CIO…the Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2013

CIO header

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic-10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Looking Back

Another Saturday, Another Scalp: Reeling from an inexplicable 10-point loss to Canisius (72-62) on December 19, Temple bounced back with a stunning 83-79 upset of #3 Syracuse, all the more surprising given that it happened in the confines of Syracuse’s “second home”, Madison Square Garden, on December 22. The Orange, notorious for not leaving the state of New York before the start of conference play, were unable to contain Khalif Wyatt and sophomore center Anthony Lee as both scored career-high points. Wyatt, a slasher who can play either guard spot in addition to the small forward was a perfect 15-of-15 from the line on the way to scoring 33 points. Lee was manhandled by Duke’s Mason Plumlee two Saturdays before, schooled fellow Philadelphian Rakeem Christmas and his teammate James Southerland to grab nine rebounds to go with his career-high 21 points. Butler traveled to Nashville the next Saturday and housed the Commodores of Vanderbilt by 19 points, 68-49. The Bulldogs’ backcourt paced the team with 40 points (Rotnei Clarke – 22, Kellen Dunham – 12, Alex Barlow – six) while Khyle Marshall missed a double-double by a single point (nine points and 11 rebounds).

Versus Other Conferences

With nearly 98% of the non-conference schedule on the books (as of January 1), the Atlantic 10 has compiled an outstanding 64.3% winning percentage (126-70). Bettering their 2011-12 winning percentage of 62.6% (107-64), the conference posted a number of superb wins over power conference teams in the process.


The mark is not without a few blemishes, especially with respect to the seven power conferences where the A-10’s conference-wide record declined over their mark last season. Especially disappointing was the conference mark versus the ACC (3-10, 0.231) and Big East (6-11, 0.353). While they continue to dominate against those non-power conferences with whom they share a similar profile (the CAA, Mountain West, Missouri Valley, West Coast Conference, and Western Athletic Conference), the overall record masks losing records versus the Missouri Valley Conference (3-4, 0.429) and the West Coast Conference (1-3, 0.250).

Reader’s Take


Power Rankings

The teams largely wrap up non-conference play over the mid-winter break, with only a few standings-changing games on the last and this week.  Games/records are through January 2.

  1. Butler (9-2, #18 AP) – The defense of 2011-12 is starting to round into form for the Bulldogs. Coach Brad Stevens’ squad has allowed opponents on average 0.93 points per possession in the six (Division I) games since their loss to Illinois on November 21. After five starts, freshman Kellen Dunham returned to his sixth man role and appears to be thriving. If Player of the Year polling commenced today, transfer Rotnei Clarke would garner more than a few votes outside of Indianapolis, but as much as the newcomers (Clarke and Dunham) have sparked the Bulldogs, the contributions of the front court, Roosevelt Jones, Khyle Marshall and Andrew Smith are key. Though not the focal point of the offense, Smith and Marshall are a devastatingly efficient combination, contributing over 1.1 points per possession on offense while hauling in over 12% of the offensive rebounds apiece when they are on the court. Butler will host Penn and New Orleans before opening conference play on the road against Saint Joseph’s (see below) on January 9. Read the rest of this entry »
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Butler at the Turn: Just How Good Are the Bulldogs This Season?

Posted by rtmsf on December 30th, 2012

David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between Butler and Vanderbilt in Nashville.

Butler came into Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt boosting a resume’ that included wins over Marquette and North Carolina in a run to the championship game of the Maui Invitational, and an upset of then top-ranked Indiana in the landmark game of the season on December 15. On the other hand, it included an early-season thrashing from a pedestrian Xavier team, as well as a blowout loss to Illinois in the Maui final. After playing for the national championship in consecutive seasons, coach Brad Stevens’s 2011-12 squad missed the NCAA Tournament in its Horizon League swan song, and as the Bulldogs head into their inaugural run through the Atlantic 10 conference schedule, the question facing them is whether they can be a dominant team in the league, or whether they are merely a team that raises its level of play for big games but is prone to lapses against lesser opponents.  If Saturday’s second-half demolishing of a mediocre Commodores club is any indication, Butler may be the team to beat in the A-10.

Rotnei Clarke and Butler

Rotnei Clarke and Butler Easily Handled the Commodores in the Second Half Last Night

The Bulldogs led just 25-22 at the break, but came out in the second half and blitzed Vanderbilt with an early 19-7 run, riding the hot shooting of senior guard Rotnei Clarke to a 68-49 win. After missing his first six attempts of the game, Clarke went on a torrid run in the latter part of the first half and early part of the second that saw him hit five three-pointers on his way to a game-high 22 points. The Bulldogs’ only other double figure scorer was freshman guard Kellen Dunham, who finished with 12. “When Kellen and Rodney get going, we should win.  Those should be the nights we win,” Stevens said after the game.  Given the performance of his two guards, and the second half run, Stevens had to be pleased that his team took care of an inferior opponent in a hostile road environment.

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Andrew Smith Shows His Importance to Butler’s Long-Term Fortune

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 9th, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC correspondent. He was in Evanston for Butler’s 74-65 victory over Northwestern at Welsh-Ryan Arena Saturday night. You can follow him @ChrisDJohnsonn

The biggest weak spot in Butler’s season body of work entering tonight’s game at Northwestern was a road defeat at Xavier. It was the Bulldogs’ second game of the season, and their only true road test. It was hard to know what to make of that result, mostly because Xavier itself remained something of a mystery. But over the next four weeks, as Butler notched impressive victories over Marquette and North Carolina at the Maui Invitational, and handled three consecutive home tune-ups against Hanover, Ball State and IUPUI, the perception lingered – however faint – that Butler needed to prove itself in a hostile road environment before drawing a long-term prospectus about the Bulldogs’ chances of competing in the new and improved Atlantic 10.

The Bulldogs dominated the paint against Northwestern, with Smith leading the charge en route to his best performance of the season (Photo credit: AP Photo).

Those doubts all but evaporated at Welsh-Ryan Arena Saturday night. Butler showed the poise, savvy and steadfast discipline that’s come to define Brad Stevens’ recent wave of national success. More importantly, it flashed newfound strength on the low block, a physical disadvantage that’s limited Butler in recent seasons against athletically superior teams. Senior center Andrew Smith had scored the ball at an efficient rate through the early part of the season, posting a 114.0 offensive rating and a 55.1% effective field goal percentage, but his usage rate (19.6 percent of available possessions) ranked behind two teammates and his main priorities typically hinged on defense and rebounding. Smith proved Saturday night he’s more than capable of carrying the load offensively. “I thought he played his best game of the year,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said following the Bulldogs’ 74-65 victory in at Welsh-Ryan Arena. “We needed every bit of it.”

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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 8th, 2012

Joe Dzuback of Villanova by the Numbers is the RTC correspondent for the A-10 Conference. You can follow him on Twitter at @vbtnblog

Top Storylines

  • The Best Basketball (Only) Conference in the NCAA? You Bet– With the departure of Temple (to the Big East) and Charlotte (to CUSA), A-10 fans knew the conference would not “make due” with a 12-team configuration. The question was which candidates would match best with the conference profile and mission and not in the chase for football money? The A-10 could afford to focus on candidates with high quality basketball programs, thereby offering regional rivalries to the Midwestern and Washington D.C. metro area members. Virginia Commonwealth and Butler were the logical choices as both have had recent Final Four appearances, are high quality programs, and boast two of the hottest young coaching names in Division I. Both schools accepted and the existing circumstances of member departures and arrivals means that the A-10, with 16 members and an 18-game conference slate, will have a superconference look and feel this season.

    Veteran St. Joseph’s Coach Phil Martelli Has Garnered Plenty Of Media Attention Over The Years. Now Thanks To A New TV Deal, The Entire Atlantic-10 is Going to Get a Dose Of Camera Time (AP)

  • The New TV Deal – The conference announced an eight-year partnership with ESPN, the CBS Sports Network and the NBC Sports Network, worth an estimated $40 million dollars ($5 million per year) to run from 2013-14 through 2021-22. The three media outlets will televise 64 regular season men’s games (CBS and NBC Sports Network will televise 25 apiece and the ESPN outlets will televise 14). These three outlets will divvy the responsibilities for the conference tournament with NBC televising the men’s (and women’s) quarterfinals, CBS televising the men’s (and women’s) semifinal games, and ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU televising the men’s championship game. Though financial details were not disclosed, the conference’s 14 members are expected to collect about $400,000 apiece each season.
  • Brooklyn, Here We Come – A quiet affirmation that the move to lock up the Barclays Center in Brooklyn came with Hurricane Sandy. The superstorm swamped Atlantic City, New Jersey, and the Boardwalk Hall, previous site of the conference’s championship tournament. The Barclays Center has garnered positive reviews for its architecture, facilities and amenities. The brand-new facility will work out the kinks with a number of invitational tournaments (Barclays Center Classic, Coaches vs. Cancer, Legends Classic, Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival and Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational) and be ready to host the conference tournament next March.

Reader’s Take I

Predicted Order of Finish

Signs that the A-10 is in for a wild ride this season are everywhere. CBS Sports’ five basketball experts (Jeff Goodman, Doug Gottlieb, Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander and Jeff Borzello) tabbed four different schools (Butler, Massachusetts, Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth) to take the regular season crown. The A-10 coaches named a fifth school – Saint Joseph’s – at the conference’s Media Day earlier this month. Note that nobody in that group is named Temple or Xavier – the two schools which have passed the regular season crown back-and-forth for the last five seasons.

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Set Your TiVo: 12.20.11

Posted by bmulvihill on December 20th, 2011

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter.  See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

As college hoops finishes up the non-conference season, we get to watch two teams that have transcended their mid-major status, as well as upstart mid-majors battle against the nations blue bloods. With all the holiday shopping going on this time of year, it becomes even more important to Set Your TiVo’s. Let’s get to the action.

Brad Stevens takes Butler into Spokane to face Gonzaga (Indy Star/R. Scheer)

College of Charleston at #11 Louisville – 9:00PM EST on ESPNU HD (***)

  • College of Charleston is off to a 9-1 and is poised to make a run through the Southern Conference. Louisville is a very difficult road test for the Cougars, but it could help them come NCAA Tournament time. Charleston is a very good two-point shooting team, hitting 54.6% from inside the arc. However, Bobby Cremins has his squad taking 40% of its shots from three. That’s a big number for a team that is only shooting 35.8% from downtown. Considering Antwaine Wiggins and Andrew Lawrence are hitting 61.3% and 55% from two, respectively, it will be important for both players to get good shots inside the arc. However, they run into a Louisville defense that is stout against the two-point shot. The Cougars are simply going to have to hit more threes to beat Louisville. Keep an eye on their makes and misses from deep. If they are not hitting early, the Cardinals could get too far out in front for Charleston to catch.
  • With the exception of Ohio and Vanderbilt, Louisville has been mowing opponents down with stellar defense. They rank 4th in the country in defensive efficiency and have only allowed one opponent (Vanderbilt) to shoot over 50% eFG in 10 games. Charleston is one of the better two-point shooting teams in the country, so it will be a good test for the Cardinals. Expect Rick Pitino’s club to own the boards on both ends, as well as create a bunch of turnovers. Keep an eye on how Charleston handles the Louisville defensive pressure. If they look tentative when bringing the ball up court, this one could get out of hand.
  • The game hinges on Charleston’s ability to handle the Louisville defense. The Cardinals will pressure the Cougar ball handlers and try to create baskets off of turnovers. If Charleston can move the ball past the pressure and hit open threes early, they can stay in the game. However, that is a very difficult task against one of the top five defenses in the country.
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Louisville at Butler: It’s Still Going to be a Good Game… Right?

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on November 18th, 2011

In college basketball they say the coaches are the stars.  Thank goodness for that because when No. 8 Louisville (2-0) takes on reigning two-time national runner-up Butler (1-1) on Saturday at Hinkle Fieldhouse the marquee value on the rosters will not possess the sizzle it might have had a year, or even a couple of days, ago.  While many may need to rifle through programs and online game trackers to identify players, the head coaches certainly require no introduction in a game that will prove an ample test of their considerable skills.  And let’s face it, as we scour through a November slate that includes several undercard match-ups leading up to the Big East’s main events, we need something to sink our teeth into!

Pitino Will be Working Hard Against Butler

Rick Pitino is faced with the challenge of heading into a tough road venue with a team that has been besieged by injury. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish certainly are not coming through that door, and where is Greg Kite when you need him anyway?  With junior leader and point guard Peyton Siva doubtful for the game following the recent long term losses of backcourt mates Wayne Blackshear, out six-to-eight weeks due to shoulder surgery, and Mike Marra, gone for the season with an ACL tear, the Cardinals are especially thin right now, particularly at the point.  While Pitino said Siva’s injury could impact his availability beyond Saturday, he also left the door open for a cameo appearance should the game situation dictate.

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Top Ten Players You Don’t Know Yet (But Soon Will)

Posted by zhayes9 on October 10th, 2011

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

Even the most casual college basketball fans, those that believe the season begins when the calendar flips to March to gear up for their office pool, can rattle off the basics: Duke’s leading scorer, Kentucky’s point guard or Louisville’s head coach.

For those that have Friday’s first day of practice circled on our calendar, we like to dig a little deeper.

Perennial powerhouses North Carolina, UCLA and Florida are discussed ad nauseam in the media. We’re aware of the key games on their schedule, we can name their starting lineups and we know their seniors like family because they’re constantly in the spotlight. Rather than tell you for the 300th time that Jared Sullinger is the favorite for Big Ten POY or Harrison Barnes is a potential All-American, let’s emphasize ten teams and players who will no longer be anonymous once their full impact is felt this upcoming season (10 teams next week):

Basabe was a rare bright spot for Iowa as a freshman

Melsahn Basabe, Iowa– The fact Basabe plays in relative anonymity is a shame considering the freshman season he just completed. Not only did Basabe start all 31 games and average 11/7 on 57% FG, but his signature performance (22 points, 13 rebounds, 6 blocks) came against Jared Sullinger and then #2 Ohio State. He became the first Big Ten player in 15 years to post such a stat line. Basabe’s entire rookie year was sensational, finishing near the top of the conference leaderboard in everything from block percentage to offensive rebounding. How quickly Fran McCaffery can resuscitate a program stuck in neutral will determine if Basabe’s brilliance registers with casual fans.

Rodney McGruder, Kansas State– Probably the most recognizable player on the list due to Kansas State’s success the last two seasons, McGruder is primed to take the torch from Jacob Pullen and become the Wildcats’ next star. McGruder’s signature performance as a sophomore came in K-State’s enormous road win at Texas in late February when the 6’5″ guard dropped 22 points and four threes on the seemingly indestructible Longhorns defense. McGruder is not only an efficient scorer from all areas on the floor (47% FG, 41% 3pt career) but he’s an outstanding rebounder and a chore for an opposing shooting guard due to his sturdy frame and steady perimeter defense.

Erick Green, Virginia Tech– Overshadowed by the brilliance of Malcolm Delaney and another narrowly missed NCAA bid was Green’s dramatic leap forward as a sophomore. The 6’4″ combo guard dramatically boosted his FG% to a respectable 41% and averaged a solid 11.6 PPG. Green’s impact goes much further than scoring; he ranked first among all ACC guards in turnover rate (11.1% of possessions used) and third in the conference in steal percentage. Green not only protects the basketball on his end, but creates numerous extra possessions for the Hokies on the other. I anticipate an all-ACC season approaching.

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Final Four Daily Diaries: Championship Monday

Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2011

RTC is at the Final Four in Houston, our sixth as a fan but our first as a member of the working media. What that means, exactly, we’re still trying to figure out, but we think it has something to do with wearing a rectangular piece of plastic with our mug on it and nodding approvingly at the people in the NCAA blazers walking around the innards of Reliant Stadium. Or maybe it means dropping dime on one of the coaches at the dais for one thing or another — we’re not sure. Anyway, over the next four days of collegiate basketball activity here in H-town, we’ll be providing a daily diary in much the same way we’ve done with our correspondents throughout this year’s Tournament — equal parts observation and analysis, with a hint of the absurd.

Monday, April 4 – Houston, Texas

Connecticut Huskies: 2011 National Champions

  • The Sunday between Final Four Saturday and Championship Monday night is always a relative snooze.  Fans tend to walk around aimlessly not really knowing what to do with themselves, and the media events at the venue seem a little anti-climatic after the drama of the previous night.  Hence, there wasn’t much to write about given that we were stuck so far from the action in Houston (a proposition which seems tenuous already, that there actually is some action in this town).  So let’s jump right into Monday night’s title tilt.
  • Fill in the blanks: Butler threw up more bricks than a _____ in a _____.  The numbers are stark — worst shooting percentage in a title game for a single team ever; fewest points scored by a team in the title game in a hundred years (or thereabouts); fewest two-point field goals, etc., etc., etc.  The Bulldogs went 12-64 from the floor for a putrid 18.8% tonight, and it felt worse.  Nine of those makes were threes, which means (doing the math) that Butler only managed a total of THREE two-point field goals in the entire flippin’ game.  Three of 31 from inside the arc amounts to 9.7%, and the last time we remember something this bad in a Final Four was the 3-33 stinker that Kentucky threw up in a half during the 1984 Final Four versus Georgetown.  Yuck.
  • Brad Stevens and the players all pretty much said the same thing after the game: the shots were there, they just didn’t fall tonight.  And there’s truth to that.  Sometimes missing becomes contagious, and when Andrew Smith (2-9 FGs) and Matt Howard (1-13 FGs) were blowing easy layups and short jumpers that they normally make, we wondered if the pressure of shot after shot clanging off the iron had started to creep into their heads.  After a 22% first half where we thought, ‘surely this will improve,’ it didn’t.  Butler proceeded to hit a marginally worse 16% in the second, eliminating any chance of a comeback after taking a short-lived lead a minute or so into the second half.  When Stevens is tossing and turning in his bed in Indianapolis later this spring, he’ll surely be awakened with recurrent nightmares of his team’s shooting tonight.  What with the blown layups, the threes rattling out, even the mediocre foul shooting (8-14 FTs), he’ll look back at a major opportunity lost.  During a stretch from the 16:00 mark of the second half to the 7:30 mark, Butler tried just about everything and nothing would drop for them.  It turned out to be the defining period of the game, as UConn went from up a single point to essentially putting the game away (up thirteen).

Kemba Shows Off the Net He Earned

  • When I saw Connecticut win the Maui Invitational back in November, I thought that they had a chance to be pretty good but would struggle against the familiarity of the Big East schedule.  I never envisioned just how much they would struggle (9-9 in the conference), nor how well they would perform against everyone else on their schedule (23-0, including 14-0 in knockout tournament situations).  The Huskies may not be the proverbial “best” team in America, but I’m not sure you can argue that anybody else is more clutch.  When I asked the players on Friday about being 12-0 in tournaments this season, they answered that they play better when they know that it’s a “win or go home” situation, and every time they were faced with that scenario all season long, they beat the team put in front of them.  In the sport of basketball at every level from peewee up to the NBA, that’s how champions are crowned, and UConn proved over and over again that they were more than capable.
  • The development and growth of Kemba Walker from cocky NYC penetrating point guard with little knowledge of how to run a team to cocky NYC shooter with a knack for making his teammates better has been a remarkable transformation to observe.  I’m not sure I’ve seen a player like him make such drastic strides in such a short period of time.  But there should be no question after the last month of basketball (all due respect to The Jimmer), Walker is the best player in America and deserves the NPOY trophies to go along with the national championship one headed to Storrs.  I admit that I fell for the Jimmer’s long-range bombs and must-see television when I put my USBWA ballot in a month ago, but for the RTC awards which will be coming out later this week, I had no choice but to vote for Kemba.  He’s been that good, enough to surpass Jimmer in my mind.
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NCAA Championship Game Analysis

Posted by rtmsf on April 4th, 2011

Nearly 350 teams start practice on October 15 with a single goal — to play on Monday night.  UConn and Butler are the two teams left standing; it promises to be another epic national championship game for the annals. 

#3 Connecticut vs. #8 Butler – National Championship (at Houston, TX) – 9:21 pm ET on CBS.

It Says Here That Calhoun Will Hold Another One of These Tonight

A year ago, when Butler advanced to the championship game against Duke, they were an unmitigated surprise, the very essence of the Cinderella story that gets talked about every March. One look at the personnel changes since that team (losing Gordon Hayward as an NBA Lottery pick, along with all-glue guy Willie Veasley and big man Avery Jukes to graduation), coupled with the Bulldogs’ struggles early in the season this year (starting 4-4 on the season and 6-5 in Horizon League play), and most people would consider this year’s run to the championship every bit as surprising as last year. But a closer look reveals a Butler team that is now riding a 14-game winning streak, a team that has turned things around on the defensive end. After allowing more than a point per possession in their first 23 games, they’ve trimmed that number to under 0.96 points per possession by locking down opponents and cleaning the defensive glass. Coupled with their capable offense, highlighted by key veterans Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard and newly efficient contributors like Andrew Smith and Shawn Vanzant, while it is still a remarkable accomplishment for the Bulldogs to be in the championship game, it is not nearly the shocker that last year’s run was. Conversely, while the average fan will see the name UConn in the championship game and barely bat an eye, the fact that the Huskies have made it this far is a bombshell. At the start of the season, they were picked by Big East coaches to finish tenth in the conference, and only improved upon those projections by a single slot (9-9 Big East), despite being in and out of the national top ten all season. The Huskies dropped seven of their last 11 conference games and it looked like their overreliance on All-American guard Kemba Walker was taking its toll. But as they have done all season with their backs against the wall, Jim Calhoun’s club has come back swinging, winning five games in five games to take the Big East Tournament title, and backing that up with five more consecutive wins in the Tournament. While Walker has continued to be excellent, it has been the emergence of freshman wing Jeremy Lamb and sophomore center Alex Oriakhi as consistent contributors that have allowed the Huskies to flourish. Lamb has scored in double figures in every game in that winning streak, while Oriakhi has averaged just under ten rebounds per game in that stretch, acting as perfect complements to Walker’s 25.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. Freshman point guard Shabazz Napier has also been an important spark off the bench. As with any team that faces UConn, slowing Walker will be priority number one. Junior defensive specialist Ronald Nored should get plenty of up-close-and-personal time with Walker, but Brad Stevens has made it clear that containing Walker is not a one man job. Expect the Bulldogs to try to clog the lane and make it more difficult for UConn to get penetration, while still making sure to keep an eye on Lamb – the Huskies’ best three-point shooter – on the perimeter. UConn will counter offensively with a veritable ton of ball screens for Walker, and off-the-ball screens for Lamb. The Huskies will also try to get guys like Oriakhi, Charles Okwandu and Roscoe Smith involved inside, hoping to take advantage of a relatively foul-prone Butler interior players Howard and Smith. On the offensive end, Butler will look to Mack and Howard for their offense most often, but a hallmark of the Butler Way is balanced offense, with players up and down the roster called upon at various times throughout the game. In the end, expect this game again to be tight throughout. However, the Huskies have shown the ability time and again throughout this tournament to weather a big run by the opposition, change momentum on a spectacular play by Walker, and then couple efficient offensive execution with steely defense down the stretch to eke out a nailbiting win. While it is awfully hard to pick against Butler given what they’ve done, it says here that UConn has one Kemba too many for the Bulldogs. Unless, of course, they find the range and some better luck on their halfcourt bank shots at the buzzer.

The RTC Certified Pick: Connecticut 61, Butler 60.

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NCAA Sweet Sixteen Game Analysis – Thursday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 24th, 2011

After three days of quiet, it’s time to get serious about figuring out this national championship thing.  Sixteen to twelve… let’s check out tonight’s games.

#2 San Diego State vs. #3 Connecticut – West Regional Semifinal (at Anaheim, CA) – 7:15 pm ET on CBS.

Does Fisher Have Another Final Four Run in Him?

One of these teams has won two national championships. The other just got done winning their first two NCAA Tournament games ever. While the Aztecs have had a great breakout season and now stand at 34-2 on the season, UConn has won 44 Tournament games in the Jim Calhoun era alone. Luckily for SDSU, past performances in the Big Dance need have no impact on this year’s games. If you throw out the bloodlines for the two programs, you’ll find that we have the makings for what should be an excellent game. We’ve got star power on both ends of the court, with UConn’s point guard Kemba Walker a candidate for the National Player of the Year and SDSU’s Kawhi Leonard an All-American candidate. We’ve got big name coaches with national championships and Final Four experience, as Calhoun will be matched up with Steve Fisher, who won one title at Michigan in ’89, then got back to the title game in both ’92 and ’93. We’ve got an impressive freshman class including Shabazz Napier, Roscoe Smith, and Jeremy Lamb on the UConn side matched up with three starting seniors on the Aztec squad. In short, we’ve got all the trappings of a serious battle. For the Aztecs, the big goal is going to be slowing Kemba Walker. While SDSU has had plenty of experience at trying to slow another high-scoring point guard (one Jimmer Fredette – you may have heard of him), Walker is a different challenge for SDSU, as he is a quicker, shiftier guard than Fredette, and a guy who you’d rather have shooting the three than challenging his defenders off the dribble. As a result, it is likely that D.J. Gay and/or Chase Tapley will get the majority of minutes tasked with defending Walker, while frontcourt players like Leonard, Billy White and Malcolm Thomas will be left to keep one eye on Walker while trying to body-up the Huskies’ athletic offensive rebounders up front. The SDSU frontcourt will also have to provide the majority of the scoring, and given that they haven’t seen a team as big, long and bouncy as the Huskies, they’ll need to prove that their opponents’ size does not bother them. The Aztecs figure to have plenty of support from their fans, who only need to drive about an hour north to attend the game, but they’ll need to prove that their shaky performance down the stretch in Saturday’s game against Temple was an aberration rather than the norm. Until they can close out a game in the NCAA Tournament with confidence, we’re not sure they’re trustworthy against a big-time foe.

The RTC Certified Pick: Connecticut

#2 Florida vs. #3 BYU – Southeast Region Semifinals (at New Orleans, LA) – 7:27 pm ET on TBS.

Looking at this game on paper, it’s pretty hard to find any discernible differences between these two teams. The main determinant of this game will likely be tempo. BYU would love nothing more than to get the Gators caught up in a fast-paced game, forcing them to recklessly throw up ill-advised three pointers leading to long rebounds and many Cougar runouts. Dave Rose’s team excels in transition with Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery leading the charge. While Emery is certainly a terrific point guard, his biggest impact on this game could come defensively. He’ll guard Florida’s Erving Walker in all likelihood and that could be a major problem for the 5’8 Walker. Emery’s length and quickness has the potential to disrupt the Florida floor general, plus the BYU senior ranks #15 individually in steal percentage. If Walker can’t get the offense flowing, Florida may result to lots of isolations and quick shots, certainly not ideal for a team that does its best work at a slower pace in the half court. The Gators have a big advantage inside and have to use it to win. Billy Donovan needs to keep Kenny Boynton, expected to play after spraining his ankle against UCLA, in check and make sure his guards work the ball inside to Vernon Macklin, Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus. This could very well be the game where the loss of Brandon Davies dooms BYU for good. The Cougars rank a paltry #222 in offensive rebounding percentage so Florida should hold a significant edge on the glass. BYU has been out-rebounded in four of their seven games without Davies and we expect that trend to continue tonight. Defensively, Florida has to keep Fredette off the free throw line and force him to make outside shots. It’s alright for the Gators if Jimmer drains more than a few bombs but he’s most dangerous when he can get into the lane and to the stripe, or create for others when defenders are drawn to him inside. Florida ranks #15 in defensive free throw rate and will have to keep that up against Fredette specifically. We have to wonder if Donovan will assign Parsons the task of defending Fredette. Parsons is a big man (6’9) but he’s fairly quick for his size and can bother Jimmer with his superior length. Quickness will be the issue because Fredette possess a terrific first step to blow by opponents. The Cougars will have an edge at the line if this is a close game since Florida struggles as a team (67%). It should be a terrific matchup but a slight edge has to go to the Gators in New Orleans this evening.

The RTC Certified Pick: Florida.

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