Rushed Reactions: #11 Loyola-Chicago 69, #7 Nevada 68

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 22nd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Atlanta for the South Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Loyola-Chicago celebrates its Sweet Sixteen win over Nevada.
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  1. What a game! It was billed as perhaps the least appealing contest of the Sweet Sixteen — some at Phillips Arena were calling it the JV game — but the excitement level more than made up for fact that two mid-major schools were involved. As is often the case in competitive tournament games, it was a game of big runs. Nevada stormed out of the gate and led by double-figures in the first half. Then Loyola responded with a major run of its own, outscoring the Wolf Pack by 24 points over a 17-minute stretch overlapping both halves to lead by 12. But Nevada wasn’t finished. Just as they had done against Texas and Cincinnati in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, Nevada came storming back to tie things up. Finally, behind Marques Townes, Loyola was able to respond and come out on top — winning its third straight nail-biter to advance to Saturday’s regional final.
  2. Loyola’s defense turned the game around. It looked like Nevada was going to blow the Ramblers out of the building in the early going. The Wolf Pack made five layups in the game’s first five minutes and led by 12 points after 13 minutes of play. But Loyola tightened up defensively and things shifted dramatically. One of the top three-point shooting teams in the country, Nevada made just 2-of-12 deep shots in the first half. The Ramblers also forced the nation’s best ball-handling team (lowest turnover percentage) into seven first half miscues. The Ramblers’ defense was the story of the first half, but Loyola’s offense took over after intermission. It looked like the 1985 championship game performance by Villanova, as the Ramblers were on fire — connecting on its first 13 field goal attempts after the break, mostly on layups.
  3. Nevada’s versatility causes match-up problems all over the floor. Eric Musselman only plays six guys for significant minutes, but all but one of those players is between 6’6″ and 6’7″. Most of them (especially Caleb and Cody Martin) are adept at ball-handling, passing and shooting. Also, Musselman — using his coaching experience at the professional level — is great at analyzing defenses in real time to create match-up advantages for his guys. Defensively, Nevada is able to switch almost all ball screens and to use its perimeter length to bother shooters from deep.

Player of the Game. Marques Townes, Loyola-Chicago. Townes led the way with 18 points, four rebounds and five assists this evening. His dagger three with seven seconds left and the shot clock winding down put the Ramblers up by four and basically ended the game.

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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2018

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks. Today and tomorrow we reset each of the four regions. 

New Favorite: #5 Kentucky (26-10). Not only is Kentucky the favorite to win the South Region, it has better odds to reach the Final Four than any team left in the NCAA Tournament, per FiveThirtyEight. Who could have foreseen that on Selection Sunday? Then again, who could have foreseen virtually anything that happened in the South? For the first time in college basketball history, the four top seeds from a single region failed to reach the Sweet Sixteen, leaving the Wildcats standing as the clear-cut favorite in Atlanta. And really, they might have been the favorite anyway. After edging Davidson in the opening round, Kentucky continued playing its best offensive basketball of the season against #13 Buffalo, scoring 1.28 points per possession against a defense that had just baffled #4 Arizona two nights earlier. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (more on him below) was great yet again (27 points on 10-for-12 shooting). Hamidou Diallo (22 points) had his best game in months. Wenyen Gabriel (3-of-5 3FG) continued hitting shots. Since losing to Florida on March 3, Kentucky has looked like an entirely different team — an efficient team — on the offensive end. And that should scare the daylights out of every team left in the Dance.

Kentucky is peaking at the right time. (Kentucky Sports)

Horse of Darkness: #11 Loyola-Chicago (30-5). It speaks volumes about this region that a #11 seed advanced to the Sweet Sixteen and there’s even a debate here, but #7 Nevada and #9 Kansas State both have solid arguments. Still, the Ramblers are the worst remaining seed and no team has taken on that Cinderella “feel” quite like Porter Moser’s group. For Loyola to advance, it took a pair of dramatic (near) buzzer-beaters and some prayers from Sister Jean to upend #6 Miami and #3 Tennessee, the program’s first NCAA Tournament victories since 1985. At no point have the Ramblers looked physically outmatched, though, and it’s doubtful they will against Nevada. Don’t be shocked if this team winds up playing for a trip to San Antonio on Saturday.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #16 UMBC (25-11). Biggest surprise (first weekend)? How about biggest surprise (ever)? In perhaps the greatest upset of all-time, UMBC knocked off #1 overall seed Virginia to become the first #16 seed in NCAA Tournament history to reach the Second Round. Even with several days for that to soak in, the accomplishment remains astounding. Consider that Virginia owned the best record in college basketball (31-2) and won the ACC by four games. And that UMBC lost by 44 points to Albany on January 21. And that Virginia’s defense hadn’t allowed a single opponent to score 70 points this season. Or that UMBC’s offensive efficiency ranked fifth in the America East and didn’t even crack the top 150 nationally. And yet, led by a pair of senior guards with enough swagger to last a lifetime, the Retrievers ripped off 53 points in the second half alone en route to a shocking 74-54 victory, the most total points and points per possession the Cavaliers had surrendered all season. It was the upset to end all upsets.

Completely Expected (First Weekend): Nothing. We’re not trying to be cute here — virtually nothing went as expected in the South Region. A #16 seed beat the #1 overall seed. The #9 seed, Kansas State, reached the Sweet Sixteen without its leading scorer. The #13 seed beat the #4 seed — don’t forget about Buffalo! — and the #11 seed advanced to the second weekend. Oh, and as for #2 Cincinnati? It only blew a 22-point second-half lead against #7 Nevada, giving the Wolf Pack its first Sweet Sixteen berth since 2004. Even #5 Kentucky was far from a sure thing: according to KenPom, the Wildcats had just a 36.7 percent chance of reaching Atlanta before the tournament started.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Nevada 75, #2 Cincinnati 73

Posted by David Changas on March 18th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. David Changas (@dchangas) is in Nashville this weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Eric Musselman was beyond euphoric after Nevada’s stunning comeback (Rush the Court).

  1. There are no words. What can you say about a game like that? Cincinnati was in complete control of the contest for 30 minutes and led 65-43 with 11:37 remaining. And then it happened. Nevada chipped away and chipped away before finally pulling even at 73-all on a Caleb Martin three with 53 seconds remaining. Cincinnati never got another good look at the basket, despite bucking the usual trend and looking for a two-for-one, and Nevada’s Josh Hall converted a putback with nine seconds left to give the Wolf Pack the final 75-73 edge. It was the only time Nevada had led all day. The stunning comeback was the largest second half comeback in NCAA Tournament history and caps an incomprehensibly crazy weekend in the South Region.
  2. Nevada has to be exhausted. Eric Musselman just led his team to two incredible wins in Nashville while using only six players. The Wolf Pack now head to the Sweet Sixteen despite leading for only a minuscule handful of the 85 minutes they have played in this NCAA Tournament. And even though they had to expend a great deal of energy in coming back from two large deficits, Musselman’s team willed its way to those improbable victories. And they did it today while turning the ball over only two times. There is a reason Nevada is ranked among the top 10 nationally in offensive efficiency, and it showed here in Nashville during the course of its epic comeback.
  3. Where does Cincinnati go from here? This appeared to be the year in which a path to the Final Four was wide open for Mick Cronin’s team. Had the Bearcats held on, they would have had to get past #11 Loyola and possibly #5 Kentucky to get to San Antonio. Now, not only do they walk away with a loss to a lower seed, they must also live with letting what can only be described as a golden opportunity slip right through their fingers. Cronin has been very successful in his 12 years at the school, having reached the last eight NCAA Tournaments, but there is only one Sweet Sixteen appearance to show for it. Frustration is certain to grow in the Queen City about these annual meltdowns, and one must wonder when Cronin will have a better chance at a deep NCAA Tournament run.

Player of the Game. Josh Hall, Nevada. Sure, the easy choice here would be Cody Martin, but Hall’s big offensive rebound and game-winning bucket earns him the honor. Hall, who is the only player Musselman uses off the bench, went for 14 points (more than double his average) and six rebounds.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Nevada 87, #10 Texas 83 (OT)

Posted by David Changas on March 16th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. David Changas (@dchangas) is in Nashville this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Nevada Wolf Pack forward Caleb Martin (10) reacts with the bench during the second half against the Texas Longhorns in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at Bridgestone Arena. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Big shot Caleb. Nevada’s Caleb Martin went 2-of-10 from three-point range and looked like he was trying to draw contact on nearly every shot he took from deep in the second half. But he never stopped firing, and after the Wolf Pack went down by four on a four-point play from Kerwin Roach, Martin hit back-to-back threes to put his team in control for what would turn out to be for good. The NC State transfer is a 40 percent shooter from three-point range, so it is not surprising that coach Eric Musselman let him keep shooting. Still, for the senior guard to overcome a rough first 40 minutes is a big reason Nevada moves on to Round Two, and Martin’s recovery was symbolic of the entire team’s effort. After shooting only 39.3 percent in the first half, the Wolf Pack hit 51 percent of their second half shots on their way to scoring 61 combined points in the second half and overtime.
  2. Nevada overcomes an enormous day from Texas’s backcourt. Kerwin Roach and Matt Coleman, neither of whom has been particularly efficient from behind the arc this season, were great from deep today, combining to go 10-of-15 from three-point range while scoring 26 and 25 points, respectively. That type of output ordinarily would – and Shaka Smart would argue should have today – result in a Texas win. But Texas’ big men struggled to take advantage of a number of good looks inside, and the heroic efforts of Roach and Coleman were not enough to carry the Longhorns into the Second Round.
  3. Nevada’s balance and ball security was too much for Texas. The Wolf Pack had five players score in double figures, with Kendall Stephens leading the way with 22 points. Given that four of those players average double figures, their output was not surprising. That balance is what got Nevada to the Mountain West regular season championship. In addition, Nevada, which takes care of the ball better than any team in the country, did a fantastic job of doing that in what was a fast-paced second half. It offset the 42-34 rebounding advantage the Longhorns enjoyed in game.

Player of the Game. Caleb Martin, Nevada. There are plenty of options here, but despite the lackluster shooting effort for most of the game, the Wolf Pack would not be headed to the second round without the late-game heroics of Martin. He also had 10 rebounds on a day when his team struggled on the glass. It was only his second double-double of the season. Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Bracket Prep: South Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 13th, 2018

Yesterday and today we will be rolling out our region-by-region analysis for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) 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).

South Region

Favorite: #1 Virginia (31-2, 17-1 ACC). Oh, how far Virginia has come. After beginning the season outside of both the AP and USA Today/Coaches Poll Top 25, the Cavaliers have won a school-record 31 games en route to the the #1 overall seed on Selection Sunday. In the process, they posted the second-best adjusted defensive efficiency mark in the KenPom era and didn’t allow a single opponent to break 70 points. This is also Tony Bennett’s second-most efficient offensive team since arriving in Charlottesville in 2009, thanks in large part to sharpshooter Kyle Guy (14.1 PPG, 39.5% 3FG). The notion that Virginia would be overwhelmed by Kentucky or Arizona’s athleticism seems particularly far-fetched considering that the Cavaliers beat Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium and handled North Carolina twice this season. The idea that a stout defensive club like Cincinnati or Tennessee would out-grind the ACC champs seems equally questionable. Virginia is the South Region favorite, and there’s no really no argument otherwise.

Kyle Guy and the Cavaliers are the best bet to reach San Antonio. (Photo: Geoff Burke, USA TODAY Sports)

Should They Falter: #2 Cincinnati (30-4, 16-2 AAC). Were it not for Virginia, Cincinnati’s defense would have probably received a lot more national recognition this season. The Bearcats held opponents to just over 0.86 points per possession, a mark which — not adjusting for competition — hasn’t been topped since 2008-09 Memphis. Mick Cronin’s team is tough in every sense of the word, just as willing to pound the offensive glass (third nationally in Offensive Rebounding rate) as it is to grind opponents down on the other end. In senior Gary Clarke (13.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG), Cincinnati has a player who manages to serve as both its star and its “glue guy,” the type of scrappy weapon you want on your team when the game’s on the line in March. The Bearcats don’t have many great wins this season, but fresh off of beating Wichita State on the road and winning the AAC title, Cronin’s team looks primed for a deep March run.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Creighton (21-11, 10-8 Big East). While the seeding was fairly well done in this region, Creighton’s landing spot at #8 came as quite the surprise. Most bracketologists had pegged the Bluejays as a #9 or #10 seed, with some placing them as low as a #11. Its home win over Villanova notwithstanding, Creighton finished just 1-9 against Quadrant 1 opponents this season and failed to win a single road game against teams that finished above .500. Then again, perhaps the Bluejays actually got a raw deal when you consider that instead of a possible Second Round matchup against #2 Cincinnati, they’ll have to face Virginia.

Criminally Underseeded: #13 Buffalo (26-8, 15-3 MAC). According to BracketMatrix.com, the vast majority of projections had atabbed Buffalo as a #12 seed (average: 12.08). Instead, the 26-win Bulls were given a #13 seed and tasked with handling future #1-overall NBA Draft pick DeAndre Ayton way out in Boise. And if you think seeding at this level doesn’t matter, consider this: Historically, #12 seeds have a 35.6 percent chance of advancing to the Second Round compared with just 19.7 percent for #13 seeds.

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Crucial Week Ahead for Several O26 At-Large Contenders

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 5th, 2017

For mid-major NCAA Tournament hopefuls, non-conference play offers the only realistic chance to notch marquee, resume-building wins. Teams able to capitalize on those opportunities may put themselves in position for a bid next March even if they stumble during Championship Week. With only a few weeks of non-conference action remaining, let’s examine the important week that lies ahead for a few O26 at-large hopefuls:

Big opportunities lie ahead for Nevada and Rhode Island. (John Byrne, Nevada Wolf Pack Athletics)

  • Gonzaga (7-1) This week: vs. #4 Villanova, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN, Tuesday. With another talented roster and early wins over Texas, Ohio State and #25 Creighton, Gonzaga should be in fine shape to reach its 20th-straight Big Dance, even if it slips up in the the WCC Tournament. Still, tonight’s Jimmy V Classic match-up against #4 Villanova — the best team in college basketball, according to KenPom — offers the Zags an important chance to significantly strengthen its profile. A win over the Wildcats would give Mark Few’s group a neutral court victory against a potential power conference champion. A loss, and Gonzaga — without any match-ups remaining against likely NCAA Tournament teams — will be left hoping those wins over the Longhorns, Buckeyes and Bluejays age well. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that this specific outcome could bump the Bulldogs up or down multiple seed lines come Selection Sunday.

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Five ACC Storylines to Watch this Offseason

Posted by Matt Patton on April 11th, 2016

With the long offseason ahead of us, let’s take a look at five key ACC storylines to keep an eye on over the summer.

  1. NCAA Sanctions: After investigations that surrounded both programs in different ways this season, there should finally be some closure for Louisville and North Carolina. Louisville is still trying to get in front of NCAA sanctions by self-imposing its own (in addition to this year’s postseason ban, the program also recently added recruiting penalties). This strategy has worked well for other schools, but predicting eventual NCAA punishments is an exercise in futility. North Carolina is the more interesting case — the Tar Heels may not receive any sanctions or they may get the book thrown at them. What remains unclear is whether there will be administrative fallout from either scandal. I would not be shocked if Rick Pitino ends up stepping down from his post — especially if the NCAA deems the Cardinals’ self-imposed penalties insufficient. But I would be shocked if Roy Williams did.

    Rick Pitino may be in for a stressful offseason. (photo: Getty Images)

    Rick Pitino may be in for a stressful offseason. (photo: Getty Images)

  2. Coaching Carousel: This is a slow year for the ACC in terms of coaching turnover. Pittsburgh lost Jamie Dixon to his alma mater, TCU, and Georgia Tech fired Brian Gregory. The Yellow Jackets were initially spurned by Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel and Bryce Drew (who went to Vanderbilt instead), and after reports that Cal’s Cuonzo Martin was their top candidate, athletic director Mike Bobinski hired Josh Pastner away from Memphis. Pastner is far from a sure thing in this spot, but he should be able to put more talented teams on the floor. Whether those teams will have more success than what Gregory mustered (two teams with winning records; no NCAA Tournament appearances) remains to be seen. In Pittsburgh, many fans were upset with the hiring of Kevin Stallings away from Vanderbilt (ironically, the response from Commodores’ fans mirrored Dayton fans after Georgia Tech hired Gregory). Stallings will have his work cut out for him in the Steel City, but he was a solid coach with several very good teams in Nashville. Like Jamie Dixon, he may have stuck around the same place a little too long, but there’s no reason to think he won’t do reasonably well there. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Weekend Review: 02.15.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 15th, 2016

It was a weekend for favorites in the ACC as all seven underdogs lost. Two of those victims were higher-ranked schools that fell on the road in close games. In the most anticipated matchup of the weekend, Duke edged Virginia by a point on Grayson Allen’s controversial last-second shot in a game that lived up to the hype. Notre Dame rallied to take down Louisville after trailing by 11 points in the second half, making it consecutive Saturdays when the Irish rallied from double-figure deficits to take down a league heavyweight. The team the Irish conquered last weekend, North Carolina, returned home after a rough three-game road swing for head coach Roy Williams, to dominate Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon. In the final contest of the weekend, Florida State missed out on a golden chance to improve its resume when late-game execution faltered against Miami. Here are some of the highlights from a busy weekend around the ACC.

Grayson Allen drives in for his controversial game-winner against Virginia. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Grayson Allen drives in for his controversial game-winner against Virginia. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

  • Best Win: This game turned out to be as competitive and hard-fought of a game as we’ve seen in ACC play this year. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski must be thankful that Virginia‘s Malcolm Brogdon could only guard one of his stars at a single time. The senior was Grayson Allen‘s primary defender for the first 25 minutes of play, holding him to only four points during that time. Meanwhile, Brandon Ingram was busy carrying the Blue Devils’ offense — during an eight-minute stretch of the game that overlapped halftime, he scored 20 of Duke’s 22 points. With 15 minutes to go in the contest, Tony Bennett moved Brogdon over to Ingram, and the star freshman only managed two more points the rest of the way. That move, however, allowed Allen to become Duke’s go-to man down the stretch, culminating in his acrobatic driving buzzer-beater to win the game. Did Allen travel on the play? Replays showed he probably took at least three steps. Did he get fouled on the play? Replays showed two bumps that are normally called on such a drive. Did the officials swallow the whistle? Absolutely! The end result was a huge win for the Blue Devils, regardless of what should have or shouldn’t have been called.

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NC State Loss to William & Mary Impacts More Than Loss Column

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 14th, 2015

Coming off a surprising trip to the Sweet Sixteen a year ago and returning a promising young nucleus, there was a lot of optimism surrounding NC State as it tipped off its 2015-16 campaign in Raleigh last evening. So positive were the feelings around how head coach Mark Gottfried had reinvigorated the program during his four-year tenure, the school rewarded him with a lucrative contract extension on season’s eve. And that is exactly where all the good news came to an end. The Wolfpack proceeded to get blitzed by William & Mary, allowing 51 first-half points before falling by a score of 85-68 in a very disappointing performance. The Tribe shot 52 percent from the floor while holding the Pack to a 38 percent clip, racing out to a big early lead that eventually extended to 23 and controlling the game from tip to buzzer. It was an awful start to the season for a team that has made the NCAA Tournament in all four of Gottfried’s years at the helm, and the news has since worsened.

Mark Gottfried Celebrated His Contract Extension With a Horrific Opening Performance

Mark Gottfried Celebrated His Contract Extension With a Horrific Opening Performance

Terry Henderson, the presumptive replacement for Trevor Lacey on the perimeter, suffered torn ligaments in his right ankle during the loss and is now expected to be sidelined for six to eight weeks. The 6’5” junior guard, who was seeing his first official Wolfpack action last night after transferring from West Virginia, was held scoreless in seven minutes. In his two years in Morgantown, Henderson proved to be a fearless and capable sniper, connecting on 89 three-point field goals despite never being a focal point of the offense. As a sophomore, he averaged 11.7 points per game as the third wheel in a dynamic backcourt alongside Juwan Staten and Eron Harris. Gottfried, who is looking to replace Lacey as well as Ralston Turner from last year’s club, was counting on Henderson to replace a significant portion of their departed production. The Raleigh native seemed to be the perfect fit to complement a point guard in Cat Barber who excels at beating the defense off of the bounce.

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ACC Preview: NC State’s Burning Question

Posted by Matt Patton on November 3rd, 2015

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Is Cat Barber ready to replace Trevor Lacey?

NC State was poised to be overrated if Trevor Lacey came back. They were a good team that would have been returning nearly all of its minutes. Instead Lacey opted to make money playing basketball, leaving head coach Mark Gottfried in an odd but familiar place. Gottfried’s teams tend to do best when they have chips on their shoulders. High preseason expectations can grind down that edge. He may again be in an ideal place to overachieve — ignoring for the moment the talent across the rest of the league. Lacey is gone, but there’s almost no way the junior guard could have lived up to his performance from last season (see Michael Snaer’s senior season at Florida State for a frame of reference).

This is Cat Barber's team, and they'll be fun to watch. (photo: Jerome Carpenter/WRALSportsFan)

This is Cat Barber’s team, and the Pack will be fun to watch. (photo: Jerome Carpenter/WRALSportsFan)

Gottfried can instead turn to Cat Barber to take the helm. Barber looked terrific last season on the heels of an up-and-down freshman year. He should only keep improving, although his efficiency may drop slightly with increased possessions. Barber also gets a new sidekick next to him in West Virginia transfer Terry Henderson. Henderson should fit into Gottfried’s system right away. He’ll make threes and will likely score a lot more points than fans expect. Henderson wasn’t as high-volume a three-point shooter as some of his teammates in Morgantown, but as the best shooter in Raleigh look for him to take more shots.

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