Final Four Daily Diaries: Saturday

Posted by rtmsf on April 3rd, 2011

RTC is at the Final Four in Houston, our sixth as a fan but our first as a member of the working media. What that means, exactly, we’re still trying to figure out, but we think it has something to do with wearing a rectangular piece of plastic with our mug on it and nodding approvingly at the people in the NCAA blazers walking around the innards of Reliant Stadium. Or maybe it means dropping dime on one of the coaches at the dais for one thing or another — we’re not sure. Anyway, over the next four days of collegiate basketball activity here in H-town, we’ll be providing a daily diary in much the same way we’ve done with our correspondents throughout this year’s Tournament — equal parts observation and analysis, with a hint of the absurd.

Saturday, April 2 – Houston, Texas

  • For my money, of which I will have very little after this trip to Houston, the moments prior to the start of the first game at Semifinal Saturday are the absolute best of the entire season.  The anticipation, buzz, nervous vibe, whatever you want to call it… is off the charts, as all four schools dare to dream the impossible.  Bands are playing, fans are screaming, media are flittering, and the whole place contains an electricity that is only captured in my opinion at the collegiate level of sports.  There’s something peculiar about schools and fandom that makes this so, and it’s different than what you see with fans in the various professional sports leagues around the country and world.  At any rate, if I could bottle that energy in the air in those fifteen minutes prior to the first tipoff, I’d strap a nipple to that thing and drink it down as a part of my daily regimen.  No question.

VCU Fans Were More Amped Than Anybody Here Tonight

  • That said, my seating arrangement in the pressbox of Reliant Stadium (remember, this is a football stadium by design) left a little to be desired.  The worst part actually wasn’t the view — I could see the players and the ball going through the hoop fine, and so forth — rather, it was the giant windows that kept the noise of the stadium below from reaching all of us within the box.  It muffled everything to the point where I felt I wasn’t actually watching the game live inasmuch as viewing it as a tourist observes the sharks as the local aquarium.  It was more like watching the game on television rather than being there, even though I didn’t have a high definition screen in front of me and the PA announcer was clear as day (piped into the room).

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The Other 26: Examining Butler & VCU’s Runs to the Final Four

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.  Throughout the season, he has authored a column, The Other 26, which examines the teams from the non-power conferences and their impact on the game at a national level.  Today he attempts to tackle the questions of how Butler and VCU have crashed the party down in Houston.

First it was George Mason, and now it is their brethren Virginia Commonwealth in the Colonial Athletic and distant cousin Butler in the Horizon League. Not too far off in the distance are those pesky Davidson Wildcats who burst onto the national scene in 2006, nearly knocked off Maryland in 2007 with freshman sensation Stephen Curry, and just missed crashing the Final Four party with this lusty crew by just a game back in 2008.


Mason Set the Template in 2006

By my count, that is four different teams—one more not too far away either—from true Mid-Major conferences to reach the tasteful waters of the Final Four since 2006. Prior to 2006, one would have to search all the way back to 1998 to find a non-power league team—the Utah Utes—that reached this stage. The overriding question that not only myself, but many others in the college basketball world have is: How are these guys doing it? We can all elect to listen to the self-proclaimed “experts” on the subject who know all when it comes to college hoops, but then again didn’t one of them state in so many words that VCU “doesn’t pass the laugh test?” Now, I will not pretend to stand atop the highest of horses and preach what I believe several of the reasons are why Butler and Virginia Commonwealth have had a great deal of success in the 2011 edition of the world’s greatest postseason tournament, but I will rather merely provide a slew of reasons why Butler and Virginia Commonwealth will be squaring off against one another on Saturday evening instead of Kansas and Pittsburgh, or any of the other marquee names out there for that matter.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.02.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 2nd, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.


  • Butler head coach Brad Stevens is undefeated since he has begun wearing glasses on the sidelines. This should be a non-story, but Butler’s recent success makes one consider the importance of this.
  • Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack will be the key players for Butler in their Final Four matchup with VCU. This is not surprising, as Howard and Mack have been the catalysts for the Bulldogs success all season.
  • The hands-on cerebral approaches of Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart have been huge in leading their respective teams to the Final Four. This approach has proved to be extremely successful considering the success of the two young coaches.
  • Despite being a star player, Butler big man Matt Howard tries to keep a low profile at Butler. This is almost impossible due to the contributions Howard has made for the Bulldogs throughout his career.


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NCAA Regional Diary From San Antonio

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2011

After another weekend of scintillating and shocking NCAA Tournament results, it’s time to check back in with our various correspondents who were in Anaheim, San Antonio, New Orleans and Newark reporting on the games this weekend.

Location: San Antonio, TX
Round: Regional Final
Teams: VCU, Kansas
Date: 27 March 2011

To read all the diaries throughout the NCAA Tournament, click here.

The San Antonio Riverwalk is Always a Hit.

  • This is the second time in this Tournament that I’ve personally witnessed this happen (Gonzaga vs. St. John’s being the other).  Kansas’ strategy from the opening tip was to get the ball inside early and often to their big men, Marcus and Markieff Morris.  It worked in the beginning as the twins got KU off to a 6-2 start, but VCU started to figure out the entry passes, and before long the Kansas guards were trying to throw the ball into a quadruple-team underneath.  The perimeter players weren’t looking to score at all, and I sometimes wonder if a focused strategy to take advantage of a strength (as here) actually backfires in the sense that the perimeter players don’t have an opportunity to play offensively.  In the Richmond game, as a contrasting example, the KU perimeter players got going early and UR as a result was out of the game by the second television timeout.
  • I love Shaka Smart for many reasons, not least of which is his bulldog mentality of taking on all comers, but watching him get down into a defensive crouch on the sidelines as his players guard the ball on that side of the floor is phenomenal.  He moves his feet very well for his advanced age of all of 33 years old.  With Brad Stevens Lambeau Leap into the team circle after beating #1 Pitt last week, and Smart acting as a sixth defender for the Rams, youth in the coaching ranks is most definitely served.
Shaka Can!
  • Whew, Markieff Morris (eight turnovers) and Tyrel Reed (1-9 FGs) would like to have this game back.  Through the first twelve minutes of action, Markieff had already turned the ball over six times to VCU, including a ridiculous Ewing-step-through travel that he damn well knows better than to do in the college game.  Reed suffered a miserable game, and he never looked less comfortable than when Kansas was in desperate need of someone — anyone — to hit some threes down the stretch, but he was badly off on all of them.  It was pretty clear to me from my vantage point that both of these guys were feeling the pressure of expectations, and they were generally crushed by it.
  • I liked Self’s decision to try to get Josh Selby into the game early to combat the scoring woes of his team on the perimeter.  Other than Selby, none of the KU guards are elite talents capable of scoring on demand.  It didn’t work out today, as Selby went 1-5 for two points and clearly wasn’t feeling it, but it was still worth the gamble.  He couldn’t have done much worse than the pair of Reed and Brady Morningstar (2-16 FGs).
  • Speaking of Selby, has any freshman in America been a bigger disappointment this season?  Hailed as the possible missing piece to a dominant KU team, he looked good in December before tailing off completely the rest of the way to become nearly a late-season afterthought.  It’s not very often that high school players good enough to rate #1 in the nation by at least one scouting service will suffer such a weird diminishment of his playing time and influence.  Yet, had he been akin to a John Wall or even a Brandon Knight, Kansas might still be playing.  The perimeter absolutely killed the Jayhawks today.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.28.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 28th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.


  • In what was thought to be a transition year for Kentucky, head coach John Calipari has led the Wildcats to the Final Four. Due to the personnel and roster turnover from last season, it can be argued that this season is Calipari’s best work.
  • The Final Four matchup between Connecticut and Kentucky is made even more interesting due to the history between John Calipari and Jim Calhoun. However, both men have acknowledged that the feud is behind them.
  • John Calipari has seen his Final Four banners from his tenures at UMass and Memphis get taken down due to NCAA violations. Kentucky president Dr. Lee Todd insisted on Sunday that “this banner will not be taken down.”
  • Kentucky junior guard DeAndre Liggins was undoubtedly a pest for North Carolina. Liggins was a stalwart defensively, got into the heads of several Tar Heels, and made the shot that seemingly lifted the Wildcats to the Final Four.
  • While Sunday’s loss stings for North Carolina now, it can be argued that the loss will eventually benefit the program. If Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller all return to Chapel Hill, UNC will enter next season as a title contender once again.


  • With two Final Four appearances already under his belt at the age of 34, Butler head coach Brad Stevens is moving up the coaching pantheon at a rapid pace. Considering the success of the past two seasons, we can assume that Stevens is just getting started.
  • Butler forward Matt Howard takes a workmanlike approach to the game of basketball. This approach embodies Butler basketball, and he’s not through yet.
  • The Bulldogs have experienced two close calls with injuries in their last two games. The anxiety that fills Butler fans’ hearts when someone comes up limp have been as heart-stopping as the Butler’s unexpected heroics.
  • An interesting piece about whether Miami (FL) should go after Brad Stevens or Shaka Smart to be the Hurricanes’ head coach. This is interesting due to the fact that Frank Haith is still gainfully employed by the Hurricanes and was thought by many to have one year left to translate the Durand Scott/Malcolm Grant/Reggie Johnson trio into some postseason success.
  • Even with his Elite Eight loss to Butler, Florida head coach Billy Donovan is still proud of the season his Gators put together. After embarrassing early season losses to Central Florida and Jacksonville, the Gators put together a run that mimicked the 2006 and 2007 editions of the Florida Gators.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Southwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2011

We’re down to sixteen teams, so it’s time to visit with each of our regional experts and analyze what happened in each of the four regions and what should be expected this coming weekend. Every one of these predictions is guaranteed to be absolutely and totally correct.

Region: Southwest

The Alamo City Host a Behemoth and Three Cindys

New Favorite (Same as the Old Favorite):  #1 Kansas, 34-2.  Kansas is one of the biggest favorites a region has ever seen, as a #10, a #11 and a #12 seed remain opposite the mighty Jayhawks in San Antonio.  While Florida State, VCU and Richmond are all capable teams with varying strengths and weaknesses, none of the three pose a serious threat to KU so long as Bill Self’s team shows maturity and takes them seriously.

Horse of Darkness:  #10 Florida State,  23-10.  In two NCAA Tournament games, the Seminoles are firing on all cylinders defensively, holding Texas A&M and Notre Dame to a total of 107 points and a defensive PPP of 0.86.  When you’re locking teams up like that, especially offensive juggernauts like the Irish, then you have a chance to win any game you play.  VCU is beatable, but Kansas is a completely different animal. 

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend):  Three Double-Digit Seeds Advancing.  Nobody, and we mean nobody, would have had this bracket unless they were shooting darts or perhaps was a Richmond native who attended Florida State.  It’s so rare that in the twenty-seven years since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams, three double-digit seeds have never made the same regional.  Until this year.  It’ll certainly make for an interesting group of fans in the Alamodome, as two smallish schools and a football school join a hoops powerhouse in San Antonio. 

Completely Expected (1st Weekend):  Kansas Advancing.  The Jayhawks didn’t really dominate Boston University nor Illinois over the weekend, but unlike Duke and certainly Pitt, they weren’t really threatened either.  The Southwest Region was already one of the weaker ones; with the bloodbath of high seeds that got eliminated over the weekend, it’s become even more so.

I’m Exceptionally Smart and Prescient: It’s not easy to act smart in a region that blew up like this one, but my Sweet Sixteen Sleeper, Richmond, was a good choice.   Pointing out that Louisville is prone to stinkers and that UR should be able to defeat Vandy was a phenomenal call, which will surely more than compensate for this one… 

Except When I Make Stupid Predictions: Calling VCU Overseeded at #11.  Ok, maybe Jay Bilas Inceptioned my brain or something, but in terms of VCU’s resume, they were in fact overseeded and maybe that is now contributing to how well they’re sticking it to the power conference teams in this bracket.  Everyone underestimated this team because, while we knew they had talent, they hadn’t played like it down the stretch this year.  Now they’re a game away from the Elite Eight and nobody is counting them out at this point.

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NCAA First Four Game Analysis – Wednesday

Posted by rtmsf on March 16th, 2011

Last night went from 68 to 66 at the First Four in Dayton (we’re 2-0!), and here’s our analysis for tonight’s two games.

#16 UT-San Antonio vs. #16 Alabama State – East Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) – 6:30 pm ET on truTV.

Gibson Represents UTSA's Best Hope to Advance

The UT-San Antonio Roadrunners finished just 9-7 in the Southland, but enter the NCAA Tournament winning six of their last seven games after pulling off an upset of favorite McNeese State in the final. UTSA boasts one of the best guards in the conference in Devin Gibson, a 17 PPG scorer who also ranks 30th in the nation in assist rate and lives at the free throw line. He’s clearly the centerpiece of the Roadrunner attack and will be vital to contain if Alabama State hopes to pull off the upset. The SWAC champion ranks in the 300s in both points per game and offensive efficiency, but they do enter the tournament just as hot as their opponent, having won 11 of 12. The Hornets employ an incredible rotation of 13 players averaging double-digit minutes, the most effective weapon being senior forward Tramayne Moyer, a 12.5 PPG scorer who shoots 50% from the floor but only plays 21 minutes per contest. Alabama State does grab an astounding 37% of their misses. If UTSA just limits that strength, they should be in the clear to advance and take on Ohio State in Cleveland on Friday. UTSA shoots fairly well from both the three point and free throw line at 36% and 72%, respectively, while Alabama State is incredibly porous at defending both. Despite their hockey-line style substitution patterns, the Hornets simply don’t have the firepower to down the Roadrunners.

The RTC Certified Pick: UT-San Antonio.

#11 USC vs. #11 VCU – Southwest Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) – 9 pm ET on truTV.

Jamie Skeen Will Have His Hands Full With Vucevic Inside

These two teams were undoubtedly surprised to not only see their names on the bracket released Sunday, but also as #11 seeds.  USC and VCU — the battle of the acronyms — come into tonight’s game on decidedly different paths.  The Pac-10 Trojans came on strong in the second half of the season, winning seven on their last ten games including nice victories over conference leaders Arizona and Washington.  They doing so through the play of the best power conference big man you’ve never heard of, Nikola Vucevic (17/10), and the steady guardplay of mid-season transfer Jio Fontan (4 APG, 1.6:1 ATO ratio).  Head coach Kevin O’Neill has his team playing its typically sturdy defense, and they’ll need it to counter the offensive talents of the Shaka Smart’s quartet of double-figure scorers, Jamie Skeen (15 PPG), Bradford Burgess (14 PPG), Brandon Rozzell (11 PPG) and Joey Rodriguez (11 PPG).  The matchup between Fontan and Rodriguez is particularly interesting because both players are the centerpieces of their respective offense, and while not big individual scorers, they make their systems run smoothly.  The question is whether the VCU team that ran through the CAA Tournament to the finals before bowing out to Old Dominion will show up, or will it be the Ram team that lost four of five to close the regular season?  It says here that with VCU’s inability to defend the post or the perimeter very well, USC will advance on the back of Vucevic’s talents inside and just enough support from his guards. 

The RTC Certified Pick: USC. 

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CAA Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 4th, 2011

Nick Cammarota is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. With the CAA Tournament tipping on Friday, get up to speed on the conference and gain a leg up on your Big Dance Cinderella candidate research.

A Look Ahead… Postseason Style

  • First-Round Game to Watch: No. 8 UNC-Wilmington vs. No. 9 Georgia State. It’s not the sexiest matchup out there, but then again, what first-round game is? The teams split the season series and always seem to play one another close. This one should be pretty interesting, too, in that whichever team wins will have to turn around and face the team with the longest winning streak in the nation: George Mason.
  • First-Round Player To Watch: Northeastern’s Chaisson Allen. One of the more underrated guards in the conference, Allen has a strong build doesn’t seem to break under pressure. There will be no greater pressure than this weekend, so look for Allen to have a decent showing.
  • Team Most Likely to Pull an Upset: William & Mary. If only because they beat their first-round opponent, James Madison, during the regular season. That and junior Quinn McDowell is a threat from anywhere on the floor.
  • Team Most Likely to be Upset: Virginia Commonwealth. The Rams are really struggling coming into the CAA Tournament and unlike years past, they don’t seem to have the right demeanor about them to turn it around and make a run. Then again, that’s what this time of year is all about.
  • Team Most Likely to Win it All: George Mason. The Patriots have thoroughly dominated the league in the second half of the season and are playing their best basketball of the year at the perfect time. Look for this to be a two-bid conference, with both George Mason and Old Dominion capable of making some noise in the Big Dance.

A Look Back

It has been a banner year for the CAA on many levels, and still (barring some upsets in the conference tournament) it looks as though the league will be sending only two teams to the NCAA tournament. That said, the CAA can boast that it’s one of two leagues, along with the Big East, to have six 20-game winners. It also finished with one team ranked in the Top 25 (George Mason), has the nation’s fourth-leading scorer (Charles Jenkins). There’s a lot to get to in the check-in/postseason preview, so follow along as we recap the regular season that was and look ahead to the postseason that will be.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.15.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 15th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Kansas State revived their Tournament chances (at least for now) with a big win last night. Can Michigan State do the same? Plus, first place is on the line in the Colonial. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

George Mason @ VCU – 7 pm on ESPNU (****)

Shaka Smart and VCU Can Even Things Up In the Patriot Tonight

Entering tonight, VCU sits one game behind George Mason as the teams meet for the only time in the regular season. The Patriots are one of the hottest teams in the nation, currently on an 11 game winning streak, while the Rams suffered their first home loss in over a year at the hands of Old Dominion on Saturday. To avoid a second straight home loss, VCU will have to contain George Mason’s potent guard-oriented attack.

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The 10 BracketBuster Games You Don’t Want to Miss

Posted by KDoyle on February 1st, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC Contributor.  His weekly column, The Other 26, explores the minutiae of the twenty-six Division I conferences outside the BCS sextet. 

One of the best weekends of the year prior to Championship Week and, of course, the NCAA Tournament, is when the BracketBusters are played. It provides a nice break from conference play, and some of the top mid-major teams in the country have an opportunity to strut their stuff, build up that all-important resume, and have a last opportunity of picking up a quality non-conference victory. Because many of the top games are televised, it is also a great chance for all you guys out there that solely pay attention to the BCS teams around the country to gain some insight of who may have a shot at upsetting a higher seed and advancing a round or two when filling out your Tournament bracket next month. Here are my top 10 BracketBuster game, from tenth to first:

10.   Kent State at Drexel—February 18, 9PM (ESPNU)

Neither team is in the running for an at-large bid, but obtaining additional confidence heading into their respective conference tournaments is what both will play for. Drexel is just a step below the top teams in the CAA, while Kent State is right in the mix for the MAC crown as there has not been one team that has truly distinguished themselves. The Flashes, led by Justin Greene’s 16 points and 7.5 boards a night, are one of the more balanced teams in the MAC as five players average nine points or more. Chris Fouch, arguably Drexel’s top player, will really test Kent State’s backcourt.

9.   Austin Peay at Fairfield—February 19, 1PM (ESPNU)

Fairfield has been flying under the radar playing in the MAAC this year—not as much attention has been given to the league due to Siena’s return to mediocrity after a great run under Fran McCaffery—and they are one of the hottest teams in the nation. Aside from a tough one point loss at Loyola (MD) in mid-January, Fairfield has not lost since November 23 against St. Joseph’s. They are currently the favorite to win the MAAC, but there are a host of teams nipping at their heels. The Stags will take on an Austin Peay squad that sits atop their league—the Ohio Valley Conference—as well. The game will feature two of the better point guards in the land of mid-majors as Derek Needham for Fairfield averages 14 points and 5 assists, and Caleb Brown for Austin Peay is second in the OVC in assists.

8.   Hofstra at Wright State—February 19, 11AM (ESPNU)

Hofstra and Wright State are both teetering on the edge of becoming legitimate contenders in their respective leagues. The Pride got out to a quick 5-0 start in the CAA, but have gone 3-3 in their last six to fall behind Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason. In the crazy Horizon League this year, it is anyone’s best guess who will be the last one standing. Cleveland State with Norris Cole looks to be the current favorite, but Wright State is not far behind. The storyline for this game will undoubtedly revolve around Charles Jenkins who has a legitimate shot of hearing his name called by David Stern on NBA Draft night, but don’t be surprised if Vaughn Duggins for Wright State steals the show. The fifth-year senior has scored in double figures in every game save two, and is the fourth leading scorer in the Horizon League.

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