Rushed Reactions: #10 Butler 79, #7 Arkansas 62

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) is reporting from Detroit. 

Key Takeaways.

Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin came up big against Arkansas. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  1. Butler’s two best players were at their best when it counted. All-Big East first teamer Kelan Martin scored 27 points, including several big shots to set the tone for Butler early in the second half. Sophomore guard Kamar Baldwin (24 points, nine rebounds, five assists) was even better, making a pair of and-ones, a huge corner three, and a game-sealing layup all within the game’s final eight minutes. Butler’s top two offensive weapons — both of whom averaged more than 15 points per game this season — stepped up when it mattered most. Some players would become tentative after squandering a 19-point first half lead, especially in the face of a relentless full-court press like Arkansas. Not these guys.
  2. The first half was chaos. Butler jumped out to a 21-2 lead to start the game, making mincemeat of Arkansas’ press. The Razorbacks then responded with a 27-6 run of their own. After briefly losing the lead, the Bulldogs counterpunched with an 8-2 run to end the half, taking a five-point lead into the locker room. All the while, bodies were hitting the floor, the ball was being deflected every which way, and neither fan base really knew what to do with themselves. “With our team, it’s a game of runs,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson noted afterwards, perhaps understating just how wild the first half was. The flow of the game settled when Butler took control in the second half, but not before one of the more wild opening stanzas in recent memory.
  3. Butler could be in position to make another unexpected run. Butler is no stranger to shocking the world in March. Brad Stevens took the program to Final Fours as a #5 seed and a #8 seed in 2010 and 2011. In 2003, the Bulldogs reached the Sweet Sixteen as a #12 seed. Now, in LaVall Jordan’s first season as the Bulldogs’ head coach, Butler is in great position to exceed March expectations once again. Not only does Jordan’s team rank #23 overall on KenPom — meaning it was vastly under-seeded based on advanced metrics — but the news of Isaac Haas’s season-ending elbow injury greatly increases the Butler’s chances of upsetting #2 Purdue. The 7’2″ center scored a ridiculous 15 points in 16 minutes in the Boilermakers’ runaway victory over the Bulldogs back in December. Without him, Sunday’s matchup may simply come down to guard play — where Butler has much friendlier matchups.

Star of the Game. Kamar Baldwin, Butler. Baldwin single-handedly put Arkansas away, scoring 11 of his 24 points over a five-minute stretch late in the second half. He also played a huge role in neutralizing Jaylen Barford (15 points) and Daryl Macon (12 points), the Razorbacks’ highly-touted guard duo.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Conference Races Heat Up

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 23rd, 2018

As the first conference tournaments begin as soon as early next week, here are 10 questions I have for this weekend’s slate of important conference games.

Texas Tech is Flagging But Still Alive in the Big 12 Race (USA Today Images)

  1. How can Texas Tech keep its dreams of a Big 12 title alive? Having now lost two games in a row, Texas Tech sits a game back of Kansas in the Big 12 standings. In order to sweep the series against Kansas and knot things up in the conference race, the Red Raiders must replicate their earlier performance of dominating the offensive glass and winning the free throw battle. Texas Tech must also hope that the toe injury to leading scorer Keenan Evans has improved, as Evans has scored just six points over his last two games.
  2. Will Arizona be focused for its game at Oregon? Arizona was 10-0 in conference play last season before a 27-point loss at Oregon. This season, Arizona has been much shakier on the road, having lost close games at Washington and Colorado and barely surviving a trip to Stanford. Oregon, on the other hand, improves its points scored and allowed averages by four points per game in Eugene.
  3. Can Wichita State keep the pressure on Cincinnati? Sitting just a game out of first-place in the AAC, Wichita State travels to Dallas to play an SMU team that already has one win over the Shockers. In that loss to the Mustangs, Gregg Marshall’s team allowed them to shoot an exceptional 76 percent on their two-point field-goal attempts.
  4. Is Arkansas’s bubble close to popping? While Arkansas currently sits as a consensus #8 seed in Bracket Matrix, the Razorbacks still have three Quadrant 1 games remaining on their SEC schedule. They also have a 2-5 road record in SEC games heading into this weekend’s trip to Alabama. While Arkansas has the profile of an NCAA Tournament team as of today, a losing streak to end the season coupled with some shaky wins mean the Razorbacks’ position on the bubble is anything but safe. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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SEC Stock Watch: Volume II

Posted by David Changas on January 25th, 2018

As we approach the halfway mark of SEC play, it’s time for this season’s second installment of Stock Watch.

Trending Up

It’s been an unusual season for Bruce Pearl, who has Auburn in first place in the SEC (Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Auburn as Regular Season Champion. With Wednesday night’s win at Missouri, Auburn is now 6-1 in the SEC with three road wins and a favorable schedule ahead. The Tigers are without question the biggest surprise in a league with quite a few of them, and there is no reason to think that they’ll fall apart anytime soon.
  • An Eight-Bid League. For a conference that submitted only three of its 14 teams into the Big Dance just three years ago, the fact that so many of its members are still reasonably in the hunt for a bid in late January is remarkable. Right now, Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Alabama all appear to be safe bets to make the field, while Arkansas, Missouri, Georgia and South Carolina are in the running. Whether any of these 10 teams can do any damage once they get there remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that times around the SEC have changed.
  • Yante Maten. The Georgia senior has not disappointed in his final campaign. He leads the SEC in scoring (19.9 PPG), ranks second in rebounding (9.4 RPG), and is almost single-handedly keeping the Bulldogs in the NCAA Tournament conversation. If they can make a run to .500 or better in the second half of conference play, Maten might be looking at SEC Player of the Year honors.

Flat

  • Bruce Pearl. It might seem odd for Pearl to land here given the remarkable job he has done with a team that has surged to a great start without the services of two expected elite talents, Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley. But it is the reason that those two aren’t playing that puts the fourth-year Auburn coach in this category. As long as the specter of the FBI investigation hangs over the program, no one on the Plains will get too comfortable regardless of how well things are going on the floor.

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Ten Questions to Consider: First Weekend of December

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 1st, 2017

The first weekend of games in December is upon us. Here are 10 things to consider throughout the weekend.

Xavier (USA Today Images)

  1. Will Cincinnati get a win at Xavier? Cincinnati has lost their last six true road games at Xavier in the Crosstown Shootout, and this will be the first true road game of the season for the Bearcats. Xavier will be the second Cincinnati opponent with a top 100 KenPom rating and the first within the top 50.
  2. Will Wichita State make a statement against the Big 12? A weekend trip to Baylor starts a stretch for Wichita State in which three of their next four opponents come from the Big 12. The Shockers demolished Savannah State last week, but several consistency questions arose while they were in Hawaii. Wichita State needed a second-half rally to beat California, but just days later sleptwalk through a second-half collapse against Notre Dame.
  3. Who will control the pace in SMU vs. USC? Last year’s matchup between these two teams had 73 possessions, 9.5 more than the SMU season average and its highest total of the season. Coming into this year’s match-up, SMU ranks among the bottom 50 nationally in pace, while USC ranks in the top 75 overall (and top 20 in offensive pace).
  4. Which Arizona team shows up in Las Vegas? Arizona has had no problems winning at the McKale Center this season (4-0) but its recent trip to the Bahamas resulted in three straight disappointing losses. The Wildcats have a marquee game upcoming against top-10 Texas A&M, but will they avoid looking past an interesting UNLV team? The match-up to watch will be down low between freshman bigs DeAndre Ayton of Arizona and Brandon McCoy of UNLV. Read the rest of this entry »
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On an Amazing Weekend of Basketball in Portland…

Posted by RJ Abeytia on November 27th, 2017

Nike’s goal was to get the best in college basketball together for Phil Knight’s 80th birthday, and a sport that has badly needed an on-court distraction from its off-court shambles absolutely put its best foot forward in Portland over the holiday weekend. The quality of the performances by many of the 16 teams in the double-bracket event has led me to a number of conclusions about the state of the game and this season. First of all, nobody who watched or attended Duke vs. Texas or Gonzaga vs. Florida OR Duke vs. Florida should have any time for arguments against the quality of the college basketball product being undermined in comparison with college football’s regular season. Both the electric atmosphere of the games in the Moda Center and the Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the quality thereof easily passed for elite March-caliber. Everything was great, and it’s still over three months before the first rounds ofthe NCAA Tournament.

Duke Used Consecutive Comebacks to Take Its Bracket of the PK80 (USA Today Images)

This of course begs a question about one-and-dones. Duke‘s Marvin Bagley III — who averaged 27.3 PPG and 10.0 RPG over the weekend — was every bit as good as advertised. After the championship game on Sunday night, Mike Kryzyzewski called the versatile freshman the “most unique player I’ve ever coached at Duke.” I don’t want this piece to digress into a debate on the merits of one-and-dones in college basketball, but suffice it to say that having talents like Bagley, Michael Porter, Jr. (injury notwithstanding) and DeAndre Ayton (Arizona’s Bahaman Nightmare notwithstanding) is great for college basketball. The Duke head coach went on to say in his postgame presser to support the larger point here: There are amazing things happening on the court these days, and the PK80 event played a far more vital role in spotlighting what’s good about the game than anyone could have anticipated. In the other bracket, sophomore “old man” Miles Bridges led Michigan State into a classic lockdown of defending national champion North Carolina, a team with which Coach K has some familiarity.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 72, #8 Arkansas 65

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 19th, 2017

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

Roy Williams leads North Carolina back to the Sweet 16 for the ninth time in his 14 years at the helm. (Lance King/wralsportsfan.com)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. What a turnaround we had. After the first 16 minutes of action North Carolina was in complete control of the game or so it seemed. The Tar Heels built a 17-point lead by dominating Arkansas on the defensive end of the floor as the Razorbacks committed 10 turnovers and were shooting close to 25 percent from the floor with four minutes before intermission. Suddenly things changed dramatically and Arkansas closed the half on a 16-6 run. That momentum carried over into the second half as Arkansas surged past the Tar Heels before North Carolina rallied to win a game that it appeared to have in the bag long before. With the game in the balance the Tar Heel defense came up big again as Arkansas failed to score on its last five possessions.
  2. For some reason, this North Carolina team doesn’t finish games very well away from home. For most of the year the Tar Heels have struggled to beat good teams when they aren’t playing in the Smith Center, which is surprising for such a veteran team. Fortunately for Roy Williams, they managed to make enough plays to win a tight game tonight, but the way they almost melted down is still concerning. As Arkansas made its comeback, the Hogs were greatly aided by the Tar Heels’ sloppy play – 10 second half turnovers that became 17 Arkansas points. Perhaps this year’s North Carolina team misses the steadying influence of departed guard Marcus Paige. As the competition improves, the Tar Heels must be a better 40-minute team to make it to Phoenix.
  3. Arkansas shot well enough to win after a slow start. To have a chance to upset the Tar Heels, Arkansas needed to have an effective shooting night from the perimeter. That was certainly not the case early as the Razorbacks clanked their first five shots from deep. But after that cold beginning, they heated up considerably – making eight of their next 13 from behind the arc and ended the night at 38.1 percent on three-pointers. JUCO transfer Daryl Macon led the Arkansas shooting comeback, coming off the bench to make 3-of-5 from behind the arc.

Player of the Game. Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina. The Tar Heels’ senior center led his team with 16 points and collected a game-high 11 boards. His putback basket in the last minute gave his team a three-point lead and basically clinched the game. Meeks was also instrumental to North Carolina’s defensive effort, blocking three shots and helping to hold Moses Kingsley to 4-of-12 shooting. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Arkansas 77, #9 Seton Hall 71

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

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

Mike Anderson leads Arkansas into the second round. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Did the tempo get to Seton Hall? Arkansas came into the game as the team most likely to favor an up-and-down contest. With a first half played at 39 possessions, Kevin Willard wisely used his bench to give each starter at least five minutes off the floor before halftime. Halfway through the second half, the Pirates spurted to an eight-point lead, but could not maintain it. Down the stretch, Arkansas looked like the fresher team and Seton Hall made sloppy mistakes that tired teams often make. After halftime, Arkansas turned eight Seton Hall turnovers into 14 points. And the key play of the game was also a mental error–the flagrant foul called on Desi Rodriquez that gave the Razorbacks a huge late advantage.
  2. Arkansas is not good at defensive rebounding. For the year, the Razorbacks rank among the worst 30 teams in the nation on the defensive glass and they played true to form today. Seton Hall snagged 21 offensive boards to make up for a poor shooting performance from the floor and keep the game close. Fortunately for Arkansas, the Pirates only turned those rebounds into 14 second chance points. So the positive for the Razorbacks is that their second shot (and sometimes third shot) defense was good.
  3. Seton Hall’s shooting tells the tale. The Pirates have not shot well for much of the season and they struggled to put the ball in the basket again today. Seton Hall was ineffective from everywhere – making only 39 percent of its twos, 35 percent of its threes, and just 62 percent from the foul line. Khadeen Carrington was the only Pirate that could make shots for much of the game as he finished with 22 points on 8-of-17 shooting.

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RTC Bracket Prep: South Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 13th, 2017

All day on Monday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis for the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Here, Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) 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).

South Region

Favorite: #2 Kentucky (29-5, 16-2 SEC). It’s hard to pick a true favorite when examining the top three seeds in this region, as North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA will all garner buzz as Final Four candidates. However, the Wildcats get the RTC nod as region favorites after a dominant SEC Tournament title run. The Tar Heels are the more experienced unit, but it’s possible that no team in the field can match the talent of these young Wildcats. At the very least, Malik Monk (20.4 PPG) and De’Aaron Fox (16.1 PPG, 4.8 APG) make up the scariest backcourt – freshmen or not – in the entire country, and we’ve heard that guard play matters a little bit this time of year. The Wildcats loom as a favorite in a top-heavy region.

Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox have Kentucky rolling into this NCAA Tournament (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Should They Falter: #1 North Carolina (27-7, 14-4 ACC). The Tar Heels enter the NCAA Tournament with less momentum than Kentucky, but the ACC regular season champions have proved plenty dominant all season long. Whether it was during a three-game romp to the Maui Invitational title in November, or its perfect campaign at the Dean Dome, North Carolina sprinted past opponents like so many other Roy Williams coached teams have before. Justin Jackson (18.1 PPG) evolved into the go-to offensive weapon many thought he would never become, while Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks have manned an extremely effective frontcourt operation. The Tar Heels’ notation as secondary favorites in the region should not be perceived as a slight; this is a very good team that at worst is the 1B to Kentucky’s 1A.

Grossly Overseeded: #5 Minnesota (24-9, 11-7 Big Ten). If you are trying to make sense of Minnesota’s placement on the #5 seed line, do not look at the committee’s S-Curve for clarification. The Gophers are closer to a #4 seed than a #6 at #18 overall, and the slew of teams right behind them – Notre Dame, Iowa State, SMU, Cincinnati – all feel significantly more deserving/scarier than Minneapolis’ favorite team. As is always the case in situations like these, it’s important to note the merit of Minnesota’s season – Richard Pitino turned last year’s disappointment into success faster than any Gopher fan could have hoped – but a #5 seed this is not. Middle Tennessee State stands to benefit, and you don’t have to dig deep into the memory banks to recall a Blue Raiders’ March takedown of a Big Ten foe.

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Keep Hope Alive: The Importance of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 27th, 2017

The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee on Tuesday announced that it would provide an in-season preview of the bracket’s top 16 seeds. SEC fans outside of Lexington should not get overly excited. Kentucky will most certainly hear its name called during the first-ever event, but it is unlikely any other SEC team will. In fact, Selection Sunday — wherein, of course, 68 names are called — may not be all that much better. The snark targeted at SEC basketball is at an all-time high with Sports Illustrated predicting no more than three conference teams in the Big Dance (doubling down on that prediction again with Seth Davis’ column), the bracketology at CBS showing Kentucky little respect as a #3 seed, and even the most kind bracketologist projecting a maximum of four SEC teams partaking in March Madness. National confidence in the league is painfully low, and perhaps that makes sense considering the resurgence that has been predicted for years has not come with the requisite corresponding postseason success (aside from one program).

Could Mike Anderson hear Arkansas’ name called on Selection Sunday?

The consensus among bracketologists is that three SEC teams are safely into the field as of today – Kentucky, South Carolina and Florida. While there is some debate about how deserving Kentucky is of a #1 seed, there is no scenario that slots the Wildcats any lower than the #3 seed line. A win on Saturday against Kansas would only strengthen Kentucky’s case for a top seed. South Carolina ranks #17 in the RPI and holds wins over Michigan, Syracuse and Florida. The Gators could really use a signature win beyond those three, but they have an RPI of #11 and are the nation’s 13th-best team, according to KenPom. Beyond the top three, the question becomes which SEC teams, if any, have a reasonable chance of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Correspondingly, how important are Saturday’s match-ups in the Big 12/SEC Challenge in order to keep their hopes alive?

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