NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Elite Eight Saturday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 24th, 2012

#4 Louisville vs. #7 Florida – West Regional Final (at Phoenix, AZ) – 4:30 PM ET on CBS

RTC Region correspondents Andrew Murawa (West) and Brian Otskey (East) contributed to this preview.

Pitino & Donovan Have a Great Amount of Respect For Each Other (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

It’s master versus pupil in a battle for the Final Four. Billy Donovan and Rick Pitino first gained national attention at roughly the same time as Donovan was the star player on Pitino’s 1987 Providence College team that made an improbable run to the Final Four, but their relationship didn’t stop there. Dovovan’s single year in the NBA was spent with Pitino as his head coach, and when he gave up his job on Wall Street to get back into basketball, it was to Pitino’s staff at Kentucky that he went. Since then, Donovan has had plenty of success, including back-to-back national championships, giving him one more for his career than his mentor, but in head-to-head matchups, Donovan’s teams have never won in six meetings. As for this meeting, we’ve got a couple of really interesting clashes here. First and foremost, we get to watch a Florida offense that is the third most efficient offense in the country competing against a Louisville team who has, on the strength of Thursday night’s absolute destruction of a good Michigan State offense, taken over the number one spot in defensive efficiency. The Cardinals did a lot of things right defensively in that game (grabbing over 80% of defensive rebound opportunities and limiting their opponent to just a 33.7% eFG night among them), but perhaps the key to the game was their ability to force turnovers on 25% of the Spartans’ possessions. That type of thing could be very hard to come by against a guard-heavy Gator team that generally does not turn the ball over with great regularity. Furthermore, when the Cards’ opponents do get into the halfcourt against them, their goal is often to force the other team into making tough shots over them, something that Florida can do very well. Not only are guards Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker and Bradley Beal all very capable shot-makers from both beyond and inside the three-point line, but stretch-four Erik Murphy is capable of pulling a defender like Chane Behanan away from the basket and further opening things up in the lane. On the other side of the court, it is no secret that Louisville has trouble scoring; they’ve only scored 0.98 points per possession over the course of their current seven-game postseason winning streak (which goes to show how good their defense has been – 0.86 PPP against good competition). And Florida’s defense is definitely on the uptick, as they’ve allowed just 0.78 PPP in the NCAA Tournament, including just 0.87 against a very good Marquette offense. Further, if the Cards are unable to force turnovers with regularity, they’re not going to be able to get out in the open court and get easy baskets, meaning they’ll need to find some type of consistent offense in the halfcourt game. If that’s the case, they’ll need the good Russ Smith to show up, they’ll need Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric knocking down threes, and, most of all, they’ll need an aggressive Peyton Siva getting penetration and finding offense for himself and for his teammates. All of those things can happen, but sooner or later, the lack of offensive coherency is going to come back to cost the Cards, and the Gators look to be the perfect team to take advantage of it.

The RTC Certified Pick: Florida

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.23.12 Edition

Posted by WCarey on March 23rd, 2012

The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.

Midwest Region

  • Kansas star forward Thomas Robinson’s personal tragedies have been well-documented. The junior, who just turned 21 last week, is the key player for the Jayhawks as they look to move into the Elite Eight.
  • Kansas senior guard Tyshawn Taylor has faced a lot of adversity in basketball and in life. The guard from New Jersey has developed into a leader for Bill Self’s squad and he will look to lead the Jayhawks into an Elite Eight on Friday night.
  • Going into this season, there were many differing opinions regarding NC State forward CJ Leslie. Leslie has developed into a key player and a team leader for the overachieving Wolfpack that have already pulled two upsets in the NCAA Tournament.
  • When NC State athletic director Kay Yow named Mark Gottfried head coach last April, many people were surprised by the decision. As it turns out, Yow had the right idea, as Gottfried has led the Wolfpack through some hard times this season and into the Sweet Sixteen.
  • North Carolina star forward Harrison Barnes has a history as a saxophone player. Putting the music aside, the Tar Heels’ leading scorer is a key component to the team moving on in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Ohio head coach John Groce has seen his name tied to the openings at Nebraska and Illinois, but the Bobcats’ head coach will not say if he has any interest until his team’s run in the NCAA Tournament has concluded.

West Region

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Syracuse’s Fab Melo To Miss NCAA Tournament Because of an Eligibility Issue

Posted by mlemaire on March 13th, 2012

The bad breaks just keep coming for Syracuse and its basketball program. After one of the team’s best seasons in recent history and right as they prepared for the NCAA Tournament as a #1 seed, they learned that starting center and key cog Fab Melo will miss the entire tournament due to an eligibility issue. Melo missed three games earlier this season because of academics, but it is unclear whether this eligibility issue is about academics or something else as the school would not provide any additional details. [Update: It's apparently about academics and he is also apparently declaring for the NBA Draft]

It doesn’t take a basketball junkie to know that Melo’s absence is a potentially lethal blow to the Orange’s national title hopes. He was the best rebounder on a team that struggles to rebound the basketball and he was also the conference’s defensive player of the year this season. He is one of the main reasons why Syracuse limited opponents to an effective field-goal rate just 44 percent this season and the team’s staunch 2-3 zone relied on Melo to protect the rim — something he did very well during the regular season.

Fab Melo's Absence Could Crush Syracuse's National Title Aspirations

The onus now falls on freshman Rakeem Christmas and sophomore Baye Keita to pick up the slack and neither proved consistently capable of that during the regular season. The good news is that Keita and Christmas, while young, are athletic and energetic defenders who can block shots and rebound the basketball unless they run up against more experienced and physical post players. But the understated effect this blow might have on the Orange will be on the offensive end.

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Blueprint To Beat Undefeated Syracuse

Posted by zhayes9 on January 19th, 2012

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

Near the tail end of Monday’s Baylor-Kansas game, Dick Vitale, ESPN’s master of hyperbole, predicted that Syracuse would not lose once during the regular season. The odds of becoming the first team to accomplish that feat since the Jameer Nelson/Delonte West-led St. Joseph’s juggernaut of 2004 is slim. In fact, Ken Pomeroy’s projections grant the Orange only a 13.1% chance of running the table.

Still, the Big East conference doesn’t feature nearly as many elite teams as in previous seasons. Potential slip-ups at Notre Dame and Cincinnati are approaching, while visits to ranked teams Louisville and Connecticut remain. All in all, though, the road is as navigable a team can ask for in the gauntlet of conference play.

The Syracuse hype goes deeper than their unblemished record. Aside from a near upset against Stanford, their level of performance from opening night to today has been extraordinary.  In their first 20 games, Syracuse’s margin of victory is a staggering 19.7 points per contest. They lead the nation in steals and can deliver a 14-0 spurt as quickly as any team in the country with their high-flying transition game. Their depth is at the point where most believe members #6 through #10 in their rotation would be a team capable of making the NCAA Tournament.

Still, even the most menacing teams of the last few years are vulnerable to a poor 40-minute output. Illinois’ loaded 2005 squad fell in their season finale to unranked Ohio State and the Hansbrough/Lawson Tar Heels were stunned by Boston College at the Dean Dome, just to name a few. These are college kids, not robots. But how specifically can a Notre Dame or Cincinnati or Louisville knock off this seemingly unstoppable machine? Here are eight essentials to dethroning what may be Jim Boeheim’s best team in 34 years at the helm:

1. Keep the game in the halfcourt

Any hope of knocking off Syracuse begins and ends with limiting the Orange transition game. Boeheim has instructed his guards at the top of their 2-3 zone to always be active in the passing lanes in order to get deflections and race the other way. Not even North Carolina, the near-unanimous preseason number one and a team averaging 85 points per game, is as proficient in transition opportunities as this Syracuse unit. It’s no coincidence that two of their more competitive games- against Virginia Tech at MSG and the recent home victory over Pittsburgh – were two of the three lowest possession contests of the season. Pitt was able to limit the Orange to just 62 possessions despite a 13-0 run to begin the game and stayed within striking distance.

2. Make transition defense a priority

Just like the Wes Johnson/Andy Rautins-led Syracuse outfit of two years ago, the Orange run at every possible opportunity. Their triumvirate of guards – Jardine, Triche and Waiters – is absolutely lethal in full-court mode. If you make Syracuse work for open looks in the halfcourt, they’re much more vulnerable to defeat. Two possible chinks in the armor for the Orange are three-point shooting and ability to get to the free throw line. Syracuse shoots a mediocre 36% from three as a team and ranks 279th in Division-1 in free throw rate. If a future opponent can keep their guards in the halfcourt and force them into contested jump shots, the odds of an upset dramatically increase. Make or miss, Notre Dame’s guards should make it a priority to sprint back after every shot goes up on Saturday.

3. Employ a threat in the middle of their 2-3 zone

One of the areas where the Syracuse zone is susceptible to a breakdown is near the free throw line. The zone can be carved up by employing a player in that soft spot who can face-up, deliver a pass to a cutter along the baseline or pose a mid-range shooting threat. Of course, only a handful of teams boast a player with that type of skill set. Perusing their schedule, look out for Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, West Virginia’s Kevin Jones and even Connecticut’s Ryan Olander as players who can flash into the free throw line area and cause problems.

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