Steve Alford To UCLA: More Of The Same?

Posted by AMurawa on March 31st, 2013

Less than a week after he removed Ben Howland from his job as the UCLA head coach and after taking on a couple of strikes with his top two candidates, athletic director Dan Guerrero dug in and roped a solid line-drive single in hiring former New Mexico head coach Steve Alford. It is in no way a home run hire, but it is a workmanlike chance at bat. Maybe it turns into a forgettable event if there are strikeouts and pop-ups down the road, but if Alford and UCLA play their cards right, maybe this single is the start of a big inning.

The Hiring Of Steve Alford May Not Be The Home Run UCLA Fans Hoped For, But It Could Be The Start Of Big Things (AP)

The Hiring Of Steve Alford May Not Be The Home Run UCLA Fans Hoped For, But It Could Be The Start Of Big Things (AP)

To begin with, let’s put this idea of “UCLA should have just kept Howland” to bed. That was not an option, a change had to be made; it was a matter of finding the best possible new coach for the program, not a matter of finding a better coach than Howland. But, there are plenty of areas in which Alford compares negatively with Howland. For instance, it is true that Howland had more success in his brief pre-UCLA career (four years at Pitt, five at Northern Arizona) than Alford has had in his 18 years at his three previous stops. Despite getting to the NCAA Tournament three times at both Iowa and New Mexico, the only time Alford has made the Sweet Sixteen was in his final season at then Southwest Missouri State (now just Missouri State). Even more disturbing, that record comes despite some regular season success that four times earned him a five-seed or higher. So yeah, for a UCLA program that prizes success in March far more than success in the regular season, Guerrero just hired a guy with a shakier postseason record than Howland or his predecessor, Steve Lavin, who was fired after reaching five Sweet Sixteens in seven seasons.

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Pac-12 M5: 03.29.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 29th, 2013

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  1. Another day another UCLA coaching search update. With Shaka Smart officially out of the picture, talk about Butler’s Brad Stevens is starting to heat up. First, ESPN broke the completely obvious news that he is UCLA’s top target, while also briefly reporting that Stevens and UCLA were in contract negotiations. Later, FoxSports reported that Stevens was actually in Westwood in the middle of negotiations with UCLA. This report has not been confirmed anywhere, though. However, as should be expected of the calm and quiet Stevens, he’s not commenting on the job at all, other than to say he is still the coach at Butler. And all Butler president James Danko can offer is that he hopes his head coach stats. Elsewhere, N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried tweeted out that he is “committed” to staying in his current job, which really means nothing, as offering that statement does little but make him have to answer some tough questions if he were to wind up taking the UCLA job. Although you can probably read the tea leaves to find that Gottfried hasn’t received a whole lot of encouragement from those in charge of the UCLA search.
  2. One other thing on the UCLA coaching search: for some reason, writers tangentially associated with the Colorado program keep trying to float Tad Boyle as a candidate for the Bruin job. And for no apparent reason. Certainly he’s a fine coach and the job he has done taking the Buffaloes to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances (and, let’s face it, it should be three straight – CU got screwed in 2011) while building up a passionate new fanbase is commendable. But the UCLA job search would probably have to go pretty poorly, with name after name passing on the job, before Boyle gets hired. Again, no offense to Boyle who I think the world of as a coach and expect to have a bright future, but at this point, as a “deranged buffalo” points out, he just hasn’t done enough quite yet to merit the attention of athletic directors at the six elite “blueblood” college basketball programs.
  3. Oh, and in case you forgot, the USC coaching job is also open, though there is nowhere near the speculation about it as there is across town. With some of the top candidates already out of the picture, names like Tommy Amaker, Tubby Smith, Tim Floyd, Mike Hopkins and, get this, Ben Howland, are at the top of the list.
  4. Speaking of coaching searches, Oregon head coach Dana Altman has been a party in a couple entertaining searches. First, there was the extended and wildly optimistic Oregon search that wound up landing Altman, only after like 600 (note: that number is only an estimate) other coaches turned down Nike U. But Pac-12 fans may have forgotten the 2007 debacle where Altman accepted Arkansas’ offer for their head coaching position, only to renege a day later after a change of heart. I only bring this up now because, (1) well, I needed an additional point for my morning five, but also because (2) it goes to show just how drawn out and dramatic these coaching searches can be and (3) it is a testament to how lucky Oregon is to have Altman, one of the best coaches in the nation.
  5. And, as we wrap up another week, we also wrap up the career of some great Pac-12 players, as Arizona’s demise in the Sweet 16 last night ends the college careers of Mark Lyons, Kevin Parrom and Solomon Hill. Hill, for one, did not go down without a fight, as Bruce Pascoe writes. He scored nine-straight in the middle of the half to rescue the Wildcats from a rough patch spanning the half and to keep his team within shouting distance of Ohio State. While his career at UA is done, he does go down in the record books, tied with Kyle Fogg for most games played in Wildcat history.
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Pac-12 M5: 03.26.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 26th, 2013

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  1. A day after the news came down that Ben Howland’s days as the UCLA head coach were over, there he was, back in front of the media at the Westwood campus on Monday, giving a farewell press conference. Howland, as expected, was gracious, thanking players and athletic department personnel, including the athletic director who just fired him. Howland said he hopes to continue coaching, although he realizes that his next job will take a step back in prestige. While the growing consensus seems to be that UCLA was right to part ways with the coach, he still gets a lot of respect and will likely kill it wherever he winds up next. Here’s hoping he takes a year off, finds some nice fly-fishing spots and comes back in 2014-15 at either a mid-major or a struggling major conference team and undertakes a successful rebuilding job.
  2. As for the next UCLA head coach, until a contract is signed, sealed and delivered, this coaching search is going to be in the news almost daily. But for now, no real news has come out, other than a ton of marginally sane suggestions s to who the next Bruins coach will be. For instance , when writers from around the Tribune Company (the owner of the Los Angeles Times, among others) came up with their list of potential names, John Calipari was one of the suggestions, along with Anthony Grant, Andy Kennedy and Andy Enfield. Enfield’s probably too green yet to get the UCLA job, Kennedy certainly ain’t happening, and Calipari? Yeah, not buying that at all. But Grant is an intriguing name, should UCLA strike out on their first few targets. Oh, and N.C. State fans? No need to worry.
  3. Arizona is on its way to Los Angeles this week to compete in the Sweet Sixteen at the Staples Center on Thursday. The last time this Wildcats team was in Los Angeles, to face USC and UCLA the week spanning the end of February and the beginning of March, they came away with a pair of losses. And yet, both head coach Sean Miller and sophomore guard Nick Johnson point to that road trip as the time when things started to come together for the team. Johnson in particular says the Wildcats have been a different defensive team since that trip, and the results seem to show it, as they’ve allowed just 0.95 points per possession against four NCAA Tournament teams and one NIT team.
  4. The other Pac-12 team still alive in the NCAA Tournament is Oregon, but they’ve got a tough task ahead as they face the Tournament’s number one overall seed, Louisville, on Friday night. While just getting this far is a success for the Ducks, they’re still focused on getting even further. But in order to do that, they’ll need to take better care of the ball against the Cardinals’ defensive pressure after turning it over 36 times last weekend in their two dominating wins in San Jose. They got away with it last week, but it is likely that if they turn it over 18 times against Louisville, they’ll be back in Eugene on Saturday.
  5. Lastly, we circle back around to the coaching situation, as Percy Allen goes through all the Pac-12 jobs and tries to determine who is and who is not on the hot seat. He lists the obvious ones: Ken Bone, Craig Robinson and Johnny Dawkins, and although the expectation is that all will be back next season, the 2013-14 year will certainly be make-or-break years for each. Also on Allen’s list is Herb Sendek, but he earned himself the benefit of the doubt with this season’s improvement, although if Jahii Carson winds up going pro this season, they’re likely back to square one. And then the final name on his list is Larry Krystkowiak, who is in no way on the hot seat whatsoever, as Utah will almost certainly give him the entirety of his five-year contract to turn things around.
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Morning Five: 03.26.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 26th, 2013

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    1. After a run of three straight trips to the Final Four UCLA has floundered despite its rich tradition and fertile recruiting base, which led to the eventual firing of Ben Howland. Many writers have tried to pinpoint the reason that Howland was unable to reach the same level of success he had early in his run at UCLA, but perhaps the most interesting theory we have heard comes from George Dohrmann (you may remember him for being rather unpopular around UCLA) who traces Howland’s downfall to an incident in 2009 where Howland turned his back on a recruit who Howland had offered a scholarship too then waited just long enough where the recruit was unable to secure another equally coveted scholarship offer. We are not quite sure that we put as much weight on that incident as Dohrmann appears to, but it certainly didn’t help. The question is whether UCLA can get a coach who is able to lift them back into contention for national titles. There are some pundits who question whether UCLA can become a national power again (we think it can although obviously never at the level of the Wooden dynasty), but Bill Plaschke is not among them and feels that the firing of Howland was a step in the right direction. If the Bruins are to become a national power again, Plaschke is probably right, but we will need to see who the UCLA administration can bring in to take back the local recruiting scene and make UCLA a premier destination for recruits again.
    2. Apparently beating a coach who was about to be fired (Howland) was not enough for Tubby Smith as he was fired by Minnesota yesterday. In the end, the NCAA Tournament and the season overall was a fairly accurate reflection of Smith’s time at Minnesota–full of ups and downs, which led the team to seemingly surprise and disappoint its fans at the same time. After leaving Kentucky following the decline of the program from a title in his first year (aka Pitino’s leftovers) to one that led it to the hands of Billy Clyde, Smith came to Minnesota with the expectation that he could help turn around a program that had shown great potential at times, but always remained a middle-tier Big Ten program at best. In the end Smith left the program roughly where he found it–the middle to bottom of the conference–after making the NCAA Tournament three times in six years (advancing past their first game only once, which was this year) and never finishing better than sixth in the conference as he finished with a 124-81 record overall and 46-62 in the Big Ten. Those clearly are not stellar numbers, but the question is whether Minnesota can land a bigger name than Smith (certainly nobody with a more impressive mustache than the one Smith sported this season). We have heard Shaka Smart‘s name thrown around online, but we can’t imagine that he would even bother talking to Minnesota when more enticing jobs are available (see above). The one name that would be interesting is former NBA coach Flip Saunders, who coached the Timberwolves and was offered up by his colleague Andy Katz (clearly trying to kill off the competition at ESPN).
    3. If you are looking for your buzzkill story line of the Sweet 16, Tim Layden has you covered as he digs into the resume of Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield. Coming into the NCAA Tournament, Enfield was primarily known for various blogs talking about his wife’s modeling career, but with each win there has been increasing scrutiny on his past including his involvement in a software company TractManager that Layden claims Enfield’s involvement is not as deep as Enfield has previously claimed. Honestly, we think this is basically a non-story and are surprised that SI decided to run with it, but we would not be surprised to see somebody try to make this into a media question on the days leading up to the Sweet 16.
    4. The season just ended, but teams have already started raiding other school’s coaching staffs and Brad Stevens’ Butler program is not immune to it as South Alabama hired Matthew Graves, Butler’s associate head coach. The hiring is not particularly surprising as the Jaguars were looking to replace Ronnie Arrow, who left after just 10 games this past season, but it is somewhat surprising that they would hire somebody who admitted that he “didn’t know a lot about South Alabama except for that moment before I looked into it” (last paragraph). Still the Stevens’ bloodline was probably good enough for a Sun Belt school, but it will be interesting to see if a Stevens disciple can carry on the tradition away from Butler (plenty of coaching trees have shown that results tend to be quite variable).
    5. There have been plenty of sportswriters who say college basketball is dying and have pointed to a few atrocious games this season as evidence, but don’t tell that to the American public at least according to a press release from Turner, which claims that NCAA ratings were the highest they have been for the opening weekend in 23 years. We would like to believe the headline number, but we get the feeling that these are probably more reflective of good numbers relative to the past few years that have been largely aided for the period preceding that in which there was only one channel for the NCAA Tournament to gather its cumulative rating from rather than the four channels viewers currently have to choose from during the opening weekend.
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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by KDoyle on March 25th, 2013

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Kevin Doyle (@KLDoyle11) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. 

The South Regional begins Friday night in Arlington, Texas, with Kansas vs. Michigan followed by Florida vs. Florida Gulf Coast. The East Region ResetWest Region Reset and Midwest Region Reset published earlier today. Also make sure to follow RTCSouthRegion for news and analysis from Texas throughout the week.

Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Hosts the South Regional

Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Hosts the South Regional

New Favorite: #3 Florida. It hasn’t been an arduous road to the Sweet Sixteen as Florida dismantled #14 Northwestern State and #11 Minnesota to advance to Arlington. Although the Golden Gophers cut a 21-point halftime deficit down to eight midway through the second half, they never truly challenged Florida and the Gators coasted to an easy win. Did we learn anything that we already didn’t know about Florida in the process? Probably not. Billy Donovan’s team is as good as anyone at blowing out inferior competition, but it was impressive to see their resolve demonstrated against Minnesota. The common belief is that the Gators crumble down the stretch in close games — amazingly, they have not won a game by single digits this year — but there was no need for late-game drama this weekend. To reach the Elite Eight, Florida will have to next beat #15 Florida Gulf Coast. Not exactly murderer’s row to get to the South Region final by having to play against all double-digit seeds, but FGCU has already proven that it is far from a traditional #15 seed. After posting big wins over Georgetown and San Diego State, the Eagles have shown they can more than hang with any team in the NCAA Tournament. With that said, I projected Florida to win the region when the bracket was initially released and they’ve only confirmed that belief after the first weekend.

Horse of Darkness: #4 Michigan. So much for Shaka Smart’s vaunted havoc defense. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. had little problem dealing with Virginia Commonwealth’s pressing defense en route to a convincing 25-point victory. The Rams’ 71 point swing— a 46-point win against Akron and 25-point loss to Michigan — is by far the greatest two-game switcheroo in NCAA Tournament history, as the Wolverines demonstrated that all a team needs to foil Smart’s plan is a backcourt consisting of two NBA-level players. Michigan is grossly underseeded and is probably closer to a #2 seed than #4. This is a team that was ranked in the Top 10 for virtually the entire season, but limped into the NCAA Tournament after going 6-6 in its final 12 Big Ten games. It has been evident that Michigan’s style of play has kicked up a notch against non-Big Ten teams; South Dakota State and VCU’s urge to speed up the pace of the action seemed to play right into Michigan’s hands. With Trey Burke running the show, John Beilein has the best point guard in the South Region going up against a Kansas team that clearly lacks a steady one of its own. Kansas played one good half in the first two rounds — albeit an extremely good second half against North Carolina — but is ripe for the taking.

Burke Played Like a NPOY Candidate Last Game (AnnArbor.com)

Burke Played Like a NPOY Candidate Last Game (AnnArbor.com)

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #15 Florida Gulf Coast 78, #2 Georgetown 68. What, like you thought there could possibly be a surprise that trumps what Florida Gulf Coast did in Philadelphia on Friday and Sunday? Not only did the Eagles make history as the first #15 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, they did so with flying colors — quite literally — in beating Georgetown and San Diego State by 10 points each. FGCU’s win over Georgetown was certainly a major surprise, as a 24-10 team that finished in second place in the Atlantic Sun and had been swept by Lipscomb soundly beat a 25-6 Big East team with a slew of wins over top teams. Yet after its resounding win over the Hoyas, was anyone that surprised with its victory over a San Diego State team that proved to be mostly average in a Mountain West Conference that went 2-5 in this year’s Dance? Neither win was a fluke for Andy Enfield’s squad; the Eagles flat out beat these two teams that spent much of the season ranked in the Top 25. From Andy Enfield’s story — a former NBA assistant with Rick Pitino, owning his own company called “Tract Manager,” and marrying a supermodel — to the fact that FGCU has been a Division I program for less than a decade, the endless stream of alley-oops and ridiculous dunks thrown down by high-flying no-name players, the swagger and jovial attitude of Sherwood Brown, and the heartwarming story of Brett Comer, among many other things… words simply cannot do justice to what Florida Gulf Coast accomplished over the weekend.

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Pac-12 M5: 03.25.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 25th, 2013

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  1. On Saturday evening, word began to trickle out through various national reports that UCLA had fired head coach Ben Howland. Later that night, UCLA issued a statement disputing those reports. And then Sunday evening, the school officially announced his firing. It counts as “news” only in the strictest sense of the word, as exactly nobody was surprised by the announcement, but it does open up what should be an entertaining coaching search as the Bruins shoot for the stars and then wind up with… Mike Brown? Certainly, Jeff Goodman has better sources than I as to the UCLA coaching search, but if Mike Brown is the next UCLA head coach, I’ll walk down Sunset Boulevard in my boxers. Right after I join the UCLA fans rioting and looting with pitchforks and torches at the Morgan Center. Most reports indicate that Shaka Smart is the first choice for UCLA, though it remains to be seen whether he is interested. Other names associated with the search include Brad Stevens, Jay Wright and Washington’s Lorenzo Romar.
  2. The college basketball guys at CBS Sports also have their opinions on who will wind up with the vacant USC coaching job and, as we learned this weekend, it isn’t going to be Jamie Dixon. Other candidates for the job include Smart (apparently on everyone’s wish list), Memphis’ Josh Pastner and Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins, although with the UCLA job open, it may be awhile before the USC decision is made.
  3. Certainly by now you all know that Arizona and Oregon are still marching along, while California, Colorado and those Bruins have all bowed out of the NCAA Tournament. But what about those lesser tournaments? Well, after winning the NIT title last season, Stanford’s attempted run to a second-straight lesser title ended on Saturday at Alabama. Arizona State, likewise, bombed out in the second round of the NIT in a barnburner at Baylor, while Washington got dropped by BYU in the first round.
  4. The other thing we see this time of year when teams’ seasons begin to end are players announcing their intentions for the NBA Draft. Oregon State’s Eric Moreland became the first Pac-12 player to officially declare (aside from Shabazz Muhammad having Howland declare for him, that is) his intentions to explore his NBA appeal without the help of an agent, leaving him with a chance to return to Corvallis. However, speculation is that Moreland’s time at OSU is done and that he’ll be playing for pay next season. While there’s little chance that the offensively raw Moreland will earn a guaranteed first round money even in what is considered a weak draft class, his athletic ability could earn him a second round flyer or, more likely, D-League or overseas offers.
  5. Meanwhile, Arizona State fans will have to sweat out Jahii Carson’s decision over the next couple weeks. Carson expects to consult with the NBA to suss out his draft status and “test the waters,” but depending on what he hears back, he could return. Carson’s got the speed, athleticism and moxie to be a very good NBA player, but at the end of the day, right now he’s a sub-6’0” point guard who lacks a completely reliable jumper. The odds are in favor of Carson returning for his sophomore season, but all he needs is one NBA GM to profess his undying love to convince Carson to follow the money. Stay tuned.
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A Pair Of Job Openings In Southern California

Posted by AMurawa on March 23rd, 2013

When UCLA bowed out of the NCAA Tournament in convincing fashion to Minnesota, the Ben Howland era in Westwood ended along with the Bruins’ season (an official announcement is expected in the next couple days). Meanwhile, across town, USC’s first target for their open head coaching position, Pitt’s Jamie Dixon, signed an extension with his current school, effectively eliminating him from contention for that job. With all other coaches in the conferences expected back next season (Stanford has announced that Johnny Dawkins will return, and it looks like Ken Bone will return to Washington State, though no official announcement has been made), we’ll take a quick look at those two jobs and try to read the tea leaves a bit as to what the future may hold.

Ben Howland, UCLA

Despite Early Success, Ben Howland’s Time As The UCLA Coach Has Ended (Jamie Squire, Getty Images)

While UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero made no decisive comment following the game Friday night (“We’ll take stock in the next couple of days and talk like we always do with all coaches,” he said), expectations are that sooner rather than later we’ll have an announcement that the partnership between Howland and UCLA will end. And, regardless of whether Guerrero has an improvement lined up, this is a move that has to be made – for both parties. The relationship has soured, the fickle UCLA fan base has abandoned ship, West Coast recruiting has largely dried up, Howland seems to have compromised his principles, and, the kiss of death, Bill Walton has weighed in heavily in favor of a change at the top of the program. The excitement of three straight Final Four trips from 2006-08 is a distant memory. Howland is still a very good coach, but he’s not a very good coach going forward for UCLA and it is time for both sides to move on.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Minnesota 83, #6 UCLA 63

Posted by WCarey on March 22nd, 2013

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Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #6 UCLA and #11 Minnesota in Austin.

Three Key Takeaways.

Did Ben Howland Coach His Last Game in Westwood?

Did Ben Howland Coach His Last Game in Westwood?

  1. Minnesota’s effort was outstanding. For a team that was woefully inconsistent in the regular season, the Golden Gophers put together a very strong performance in its victory over UCLA. In last week’s loss to Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament, Minnesota only managed to score 49 points and looked horrible on offense for almost the entire game. Friday night was a completely different story for the Golden Gophers as they took advantage of a very poor UCLA defense and exploded for 83 points. Minnesota got a ton of good looks throughout the game, which is evident by its 50% shooting mark from the field and its 60% mark from three. UCLA was not exactly top-notch competition, but the Minnesota team that won Friday night looked much more like the Minnesota team that had beat Michigan State and Indiana than the Minnesota team that put up 49 points against Illinois last weekend.
  2. UCLA played like it wanted its season to end. When Jordan Adams went down with a broken foot in the Pac-12 Tournament, it was huge blow to the Bruins. Many national pundits believed UCLA would struggle against Minnesota without Adams, as he was the team’s best defender all season. There is no way the pundits thought that the Bruins would struggle as bad as they did in the blowout loss. Minnesota came into the game averaging 68.4 points per game on the season and it scored 83 against the Bruins. Minnesota came into the game shooting 44.2% from the field on the season, it shot 50% against the Bruins. Tubby Smith‘s squad was able to reach these figures due to the countless open looks that were afforded them by the UCLA defense. Golden Gophers guard Andre Hollins finished with 28 points and was 5-of-8 from deep. UCLA did not make a single adjustment when Hollins started to get hot. There were also several instances of where Minnesota big men Trevor Mbakwe and Elliott Eliason just outworked the Bruins’ interior players to grab offensive boards to help their team retain possession. UCLA’s offense was also horrible, as it shot just 31.7% from the field including a ghastly 18.2% from three. While it is understandable that teams do have poor shooting night, what was so dumbfounding about UCLA’s is that it continued to take horrible shots on bad looks until the final buzzer. The Bruins played like they did not want to be in the NCAA Tournament and it showed on both ends of the court in their pathetic loss to Minnesota.
  3. It might be time for a coaching change in Westwood. While the Bruins did finish 25-10 and win the outright regular season Pac-12 title, with the riches of talent the team has possessed over the years, the team just has not won enough. UCLA has missed the tournament in two of the last four seasons and only has two tournament wins since 2008. Considering that Steve Lavin was let go by UCLA after making the tournament in six of his seven seasons in Westwood and taking the Bruins to five Sweet 16s, it should be to the surprise of no one if UCLA decides to make a coaching change after this flameout against Minnesota. Another thing that works against Howland is that according to a Chris Foster story in Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times, “he had received no indication from his bosses about his status or what his team had to accomplish for him to stay on the job.”

Star of the Game. Andre Hollins, Minnesota. The sophomore guard put forth quite the offensive performance for the Golden Gophers. He tallied 28 points on 8-of-16 from the field and knocked back 5-of-8 from deep. Hollins was Minnesota’s go-to guy all night and he responded with a very good offensive performance. If Minnesota wants any chance at beating Florida on Sunday, it is going to need a similar performance from Hollins.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Evening

Posted by KDoyle on March 22nd, 2013

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#2 Georgetown vs. #15 Florida Gulf Coast – South Region Second Round (at Philadelphia) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS

Florida Gulf Coast is one of the better stories in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Only in their sixth year as a Division 1 program, the Eagles are riding their first winning season in history thanks to the hiring of former Florida State assistant Andy Enfield. In Enfield’s first year, they finished 15-17, but were a game away from the NCAA Tournament as they lost to Belmont in the Atlantic Sun finals. This year, Florida Gulf Coast has been the team to beat, and it began with an early season win over Miami (FL). FGCU’s style of play greatly differs from today’s opponent, the Georgetown Hoyas. The Hoyas are predicated on a stingy zone defense that rarely allows for clean looks at the basket, and they play at a snail’s pace. Led by Otto Porter, Georgetown has a legitimate star that can carry them deep into the NCAA Tournament. FGCU very much likes to get up and down the floor with Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson leading the attack. If FGCU is able to get out in the open floor and score in transition, they’ll keep it close for much of the game. Problem is that not many teams control the pace of a game quite like Georgetown—that’s what makes them such a difficult opponent as they force the opposition to play their style of game. Historically, Georgetown has struggled in the NCAA Tournament under John Thompson III as they’ve failed to reach the second weekend in four of six appearances under him, but many believe this is a different Hoya team. FGCU is playing with house money and expect them to make a game of this, but in front of a heavy Georgetown crowd in Philadelphia the Hoyas are simply too much in the end.

Andy Enfield has his FGCU squad playing great basketball. (AP)

Andy Enfield has his FGCU squad playing great basketball. (AP)

The RTC Certified Pick: Georgetown

#2 Ohio State vs. #15 Iona – West Regional Second Round (at Dayton, OH) – 7:15 p.m. ET on CBS
One of the nation’s most balanced teams, the knock on the Buckeyes for the longest time this season was that they didn’t have a secondary scorer to help out junior DeShaun Thomas. We’ll get to that in a second, but let’s just say that Iona never had such a problem. Senior guard Lamont “Momo” Jones has always been the main offensive weapon on this team, never afraid to look for his own shot, but the Gaels have always trusted guard Sean Armand and forward David Laury to chip in heavily in the scoring column. And as a result, the Gaels have one of the most efficient offenses in the mid-major ranks. The problem for Tim Cluess’ team is the complete inability to stop teams on defense; only nine times all season have they held an opponent below one point per possession in a game. Given that Ohio State is one of the best defensive teams in the nation (sixth in defensive efficiency per KenPom.com), you can expect the Buckeyes to at least slow Iona’s prolific offense. And given that Thad Matta has been getting significantly improved offensive play out of guys like Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson, you can expect the Bucks to take advantage of that buttery soft Gael defense. While Momo Jones, et al. have the ability to make some exciting plays when they’ve got the ball, their inattention to details defensively will allow the Buckeyes to have more than their share of exciting offensive plays as well.

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The Official RTC Bracket: South and East Regions

Posted by KDoyle on March 20th, 2013

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With the NCAA Tournament officially underway as of last night’s game between North Carolina A&T and Liberty — although, let’s be honest, things don’t really begin to heat up until Thursday afternoon — we are unveiling the Official RTC Bracket today. Up first are the South and East Regions with the Midwest and West Regions to follow later this afternoon. Prior to revealing the picks, some quick analysis, and four questions to our bracket experts, here’s our methodology.

The inspiration behind the bracket largely comes from our weekly Blogpoll where a number of ballots from key contributors are combined to form a single Top 25. Rather than have eight people put their heads together and collectively fill out the bracket, we asked each to select their own bracket. Afterward, those selections were tallied up and the team with the majority vote in each slot is the one picked to advance below. As an example, you will notice that in the #8 vs. #9 game in the South Region, North Carolina was picked to advance in seven of eight brackets — hence the 88% tally next to the Tar Heels’ name. Deeper into the bracket, you may wonder how it’s possible for Kansas to advance past Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen with just 50% of the brackets choosing the Jayhawks, but that’s because three brackets had Michigan and one bracket had VCU, thereby giving Kansas the edge.

Here’s the first half of the 2013 Official RTC Bracket:

 

South and East Regions

Quick Hitters From the South Region

  • Advancing to Atlanta: #3 Florida
  • Round of 64 Upset: #11 Minnesota over #6 UCLA
  • Later Round Upsets: #3 Florida over #2 Georgetown in the Sweet Sixteen and #3 Florida over #1 Kansas in the Elite Eight
  • Three Most Disputed Games: #11 Minnesota over #6 UCLA, #4 Michigan over #5 VCU, #1 Kansas over #4 Michigan

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Pac-12 M5: 03.19.13 Edition

Posted by PBaruh on March 19th, 2013

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  1. Ben Howland’s future at UCLA is still in question. Howland has deflected all questions about his job status to athletic director Dan Guerrero, and with a difficult match-up looming against Minnesota in the NCAA Tournament, it’s still not clear what the head coach needs to do to keep his job in Westwood. Would a Sweet Sixteen appearance suffice or is a Final Four appearance necessary? If Howland were to be relieved of his duties at the end of this year, he would leave UCLA with a career 233-106 record (as of now), four conference titles, and three Final Four appearances. No matter the accolades Howland and UCLA have racked up in his tenure, though, it has to be noted that the Bruins didn’t qualify for the NCAA Tournament in two out of the past three seasons and therefore it wouldn’t be a shock to see him fired at the end of the season.
  2. Although Arizona ended the season poorly, the selection committee still considered the Wildcats as the top team in the Pac-12 from a seeding perspective. If UCLA freshman Jordan Adams hadn’t suffered a season-ending foot injury in the Pac-12 Tournament, the Wildcats’ fate may have been different according to committee chair Mike Bobinski. Despite the Bruins and Wildcats both getting #6 seeds, the Wildcats were given the geographical advantage with the chance to play in the West Region in Los Angeles whereas the Bruins would have to play their games in Arlington, Texas.
  3. The selection committee’s message to the Pac-12 on Sunday seemed to be that the conference still has a lot to prove. The conference was given little respect as Oregon received a peculiar #12 seed after winning the Pac-12 Tournament. Also, an argument can be made that both UCLA and Arizona were deserving of higher seeds given that both teams finished in the final AP Top 25. Although the conference vastly improved from last year’s inferior product, its track record in the NCAA Tournament in recent years hasn’t been anything to brag about. In the past four years, only three teams from the Pac-12 have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.
  4. If Oregon freshman Dominic Artis feels any nerves before his first NCAA Tournament game, he has a pretty good mentor who he could call on for advice. The Ducks’ point guard has known former Weber State and current Portland Trail Blazers’ guard Damian Lillard since grade school in Oakland and the two don’t differ much on the court. Both are confident, inspiring young players in their respective leagues at the point guard position and the duo talks almost every other week. The Ducks will certainly need Artis to play great this week as they will take on Oklahoma State. Artis will have to deal with imposing  Cowboys’ point guard and USBWA All-American Marcus Smart, but he won’t shy away from the challenge any more than Lillard would.
  5. Washington State athletic director Bill Moos hasn’t made a decision yet about head coach Ken Bone‘s status. Although Bone hasn’t done anything to exceed expectations in Pullman, he did finish the season on a high note by upsetting USC and UCLA at home and nearly taking down Washington in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. Bone doesn’t seem to be concerned about his status, but if he were to let go, Washington State would owe him a buyout of $2.55 million next year.
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Pac-12 Postseason Destinations

Posted by AMurawa on March 18th, 2013

After a great Pac-12 Tournament wrapped up Saturday night, we found out Sunday exactly where all of the conference’s teams will be wrapping up their seasons. Five teams will take part in the Big Dance, three others will compete in the NIT, while four teams (Oregon State, USC, Utah and Washington State) have completed their seasons. We’ll break down everybody’s destination below.

UCLA – NCAA, #6 seed in South region, vs. Minnesota, 3/22, 6:57 PM PDT, TruTV – The conference’s regular season champion may or may not have gotten dinged a seed line because of Jordan Adams’ season-ending injury, but either way, the Selection Committee sure didn’t do them any favors. Aside from sending them to Austin, Texas, for their opening round game (the farthest any Pac-12 team has to travel), the Bruins land perhaps the toughest match-up that they could have found at the #11 seed. The Golden Gophers are big, athletic and deep, all things that could cause serious trouble for Ben Howland’s team. If instead UCLA had been matched up with either Bucknell, Belmont or the winner of the Saint Mary’s/Middle Tennessee State first-round game, the Bruins would likely be strong favorites to at least make it to Sunday. Instead, UCLA opened a two-point underdog in Las Vegas to the Golden Gophers.

Ben Howland, UCLA

Ben Howland And The Bruins Drew A Tough NCAA Opponent (Jamie Squire, Getty Images)

Arizona – NCAA, #6 seed in West region, vs. Belmont, 3/21, 4:20 PM PDT, TNT – The Wildcats got a fair seed, but they’ll face a Belmont team that is perennially considered a possible Cinderella this time of year. One of the nation’s best shooting teams, the Wildcats will have to extend Nick Johnson, Mark Lyons and Kevin Parrom out to pick up the Bruins’ shooters upcourt, but if UA can cause problems for those shooters, they may have too much size and athleticism for their opponent. Read the rest of this entry »

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