwaite, 437). He is on pace to become the first Hilltopper freshman to pace the team in scoring and he will be the first in five years to lead in rebounding.
  • Chris Allen, Iowa State, Sr., G: Allen leads the team with 72 3-point field goals and he has played in the most NCAA Tournament games (14) in this year’s 68-team field. Allen played in two Final Fours for Michigan State (2009, 2010.
  • Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut, So., G: Lamb earned First-Team All-Big East honors and the NABC District I Player of the Year after leading the Huskies in scoring at 17.1 points per game.
  • Royce White, Iowa State, So., F: White is the only player in the nation to lead his team in scoring (13.1), rebounding (9.2), assists (5.1), steals (1.2) and blocks (0.9). He is on the verge of posting top-10 single seasons in assists and rebounds in Cyclone history. He is one of 12 players in the county to post a triple-double this season.
  • Andre Drummond, Connecticut, Fr., C: Drummond has tallied 10 double-doubles this season, a UConn freshman record under Coach Jim Calhoun. He won four Big East Rookie of the Week honors, and leads the team in rebounding (7.7) and blocks (2.7).
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Bracket Prep: South Region Analysis

Posted by KDoyle on March 12th, 2012

Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), South (11 AM), Midwest (2 PM), West (4 PM). Here, Kevin Doyle breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).

You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Kevin breaking down the South Region here.

South Region

Favorite: #1 Kentucky (32-2, 16-0 SEC). Shouldn’t really need much of an explanation here. The most talented team in the nation — unquestionably — the Wildcats will be the odds-on favorite to not just emerge from the South Region, but also to cut down the nets in New Orleans. Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones spearhead a terrifyingly good starting five.

The Length And Athleticism Of Terrence Jones and Kentucky Are Just One Of Many Issues That Teams Face

Should They Falter: #2 Duke (27-6, 13-3 ACC). Austin Rivers does not play like a typical freshman and while Duke has its flaws on defense (perimeter defense, especially), the Blue Devils are more apt to make a run to the Final Four due to their balance on offense. Rivers and Seth Curry are prolific shooters/scorers in the backcourt, while the Plumlee brothers make for a formidable frontcourt. Much of Duke’s success hinges on junior Ryan Kelly’s health (sprained ankle). Kelly, while not a lockdown defender by any means, is 6’11″ and really helps in defending the three-point line for Duke. Even without a healthy Kelly, Duke still has an easier road to the Sweet Sixteen than other contenders in the South Region.

Grossly Overseeded: #11 Colorado (23-11, 11-7 Pac-12). Clearly, the committee thought higher of the Pac-12 than many others did. First, there was much debate whether this power six conference — far from “powerful” this season — would even receive an at-large bid, but they did in California. Secondly, Colorado was not on anybody’s radar prior to the Pac-12 Tournament as it stood at 19-11 with seven losses in conference play. Yet, winning the conference tournament propelled Colorado to a very respectable seed at #11. Many prognosticators had the Buffaloes at a #13 seed going into Selection Sunday.

Grossly Underseeded: #14 South Dakota State (27-7, 15-3 Summit). It is too big of a stretch to say that South Dakota State is “grossly” underseeded, but I do believe they were worthy of a #13 seed. When comparing the Jackrabbits to the #13 seed in this region, their resume is every bit as good, if not better, than New Mexico State: SDSU has a better overall record, higher RPI, more wins against the Top 100 RPI, and a more challenging non-conference schedule. Not to mention South Dakota State’s thrashing of Washington 92-73, even though the Huskies are not a Tournament team, is very impressive.

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Four Thoughts: Connecticut vs. West Virginia Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 7th, 2012

Game recaps are boring. If you want to read them, search your local newspaper or the Associated Press. With the Big East Tournament upon us, we figured we would try to offer four thoughts about several of the key games throughout the week.

1. In a season marked by inconsistency, the good Shabazz Napier showed up for UConn down the stretch.

Shabazz Napier Stepped Up When His Team Needed Him Most

With the Huskies trailing West Virginia 55-48 with just under seven minutes left to play, Napier took matters into his own hands and pretty much ensured that his team would be dancing later this month. The streaky sophomore had a hand in all but two of the team’s final 15 points, scoring nine points in a row at one point to go with three assists and two steals as the Huskies fought back to send the game into overtime. If you want to nitpick, his three-pointer at the end of regulation was a questionable decision and he did foul out rather quickly in overtime. But his final line (26 points, six assists, four rebounds, three steals, and three blocks) showed just how large of an impact he made in every facet of the game. Jeremy Lamb carried the team offensively in the first half while Napier struggled to find his groove, but when they needed him the most, Napier put the team on his back and carried them into the quarterfinals.

2. If this was the last game of Kevin Jones’ college career, his teammates owe him a fruit basket.

While Napier used the final seven minutes of the game to show off his wide array of skills, West Virginia used the final seven minutes of the game to basically forget that they had the conference’s best player on their team. Jones’ last points of the game came on two free throws with a little more than six minutes to play. From that point on, including the overtime period, Jones attempted just three field goals — including zero in the last six minutes of regulation — and missed all of them.  For the first 30 minutes of this game, Jones showed off why he probably should have been the conference’s player of the year. He abused whomever the Huskies put on him, scored at will, and despite his disappearing act, finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds. It is an absolute shame that his teammates didn’t make more of a concerted effort to get him the ball down the stretch and if the Mountaineers end up on the outside of the bubble looking in, it will have been a disappointing end to an incredible season and career.

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Four Thoughts: Connecticut v. DePaul Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 6th, 2012

Game recaps are boring. If you want to read them, search your local newspaper or the Associated Press. With the Big East Tournament upon us, we figured we would try to offer four thoughts about every game that is played… emphasis on “try.” 

Jim Calhoun Is Back On The Bench And He Has The Huskies Playing Well.

  1. Connecticut took care of business. Beating DePaul isn’t going to help the Huskies’ tournament chances very much, but losing to the Blue Demons would have almost certainly been a catastrophe. Luckily, the team — and especially Jeremy Lamb — came out firing on all cylinders, built a 13-point lead at halftime, and coasted to victory from there. Lamb was superb in the first half and finished the game with 25 points and four assists, and the offense that was non-existent in the last few weeks returned as the Huskies shot 46. 3% from the field. The victory sets up what many are calling a de facto play-in game with West Virginia tomorrow at noon.
  2. The return of Jim Calhoun has energized a team in need of a pick-me-up. With Calhoun back on the bench for the first time since his spinal surgery, UConn handled Pittsburgh in its regular season finale on Saturday. After the game, freshman point guard Ryan Boatright told reporters, “It was just a whole `nother vibe with him back on the sidelines.” Well it looked that way again this afternoon. Neither the Panthers nor the Blue Demons have been particularly competitive this season, but Calhoun’s brave comeback, his perseverance, and his leadership is exactly what the doctor ordered for a team that looked timid and uninspired as the season came to a close. They were efficient on offense and held DePaul to just 27.4% from the field. I am not ready to starting drawing comparisons to the run the Huskies made through the Big East Tournament last year because this team is still one week removed from losing to Providence, but they are definitely not the same team they were last week, and Calhoun is a major reason why. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 27th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Temple In Big East Talks: The Big East may have a new all-sport member as early as this fall if the reports are true that the Temple Owls are in discussions about joining the conference.  Adding Temple to the mix would be terrific for Big East basketball. While Syracuse is irreplaceable, you could make an argument that Temple and Memphis offset the departures of West Virginia and Pittsburgh. The enhanced stature of these two programs in the Big East will help fuel recruiting and could easily make them equal to what WVU and Pitt are right now. Temple will make its fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance next month, its 30th in a storied history. The Owls have made two Final Fours and five Elite Eights, better than both Pittsburgh and West Virginia (WVU has two Final Fours, Pitt has one). Memphis has been to more Final Fours and Elite Eights as well, although two were vacated (1985 and 2008). All in all, I’d argue that the Big East hit a grand slam with Temple and Memphis, should this all go through. The league simply couldn’t have done better given the constraints it faced.
  • Punching Your Ticket And Voiding It In The Same Week: One could argue that Seton Hall and Cincinnati punched their NCAA Tournament tickets with wins over Georgetown and Louisville, respectively, last week. However, both squads lost over the weekend (to Rutgers and South Florida), wiping out the good vibes from huge home wins earlier in the week. As of right now, the Pirates and Bearcats are likely still in the Tournament, but in much more precarious positions than before. In late-season college basketball, nothing is ever a sure thing until all the games are played. A team’s status can change at a moment’s notice.  

Syracuse Senior Scoop Jardine Helped Lead The Orange To A Title-Clinching Win Over Connecticut. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (29-1, 16-1) – The men in orange just keep moving right along, picking up two more wins this past week. Finding a way to win is so cliché, but it has been the theme with this group over the last few weeks. Syracuse has moved its record to 29-1 with seven of their nine wins since the loss to Notre Dame coming by ten points or less. In the win over South Florida, Syracuse overcame 35% shooting and a 20-7 Bulls run to start the game by going on a massive 26-0 run that started about midway through the first half and bled deep into the second. Kris Joseph struggled shooting, but Scoop Jardine picked him up by scoring 15 points. Joseph rebounded in a big way with 21 points at Connecticut while Fab Melo added 11 points and nine rebounds. This team has more weapons than any in the nation, allowing the Orange to overcome off nights by some of their key players. More importantly, Syracuse out-rebounded UConn, 39-35. That’s significant because of what the Huskies bring to the table in their front court and Syracuse’s awful rebounding numbers that have persisted throughout the season. With the win at UConn, Syracuse officially clinched the Big East regular season title, something everyone knew was going to happen as early as when the calendar flipped to January. This week: 3/3 vs. #23 Louisville.
  2. Marquette (24-5, 13-3) – There are teams more talented than Marquette out there, but you will not find one with a greater will to win than this bunch of Golden Eagles. You might as well call them their old nickname, the Warriors, because that’s exactly what they are. Jae Crowder made his case for Big East Player of the Year last week in grand fashion, totaling 53 points in two wins over Rutgers and West Virginia. Crowder dominated West Virginia’s Kevin Jones in their head-to-head matchup and may have moved in front of Jones in the POY race in the process. Crowder certainly plays for a better team and that has to enhance his case even more. Despite Buzz Williams suspending Darius Johnson-Odom, Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan for the first half against West Virginia and Todd Mayo for the second half, Marquette rallied yet again to pull out a victory. I don’t understand the half-suspensions. Sit them down for the whole game if you want to make a statement, but that’s beyond the point. The Golden Eagles shot 50% for the game and forced 19 WVU turnovers, helping to offset 16 Mountaineer offensive rebounds. In the win over Rutgers, Marquette forced 21 turnovers and Johnson-Odom added 21 points alongside Crowder’s 27 as the Golden Eagles shot 54% overall. MU can close out the Big East regular season in grand style and finish with a 15-3 record if it takes care of two tough games in the coming week. This team has a legitimate chance to win the Big East Tournament and go deep in the NCAA’s. This week: 2/29 @ Cincinnati, 3/3 vs. #9 Georgetown. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Morning Five: 02.27.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 27th, 2012

  1.  Syracuse clinched the Big East regular season crown this weekend when C.J. Fair blocked a last-second three-pointer by Roscoe Smith and the Orange held on to a 71-69 win over Connecticut. The Huskies’ faithful wanted a foul and they certainly had a legitimate argument, but the referee swallowed his whistle and Syracuse sealed the No. 1 seed in next weekend’s Big East Tournament. Although he was probably outplayed by Andre Drummond, center Fab Melo had the go-ahead putback flush with 31 seconds left and held his own with 11 points and nine rebounds. The loss put a very serious dent in the Huskies’ at-large chances, but it also showed that the Orange aren’t invincible heading into the Big East Tournament. As history has proven many times, the tournament has always been unpredictable. But this year it really seems like any of nine teams could win this thing. Is it next weekend yet?
  2. In a game with plenty of intrigue but very little offense, South Florida edged Cincinnati, 46-45, and put themselves in excellent bubble position in the process. The two teams combined to shoot 37-of-127 from the field, including a whopping 6-of-42 from behind the three-point line. But kudos to freshman point guard Anthony Collins, who led the Bulls in scoring with 14 and drained a pair of game-winning free-throws with 3.2 seconds left. It’s been a vindicating season for South Florida coach Stan Heath for finally putting an NCAA Tournament-worthy team on the court, but this isn’t a time for patting themselves on the back. A win on Wednesday at No. 17 Louisville would go a long way to putting the Bulls on the right side of the bubble for good.
  3. It didn’t take long for Bog Huggins to say what everybody already knew, that he is tired of watching wins that seemed within grasp slowly slip away down the stretch. After letting another double-digit lead slip away against Marquette Friday night, West Virginia will need to make a run in the Big East Tournament if they hope to ensure a spot in the Big Dance. The problem is that the reason WVU has let so many leads evaporate is because they are really young, inexperienced, and incapable of stopping more experienced teams when they bear down. No one exemplifies this better than mercurial freshman Jabarie Hinds. The ultra-quick guard has shown flashes of his vast potential this season, but he has had just as many games like he had Friday when he missed all four shots he took and turned the ball over four times. He doesn’t deserve to be singled out because the problem is a team-wide issue, but that is primarily why Huggins’ streak of NCAA Tournament appearances might be over soon.
  4. If there was one loss over the weekend that really shouldn’t have happened, it was Notre Dame‘s lackluster defeat to St. John’s. Yes, it was a road game, but there is no reason why the Fighting Irish should have shot 4-of-31 from behind the three-point arc, and even then they still had a chance to win the game at the end. There is no doubt Mike Brey has done a terrific job this season and his team has transformed in the past two months right before our very eyes, but it is games like this that give critics the ammunition to discount them. Their NCAA Tournament bid is all but wrapped up, but the going doesn’t get any easier as the Irish will be heading to Washington, D.C., to square off with the Hoyas tonight on national television. They can help quiet those critics if they can rebound against a talented Georgetown team.
  5. The other team that should be kicking themselves this weekend, perhaps even more than Notre Dame, is the Seton Hall Pirates. A win on senior night over Rutgers would have allowed them to breathe a little easier on Selection Sunday, but instead they let Dane Miller run roughshod over their defense and they lost in overtime. Now, their future is murkier, and some think the Pirates will need to win at least one game in the conference tournament if they want to ensure they will be playing in the NCAA Tournament. As Brendon Prunty points out, this was really the first bad loss for Seton Hall, and they might even be headed for the First Four rather than the actual tournament. But, was anyone really surprised? The Pirates have played Jekyll and Hyde basketball all season, and this is no different. They better hope they handle DePaul in their season finale, otherwise they will be in real trouble.
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ATB: NPOY Race Dead Even, Border War Showcases College Hoops, and OSU/Michigan Blow Big Ten…

Posted by rtmsf on February 27th, 2012

This Weekend’s Lede. It was a wild and wonderful college basketball weekend filled with bubble teams fighting for their lives and others maneuvering for seed position. In many of the smaller conferences, the regular season ended and schools are now preparing to begin conference tournament play this week (egads, the Big South begins Monday night!). For most of the power conference teams, though, each game carries more weight than those that came before it, and perhaps nowhere was that more true than in Lawrence, Kansas, on Saturday afternoon. Let’s jump into that game and everything else that went down this weekend…

Your Watercooler Moment. Anthony Davis or Thomas Robinson — Who Ya Got?

T-Rob Won the Weekend, But Will He Win the NPOY? (Topeka CJ/M. Gunnoe)

The National Player of the Year race got even more compelling on Saturday afternoon as the two leading candidates, Kansas’ Thomas Robinson and Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, each made his case through dominant performances in key rivalry games in front of a CBS national television audience. Davis started the day with a near-perfect 10-11 shooting performance against Vanderbilt that included 28 points, 11 rebounds, and six blocks to highlight his candidacy as the most valuable player in America. Robinson finished it with a 28-point, 12-rebound masterpiece of his own that lacked in Davis’ near-perfection (T-Rob shot 10-21 from the field), but more than compensated for it with his timeliness. It was Robinson’s layup (and-one) with 16 seconds left that tied the game with arch-rival Missouri at 75-all, and it was his subsequent rejection of Phil Pressey’s driving shot attempt that sent the game into overtime, where KU outlasted the Tigers, 87-86. Because of Davis and Robinson, both Kentucky and Kansas clinched regular season conference championships, the incredible eighth Big 12 title in a row for the Jayhawks and the 45th SEC title in history for the Wildcats.

We did some crowd-sourcing on Twitter yesterday over this very question and it’s clear that there is no consensus on who the NPOY should be. A common refrain that we heard was that Davis is more valuable defensively than Robinson (probably true) and that should therefore make the difference; conversely, Kansas without Robinson in its lineup may look a lot worse than Kentucky would without Davis on its front line (also probably true). Each player is a certain First Team All-American, but the duo will each have two more games over the next seven days to make their final cases to America — UK vs. Georgia and at Florida, and KU at Oklahoma State and vs. Texas. In a too-close-to-call competition, one particularly good or bad game relative to each other could make all the difference.

Top Storyline. The Border War Showcases College Hoops At Its Best. Given everything that was at stake locally, regionally and nationally in Saturday’s Border War showdown between Missouri and Kansas, the basketball gods cast a fitting tribute to a series that does not deserve to end. The game had just about everything you could ask for except a buzzer-beating game-winner (and let the record reflect that Marcus Denmon’s shot just after the final horn fell into the hole), including All-America performances from players sure to soon be on those lists, a fan environment perhaps unparalleled anywhere else in the sport, and an epic comeback that will no doubt cause glee or consternation for years depending on which side of the Missour/Kansas border you live on. It was just a superb game for any college basketball fan to enjoy, and if Saturday’s masterpiece was indeed the end of the series for a while, it will have to live on through repeated showings of clips such as this one. (note: of course, these games don’t matter)

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Set Your TiVo: 02.24.12 – 02.26.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 24th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Somewhat unbelievably, the second-to-last regular season Saturday is upon us. Plenty of big time and bubble games are on the schedule as the stretch run really heats up.

#3 Missouri @ #4 Kansas – 4:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (*****)

  • The final Border War game promises to be another terrific display of basketball between two top five teams that really don’t care for one another. Missouri won the first meeting between these teams, but to do it again it will have to defend at a higher level. Both teams shot over 50% at Mizzou Arena three weeks ago, but Kansas has been the better defensive team all season long. Now playing at home in virtually impenetrable Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks have to like their chances in this one. Kansas has a huge rebounding and size advantage in the paint with Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey going up against Ricardo Ratliffe. While Ratliffe is a great finisher around the bucket, he was held to six points in the first meeting, limited by foul trouble in only 20 minutes of action. Kansas can neutralize Ratliffe and force Missouri to make shots. Missouri hit 10 threes in the first meeting, led by Marcus Denmon’s six. Kansas will have to tighten up a three point defense that ranks #173 nationally in order to prevent that from happening again.

    Can Denmon & The Tigers Rebound?

  • Denmon’s 29-point effort against Kansas on February 4 lifted him out of a slump and his high level of play has continued since then. Denmon and Kim English have to make shots or else Kansas will have a significant edge in this game. The Jayhawks should be dominant inside with Robinson going against Ratliffe with Withey by his side. Kansas is one of the best teams in the nation in two point percentage. Defensively, Bill Self has to be worried about the three point line. While Kansas is a very efficient defensive team, they can be beaten from the arc. Missouri is certainly a team capable of doing that as it moves the ball well and has a multitude of deep threats lining the perimeter. Frank Haith needs a good game at point guard out of Phil Pressey, otherwise Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor could take over the game quickly as they did against Baylor at the Phog. Taylor has had an outstanding senior season but is vulnerable to turnovers. Look for Missouri to target him defensively in order to prevent him from getting into a rhythm and setting up the Jayhawk offense.
  •  The big question mark here is can Missouri defend at a high level against an elite opponent on the road? The Tigers are last in the Big 12 in three point defense and their overall efficiency rating leaves a lot to be desired. Kansas is going to get its points inside but is not a particularly great outside shooting team. However, Taylor poses a big threat and must be held in check if Missouri is going to beat Kansas in a place where almost nobody wins. Until proven otherwise, we can’t pick against the Jayhawks in such an emotionally charged game as this one.

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College Basketball’s Hits and Misses

Posted by zhayes9 on February 23rd, 2012

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Crystal balls are in full supply every November. We pour through every known statistic to find that overlooked All-American candidate. We criticize the coaches for their preseason picks and condemn the AP poll for overrating Duke. National player of the year rankings are compiled and there’s an inevitable temptation to put some serious coin on that perfect Final Four sleeper at 25/1. It all seems so easy.

Of course, there’s a reason why we don’t all own private islands in the Caribbean. Some of our predictions compare to Nostradamus’ best work while others blow up in our faces. You can’t win them all. For every successful prediction, there’s one you’d like to forget. Here’s a brief rundown of what many considered conventional wisdom before the season and whether those statements turned fall under the category of hits or misses:

Zeller has been spectacular as a freshman

HIT: Cody Zeller is Indiana’s program-changer

The expectations heaped on the broad shoulders of the youngest Zeller were enough to overwhelm even the most talented freshman. His much-publicized pledge was immediately viewed as Tom Crean’s major recruiting breakthrough and a significant step toward Indiana reclaiming old glory. Zeller has exceeded even the most optimistic projections, leading Indiana to two marquee wins over Kentucky and Ohio State and a yearlong spot in the national rankings. The Washington, Ind., native is averaging 15.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and hitting 64 percent of his shots while providing Crean a post presence to counterbalance Indiana’s outside shooters. Zeller’s instant impact has Indiana one year ahead of schedule in their treacherous post-Kelvin Sampson rebuild and, with a star-studded class entering Bloomington for 2012-13, even more national acclaim is in store should Zeller return for a sophomore season.

MISS: Xavier is a final four sleeper

Immediately after Tu Holloway opted for a final year at Xavier over the NBA Draft, the Musketeers were labeled a top-25 shoe-in and popular Final Four pick. After all, Chris Mack’s first two seasons as head coach produced an extraordinary 29-3 conference record and most key contributors were returning for a program that has experienced their fair share of March success in recent years. The story of Xavier’s season hasn’t exactly stayed on course. The Musketeers are 9-9 since that ugly brawl with Cincinnati, Holloway apparently doesn’t enjoy basketball anymore, suspensions and inconsistency have plagued Frease and the once-popular Musketeers may be NIT-bound following their loss Tuesday at UMass.

HIT: Tom Izzo has a team more to his liking

After discarding malcontents from a roster that slipped from number two in the nation to 19-15 overall last season, many prognosticators examined Sparty’s new-look roster and jumped back on the bandwagon. That faith has been rewarded in spades. Draymond Green is a Cleaves-type leader and a surefire All-American. Equally coachable and talented underclassmen Keith Appling and Brendan Dawson are stars in the making. Derrick Nix is finally in shape and Adreian Payne outplayed Jared Sullinger during the team’s statement win over Ohio State. Izzo’s squad is clearly embracing his philosophy of rugged defense, well-executed set plays and an unwavering effort on the boards, ranking second in the nation in defensive efficiency and third in rebound margin. This is a confident team climbing the polls and zeroing in on a Big Ten title and number one seed.

MISS: Andre Drummond is the missing piece to another Connecticut Final Four run

I was covering a high school football game in late August when Andre Drummond stunned the college hoops world and shunned another year of prep school to walk on with the defending national champs. I’ll never forget re-doing my preseason top five on the spot: North Carolina, Kentucky, Connecticut, Ohio State and Syracuse in order. Despite the departure of Kemba Walker, lottery picks Drummond and Jeremy Lamb paired with emerging talents Alex Oriakhi and Shabazz Napier appeared sufficient enough to warrant a spot in the top five. What we neglected to remember was that Drummond was a raw, unseasoned, 18-year old center with no low post moves. It was a considerable step up to the Big East after simply overwhelming all opposition at the high school level. His lackluster 9.9 points per game, 32 percent free throw shooting and on-court chemistry issues with Oriakhi can attest to that. Drummond is still a future lottery pick and defensive menace, but his arrival hasn’t vaulted Connecticut to nearly the heights anticipated on that late summer day he opted to join the Huskies.

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Set Your TiVo: 02.20.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 20th, 2012


Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

One bubble team looks to stop the bleeding just by getting any kind of win while another is in search of the quality win that could put it in the NCAA Tournament. Rankings are subject to change with a new RTC Top 25 coming out today.

Connecticut @ Villanova – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN (***)

  • It is not a good time to be a Connecticut fan. Jim Calhoun is out, the team is average, the chemistry is bad, and the program is facing an NCAA Tournament ban next season. Plus the women’s team lost for the first time in 99 games at home on Saturday! Shabazz Napier called out his teammates after Saturday’s loss to Marquette, UConn’s seventh in nine games. This team’s chemistry is as sour as an expired milk carton and it will take a major turnaround for the Huskies to pull out of this tailspin. To beat Villanova, Connecticut must use its terrific interior defense to make the Wildcats take deep shots. Villanova is not a good three-point shooting team and is highly inefficient overall on the offensive end. Starters Maalik Wayns and James Bell have been injured and it’s not known if they will play. Wayns is listed as questionable while Bell is doubtful. If neither plays, there is no excuse for Connecticut not to win this game. As long as the Huskies can shut down JayVaughn Pinkston and contain Dominic Cheek, they shouldwin. Of course with a team in a situation such as UConn’s, nothing is assured.

    Jim Calhoun Will Not Be Walking Through That Door

  • Villanova blew a 20-point lead and lost in overtime to Notre Dame on Saturday night. The Wildcats played without Wayns and Bell and their first half performance should be a warning shot for UConn. The Wildcats dominated Notre Dame in the first half before folding late. If Wayns can’t go, it will be up to Pinkston and Cheek to do most of the scoring. Pinkston has improved nicely as the year has gone on and Jay Wright isn’t giving up on his team. The Wildcats put a scare into Marquette and Notre Dame while picking up a handful of wins along the way. If Cheek is hitting from the outside, that’ll open things up for Pinkston inside. Pinkston can also stretch the defense and could be able to pull Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi away from the rim where they are vulnerable. Connecticut doesn’t defend the triple well but Villanova doesn’t exactly shoot it well either. If the Wildcats are to win, they’re going to have to make threes.
  • This is about as unpredictable of a game as we have had all year. Connecticut is the better team, but it certainly isn’t playing like it in 2012. The wildcard in this game is Wayns. If he can give it a go, Villanova will have a very good chance to win. If not, Pinkston, Cheek and company will have to duplicate the effort they put forth in the first half of the Notre Dame game and sustain it for 40 minutes. Picking the winner of this game is anyone’s guess.
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Should Meyers Leonard Go Pro After This Season?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 16th, 2012

Uncertainty looms over Assembly Hall in Champaign nowadays as the Fighting Illini lost another game to Purdue on Wednesday night, their seventh loss out of eight games. Will the Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas get rid of Bruce Weber?  Will the Illini make the NCAA tournament?  These are legitimate questions on the minds of the Illini faithful but the biggest question is about their star center, Meyers Leonard’s future: will he come back for his junior season in Champaign? Let’s examine a few non-personal factors that might drive the sophomore’s decision regarding the NBA.

Leonard Has A Tough Decision To Make At The End Of The Season

Why should he leave for the NBA 

  1. You can’t teach 7’1″.” – NBA scouts love to use that cliché. Leonard has all the physical tools to play the center position at the next level. He has shown that he can add muscle over the off-season (added 30 lbs) and certainly has the intensity to hang with the big guys on a nightly basis in the NBA. Averaging eight boards per game isn’t too shabby in the Big Ten, which is known for the physical brand of play. Defensively, he has been a highlight reel during the season as he has swatted balls into the second row of the sidelines, including a game-winning block against Northwestern on the road. Most of the NBA draft boards, such as NBADraft.net have him slated as a potential lottery pick. The scouts will waste no time trying to convince him about going pro after the college season because they might have seen enough for somebody with his physical build. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he has reached his ceiling in the college game, or maybe he did under the current coach.
  2. Bruce Weber will coach Illinois in 2013 – Bruce Weber is not a bad coach because he understands the talented sophomore and his significance to the Illini offense. Even though Leonard could improve on his scoring average from this season of 13.2 points per game, he might have hit the ceiling in Weber’s system. True centers that have the skills to play with the back to their basket don’t shine under Weber’s offensive philosophy. The motion offense under Weber has been designed around guards who can shoot the deep ball. Illinois has been at the bottom of the league for years in terms of free throws per game (only 32.5% in 2012) because most of the offensive plays revolve around screens for the shooters rather than an attacking brand of basketball.  During their recent losing skid, Weber tries to commit to the big man over the first few minutes of the game but during the late minutes, most of the shots end up being away from the paint. Historically, centers that prefer to play in the post such as Shaun Pruitt have been frustrated in Weber’s system. Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale rarely played with their backs to the basket or in the paint because they relied heavily upon the 15-footer from the baseline coming off the pick-and-roll plays. Leonard’s offensive game is more than a baseline jumper or a post move – he is a monster when he attacks the hoop off the picks but Weber has not and will not be able to utilize him better next season unless he adjusts his system. If Leonard comes back for a third year with an improved game, the skills need to be utilized efficiently by the coach otherwise his draft stock won’t improve after another year in college.
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