Big 12 M5: Mid-June Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on June 16th, 2014

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  1. There may not be a bigger question mark at any position for a given team in the Big 12 than the point guard spot at Kansas. After Naadir Tharpe left the program, paving the way for signee Devonte‘ Graham to enroll in Lawrence, the question moved from “who will play at the point?” to “how will the freshman fare?” First-year point guards have rarely led the way for Bill Self’s teams at Kansas, so Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star is here to give the lowdown on the winding story of how Graham and Kansas matched up with one another. If Graham doesn’t pick things up in the Jayhawks’ system early, Self will again be left to his backup options of Frank Mason and Conner Frankamp.
  2. A pair of Iowa State Cyclones have had some run-ins with the law recently, earning sophomore guard Matt Thomas and Southern Illinois transfer Abdel Nader indefinite suspensions after each was cited for driving while intoxicated at different points in the offseason. As stupid of a decision as it is to drive while drunk, it would be a surprise if head coach Fred Hoiberg held either player out of game action once the season gears up. Still, both players have opportunities to make big impacts for the Cyclones next season, so it would be in everyone’s best interests for them to remain out of trouble off the court.
  3. Roughly one year ago, Stevie Clark was unofficially anointed the point guard in-waiting of the Oklahoma State Cowboys. However, after encountering a couple of legal incidents himself, Travis Ford dismissed him from the team, leaving an opening for a new floor general. Former LSU point guard Anthony Hickey is set to join the Cowboys and could fill that role as a transfer, but it’s unclear whether he’ll be able to get a waiver to play immediately. He has some makeup questions of his own, but if he is ruled eligible and realizes the opportunity in front of him, he could play a big part in steadying the Cowboys’ ship after a disastrous 2013-14 campaign.
  4. Last week, Kansas State rolled out its finalized non-conference schedule for the 2014-15 season, and while it isn’t a juggernaut, it looks plenty daunting. The Wildcats have two true road games (at Long Beach State and at Tennessee), and Bruce Weber‘s team will head out to Hawai’i for the Maui Invitational. This year’s field will be competitive as usual, with Arizona, San Diego State, Pittsburgh and Purdue among the competitors, but another interesting potential showdown could involve former Big 12 member Missouri. Last season, the Wildcats had to make up for some embarrassing early losses, but with an improved squad, they’ll obviously look for a much better showing this time around as they get ready for what lies ahead later in the season.
  5. In another scheduling tidbit, Baylor learned the team it will face in its Thanksgiving tournament, as the Bears will square off against Memphis in the Las Vegas Invitational at Orleans Arena on November 27 and will face either Illinois or Indiana State the following evening. In the aftermath of the losses of Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip from last year’s team, the Bears will need to make hay early if they are to make consecutive NCAA Tournaments for the first time in the program’s history.
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Baylor’s Frontcourt Depth Takes a Hit With Loss of Isaiah Austin

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 23rd, 2014

This year’s round of early entry decisions has almost come to a close. On Tuesday afternoon, Julius Randle announced that he was leaving Kentucky, and while we wait for official word from a few of his former teammates, we can officially say goodbye to another accomplished collegiate big man. Last week, Jason King of Bleacher Report reported that Baylor center Isaiah Austin planned to declare himself eligible for this summer’s NBA Draft, and on Tuesday night, Austin confirmed that he would leave Baylor to take the next step in his career.

Austin came to Waco in 2012 as a highly-touted recruit and put forth a solid freshman campaign. While Baylor as a team fell flat and missed the NCAA Tournament despite fielding a talented group, Austin was hardly the problem. He averaged 13.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, and while he did most of his damage down low, he also stretched defenses by hitting 33 percent of his three-point attempts.

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Another Year, Another Doughnut: What’s Wrong With the Big 12?

Posted by Kory Carpenter on April 10th, 2014

The Big 12 has a problem. It spent most of the regular season perceived as the best conference in the country but went another year without a national champion. Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1984, only two Big 12 teams have won the national title. Both teams were Kansas (1988 and 2008). That represents fewer titles than any other Big Five conference and just one more than UNLV. In the last decade, in fact, Kansas is the only school to make a Final Four appearance as a member of the Big 12 (West Virginia made the Final Four in 2010 while still in the Big East). Since then, the ACC has sent five schools to the Final Four, the SEC seven, and the Big Ten eight. Even the one year-old American Athletic Conference has had a national champion, thanks to Connecticut. This is partly a Kansas problem, as the Jayhawks have missed good opportunities for Final Fours at least four times in the last 10 years. But without the Jayhawks the rest of the Big 12 would resemble Conference USA. It has been full of teams that were good but never considered great, and there is no better example of that than this season.

For the eighth time in the last ten years, the Big 12 failed to send a team to the Final Four.

For the eighth time in the last ten years, the Big 12 failed to send a team to the Final Four.

Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, and Texas spent time together in the Top 25 this season, but only the Jayhawks were considered legitimate threats to go deep in March. Iowa State, for example, cruised to a 13-0 start with a few good wins over Michigan and Iowa, so when they lost to Oklahoma, it meant the Sooners must be good. Or so we thought. And after Kansas State — which lost to Northern Colorado and Charlotte in November — beat a couple of ranked teams like Oklahoma State and Texas, people thought the conference was full of really good teams beating up on one another. But after another disappointing March, it’s time to realize that the Big 12 has one great program and a bunch of other ones capable of playing well for a few weeks at a time. Michigan State has Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin. North Carolina has Duke and Syracuse. Kentucky has Florida. Kansas has a handful of teams capable of upsetting them in their building and disappearing a week later. This is most evident in the fact that Kansas has won 10 straight regular season titles. Bill Self is a future Hall of Fame coach and is on one of the best regular season runs we have seen in decades, but would he have 10 straight titles in any other major conference? Not a chance. And with Self’s prowess on the recruiting trail lately, it’s hard to see any Big 12 team ending the Jayhawks’ run of conference titles.

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Your Way-Too-Early 2014-15 Big 12 Power Rankings

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 9th, 2014

While the Big 12 catapulted a league-record seven teams into the Big Dance this season, the absence of a Final Four team among the ranks marked the latest in a series of missed opportunities for the conference to assert itself in the national conversation. The NCAA Tournament is chaotic by nature, but failing to send a single team to the final weekend eight times in the last 10 years is not the kind of distinction that the league’s administrators and coaches pride themselves on. Still, the Big 12 remains a very good league, and even though the statuses of a few NBA Draft hopefuls remain up in the air, there’s enough continuity remaining for us to ballpark the conference’s pecking order heading into next season. This is far from a predicted order of finish, but in the second week of April, here is how we think things stand.

1. Kansas

Betting against Kansas to win the Big 12 is a fool's errand, but if they want to make noise in March, they need to resolve their point guard issues.

Everyone knows that betting against Kansas to win the Big 12 is a fool’s errand, but if the Jayhawks want to make noise next March, they need to resolve their point guard issues.

  • Departures of Note: Andrew Wiggins, Tarik Black, Joel Embiid (probable)
  • Notable Returnees: Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden, Conner Frankamp, Naadir Tharpe, Brannen Greene, Jamari Traylor, Frank Mason
  • New Additions: Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander, Hunter Mickelson (Arkansas transfer)
  • Outlook: The back line should be very solid once again, especially if the Jayhawks can land Myles Turner. That possibility only figured to be an option if Joel Embiid left, and all indications are that the Cameroonian center will announce his departure later today. Perhaps of greater note is that there’s no imminent cure for the Jayhawks’ backcourt problems, though they do have options in Mason and Frankamp.

2. Texas

  • Departures of Note: None
  • Notable Returnees: Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes, Isaiah Taylor, Javan Felix, Conner Lammert, Prince Ibeh
  • New Additions: Jordan Barnett, Obinna Oleka (JuCo transfer)
  • Outlook: The Longhorns figure to return everyone from the cohesive group that got Rick Barnes comfortably off the hot seat and in the direction of conference Coach Of The Year accolades. Texas will be good again next year, but swaying the commitment of in-state standout big man Myles Turner could provide the program the opening it needs to dethrone Kansas.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Wisconsin 69, #6 Baylor 52

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on March 27th, 2014

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Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent. He filed this report after #2 Wisconsin’s 69-52 win over #6 Baylor. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

A Wisconsin player scoring at the rim was a familiar sight Thursday night. (Harry How/Getty Images)

A Wisconsin player scoring at the rim was a familiar sight Thursday night. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Soft Baylor Zone. Two possessions in, one of the story lines of this game became clear: there was going to be a ton of space in the middle of the Baylor zone for Badger players to operate. On back-to-back plays, Frank Kaminsky caught the ball in the middle of the lane and turned around to find the Baylor defender, only to discover that there was nobody there. On the first, he wheeled to the rim for a layup and on the second, he settled for a jumper (which he missed), but this scenario played out time and time again: Badger catches the ball in the lane only to be surprised by the fact that there was no Baylor player there to defend him. And credit Wisconsin for continuing to take advantage of that. Of their 29 first-half points, 16 came in the paint. The second half was distorted some by free throws, but still 20 of the Badgers 40 second half points came in the paint. And on every possession it seemed that the Badgers made it a priority to get the ball inside first and work inside-out. And it was deadly.
  2. Wisconsin Perimeter Defense. Baylor’s offense is predicated on being able to shoot the three well; they take 34% of their field goal attempts from deep and knock in 38.6% of those shots. However, the Badgers’ biggest defensive strength is their ability to limit good looks from deep, allowing the opposition to take just 25.9% of their field goals from three coming into the game. Tonight, those stats played out as Baylor was only able to take 26.3% of their shots behind the three-point line. And many of those were bad looks, resulting in a 2-of-15 night from deep for the Bears.
  3. Dunks and Layups. We mentioned Baylor’s awful defense above, but let’s give credit to the Badgers for running great offense. Against a team that plays primarily zone, like Baylor does, it is all too easy to get caught up in launching perimeter jumpers. The Badgers did not settle for that fool’s gold, instead attacking the rim. Of their 26 field goals, 16 were either dunks or layups. And many of the perimeter jumpers they did get (and often make) came as the result of inside-out offense after the ball was worked inside and then back out for a clean look after the Baylor defense collapsed. Really, the whole thing was a clinic for the Badgers. Read the rest of this entry »
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No Matter What Happens Tonight, Scott Drew Deserves a Fair Shake

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 27th, 2014

Ever since Baylor blew the doors off of Creighton on Sunday, the public tide has started to turn in Scott Drew’s favor. He hasn’t shaken all of the criticisms — that he’s underachieved with top-flight talent in previous seasons and that he’s toed a fine line with his recruiting strategies (as if other programs don’t)  – but with every postseason win he continued to chalk up, the noise has definitely quieted. On Wednesday night alone, CBSSports.com‘s Dennis Dodd and Yahoo!‘s Jeff Eisenberg posted columns detailing why the doubters have it all wrong about Drew. While Dodd and Eisenberg aren’t the first to defend the Baylor head coach, their points remain that regardless of what you think about his tactics, the results he’s produced deserve acclaim among some of the best coaching jobs in the country — no matter what happens tonight against Wisconsin.

No matter what happens tonight, it's time to evaluate Scott Drew with fairness. (AP)

You don’t have to like Scott Drew, but it’s past time to evaluate his tenure at Baylor with fairness. (AP)

The Bears are one win away from a chance to play in the Final Four for the third time in five seasons, so if they beat the Badgers this evening, they’ll have cracked the Elite Eight with three very different teams. While one of the prevalent knocks on Drew is that last season’s group — which had a similar look and feel to this year’s team in terms of roster construction — failed to make the NCAA Tournament, it’s also true that three of his best players this season were guys who were passed over by bigger programs. In other words, if you’re going to penalize Drew for missing out on a Dance card with Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and a senior Pierre Jackson, that’s fine; but if you’re going to do that, it’s only fair to also credit him for getting the most out of Kenny Chery and Royce O’Neale and parlaying that player development into postseason success. Going back even further, he’s offset the lukewarm contributions of hyped recruits Perry Jones and Quincy Miller by getting great value from low-level prospects like Jackson, Quincy Acy and Ekpe Udoh, all three of whom are now playing professionally.

Even if Drew loses tonight, he’ll still find himself among rarefied air in the coaching community. Only six other programs have made the Sweet Sixteen three times in the last five years: Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Not Kansas, not Duke, not Syracuse, not Connecticut. Not bad for a guy who arrived in Waco 11 years ago with the unenviable task of rebuilding a D-I program from essentially scratch. No matter what the narrative says you should think about him, stop thinking it. The guy can coach.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Thursday Night

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) & Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on March 27th, 2014

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Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent, and Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. Make sure to also follow @RTCSouthRegion and @RTCWestRegion for news and analysis from Memphis and Anaheim throughout the weekend.

Tonight we tip off the Sweet Sixteen with games from the South Region in Memphis, TN, and the West Region in Anaheim, CA. Here are the breakdowns for tonight’s games.

#10 Stanford vs. #11 Dayton — South Region Sweet Sixteen (at Memphis, TN) — 7:15 PM ET on CBS

Nobody expected the Flyers or Cardinal to be in this spot, but one of the two teams will be a game away from the Final Four after Thursday night. This battle between party crashers doesn’t figure to be the most entertaining Sweet Sixteen matchup when it comes to talent and overall quality of basketball, but after Stanford knocked off New Mexico and Kansas by a combined eight points, and Dayton defeated Ohio State and Syracuse by a mere three total points, we should at least be able to count on this game being a tight one. KenPom doesn’t disagree, as his predictor foresees a one-point final margin. Stanford is the team on the right side of that predicted final score, and despite displaying maddening amounts of game-to-game inconsistency all season long, I can’t find a way to disagree that it will be the Cardinal advancing to the regional final.

Sweet 16 Participants For The First Time In 30 Years, Dayton Will be Flying High When They Arrive In Memphis On Thursday Night, But Can Their Magical Ride Live On For Another Night?

Sweet  Sixteen Participants For The First Time In 30 Years, Dayton Will be Flying High When They Arrive In Memphis On Thursday Night, But Can Their Magical Ride Live On For Another Night?

Both these teams are double-digit seeds that the FedEx Forum could have never seen coming, but the narrative surrounding the two teams this week has pegged Dayton as the truer “Cinderella.” Vegas oddsmakers have also pegged the Flyers as a three-point underdog, and there’s also that three-decade Sweet Sixteen drought that lends itself to the role of plucky little David. But before recognizing that Stanford is hardly akin to Goliath, let’s also take a second to note that this Dayton team is more accomplished than many surprise second-weekend visitors of NCAA Tournaments past. They were the best team in the Atlantic 10 from February on (a league that sent six teams to this Tournament), have gone 12-2 in their last 14 games, and were one point and a late collapse away from beating Baylor in the Maui Invitational (they wound up beating Cal by 18 in the third place game). Their inclusion in this NCAA Tournament hung in the balance all season, but they’ve proven they belonged – both before and after admission was granted.

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Assessing Three Key Big 12 Matchups in the Sweet Sixteen

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 26th, 2014

The Big 12 has had a rough go of things in this season’s NCAA Tournament, but the conference is very much alive with two teams still playing. To briefly recap how we got here, Kansas returned to campus earlier than expected, Oklahoma State failed to carry its improved play into the Tournament, and Oklahoma fell victim to a #12 seed darling in North Dakota State. It’s safe to say that those teams underperformed relative to expectations both at the beginning of the season and after Selection Sunday, but the damage doesn’t end there. Kansas State was also bounced by Kentucky in the second round and Texas fell to Michigan in the round of 32 after needing a buzzer-beating putback to get past a mediocre Arizona State squad. While some attrition is to be expected whenever a large percentage of a conference makes the field, it was reasonable to believe that more than two teams from the Big 12 would emerge from the frenzied opening weekend. Still, what we’re left with are two proud programs in Baylor and Iowa State that have been playing well for about six weeks now. As the Cyclones and Bears get ready for their next tests against UConn and Wisconsin, respectively, here are the three key match-ups worth your attention.

After a performance for the ages in the Round of 32, DeAndre Kane will need to be at his best against UConn. (USA Today)

After a performance for the ages in the Round of 32, DeAndre Kane will need to be at his best yet again against UConn. (USA Today)

  1. DeAndre Kane vs. Shabazz Napier - The country’s two best do-everything guards lock horns in Madison Square Garden Friday night with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line — what could be better? After stepping up in a huge way with 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists against North Carolina Sunday, Kane will likely need another large performance to offset the loss of Georges Niang if the Cyclones are to make their first Elite Eight since 2000. On the other side, Napier was fantastic against Villanova, shaking off foul trouble and a tweaked leg on his way to 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting. The MSG crowd will certainly be pro-UConn, and Napier will have a chip on his shoulder after the Cyclones ended the Huskies’ NCAA Tournament defense a couple of years ago. While Kane and Napier may not be matched up against each other when they step onto the court, it stands to reason that whichever team gets the best performance from its stud guard will play for a chance to cut down the nets in New York. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Regional Reset: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on March 25th, 2014

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Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent, which begins Thursday night at Honda Center in Anaheim with Baylor vs. Wisconsin followed by San Diego State vs. Arizona. The South Regional Reset published earlier today and the East and Midwest Resets will release tomorrow. Make sure to also follow @RTCWestRegion for news and analysis from Anaheim throughout the week.

New Favorite: Arizona, #1, 32-4. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The Wildcats looked a little shaky in what turned into just a nine-point win in their round of 64 game against Weber State, but they really did little this weekend to change the popular notion that the Wildcats are not only the strong favorite in this region, but a legitimate contender for the national championship.

Arizona Did Little In The First Weekend To Make Us Second Guess Their Status As National Championship Contenders (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

Arizona Did Little In The First Weekend To Make Us Second Guess Their Status As National Championship Contenders. (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

Horse of Darkness:  Wisconsin, #2, 28-7. The Badgers took a 12-point deficit into the half against Oregon in the round of 32, getting lit up to the tune of somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.48 points per possession by a great offensive team for 20 minutes. But coming out of the locker room, they made a commitment to getting the ball inside on offense and getting back and challenging jump shooters on the defensive end. The adjustment turned into less than a point per possession in the second half for the Ducks, while the high-scoring Badgers were the one that turned in 1.5 points per possession. The Badgers have proven their ability to score in bunches this season, but if they can play defense like they did in the second half against Oregon, they’re going to be a real tough out.

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): Creighton Getting Demolished. The simple fact that Baylor advanced over Creighton isn’t all that shocking. But the manner in which it happened was stunning. Creighton shoots five-of-24 from three against the Baylor zone? A sketchy Baylor defense hold the nation’s best offensive team below a point per possession? Doug McDermott’s college career ends with just a 15-point performance? Stunning.

Completely Expected (1st Weekend): Mostly Chalk. Three of the top four seeds advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, and the one upset based on seed-line probably isn’t that much of an upset at all, as Baylor crushed Creighton to earn its 12th win in the last 14 games.

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Baylor 85, #3 Creighton 55

Posted by rtmsf on March 23rd, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

A Shared Moment Between Father and Son (SI.com)

A Shared Moment Between Father and Son (SI.com)

  1. Defensive Size and Length. It was painfully apparent from the early minutes of tonight’s game that Baylor had adequately game-planned for the Creighton offense (coming in as the nation’s most efficient unit). They were not going to allow any of the trio of National Player of the Year Doug McDermott, Ethan Wragge or Jahenns Manigat to get open looks from beyond the arc. They were instead willing to give up anything inside — providing single coverage with seven-footer Isaiah Austin — or shade away from Grant Gibbs or Austin Chatman. It worked like a charm. The NPOY only got up four shots in the entire first half, making one, and his teammate Wragge only shot twice (making neither). Manigat was in the same boat — two shots, zero makes — and as a result of this strategy predicated on Baylor’s ridiculous size and length all over the court, the Creighton offense was shut down with a miserable 20-point half (scoring only half of Baylor’s output). McDermott, Wragge and Manigat shot a combined 2-of-8 from the field in the first half, and 0-of-6 from three. Think about that for a minute. That’s just a complete lockdown. The second half was just a formality.
  2. It Was Raining Threes… But it wasn’t Creighton doing the trick tonight. Let’s get this out of the way first. Baylor is not a great three-point shooting team. While it’s true that they shot a nice 38.0 percent on the season, the majority of that work was put in by a single player, sharp-shooter Brady Heslip (104 threes on 45.6 percent shooting). Other high-volume guys like Kenny Chery and Gary Franklin were at 31 percent, and a handful of players like Royce O’Neale and Cory Jefferson hit a nice percentage but just don’t take many of them. Tonight it didn’t matter. The Bears drilled their first five attempts of the night, and turned in a super 7-of-9 performance that included 2-of-2 from O’Neale and Heslip and 3-of-3 from the inconsistent shooter, Chery. They hit a couple more in the second half to finish 11-of-18 on the night, but the treys that rained down on one end (and didn’t on the other) is what allowed Baylor to blow the game up in the first half and coast from there.
  3. Farewell to McBuckets. Only one team can walk away from a college basketball season in great spirits, but when the presumptive National Player of the Year goes out on such a foul and sour note, it’s a real shame. Taking nothing away from Baylor at all — the Bears were clearly the better team here — but it would have been great to see McDermott leave the game of college basketball on a higher note in a Sweet Sixteen or beyond. He never made it to the second weekend in his four-year career, but man, did he give us a bunch of great moments along the way. Over 3,000 points later, a guy who wasn’t considered good enough to play at the high-major level leaves as one of the all-time greats. Thank you, Doug, and godspeed.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Afternoon

Posted by Brian Otskey, Andrew Murawa, Walker Carey & Bennet Hayes on March 21st, 2014

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Half the day is in the books, and eight teams are headed home. We may not know what the Thursday evening sessions might have in store for us, but we can be confident in thinking there will be lots of excitement. Let’s continue our analysis of all of today’s games with the evening slate of eight contests.

#3 Duke vs. #14 Mercer – Midwest Region Round of 64 (from Raleigh, NC) – at 12:15 PM EST on CBS

Parker and Duke Face Mercer Today

Parker and Duke Face Mercer Today

Last season, the Atlantic Sun Tournament champions advanced to the Sweet 16. Mercer will try to repeat that accomplishment this season, but winning Friday’s game against Duke will be a very tall task. Duke forwards Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood lead a very talented Blue Devils squad that is an elite scoring team. There are no teams with close to Duke’s talent in the Atlantic Sun so Mercer has no basis for comparison leading into Friday afternoon’s action. Another thing that is working against Mercer is its lack of NCAA Tournament experience. The Bears have not been to the tournament since 1985. On the other hand, Duke has played in every NCAA Tournament since 1995. If Mercer is able to keep it close Friday, it will be because of its strong offense going up against an iffy Duke defense. Mercer averages an impressive 79.5 points per game and is shooting 47.5% from the field. Bears senior guard Langston Hall has been an impressive player throughout his collegiate career and his ability to make plays will be paramount to the team’s fortunes Friday. Mercer is a scrappy bunch that can keep it close in the first half, but expect Duke’s talent to take over in the second half and lead the Blue Devils to a comfortable victory.

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke

#6 Baylor vs #11 Nebraska – West Regional Second Round (at San Antonio, TX) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV

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Big 12 M5: 03.17.14 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on March 17th, 2014

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  1. The Big 12 was considered by many to be the best conference in the country this season, and that might have been validated when seven of its 10 schools made the NCAA Tournament yesterday. The 70 percent acceptance rate was higher than any other conference, and as Wendell Barnhouse at Big12sports.com points out, it is the only power conference without a team seeded lower than ninth. As Committee chairman Ron Wellman explains to Barnhouse, Big 12 teams playing so many top-50 RPI teams this season helped improve resumes and likely pushed a potential bubble team like Oklahoma State into the field.
  2. If you like NCAA Tournament committee conspiracy theories, Gregg Doyel has an interesting article here on just that topic. Other than the NBA Draft, the NCAA Tournament selection and bracketing process brings out as many conspiracy theorists as any sporting event. Doyel brings up a few interesting points in this year’s bracket, namely that #1 seed and untested Wichita State will potentially face an underseeded #4 Louisville team just 90 minutes from its campus in the Sweet Sixteen, while #6 seed Baylor gets two de facto home games in San Antonio in the first two rounds. Me? I don’t buy them. There are so many interesting potential match-ups (Wichita State vs Kansas State in the Round of 32, as Doyel also points out) that you’re going to get a few of them. The law of averages tells us that. Besides, when the committee had the perfect chance to put Border Civil War members Kansas and Missouri against each other in the Round of 32 last season, #1 seed Kansas was in the South region while #9 seed Missouri was in the Midwest. No conspiracy there.
  3. Seven-seed New Mexico quickly became many people’s upset pick when a potential rematch against #2 seed Kansas became a possibility in the Round of 32. And with the way the Jayhawks have been playing without Joel Embiid in the lineup, it certainly makes sense. Kansas beat New Mexico 80-63 back in December thanks to Embiid’s 18 points, six rebounds, and four blocks, and as Rustin Dodd points out, the Lobos are hot right now. Ten-seed Stanford isn’t, however, and the Cardinal looks to be a better match-up for Kansas in the round of 32.
  4. ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan takes a look at all 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament and puts them into  categories ranging from bracket busters to favorites, and a few places in-between. Kansas State, Texas and Baylor fell in the “High-Major Meh” category, and it’s hard to argue with him. I don’t see any of those three teams surviving the first weekend. He has a little more faith in Oklahoma, thanks in large part to head coach Lon Kruger. Kansas is just outside the “Favorites” group because of the uncertainty of Joel Embiid’s back injury.
  5. One of the best players in the Big 12 is preparing for the first NCAA Tournament game of his career, and it has been a long time coming. But I’m not talking about freshmen Andrew Wiggins or Marcus Foster. Rather, Iowa State guard DeAndre Kane played four seasons in relative obscurity at Marshall before transferring to Iowa State for a fifth season. He led the Cyclones to the Big 12 Tournament championship and a #3 seed as the Cyclones have become a trendy pick to advance to the second weekend and beyond.
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