NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Friday Night

Posted by KDoyle on March 29th, 2013

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We continue the Sweet Sixteen tonight with games from the South Region in Arlington, Texas, and the Midwest Region in Indianapolis. Here are the breakdowns for tonight’s games.

#1 Louisville vs. #12 Oregon Midwest Regional Sweet Sixteen (at Indianapolis, IN) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

It's Russ' World, We Just Live In It (Credit Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

It’s Russ’ World, We Just Live In It (Credit Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The Midwest Regional descends on Indianapolis this weekend, with Louisville and Oregon kicking off the action in a matchup of red-hot teams. If not for Florida Gulf Coast’s otherworldly Tournament performance last week, we would likely be looking at the two most impressive teams of the first weekend. As the top overall seed in the Tournament, Louisville’s tour de force in Lexington may not have been unexpected, but it did drive home the notion that the Cardinals are still the team to beat – in this region, and beyond. On the flip side, Oregon’s pair of resounding victories were not expected (despite getting significant play as the most underseeded team in the field on Selection Sunday), but have quickly afforded the surging Ducks a lot of respect. They will head into a virtual road game as massive underdogs on Friday, but the last two weeks have proven that this is a talented and tough basketball team.

Do not expect Oregon to struggle with the aggressive Louisville defense as much as North Carolina A&T and Colorado State did. A quick briefing of the Oregon statistical profile may suggest otherwise – the Ducks are 264th nationally in turnover percentage – but that number is a bit misleading. For one, quick tempo teams are generally going to turn the ball over more, and Oregon plays fast (48th nationally in possessions per game). Also remember that starting PG Dominic Artis (I know, I know — how could we forget at this point?) missed more than half the Pac-12 season, and that backup PG Johnathan Loyd is just now beginning to hit his stride. These two guards will come as close to replicating the quickness and athleticism of that Louisville Siva-Smith combo as any duo the Cardinals have seen all season. Throw in athletes almost everywhere else on the floor – Emory and Dotson on the wings, Kazemi and Woods in the post – and there can be reasonable expectation that Oregon might actually be able to weather the turnover storm that has felled many Louisville foes.

If Oregon can manage that turnover battle, expect this to be a 40-minute game. Points will not come easily for the Cardinals against a well-school (and athletic) Oregon defense, and the Ducks are also a better rebounding team — at least on paper. Dana Altman’s X-factor will be the burgeoning freshman Dotson. If Dotson and others – here’s looking at you EJ Singler — can replicate the three point barrage that undid Saint Louis, Altman’s group has a legitimate change to swing the upset. Too much to ask for? Probably. This is not your typical #12 seed (how is Oregon a #12 seed again?), but they have run into a #1 seed that is playing its role all too well. I expect Oregon to prove a worthy challenger in all facets – managing turnovers, defending the dynamic Louisville backcourt, finding ways to score themselves – but ultimately they run into a team that is just a little better across the board. The Ducks will hang around, but Louisville should be safely bound for the Elite Eight.

The RTC Certified Pick: Louisville

#1 Kansas vs. #4 Michigan – South Regional Semifinal (at Arlington, TX) – 7:37 PM ET on TBS

The last time Michigan advanced this deep into the NCAA Tournament was all the way back in 1994 with the Fab Five coached by current San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher. Ranked in the Top 10 for much of the season, John Beilein’s team certainly won’t be content just advancing to the second weekend; it is Atlanta or bust for the young Wolverines. To advance to Sunday’s South Regional Final, they will have to knock off a team with a wealth of NCAA Tournament experience in the Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas advanced to the championship game last season losing to Kentucky, but are missing two key components of that squad—Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. While Bill Self has led Kansas to another very successful season—a Big 12 regular season and tournament championship and 30+ wins for the fourth straight year—this edition of Kansas basketball is lacking a rock-solid point guard and dominant scorer. One could certainly make the argument that freshman Ben McLemore is that scorer, but he has largely been a no-show in Kansas’ first two games scoring just 13 points on 2-14 shooting from the field. The combination of Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe at point guard has dished out 11 assists to ten turnovers. Nobody will argue their frontcourt dominance anchored by the defensive prowess of Jeff Withey, but seniors Kevin Young and Travis Releford are prototypical role players and not go-to threats. As such, when looking up and down the roster, this has been yet another good coaching job by Bill Self. If Kansas is to defeat Michigan and advance to Atlanta, Ben McLemore must play up to his Top 5 NBA Draft pick ability. Kansas’ most glaring weakness happens to be Michigan’s clear strength: point guard play. This game will be decided in the backcourt, and Trey Burke along with Tim Hardaway Jr. are simply playing much better basketball than Elijah Johnson and Ben McLemore. Also, let’s not forget the emergence of freshman Mitch McGary who has stepped up in a big way with Jordan Morgan’s nagging ankle injury. Morgan may return to the regular rotation tonight, but he is just 6’8” and would struggle handling Jeff Withey on the insdie. John Beilein doesn’t expect McGary to have a double-double kind of game like he had against Virginia Commonwealth, but if he is able to neutralize Withey then it is mission accomplished. Kansas would be the first one to tell you that they played just 20 good minutes of basketball in their first two games. If they get off to another slow start out of the gate like they did against Western Kentucky and North Carolina, they’ll be hard-pressed to climb their way back into the game.

The RTC Certified PickMichigan

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Kansas and Bill Self In Familiar Territory Against Michigan

Posted by KoryCarpenter on March 28th, 2013

Bill Self and Kansas are back in the Sweet Sixteen for the sixth time in seven years, and that’s not good news for Michigan, the #4 seed in the South Region that the Jayhawks will meet Friday night in Cowboys Stadium. Self is 5-1 in this round in nine seasons at Kansas and 7-2 for his career dating back to Tulsa at the turn of the century. But Michigan fans shouldn’t be worried about an arbitrary record in a certain round of the NCAA Tournament. They should be worried because Bill Self has an entire week to game plan for the Wolverines, and that is where he has made his teams most dangerous in March.  Between Tulsa, Illinois, and now Kansas, Self has made 14 NCAA Tournament appearances and has 13 losses, winning the NCAA Tournament in 2008. Of those 13 losses, nine came in the second game of the weekend (Round of 32, Elite Eight or National Championship game). As Self likes to point out, the NCAA Tournament is basically split into three two-game tournaments over three weekends. For teams not in the preliminary play-in games, there are four or five days to prepare for their first opponent after the bracket is announced, followed by a roughly 48-hour turnaround. The next week is the same at the regionals and it continues at the Final Four. With that near-week or so to prepare, Self is nearly automatic. He is 12-2 in the Round of 64,  7-2 in the Sweet 16, and 2-0 in National Semifinal games, or 21-4 overall with a week to prepare. The short turnaround has stung him, though. He is 9-3 in the Round of 32, 2-5 in the Elite Eight, and 1-1 in National Championship games, although a month of preparation wouldn’t have been enough time against last season’s Kentucky team. He has won at an 84% clip with a week to prepare and his winning percentage drops to only 57% with a quick turnaround. But the game still has to be played, and Michigan is not your average #4 seed.

Bill Self Is Money With Extra Time To Scout

Bill Self Is Money With Extra Time To Scout.

Let’s take a look at the match-ups in this game:

Backcourt

Michigan has one of the best players in the country in sophomore point guard Trey Burke, a Sporting News First-Team All-American Selection and possible National Player of the Year. Burke averages 18.8 PPG and 6.7 APG for the Wolverines and controls their offense almost exclusively. According to Ken Pomeroy, his possession percentage of 29.9% (65th nationally) is higher than all but one player remaining in the Tournament, Louisville’s Russ Smith (31.6%). Of the 12 teams remaining that had a player in KenPom’s top 100 for usage percentage, Michigan and Louisville are the only teams remaining. Since 2005 when Pomeroy began publishing possession percentages, only three Final Four teams had a player in the top 100 nationally: UCLA’s Jordan Farmar in 2006, and last year with the Cardinals’ Russ Smith and Kansas’ Thomas Robinson. That’s 90.6% of Final Four teams that have not relied heavily on one player. Fortunately for Michigan fans, Kansas has been torched by point guards several times this season. Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson had 28 points and 10 assists while handing Kansas its last defeat on March 9. Fellow All-American point guard Marcus Smart had 25 points, nine rebounds, and five steals in an Oklahoma State win over Kansas on February 2. Like Jackson and Smart, Burke should have the advantage over Jayhawk guards Elijah Johnson and his backup, Naadir Tharpe. Off the ball, expect to see Travis Releford guarding Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Ben McLemore on Nik Stauskas. Stauskas is a 43.4% three-point shooter and it will imperative that McLemore — or whichever Jayhawk is guarding him — chases him off the three-point line and funnels him into the paint. Burke is going to have a big game regardless. But if Stauskas and/or Hardaway (39.3% from deep) start knocking down threes, Kansas’ best defensive weapon slowly becomes irrelevant. Offensively, Kansas will need better production from McLemore, who had two points on 0-of-9 shooting against North Carolina. He leads the Jayhawks with 15.8 PPG but has disappeared at times this season. He is averaging only 7.0 points per game in the last four outings despite being the most talented player on the court in nearly every situation. Look for Self to draw up a few plays early designed to get McLemore easy buckets and to give him some confidence.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 64, #16 Western Kentucky 57

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 22nd, 2013

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Brian Goodman is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Kansas City pod of this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways:

Western Kentucky gave Kansas a ride, but Jeff Withey was the difference and Kansas escaped. (AP/Orlin Wagner)

Western Kentucky gave Kansas a ride, but Jeff Withey was the difference and Kansas escaped. (AP/Orlin Wagner)

  1. For 35 minutes, Western Kentucky evoked ghosts of Kansas tournament past, but not in the classical sense. Even dating back to the Paul Pierce era, the Jayhawks have lost tournament heartbreakers and pulled out near-misses to far inferior teams with undersized sweet-shooting talents. That wasn’t the case tonight, as Western Kentucky held a 31-30 halftime lead despite just one made three. Rather, the Hilltopers made good use of George Fant’s fearlessness, Jamal Crook’s elusiveness and T.J. Price’s nose for the ball to send the hometown crowd into a prolonged state of anxiety. Western Kentucky matched Kansas in the shooting department in the first half, but frustrated Jeff Withey into a pair of fouls and outdoing the Jayhawks on the glass. Kansas’ backcourt struggled mightily, leaving the bulk of the work to Withey and freshman Perry Ellis. Kansas’ defense adjusted at halftime – what else would you expect from Bill Self? – and forced Western Kentucky into an icy 20.5% clip in the second half.
  2. Jeff Withey saved Kansas from the wrong side of history. The Jayhawks’ paint protector dug KU out of the mess with big blocks and baskets in the closing minutes. Withey rejected seven shots total, which begs the question of why exactly the Hilltoppers continued to run at him. Fant had some success against him in the first half, but the Big 12′s all-time blocks leader was having none of it after the intermission, and his contributions on both ends of the court helped Kansas avoid an historic upset. One of the big storylines Sunday will be how Bill Self utilizes his center against a heavily perimeter-oriented Tar Heel squad.
  3. The Jayhawks will need much more out of its backcourt on Sunday. Against a far inferior squad, Elijah Johnson and Ben McLemore combined for just 21 points, a handful of which came in the closing seconds as Western Kentucky desperately tried to come back. The issue wasn’t as much Jamal Crook, Caden Dickerson and T.J. Price being problematic defensively as much as Kansas making suspect decisions. The Jayhawk backcourt finished the game sloppily in the closing seconds, giving Western Kentucky several opportunities that it didn’t earn down the stretch. Looking forward, Kansas has struggled against pressure defense throughout the season, so it will definitely be interesting to see how the Tar Heels approach the Jayhawks defensively.

Star Of The Game: Jeff Withey (17 points, six rebounds, seven blocks) - Kansas’ center was everywhere Friday night, coming up huge in the second half to give KU’s sputtering offense the opportunities it needed to gain separation. It became mind-boggling to see the Hilltoppers continue to dribble right at Withey, and he turned them away at seemingly every opportunity.

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Bracket Prep: South Region Analysis

Posted by KDoyle on March 18th, 2013

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Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), Midwest (11 AM), South (1 PM), West (3 PM). Here, Kevin Doyle (@kldoyle11) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).

You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Kevin breaking down the South Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

South Region

Favorite: #3 Florida (26-7, 16-5 SEC). A month ago, Florida looked like it was destined for a #1 seed and primed for a Final Four run to Atlanta. The Gators were dismantling SEC teams — albeit some very weak teams — and had their potent offense clicking on all cylinders. But then Florida lost at Missouri, and then at Tennessee, and then at Kentucky. Questions began to arise, and rightly so. A team of Florida’s talent and experience should not be losing to SEC teams that will not even make the NCAA Tournament. They seemed unbeatable in the 2012 portion of the schedule, but played down to their level of competition in the SEC. That being said, it would not be smart to pick against Billy Donovan. Donovan has led Florida to the Elite Eight the past two seasons, and done so with largely the same group he has this year. Two seasons ago it was a loss to Butler as a #2-seed and last year a loss to Louisville as a #7-seed. Of their eight impact players, seven are upperclassmen and have extensive experience in the NCAA Tournament. Veteran leadership and NCAA Tournament experience cannot be discounted, and Florida has both in spades. In the “for what it’s worth” department, Pomeroy has Florida ranked #1 overall in his season-long rankings (fifth in offensive efficiency and second in defensive efficiency).

Is the Third Time the Charm for Boynton and His Gators?

Is the Third Time the Charm for Boynton and His Gators?

Should They Falter: #2 Georgetown (29-5, 15-5 Big East). Recent history is not on Georgetown’s side as John Thompson III has made a habit of exiting the NCAA Tournament too early. In fact, in the six NCAA Tournaments that JT3 has led the Hoyas to, they haven’t made it past the first weekend four times. The Hoyas won’t win any style points, but that doesn’t much matter. What they lack in flash they have in tough defense and methodical but effective offense. Not to mention that the Hoyas are also fortunate to have Otto Porter, the Big East Player of the Year, on their side. The emergence of Markel Starks as a second dependable scorer adds another dimension to the offense beyond him, though. Their adjusted tempo ranks 313th in the country — in other words, a snail’s pace — and inability to score in stretches on the offensive end doesn’t make them a sexy team to watch, but Georgetown is very comfortable playing grind-it-out kind of games making them an apt postseason team.

Grossly Overseeded: #7 San Diego State (22-10, 10-8 Mountain West). The Aztecs began the season with a 14-2 record and a 2-0 mark in Mountain West play, and appeared to be the class of the league alongside New Mexico. Since that blistering start, San Diego State is a pedestrian 8-8 and finished 9-7 in the MW. It is almost unfathomable that the Aztecs earned a much better seed than Pac-12 champion Oregon — prepare yourselves to hearing a lot about the Ducks’ seed in the coming days —and even a higher seed than fellow Mountain West member Colorado State. SDSU benefited from having a strong RPI (#28) and a challenging schedule which ranked in the top 20, but many prognosticators had them wearing road jerseys in their opening round game, not home whites.

Grossly Underseeded: #8 North Carolina (24-10, 14-7 ACC). After getting embarrassed by Miami and then suffering a tough road defeat to Duke, North Carolina looked like it was headed to the NIT; the Tar Heels had a 16-8 record and were just 6-5 in the ACC at the time. Roy Williams’ young group may have had unfair expectations placed on it in the preseason, but there is little doubt that they should be an NCAA Tournament team now. Their talent and maturation as a team began to show in the second half of ACC play by winning eight of their last 10 games including a narrow loss to Miami in the ACC Tournament Championship. North Carolina’s seed was hurt by having a 2-9 mark against the RPI top 50, but the way in which Carolina concluded the regular season shows that it was playing closer to the caliber of a #5 seed and shouldn’t be marred in the dreaded #8/#9 match-up with the top seed looming.

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Bracket Prep: Albany, Memphis, Southern, North Carolina A&T, Kansas & New Mexico

Posted by BHayes on March 17th, 2013

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Championship Week reached a crescendo on the eve of Selection Sunday, as thirteen automatic bids were handed out. As each of the 31 automatic qualifiers plays their way into the Dance over the next week, we’ll take some time to give you an analytical snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets this week.

Albany

How About A Court Storming On An Opponent's Home Floor? Completely Legal, Especially If A Trip To The Big Dance Is On The Line.  Congratulations Albany.

How About A Court Storming On An Opponent’s Home Floor? Completely Legal, Especially If A Trip To The Big Dance Is On The Line. Congratulations Albany.

  • America East Champion (24-10, 12-7)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #143/#152/#172
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +2.0
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #16

 Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. It’s been a rollercoaster of a year for Albany, but Saturday’s ticket-punching win at Vermont means the ride will roll on to the Big Dance. The America East champs put together an impressive 11-3 non-conference campaign that included a win at Washington, but conference play proved trying for Will Brown’s team, as a 9-7 finish left them as the fourth seed in the America East tournament. Albany lived the familiar March mantra “survive and advance” to the fullest this week, winning three games by a total of eight points to earn the bid.
  2. In a fashion quite typical for these Great Danes, Albany won games this week in which they scored 50, 61 and 53 points, respectively – not exactly “grab some popcorn and take in the show” territory here. The tempo is predictably slow (279th nationally), and with national ranks of 170th offensively and 144th defensively, Albany is very much middle of the road on both ends of the floor. Where the Great Danes do excel is on the glass. They are an above average offensive rebounding team and rank 40th nationally in collecting caroms on the defensive end, aided in part by a relatively big lineup, especially for the America East.
  3. The Albany offensive blueprint is not especially refined, but they rely heavily on a small senior duo of three-point shooters. 6’0” Mike Black leads the Danes in scoring at 15 a contest and towers over his backcourt mate, 5’10” Jacob Iati, who chips in 12.2 PPG. The two have combined to make 139 threes this season, and they would be well served to keep chucking come next week, because unless Albany gets slotted for the First Four in Dayton, it will take a hot shooting night and then some (and then some more, and some more…) to keep the Danes surviving and advancing.

Memphis

Rulers Of Conference USA For The Final Time, Memphis Is Dancing Again

Rulers Of Conference USA For The Final Time, Memphis Is Dancing Again

  • Conference USA Champion (30-4, 19-0)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #15/#38/#27
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +12.0
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #7-#9

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Kansas Wins Because It Guards, Plain and Simple

Posted by dnspewak on March 16th, 2013

Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is a Big 12 microsite writer. He filed this from the Big 12 Championship game in Kansas City.

Clank, clank, clank. In an arena jam-packed to the rafters and charged with as much emotion as any game in college basketball this season, the most prominent sound during the first half of the Big 12 Tournament title game at the Sprint Center was the sound of those clanks that Kansas State heaved repeatedly at the basket. After taking an 11-8 lead against Kansas with 11:55 to play in the half, the Wildcats did not make another field goal during the next 17 possessions. They were 0-of-11 from the field during that stretch. Five turnovers. Heroically, they trailed by just eight points at the break, but they were already buried. Once the Jayhawks found their groove offensively in the second half, Kansas State never kept pace and eventually fell, 70-54.

Kansas Added More Hardwood To Its Collection

Kansas Added More Hardwood To Its Collection

You don’t want to see the final statistics for Bruce Weber’s team. “The best thing we did was shoot free throws,” Angel Rodriguez said, “and we shot 50 percent. That says a lot.” Rodney McGruder had a simple diagnosis for the anemic offense. “It wasn’t really their defense,” McGruder said. “We missed easy baskets at the rim.” The second part of that statement is correct. Kansas State missed more open shots than an overweight, middle-aged man trying to play a game of H-O-R-S-E, especially during the drought in the first half. But McGruder is wrong about the first part — there’s another reason his team couldn’t score, and it wasn’t self-inflicted. “Our first shot defense was about as good as it’s been all year long,” coach Bill Self said. As always, it was a collective effort for Kansas. Jeff Withey, the Big 12’s leading shot blocker, finished with only one block, but he teamed with Kevin Young and Perry Ellis to bother the Wildcats’ on the interior with their length.

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Big 12 M5: 03.15.13 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 15th, 2013

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  1. The last game of Thursday’s session was perhaps the best. Oklahoma State survived a massive collapse to outlast the desperate Baylor Bears, 74-72. The Cowboys led by as many as 20 points late in the first half yet the Bears chipped away at the lead until they got it to a four-point deficit with 25 seconds left in regulation. BU’s Gary Franklin then tied it seconds later on a four-point play from the corner. After the Cowboys nailed two subsequent free throws, Pierre Jackson, who was all types of awesome in scoring 24 of his 31 points in the second half, missed a potential game-winner at the buzzer. Now what? The good in this is that we’ll get a look at Oklahoma State-Kansas State Version 3.0 as both teams split the regular season series. The bad news is of course that Baylor’s chances at an at-large bid is all but shot at this point. It looks like it’ll be the third time in the Scott Drew era that Baylor will miss the NCAA Tournament a year after making it. 
  2. We had a comeback attempt to close out the night but there was an actual one much earlier in the day. Iowa State found themselves down 14 early, and even 11 points halfway through the second half, only to take down the Sooners, 73-66. A storyline that won’t get much attention is the exchange senior guard Korie Lucious had with his coach Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg benched Lucious in the second half mainly due to his poor shooting (0-of-8). After the move, the Cyclones began to make their comeback and during a subsequent timeout, Lucious told Hoiberg to “keep going with these guys” because they had “a great flow going.” It turned out to be the right thing to do and now ISU gets its third shot at nailing down a win vs. Kansas.
  3. Jordan Tolbert’s layup with 3:11 left in the first half cut the Kansas lead to two over Texas Tech and signaled to the Jayhawks that they weren’t running away with the game any time soon. And then KU ran away with it. Ben McLemore was doing plenty of Ben McLemore things, scoring 24 points and hitting 8-of-12 from the field, four of those on three-pointers. Bill Self emptied out his bench later in the game and gave us a chance to see some Jayhawks who will make bigger impacts on future teams. Freshmen Anrio Adams went for 11 points in just five minutes and Perry Ellis had his second good game in a row, totaling eight points and seven rebounds. It’s only a matter of time before these guys win a Big 12 title of their own.
  4. Kansas State shot only 40% as a team, grabbed the same number of rebounds as Texas, missed eight free throws, and still beat the Horns by 17. Wait, what? It’s just another win in a long line of uninteresting and non-flashy wins for the Wildcats, who now improve to 26-6 on the season. Rodney McGruder poured in an efficient 24 points (10-of-20), eight of those coming on a K-State 10-0 run to give the Wildcats a double digit lead for good. He also pulled down seven rebounds. They’re still under the radar, aren’t they? Give it a week.
  5. Why does Marcus Smart wear #33? There is an answer and it further amplifies the kind of person this young man is. The number three has special meaning in his family. His three older brothers all wore three when they played in high school and that includes Smart’s half-brother Todd Westbrook, who was the first to don the number. Westbrook lost his long battle with cancer in 2004 at the age of 33. This surprises no one. You might think I’m going overboard with this but we don’t just need more Marcus Smart like prospects in college basketball, we need more Marcus Smart like people on this planet. I bet John Wooden would’ve loved to coach this kid.
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Rushed Reactions: Kansas 91, Texas Tech 63

Posted by dnspewak on March 14th, 2013

rushedreactions

Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is a Big 12 microsite writer. He’s covering the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City this weekend.

Three Thoughts:

  1. Big Day For Ben McLemore: The show began early for McLemore. The redshirt freshman threw down two of the nastier dunks you’ll ever get to see in person, all within the first five minutes of the game. He finished with 24 points — and didn’t even play during garbage time in the second half. It was another vintage performance for one of the best players in this league, and it came on a day where his teammates struggled offensively. The first half was ugly at times, as the Red Raiders recovered from an early 13-2 hole to at least make the game somewhat competitive. Thanks in large part to McLemore, though, the competition didn’t last long. By the first media timeout in the second half, the game was all but over.

    Ben McLemore threw down two incredible dunks against Texas Tech Thursday afternoon. (AP)

    Ben McLemore threw down two incredible dunks against Texas Tech Thursday afternoon. (AP)

  2. Good Job, Good Effort: You never want to belittle a team for “playing hard” when it loses in a blowout, but Texas Tech has a nice collection of young players. They appear motivated yet simply inexperienced, and freshman point guard Josh Gray might be the best example of that. He did not play particularly well on Thursday, but throughout the season, he’s exemplified that “flashes-of-brilliance” cliché in college basketball. As for his teammates, Dejan Kravic followed up his game-winning tip-in to beat West Virginia by leading his team in scoring against the Jayhawks with 20 points. The 6’11’’ center was the team’s most assertive offensive player. He’s a little lanky, sure, but he has a great blend of size and offensive skills. He finished the season scoring in double figures in three straight games, and he’s got that buzzer-beater to build off for next year, too. With the bulk of this team returning, including leading scorer Jaye Crockett and Jordan Tolbert (the 2011-12 leading scorer), it’s a start for Texas Tech to have at least reached the quarterfinals in Kansas City.
  3. Chris Walker’s Future: That’s been the talk all week surrounding Texas Tech — will it retain Walker? He’s been tagged with that interim position after the departure of Billy Gillispie last summer. He’ll have a lot of continuity in his roster next year if he is indeed the head coach, and he’s earned praise from his peers for the difficult job he inherited this year. The Red Raiders won three Big 12 games and finished nine games below .500. That’s bad. But the effort has been a little better than last year, and it may be unfair to judge him based on this year’s results alone, considering the Gillispie disaster. It’s up the Red Raiders to figure out how they want to proceed.

Star of the Game: Ben McLemore takes this award, and it’s not even close. The thing that’s so impressive about him is how efficiently he works as an offensive player. He rarely takes bad shots, and he fits well within the framework of Bill Self’s offense. Kansas is lucky he was on his game today. Otherwise, with the lack of offensive support from other scorers, maybe things would have shaken out differently here at the Sprint Center. Or not. It was a 28-point win, after all. Either way, kudos to McLemore.

Wildcard: Kansas got to empty the bench in the second half, which apparently started a three-point barrage. Freshmen Andrew White and Rio Adams combined to knock down four three-pointers. You’d have thought they were McLemore. Tyler Self also got to play, but he turned the ball over twice. His father was not very pleased on the bench, reacting only by putting his hands in his face.

Quotable: “There’s a lot of controversy. It’ll be a fun game.” — Kansas’ Jeff Withey, regarding the semifinal matchup against Iowa State.

What’s Next: Part Three of the Iowa State vs. Kansas showdown in Friday’s semifinal round. No word on whom the officials will be.

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Rushed Reactions: Iowa State 73, Oklahoma 66

Posted by dnspewak on March 14th, 2013

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Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is a Big 12 microsite writer. He’s covering the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City this weekend.

Three Thoughts:

isu oklahoma

Did Iowa State Pop Oklahoma’s Bubble Thursday?

  1. Complete Implosion: For more than 30 minutes, Iowa State looked like it had just rolled out of bed and stumbled into the arena, still waiting for the Five Hour Energy to kick in. The Cyclones could not have played more poorly in the first half, and they didn’t make a three-pointer until the very end of the first half. Shots were clanking off the rim left and right, the Sooners were bullying them in the paint and on the boards, and and it appeared Fred Hoiberg’s team was about to make NIT travel plans. Midway through the second half, Oklahoma led 60-48. And then disaster struck for Lon Kruger. The Sooners did not make a field goal over  the final 8:10 of the game, and Iowa State’s vaunted perimeter shooting finally awoke. With Korie Lucious on the bench after shooting 0-of-8 from the field, Will Clyburn began to run the offense, and he knocked down a few key shots late. Chris Babb did too, and Tyrus McGee shook off a tough morning to finally make a tie-breaking three-pointer late in the second half. All in all, the Cyclones finished the game on a 25-6 run, and they’re right in the thick of the NCAA Tournament at-large hunt. This was more than a comeback — it was a life-saving performance. 
  2. Bubble Burst: We wrote yesterday that Iowa State probably had a little more of a sense of desperation in this game, but the Sooners really could have used this victory as well. They’re still in good shape with victories over Oklahoma State and Kansas — not to mention strong computer numbers — but this will not be an easy weekend for Kruger and his players. Either way, it’s been a heck of a turnaround for this program. Before the year, even an NIT berth seemed like somewhat of a reach. As for the Cyclones, they could probably seal a bid by knocking off Kansas in tomorrow’s semifinal. They’ll still be desperate, though, and that should make for an electric atmosphere at the Sprint Center. Speaking of that possible showdown…
  3. Rematch: Iowa State blew a late lead against Kansas in Lawrence and lost in overtime, thanks in part to a buzzer-beating, banked-in three by Ben McLemore at the end of regulation. In the second match-up in Ames, a controversial no-call on a, well, obvious charge by Elijah Johnson late in the game made national headlines. Dare we say there’s a budding rivalry? “I can’t wait for the opportunity if they win today,” Clyburn said. “I want some payback.” Careful, though. Kansas still needs to beat Texas Tech this afternoon.

Star of the Game: Melvin Ejim. He was huge. The league’s leading rebounder, Ejim’s pride must have taken a hit when Oklahoma came out punching in the first half and dominated the rebounding margin. At one point, the Sooners were +9 on the boards, and that’s just not acceptable for a team that normally rebounds as well as ISU. As the game progressed, though, Ejim started to do his thing. Georges Niang had a few important offensive rebounds, too, and by the end of the game, Iowa State had out-rebounded Oklahoma by 10. Ejim scored 23 points to lead all scorers, too, and finished with 12 rebounds individually. Another day, another double-double for Ejim.

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Award Tour: The Ballot Is In and the Best Player, Freshman and Coach are…

Posted by DCassilo on March 12th, 2013

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David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

Believe it or not, when this all started guys like Mike Moser, Jamaal Franklin and Isaiah Canaan were in the top 10. But soon the top players in the country started to come into focus. Only four players (Trey Burke, Cody Zeller, Doug McDermott and Deshaun Thomas) stayed in the rankings all season, while only one freshman (Marcus Smart) could say the same. And finally, below, we have those few players that separated themselves from the pack. The best part of it all is that as fun as this regular season was, it will likely only provide a small percentage of what we remember about college basketball this year. But before we get to the best part, here’s who is taking home the hardware.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Otto Porter Jr. – Georgetown
Regular season stats: 16.4 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.0 SPG

Otto Porter Led the Hoyas to a Special Win (TheDaily.com)

Otto Porter Jr. has a lot to be excited about. (TheDaily.com)

In times of adversity, greatness rises, and that’s the primary reason Porter is the choice for the top spot. On January 8, the Hoyas’ second leading scorer, Greg Whittington, played his final game. It was a crossroads for Georgetown, who looked like they might be headed down the Big East standings very quickly. Instead, though, the team went 14-2 and grabbed the Big East title. Over those 16 games, Porter was unstoppable. He averaged 19.9 PPG and 7.7 RPG, while shooting at least 50 percent from the field in 10 of 16 games despite facing plenty of double-teams. And the Hoyas got the most out of their best player too. He played at least 39 minutes in each of his last five games.

What Porter was able to accomplish with such a thin supporting cast was remarkable. There was no Cody Zeller down low like there was for Victor Oladipo, and the Hoyas finished first in the Big East, not fifth like Trey Burke did in the Big Ten. He was the best player on Georgetown, and everybody knew it, yet they couldn’t stop him. Now he’s the best player in the country.

First Team All-Americans

  • Otto Porter Jr. – Georgetown
  • Trey Burke – Michigan
  • Victor Oladipo – Indiana
  • Mason Plumlee – Duke
  • Kelly Olynyk – Gonzaga

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Award Tour: Burke vs. Porter, McLemore vs. Smart and Larranaga vs. JTIII

Posted by DCassilo on March 8th, 2013

awardtour

David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

With just one regular season game to go, nothing is decided. It’s another example of how unpredictable this season has been. For Player of the Year, it’s down to Trey Burke and Otto Porter Jr. Both players have carried their teams and made everyone around them better. Then there’s Freshman of the Year, which is down to Ben McLemore and Marcus Smart. They are a couple of players who have been impacts guys from the opening game. And Coach of the Year? It’s Jim Larranaga’s to lose, but lately, it looks like he’s trying to lose it.

The final update of this will run on Tuesday of next week, so make sure to look out for it.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

10. Marcus Smart – Oklahoma State (Last week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 14.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.3 APG, 3 SPG

I’ve written about Smart so many times this season that I need to give myself a moment to step back and admire how well-rounded he is as a player. His 3.0 SPG are third best in the country. He’s a guy I’ll always want on my team.  This week: March 9 vs. Kansas State

9. Deshaun Thomas – Ohio State (Last week – 9)
2012-13 stats: 19.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG

A rematch of this 2012 Final Four matchup highlights the best of the remaining Big Ten non-conference games.

Thomas and Withey are in the top-10.

Oddly enough, the Buckeyes have played their best basketball when Thomas has played his worst. Still, he’s scored at least 14 points in each game of this four-game winning streak. In most other conferences, he would be the Player of the Year. This week: March 10 vs. Illinois

8. Kelly Olynyk – Gonzaga (Last week – 8)
2012-13 stats: 17.7 PPG, 7 RPG

You would be hard-pressed to find many players that are more efficient than Olynyk. The junior shot 68.8 percent from the field while attempting over 10 shots per game. It will be fun when the rest of the country figures out who he is this March. This week: Regular season over.

7. Cody Zeller – Indiana (Last Week – 7)
2012-13 stats: 16.5 PPG, 8. RPG

It will go down as a disappointing year because of the expectations, but Zeller still improved his scoring and rebounding averages in his sophomore season. The most surprising thing, though, is that there is a Hoosier ahead of him on this list. This week: March 10 at Michigan

6. Doug McDermott – Creighton (Last week – 6)
2012-13 stats: 23.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG

McDermott closed the regular season out in style with 41 points against Wichita State. Although he will probably get a few first-place votes, what ultimately held him back was the struggles of his teammates. This week: Regular season over.

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Award Tour: Huge Week Carries Otto Porter to the Top of the NPOY List

Posted by DCassilo on March 1st, 2013

awardtour

David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

As we hit March, the NPOY race looks like it’s down to four players: Trey Burke, Victor Oladipo, Mason Plumlee and Otto Porter Jr. While it’s almost certain that one of those four will take home the hardware, it’s almost impossible to decide on a clear front-runner. Look around the Internet, and you’ll see each of those players No. 1 somewhere. In a season with no clear-cut best team, a race like this for Player of the Year is fitting. Can’t wait to see how it all plays out over the next 17 days.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

10. Jack Cooley – Notre Dame (Last week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 14.4 PPG, 11 RPG

Cooley & Martin Will Likely Be Overlooked Again (AP Photo/J. Raymond)

Cooley has had a lot to celebrate this season. (AP Photo/J. Raymond)

One of the few players from a major conference to average a double-double, Cooley has been a quiet force on an overlooked Notre Dame team. He’s not going to make any top 10 highlight reels, but he is going to be the reason the Irish win games. This week: March 2 at Marquette, March 5 vs. St. John’s

9. Deshaun Thomas – Ohio State (Last week – 8)
2012-13 stats: 19.8 PPG, 6.1 RPG

The Ohio State junior is what he is — a scorer who can do some rebounding. He does both every single night, regardless of defense. Thomas is a really good college player that is close to being a great one. This week: March 5 at Ohio State

8. Cody Zeller – Indiana (Last Week – 5)
2012-13 stats: 16.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG

Zeller has shown a knack for disappearing in big games, and Tuesday’s loss to Minnesota was no different. He went just 2-of-9 from the floor before fouling out with nine points. He can’t do that in March. This week: March 2 vs. Iowa, March 5 vs. Ohio State

7. Kelly Olynyk – Gonzaga (Last week – 9)
2012-13 stats: 17.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG

As Gonzaga appears poised to grab the No. 1 ranking, Olynyk is on a tear. The junior has made at least 70 percent of his shots in his last four games. Regardless of competition, that’s pretty impressive. This week: March 2 vs. Portland

6. Doug McDermott – Creighton (Last week – 7)
2012-13 stats: 22.8 PPG, 7.7 RPG

At a time when his team desperately needed it, McDermott had one of his best games of the season on Wednesday for Creighton. The junior finished with 32 points and 11 rebounds against Bradley. He will need to do that routinely for this team to go anywhere. This week: March 2 vs. Wichita State

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