Rushed Reactions: #5 Clemson 84, #4 Auburn 53

Posted by rtmsf on March 18th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Three Key Takeaways.

Clemson Will Not Soon Forget This Performance (USA Today Images)

  1. Sheer Dominance. Not even the #1 vs. #16 match-ups earlier this weekend were this lopsided. Chalk it up to Clemson’s outstanding defense combined with Auburn’s inept offense, but the point remains that a run that started with a 13-13 tie at the 12-minute mark of the first half became a 40-point lead 20 minutes later. FORTY. Not even Cincinnati can blow that kind of advantage. The statistics are marvelous in their ugliness (e.g., Auburn’s 26 percent shooting), but the key stretch was really the last 10 minutes of the first half when Auburn missed 18 consecutive shots while giving up 25 points in a series of layups and three-pointers on the other end. It was a blitzkrieg, magnificent in its efficiency and domination. And it propelled Clemson to the Sweet Sixteen for just the fourth time ever.
  2. Is Clemson Good? Obviously, yes, but just how good? Today’s victory was a real eye-opener for a lot of people wondering if the Tigers were capable of making a deep run. New Mexico State was a trendy upset pick on Friday, and Clemson manhandled the Aggies without too much concern. Today’s game was 32 minutes of curb-stomping. The question with Clemson has never been with its defense, which ranks among the top 10 in college basketball this season, but rather whether they had enough play-makers to get past the likes of elite programs. Their best win this season was over North Carolina in Littlejohn Arena, but it they lost relatively close games to Duke and Virginia (the ACC Tournament game). The Tigers may get their chance to prove themselves in the Midwest Regional next weekend, as Kansas awaits next followed by ACC brethren Duke or Syracuse. In a ball-control kind of game where the shots aren’t falling (a typical Jayhawks loss scenario), it wouldn’t be impossible to see Clemson advance two more rounds just like its Palmetto State rival from a season ago.
  3. Auburn Still Had a Great Season. No team likes to go out of the NCAA Tournament like Auburn did today, but sometimes the forces align and there’s not much a team can do to manage the buzzsaw. Still, Bruce Pearl put together a fantastic season that included a first-place finish in the SEC (the Tigers were projected ninth in the preseason by SEC media), the school’s first NCAA appearance (and win) in 15 years and a buzz that had been missing around the basketball program for a very long time. Depending on how the FBI thing shakes out, Auburn is poised to get back to the NCAA Tournament for years to come — only hopefully with better performances than the Tigers gave today.

Player of the Game. Elijah Thomas, Clemson. Thomas set the tone in the first half with 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting as the Tigers simply overwhelmed the other Tigers. He finished with a highly-efficient 18 points, 11 rebounds and a pair of assists on 7-of-10 shooting. But really, the entire Clemson team was the player of tonight’s game.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #4 Auburn 62, #13 Charleston 58

Posted by rtmsf on March 16th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Three Key Takeaways.

Auburn Flexed at the End of Their Tough Victory Today (USA Today Images)

  1. Auburn and Charleston Started Cold as Ice, Finished Hot. In the first half the two teams combined to shoot 2-of-23 from three-point range (Auburn was 0-of-13 on its own), allowing Charleston to stay close enough to give the Cougars reason to hope for the big upset going into the second half. For most of that half, it appeared that the team that made the biggest couple of plays down the stretch would end up with the victory — and that was an accurate assumption. After Charleston had taken the lead on a three-pointer from Marquise Pointer with three minutes remaining, clutch back-to-back threes from Auburn’s Bryce Brown and Jared Harper gave the Tigers some final breathing room. After such a miserable first-half shooting performance, the two teams nailed four of their 10 threes during the game-ending stretch.
  2. Except From the Foul Line. There’s an old adage that championship-level teams hit their free throws when they count, and it was certainly put to the test this evening with Charleston and Auburn. The two teams combined to shoot less than 50 percent from the line, but it was truthfully the spirit-crushing misses by Charleston down the stretch that made the difference in the game. From the 1:40 mark forward — crunch time of a tie game — the Cougars missed four of their seven free throw attempts, effectively ceding the momentum to an Auburn team that had proven shaky to that point. Auburn didn’t exactly close things out from the line itself, missing four of its own in the final minute. But by that time, the threes from Harper and Brown had given the Tigers a working margin.
  3. Should There Have Been a Call? Notwithstanding all the missed foul shots and the questionable decision-making in the final few minutes of this game, it appeared as if Charleston’s Grant Riller was fouled on a long three-point attempt to tie the game with three seconds remaining. Of course, Riller had already missed a couple free throws on the evening, so there was no guarantee that he would have made three to send the game to overtime. But unlike many no-calls where referees swallow the whistle in close games, it’s usually an automatic call when a jump shooter gets raked across the arm. Charleston will lament the call, certainly, but the Cougars really put themselves in that precarious position.

Player of the Game. Mustapha Heron, Auburn. In an ugly game devoid of any super performances, Heron gets the nod here for his 16-point, five-rebound night that included several key buckets during a second-half stretch when Charleston was pushing forward.

Quotable.

  • “No, this was definitely probably worst one of the year, definitely. But it’s good to survive and advance.” — Auburn’s Mustapha Heron, on the Tigers’ quality of play today.
  • “Only difference this year is Auburn is part of it.” — Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl, describing his pride in his team being a part of the NCAA Tournament this year.
  • “I think I got touched, but it’s not my job to worry about foul calls or not.” — Charleston’s Grant Riller, referring to the final shot.

Sights and Sounds. There’s nothing quite like a generally neutral building starting to get the fever of a plucky underdog in the second half of a close game. When Charleston’s Jarrell Brantley dropped a three from the right wing with around seven minutes left in the game to give Charleston a lead, Viejas Arena exploded. The venue was raucous the rest of the way as the two teams traded missed foul shots, deep threes and assorted haymakers back and forth. This play from the first half was also quite nasty.

What’s Next. Auburn advances to the Round of 32 for only the third time since 2000. Charleston will head back to South Carolina dreaming of what could have been with a couple made free throws.

Share this story

Untrustworthy: Caveat Emptor on These 10 Teams

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on March 14th, 2018

Preseason rankings — they are, in most sports, completely irrelevant when the postseason rolls around. But not in college basketball. When projecting Final Four teams, as we have covered in this space before, the preseason AP Poll is just as predictive as the current AP poll. The rationale for this is that preseason rankings account for things that the mathematical models struggle with (for example, coaching changes, big recruiting classes, injuries and suspensions, etc.), making them a surprisingly accurate projection system. So what about the handful of teams each year that are excluded from these rankings but go on to do great things in the regular season? Is it safe to assume that if you can’t crack the preseason Top 25, you won’t cut down any nets in March?

Can Virginia Break the Trend? (USA Today Images)

To answer this question, I looked at historical NCAA Tournament teams that were unranked in the preseason but were ranked in the final regular season poll (this one) to examine whether they came crashing down to earth when it mattered most. My findings indicate that these teams have in fact underperformed as a group in the NCAA Tournament. Since 2007, 106 teams fit the criteria. Just 37 of that group (35%) exceeded their seeds’ average win expectation (based on average wins for each seed since 2002), and the group as a whole won just 120 games. That mark is 30 below an expected aggregate total of 150 victories, a statistically significant difference at the five percent level. Furthermore, just one of 51 top-four seeds ultimately made the Final Four (Kemba Walker’s 2011 Connecticut squad), although they have collectively produced 11 Elite Eight appearances with Florida‘s run last year being the most recent example. The conclusion here is that, although a handful of teams in this group may turn out to exceed expectations, it is likely as a whole to underperform.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 13th, 2018

Yesterday and today we will be rolling out our region-by-region analysis for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Here, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWRegion).

Favorite: #2 Duke (26-7, 13-5 ACC). While Kansas is the top seed in the region, Duke’s overall talent makes the Blue Devils the favorite. According to KenPom, Duke ranks third in the country in offensive efficiency and seventh in defensive efficiency. The Blue Devils are led by senior guard Grayson Allen (15.7 PPG, 4.5 APG) and freshman phenom Marvin Bagley III (21.1 PPG, 11.5 RPG), which gives it a decided talent advantage on both the perimeter and inside nearly every time they take the floor. Neither Rhode Island nor Oklahoma possesses the offensive firepower to knock off Duke in the Round of 32, while a potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with Michigan State represents a rematch of a Champions Classic showdown where Allen scored a career-high 37 points in leading his team to victory. Considering #1 Kansas’ general inconsistency and questions surrounding the health of big man Udoka Azuibuike, the Blue Devils’ path to another Final Four appears clear.

Grayson Allen’s Last Hurrah Starts in the Midwest Region (USA Today Images)

Should They Falter: #1 Kansas (27-7, 13-5 Big 12). For a team that earned its 14th consecutive regular season Big 12 title this season, Kansas certainly experienced plenty of national doubt. There have been legitimate questions about the Jayhawks’ overall depth and interior play all season — and those discussion points were not helped by Azuibuike suffering a knee injury prior the to the Big 12 Tournament. That said, Kansas was able to win three games in three days at the Big 12 Tournament to take home the title and the Jayhawks appear to be playing their best basketball of the season. With senior guards Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk leading the charge, coupled with the emergence of sophomore guard Malik Newman, Kansas has enough offensive prowess to keep up with anyone in the field.

Grossly Overseeded: #10 Oklahoma (18-13, 8-10 Big 12). The Sooners were one of the best stories of the early portion of this season. Freshman guard Trae Young was drawing favorable comparisons to Stephen Curry for his outstanding perimeter game, and it appeared Lon Kruger‘s group was equipped to rise from the ashes of last season’s debacle to ascend to the program’s second Final Four in the last three years. That all came to a screeching halt when the calendar turned to 2018. Since Big 12 play began, Oklahoma has gone just 8-12 and has not won a game away from Norman. While Young looked fresh and explosive in the early season, he has looked tired and lethargic since (an astronomical nation-leading usage rate of 38.6 percent surely contributes). The committee has repeatedly acknowledged that it values early season play just as much as it does the late season, so you can certainly understand why the Sooners were selected to the Field of 68. The surprising part is how firmly they were in — getting a #10 seed and avoiding the First Four is a generous draw for a team that has struggled so much.

Criminally Underseeded: #14 Bucknell (25-9, 16-2 Patriot League). Following a loss to Boston University on January 2, Bucknell was saddled with a mediocre 7-8 record and was looking for answers. The Bison finished the year, however, by winning 18 of their last 19 games and dominating the Patriot League Tournament — winning their semifinal and championship games by 31 and 29 points, respectively. It seems like everything is humming along nicely for Nathan Davis‘ group as the NCAA Tournament commences this week. That is why it was surprising to see the Bison earn only a #14 seed and a rather intimidating match-up with a very talented Michigan State squad in Detroit. Advancing past the First Round will be a tough ask of Bucknell.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

The 2017-18 RTC16: Week Fourteen

Posted by Walker Carey on February 19th, 2018

Another wild week of college basketball is in the books with several more top teams suffering surprising defeats while a number of others continue to prep for postseason play next month. #5 Duke showed why it should still be considered one of the country’s most dangerous teams with an easy home win over Virginia Tech on Wednesday followed by a hard-fought road win at #16 Clemson Sunday. What made the Blue Devils’ week even more impressive was that both victories came without the services of freshman phenom Marvin Bagley III, who is currently nursing a knee injury. #2 Villanova experienced both sides of the coin last week, as it took on both an upset loss and earned a very impressive victory. The Wildcats were unable to overcome 19 turnovers and a 3-of-20 three-point shooting performance in Wednesday’s loss at Providence, but Jay Wright’s group rebounded in a big way Saturday in dominating #4 Xavier throughout a 16-point road win. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty analysis is after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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%.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Recapping the Good and Bad from the Big 12/SEC Challenge

Posted by David Changas on January 30th, 2018

Despite being underdogs in seven of the 10 games of the Big 12/SEC Challenge last weekend, the SEC pulled off its first overall win (6-4) in the fourth year of the battle between power conferences. It was yet another boost to a league that has undergone a revival of sorts this season. Let’s take a look at the good and the bad for the SEC from Saturday’s action.

The Good

John Calipari paid homage to Bob Huggins with his attire, then saw his team pull off a big upset against the Mountaineer coach (John Clay/Lexington Herald-Leader).

  • Kentucky’s Upset of West Virginia. How improbable was it that the previously struggling Wildcats would come back from a 17-point second half deficit in Morgantown on Saturday night? According to KenPom’s win probability metric, the Mountaineers had a 97.8 percent chance of emerging victorious with 17 minutes left in the game. And yet, Kentucky stormed back and notched the impressive victory. While an inspiring road win doesn’t fix all of the Wildcats’ ongoing woes, it will serve as a clear resume-enhancer for a club desperately in need of one and should boost the team’s confidence as it heads into February.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

The 2017-18 RTC16: Week Eleven

Posted by Walker Carey on January 29th, 2018

It has become that time in the college basketball season when certain teams earn victories that indicate they will be a force to be reckoned with as the postseason nears. #2 Virginia scored one of the most impressive wins of the season on Saturday when the Cavaliers left Cameron Indoor Stadium with a 65-63 triumph over #5 Duke. Tony Bennett‘s squad is now 20-1 overall (9-0 ACC) with its lone loss coming on the road to #16 West Virginia in early December. In looking at the remainder of Virginia’s schedule, an argument can be made that the Cavaliers will be favored in each of their remaining games — is an 18-0 conference season in play? #10 Auburn continued to show its surprising season of success is not some kind of mirage, as the Tigers grabbed two dominant SEC wins over Missouri and LSU last week. Bruce Pearl‘s team is one of the best stories of this college basketball season, and all indicators suggest that Auburn will not trail off over the final portion of the regular season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty analysis is after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

What’s Trending: Send It In, Jerome!

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 29th, 2018

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

I did not expect to highlight a Campbell box score when the week began, but then the Camels went out and did this…

The Butler program experienced tremendous heartache when Andrew Smith passed away a couple years ago. His legacy, however, lives on, and Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com wrote a brilliant piece on Project 44, change borne out of the tragedy of Smith’s passing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story