Kentucky Cleans Up To Open Spring Signing Period

Posted by jstevrtc on April 14th, 2010

It’s the first day of the spring signing period, and we saw a few of the top remaining undecided high school seniors choose a cap (or jersey) and commit to a college today.  Two of them were surprises only insofar as they’re big-time recruits who decided to attend mid-major schools, but it was Kentucky that made the most noise today.  This info came mostly from the ESPN-U broadcast, so we’re showing each player’s overall rating in the ESPNU-100 Class of 2010 in parentheses:

The biggest verbal of the day was no surprise, since the buzz about it had long preceded the actual announcement.  Point guard Brandon Knight (4), a 6’5 lightning bolt who can score as well as he leads, pulled out a blue cap and committed to play for John Calipari at Kentucky.  He joins Enes Kanter (25) and Stacey Poole (51) in a Wildcat class for next year that might not yet be complete.  The bill of Knight’s UK baseball cap already had a major curve to it, confirming what everyone already knew — this decision was made a long time ago.  Later in the day, the top prospect in the class of 2011, 6’7 small forward Michael Gilchrist also verballed to Kentucky, further ensuring that there will be virtually no hangover after the honeymoon season of Wall/Cousins/Patterson/Bledsoe.

Knight follows another blue-clad wearer of #11.

In a class top-heavy with excellent point guards, two mid-majors scored fine floor-leaders this afternoon.  6’1 PG Ray McCallum (17) decided to stay home and play for his father at Detroit, and 6’5 SG Trey Zeigler (33) — sporting the greatest full windsor knot we’ve ever seen, with apologies to ESPN-U workhorse Lowell Galindo — continued the father-son trend in the state of Michigan by donning a Central Michigan cap.  Zeigler’s father Ernie is the coach for the Chippewas.  Zeigler specifically cited Butler’s run to the championship game this past season as one of the reasons he was comfortable in playing for a mid-major program.  There’s no question that the chance to play for their respective fathers was an incentive for these gentlemen to commit where they did, but it will be an interesting thing to watch over the next couple of years as to whether or not other top-flight recruits pull the trigger on staying close to home at other mid-major schools, especially if another small program can equal or even surpass Butler’s achievements from 2009-2010.

Speaking of the Bulldogs, we should note here that Gordon Hayward has decided to submit his name for consideration in this year’s NBA Draft, but he won’t be hiring an agent anytime soon.  Butler supporters — and there are definitely legions more, after this past season — will be sweating out Hayward’s decision-making process this summer; the Bulldogs will lose Willie Veasley and Avery Jukes to graduation, which is substantial.  Hayward’s departure would make a trip to Houston next April all but impossible.  If he comes back, though, that means the Hayward/Shelvin Mack/Matt Howard/Ronald Nored nucleus would all be returning, and we’re confident that coach Brad Stevens can groom players to fill the spaces left by Veasley and Jukes.  Butler has no commitments within the top 100, but we doubt Stevens is sweating.

Sullinger, a Columbus native, already has the Buckeye staff smiling. (G. Housteau)

Marquette took a step in replacing the graduated Lazar Hayward today by signing 6’6 SF/PF Jae Crowder, the junior college player of the year.  Crowder averaged almost 19 PPG and led Howard College (TX) to the juco title this year.  This one had been known for some time, but Marquette coach Buzz Williams made the official announcement today.

Despite Kentucky’s recruiting haul today, as it pertains to the class of 2010, the top rating still belongs to Ohio State.  They’re extremely excited about getting 6’8 PF Jared Sullinger (2) on campus (as well they should be), in addition to 6’8 SF Deshaun Thomas (12), 6’4 SG Lenzelle Smith, Jr. (80), and 6’4 SG Jordan Sibert (82).  North Carolina isn’t far behind, with Roy Williams bringing in the top-ranked player in the class in 6’8 SF Harrison Barnes (1), 6’6 SG Reggie Bullock (18), and 6’4 PG Kendall Marshall (22).  With Kentucky rumored to be leading for at least two other players within the top 30, and eight players in the top 100 still undecided, the matter of who has the best recruiting class could be altered as soon as this Saturday at the Jordan Brand Classic in New York City, where more players are expected to announce their college intentions.

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National Championship Game Analysis

Posted by jstevrtc on April 4th, 2010

RTC has attempted to break down the NCAA Tournament and Final Four games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses. Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds. Here are our thoughts on the national title game. Whomever you’re rooting for, we hope you enjoy it.

9:07 PM — #1 Duke vs #5 Butler

The six months since practices started have passed like a dream. As fans of college basketball, we travel this road every year from mid-October to early April. We always know our destination well in advance, we just don’t know who we’re going to find there. Therein lies the beauty of the NCAA Tournament. The entirety of that six months is spent trying to determine one thing: who’s playin’ on Monday night.

What a situation in which we find ourselves at the end of this particular journey. The fates have determined that the answer to the second most important question of the season is, “Butler and Duke.” There’s only one question left, the biggest one of all. All those practices, weightlifting sessions, sprints, miles, interviews, and games for each of these players on those two teams is now distilled down to one query:

What will you do on Monday night?

Hayward can guard anyone on the floor. And probably will. (AP)

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Why the Bulldogs Will Win It All…

Posted by rtmsf on April 1st, 2010

We asked writers from each of the four Final Four schools to provide us with a persuasive article on why their team will win it all this coming weekend.  Steven Peek of The Butler Collegian tells us that Butler isn’t satisfied with merely making the Final Four — they’re going all the way.

Many basketball programs use past national championships as an argument for why they are contenders in future seasons.  So would it be fair to say that Butler has a chance to win the 2010 NCAA Championship because they won the national titles in the 1923-24 and 1928-29 seasons?  No? OK then, let’s move beyond that fact.

The main reason why Butler could win the 2010 NCAA Tournament is because they are truly a unit, one single force moving past the competition. This can be seen in many facets of the game.  First, Butler’s mentality is team-based. Gordon Hayward confirms this in his hit single “Too Big Yo,” in which he raps how “it’s not about me / it’s about the team.”

Butler had no candidates for National Player of the Year remaining by the time the tournament began. While many may believe this to be a weakness, the bracket says otherwise.  Are the Ohio State Evan Turners still in the tournament? Nope.  Are the Kentucky John Walls still playing? Again, no.  How about the Syracuse Wes Johnsons? Butler took care of them.

Butler Can Beat Anybody (IndyStar/S. Riche)

Butler has had little national press coverage due to their lack of outspoken individuals. In fact, although they were ranked No. 10 nationally in the preseason polls, few people gave them credit as the 24-game winning streak built.  Butler should also be considered a legitimate title contender because of their defense.  In a press conference in San Jose, Calif., senior forward Willie Veasley talked about playing defense with the mindset of 5-on-1 (Butler versus the man with the ball). Using that mentality, Butler held its NCAA tournament opponents to a 56.5 points per game average, with all four teams being held to under 60 points.  Sophomore guard Ronald Nored has 12 steals this tournament, five of which came against No 1.-seeded Syracuse, a team that many analysts thought would tear through Butler.

But the Bulldogs have been no stranger to being underrated.  On this very subject, Nored has said, “It’s not an underestimation, it’s a misunderstanding.”  Being underrated makes the Bulldogs that much stronger.  Butler’s bench players have also been propelling the No. 5 seed through the tournament.  Butler’s bench has been big this tournament, granting new life to the court when the play of starters needed to be energized.

The scoring of juniors Zach Hahn and Shawn Vanzant has been important, as has the defense of senior Avery Jukes and freshman Andrew Smith. I personally watched Vanzant orchestrate three fast breaks in the first half against UTEP, who had Butler’s offense stagnant at first.  And because the bench is able to enter the game and continue or steal back momentum, diverse scoring is a part of the recent success.  When the pressure of the NCAA tournament rises, Butler has had someone to step up. In its four tournament games, Butler has had three different leading scorers—Gordon Hayward (twice), Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored.  Also, Butler has had at least five players with at least four points in all four games.

And naturally, the home court factor should not be overlooked. Lucas Oil Stadium (a.k.a. Hinkle Fieldhouse South) is only a skip and a hop away from Butler’s campus.  That’s important because the Bulldogs went 15-0 at Hinkle this season. Those 15 wins include victories against NCAA tournament competitors Ohio State, Xavier and Siena.  The Bulldog bandwagon has been growing in number since other “underdogs” and Indiana teams dropped from the bracket.  The local crowd will certainly be supporting Butler and will likely outnumber any group of Michigan State, West Virginia or Duke fans.

Michigan State will surely be a tough opponent for Butler Saturday. Tom Izzo is a coaching legend and for good reason. Playing for him is essentially a guarantee to compete in at least one Final Four.  Nonetheless, the talents of Butler head coach Brad Stevens and his staff are not to be written off due to their youth. They are humble and dedicated, as reflected in the performance of their players.  All of the above is cause to count on Butler to not disappoint this weekend, whether it’s against the Spartans in the Final Four or against the next opponent in the national championship game.

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RTC Final Four Tidbits: 03.31.10

Posted by rtmsf on April 1st, 2010

Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Butler (Andrew Murawa)

West Virginia (Ryan Restivo of SienaSaintsBlog)

  • A West Virginia fan had a very interesting fan experience early in March, but made sure to watch Villanova-West Virginia on March 6 before checking in to the hospital for a heart attack. USA Today notes, she got a surprise visit from Da’Sean Butler.
  • It’s been a little over two years since Duke and WVU met in the NCAA Tournament, and both teams feel that they have matured in the interim.
  • WVU Alum Bob Huggins has brought the Mountaineers to the top.
  • Meanwhile The Philadelphia Inquirer notes the Mountaineers’ strength is rebounding and defense.
  • Bucky Waters, who was head coach  at Duke and West Virginia, expects a good game.

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Final Four Team-By-Team Previews: Butler

Posted by zhayes9 on March 29th, 2010

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. We begin the dissection with the hometown Butler Bulldogs and their quest to cut down the nets in the shadow of their campus.

 

Nored, Hayward and Mack lead Butler/ Indianapolis Star

Crucial Tourney Moment(s): Butler faced two potentially back-breaking moments during their West regional bouts with Syracuse and Kansas State. Wesley Johnson and Denis Clemente both nailed second half threes that relinquished healthy Butler leads. Rather than follow the script of most Cinderella’s at this stage in the season, Butler battled back from both setbacks with clutch baskets from unsung heroes Willie Veasley and Ronald Nored. Their stingy halfcourt defense buckled down, forced turnovers and shut down both Johnson and Clemente down the stretch of both contests.

Advantage Area: Butler employs a stingy and disruptive halfcourt defense, one that permits you to run your sets but rarely allows dribble penetration, effectively doubles against screens to limit open looks against opposing guards and forces a plethora of turnovers. Butler frustrated a Syracuse offense running on all cylinders into 18 turnovers on Thursday. Butler also crashes the boards with all five of their players on the floor, evident by guard Shelvin Mack garnering nearly four rebounds per game. The Bulldogs ranked sixth in the country during the season limiting offensive rebounds for their opponents. They may be able to neutralize the backboards against Michigan State, usually an area of strength for Tom Izzo’s teams. An even stiffer test follows in this area with either Duke or West Virginia.

Potential Downfall: Butler could have a difficult time defending in the post. Matt Howard, a forward known for his propensity to commit fouls, and Gordon Hayward, a more perimeter-oriented player who does manage to hold his own down low, are Brad Stevens’ tallest players at 6’8. If Howard is forced to the bench, the only other option Stevens can point to is solid defender Avery Jukes. It’s a position of definite weakness on the defensive end and Kansas State’s Curtis Kelly exploited the flaw quite well during their Elite 8 battle. Unfortunately for Butler, each of the other Final 4 teams excels in the paint, especially Duke and West Virginia should the Bulldogs advance. West Virginia is one of the tallest teams in the nation and Duke hits the boards with ferocity as any viewer of their regional final matchup with Baylor can attest.

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RTC Class Schedule 2009-10: Butler Bulldogs

Posted by zhayes9 on October 13th, 2009

seasonpreview

This is my last installation of the RTC Class Schedule series. Here are the first nine:

The nightmare for mid-major haters out there has been realized: Butler will be a top ten- yes, top ten- team for the next two full seasons. Their starting backcourt of Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored are both sophomores. One of the best frontcourts in the nation- post presence Matt Howard and inside-outside stud Gordon Hayward- is a junior and sophomore, respectively, with neither likely to enter the NBA Draft before four years at Butler. They lose two seniors who receive regular minutes after this season with swingman Willie Veasley (8.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG) and forward Avery Jukes (3.2 PPG) departing, but neither should pose a crippling loss. Sharpshooter Zach Hahn (41% 3pt) is just a junior and backup guard Shawn Vanzant is a junior, as well. Coach Brad Stevens has lured the #32 center in the nation Andrew Smith into the fray for this year and the #22 small forward in the country Khyle Marshall for 2010. The Bulldogs are loaded for the foreseeable future and should run roughshod over the respectable Horizon League, possibly beginning a historical conference run for the next two campaigns beginning with a visit from rival Valparaiso on December 5.

Butler has a realistic shot at a top-three seed in the NCAA tournament and backed up their high standing with a challenging non-conference slate coupled with a Horizon League schedule that has Hinkle Fieldhouse inhibitors wondering if undefeated is possible within the conference. Let’s dig deeper into the path Butler must take in hopes of being the first mid-major to reach the Final Four since George Mason in 2006.

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Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 8.5. The Bulldogs will be challenged in mid-November when they make a trip to fringe-NCAA contender Northwestern in Evanston. The Wildcats return star forward Kevin Coble and his perimeter shooting along with senior point guard Michael Thompson. They have hopes of making the field of 65 for the first time in school history. Butler enters the most difficult preseason tournament this season in Anaheim with a tremendous first round game against Big Ten contender Minnesota (returns nearly everyone including freshman Royce White entering) and a possible second round contest against UCLA. Potential top-ten team West Virginia looms in a possible championship game along with Texas A&M and Clemson. Butler also welcomes a bolstered Ohio State team to Hinkle followed by a visit a week later from Xavier and new coach Chris Mack. Butler also faces Georgetown- featuring Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Greg Monroe- to headline the Jimmy V Classic in NYC and travels to rebuilding UAB. Even with the high standards at Butler, that’s a hell of a non-conference schedule for a mid-major.

Cupcake City: The frosting isn’t too heavy for Butler. Stevens does have a return game from Davidson, who obviously won’t be nearly as lethal without Stephen Curry. Evansville has some decent pieces- and Butler must travel there- but the Aces shouldn’t challenge Butler too long. A short trip to Ball State also looms as less-than-imposing. That said, those 300+ RPI teams that most teams stack at least a few times on their non-conference slate is lacking from Butler’s schedule. Once again, give Brad Stevens tremendous credit.

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