NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2017

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks.

New Favorite: #1 Kansas (30-4). Despite receiving a 30-minute test from #9 Michigan State on Sunday, Kansas remains the favorite to win the Midwest Region. The Jayhawks smashed #16 UC Davis 100-62 before dominating the last 10 minutes against the Spartans in the Round of 32 — a hard-fought victory that should prepare them well for an even stronger Big Ten opponent, #4 Purdue, on Thursday. If you buy into advanced metrics, this appears to be a fairly even matchup: Kansas ranks seventh in KenPom, while the Boilermakers rank 13th. Unfortunately for Matt Painter’s group, the game will be played in Kansas City, where a sea of Jayhawk faithful is sure to outnumber Purdue fans several fold. Assuming Kansas prevails, it will be a similar story against #3 Oregon or #7 Michigan. Beating Kansas is one thing, but beating Kansas in a semi-road game is something entirely different.

Kansas Rolls Into KC as the Clear Midwest Region Favorite (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #7 Michigan (26-11). The Wolverines have not lost since that epic defeat at Northwestern on March 1, a nearly three-week stretch which has included a near-plane crash, a Big Ten Tournament championship, and a pair of gutsy NCAA Tournament victories over Oklahoma State and Louisville. Michigan now boasts the third-most efficient offense in college basketball, thanks in large part to blistering performances like the one Moritz Wagner (26 points on 11-of-14 FT) put on against the Cardinals on Sunday. If John Beilein’s group can get past shorthanded Oregon on Thursday, there’s no reason to think it can’t win this region. Heck, the Wolverines have already beaten Purdue twice since February 25, and the last time they played Kansas in the Big Dance, this happened. Look out.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #11 Rhode Island (25-10). Rhode Island entered the NCAA Tournament on an eight-game winning streak, so its victory over #6 Creighton in the Round of 64 was not that surprising. The fashion in which it whipped the Bluejays, though — winning by 14 points and trailing for exactly zero seconds in game time — was quite unexpected. So too was the Rams’ effort against #3 Oregon on Sunday night, a game in which they led by double-figures in the second half before falling victim to a cold-blooded Tyler Dorsey three-pointer in the closing seconds. For a program that had not gone dancing since 1999, Rhode Island was certainly ready for prime time.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Pac-12 Tournament Prospectus

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 15th, 2017

The Pac-12 ended up with fewer seeds in the NCAA Tournament than the ACC, Big 12, SEC, and Big 10.  Of course, it was always quality (Arizona, Oregon, UCLA) and not quantity for the Conference of Champions this season. Outside of the ACC, no conference has three teams being hailed as legitimate Final Four threats.  The questions this time of year focus on where you’re trending and your presumptive path. By the time you get to a National Semifinal you are certainly going to be playing a great team, or at the very least a team playing like one. Those games match up as coin tosses in most cases, so let’s focus on which of the four Pac-12 teams who qualified has the best shot of reaching Glendale.

Do Allonzo Trier and Arizona own the Pac-12’s best chances of reaching the National Semifinals? (Photo: USA Today Sports)

USC

  • Trending Up:  Jordan McLaughlin is averaging nearly 17 points a game over his last four and has a stellar A/TO rate of 31/6 over those four games. Guard play takes center stage in the NCAA Tournament, and if the Trojans are to make more than a cameo in the round of 68, they’ll need McLaughlin to keep playing at a high level this week.
  • Trending Down:  Since posting a stellar 156 ORtg against Washington State in March 1, Bennie Boatwright has slumped to games with offensive efficiency ratings of 88, 102, and 83 amidst an 8-28 field goal shooting stretch.  USC is not a great offensive team and they struggle in the halfcourt; without Boatwright at max efficiency working to stretch defenses and convert in the paint, USC isn’t long for this week.
  • Final Four:  The Trojans were on a three-game winning streak before UCLA dispatched them in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament. USC didn’t make it easy for the Bruins, however, and in the last four games found an offensive groove, posting efficiency ratings well over national average in its three wins. The loss to UCLA showed they could hang with an elite team despite subpar performances from Boatwright, Chimezie Metu, and De’Anthony Melton. Coming off a loss, it’d be wrong to say the Trojans are streaking, but they are playing good ball.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Pac-12 Teams

Posted by Adam Butler on March 12th, 2017

We thought that the Pac-12 Tournament champion would be rewarded with the West Region’s best available seed. The release of the committee’s bracket confirmed as much and here we are. With the Pac-12 represented by only four teams this season, let’s react to their seeding.

Arizona Rode the Wave to the Pac-12 Title (USA Today Images)

  • #2 Arizona, West – The Wildcats stormed through Las Vegas over the weekend and were rewarded for the effort. What will be interesting in the upcoming days, however, is how Arizona will be evaluated. The advanced metrics like KenPom rate Sean Miller‘s squad as the nation’s 20th best team, loosely correlating to a #4 or even #5 seed. Subsequently, the Internet has instareacted by noting that Saint Mary’s (Arizona’s potential Second Round opponent) in fact has fantastic odds of making the Elite Eight. Of course, Saint Mary’s (14th) rates ahead of the Wildcats, which means that it makes sense that the Gaels are a trendy sleeper pick. But ask yourself, is the team that just beat UCLA and Oregon on successive nights not capable of making the Final Four?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: Arizona 83, Oregon 80

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 12th, 2017

Arizona left no doubt that it is the most complete Pac-12 team this season. The Wildcats beat UCLA and Oregon on back-to-back nights, and they did it with star big man Lauri Markannen taking only four shots and scoring only 11 points. Oregon may have the most experience and UCLA may have the biggest upside, but Arizona can win at multiple paces and in multiple ways.

Arizona Ran Through Oregon to Claim the Pac-12 Tournament Title (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. The game has changed. Arizona came into tonight’s game with a firm commitment to drive Oregon off the three-point line, even if that meant giving up layups as a result. The Ducks were credited with 30 layup attempts, converting only half of them. However, Oregon — a team that gets nearly 40 percent of its points from the three-point line — only notched 19 percent of their points from distance tonight. Oregon adjusted in the second half by driving to the bucket relentlessly and getting fouls. Foul trouble was the monkey wrench that hurt Arizona in the second half, but Sean Miller confirmed that taking away the three was the priority. It’s counterintuitive relative to the long-established philosophy of defending from the inside out, and it reflects just how much the style of the game and the three-point line have revolutionized not just the way teams attack but also the way they defend.
  2. Track Dillon Brooks’ usage in the NCAA Tournament. Dana Altman and Tyler Dorsey were not excited last night about the stagnation that resulted largely because of Brooks’ ball dominance. Tonight Brooks scored 17 of Oregon’s 29 points in the first half and took 12 of their 29 shots. Oregon’s offensive efficiency that half was 85.3. In the second half, foul trouble opened the door for Tyler Dorsey, who took over the lead role and logged a very efficient 21 points on only 10 shots. Oregon’s offensive efficiency in the second half was 141.7. The Ducks are at their most dangerous when they have everybody engaged (most teams are), but with a player as exceptional as Brooks it can be difficult to find that balance. There is not clear evidence of any kind of a rift between Brooks and his team, but the Ducks’ last two games illustrated that making Oregon one-dimensional is a big step towards beating them, even if that one dimension is a player as good as Brooks.
  3. Chris Boucher was missed.  Altman admitted that it was tough to account for the absence of the Ducks’ senior shot-blocker and three-point threat extraordinaire. Make no mistake: Boucher was missed on both ends of the court tonight. His reputation is built on rim protection but his ability to stretch defenses and create mismatches is something Altman must resolve by the time Oregon starts NCAA Tournament play.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

The Achilles’ Heels of Arizona, Oregon and UCLA

Posted by Richard Abeytia on February 18th, 2017

The Pac-12’s Big Three of Arizona, Oregon and UCLA (in no particular order) have spent most of the regular season displaying their numerous virtues, but for these three programs their ultimate referendum is going to be performance in the NCAA Tournament. The trio certainly won’t be the only Pac-12 schools to qualify for the Big Dance this season, but they will be expected to carry the banner for the Conference of Champions deep into March (last men’s basketball championship: Arizona, 1997). So what to make of the Wildcats, Ducks and Bruins as we approach three weeks until Selection Sunday? Their talent is unquestioned, but each team carries at least one potentially tragic flaw that must be reconciled if it has plans on booking a trip to the Final Four.

Arizona: Inexperience

Lauri Markkanen is a potentially game-changing talent, but will his inexperience catch up to him in the Big Dance? (Getty)

No team epitomizes the conference’s youthful resurgence like Arizona. In Pac-12 play, freshmen Lauri Markkanen, Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons represent nearly half of Arizona’s field goal attempts and scoring. That hasn’t mattered until recently, but a reckoning more commonly known as “The Freshman Wall” is imminent. Rare is the first-year collegian who can completely sidestep a prolonged dip in performance. Markannen recently went through a two-week stretch of poor performances, punctuated by four-point, three-rebound stinker at Oregon. Simmons has also struggled with inconsistency in league play. His masterpiece against UCLA was the precursor to an ineffective 2-of-7 game against Utah. Another inconsistent swing through Oregon cost Simmons his starting job, and his 19 minutes against Stanford represented a season low. He bounced back somewhat against California with 13 points and three assists, but he doesn’t seem quite as comfortable as he once did. Alkins also struggled against the Oregon schools, but he played well in recent games against Stanford and Washington State. Teams have certainly won NCAA titles led by talented youth, but it’s also not hard to imagine a team like Arizona cracking against a veteran-laden athletic group like Villanova. Arizona has plenty of time to find greater consistency among its freshman corps, but like the rest of us, Sean Miller is probably still wondering what are his young Wildcats made of?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Weekly Pac-5: Rim Protection

Posted by Adam Butler on January 6th, 2017

Basketball, as we’ve discussed in previous Pac-5s, is a simple game. Score more than your opponent by playing better offense, defense or some sort of hybrid. In looking at the most effective ways to achieve this outcome, defensively speaking, rim protection is high. Let’s keep our opponent away from the shots that are most commonly and easily made: the layup and dunk. This key facet to the game is often attributed to the effort of big men — the lurking paint protectors threatening to put shots into the bleachers. And by that logic, we might consider rim protection quantifiable by a team’s propensity to block shots. It’s not wrong. Blocking shots is a tried and true means to protecting the rim. It also looks cool. But it’s not a comprehensive measure of rim protection. There’s also a team’s — or individual’s — ability to limit dribble penetration, force long jumpers, limit transition offense and so forth. Defense is a team effort and therefore to note that Oregon has the nation’s top block rate (20%) doesn’t necessarily mean they do the best job of protecting the rim (also of note: it doesn’t hurt the Ducks’ ability to limit layups and dunks).

Even Following A Lost Weekend By The Bay, The Ducks Are In Good NCAA Position (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Defense is the name of the game for Oregon big man Chris Boucher, right. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

In this week’s top-5, we’ll look at the Pac’s five best rim protecting teams. We’ll qualify this list by noting the five teams with the fewest total made shots at the rim. This does not take into account pace, unfortunately, which will dilute the total number of shot attempts against a defense. What I wanted to capture, however, was a team’s holistic approach to rim protection. By looking at the total number of made layups or dunks against those teams, we account for field goal defense and the propensity to limit overall shots (again, pace is a big component of this but also cannot be ignored as a strategy). A brief, contextualizing anecdote: Oregon owns the nation’s top block rate, yet teams still shoot 66 percent at the rim against them (fifth highest in the Pac-12) and allow the second highest percentage of shots at the rim. This perhaps suggests that Dana Altman’s team is content in allowing penetration to the rim, daring opponents to challenge Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher when they get there. The defensive risks then taken by Bell and Boucher could, perhaps, lead to drop off passes or putbacks, yielding a higher field goal percentage at the rim and consequently a slightly less effective rim defense. Here are the Pac-12’s five best rim protecting teams as measured by fewest layups and dunks allowed.

Team FGM at the rim Rim dFG%
1. California 109 54.5%
2. Arizona 124 56.6%
3. Utah 138 50.6%
4. Oregon 145 49.4%
5. UCLA 146 51.3%

In effect, each team exacts a different strategy to protect its rim. Be it through the collective or with a particularly lengthy big man, it remains a critical facet of the game.

Share this story

Oregon Has Bigger Issues Than Dillon Brooks’ Health

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 17th, 2016

Dillon Brooks isn’t walking through that door, Oregon!

Well.. actually, he is. So if you came here looking for analysis full of hand-wringing and questions about what is wrong with Oregon after its beatdown by the hands of Baylor earlier this week, look elsewhere. There is no shame in losing a road game in Waco without your best player and against a team that should never have been considered “unranked” anyway.

That said, it felt like the storyline coming out Oregon’s loss was that the Ducks really miss Brooks, which sounds somewhat like a cop out even if it’s also undoubtedly true. To say that Oregon lost to Baylor because Brooks didn’t play would be glossing over just how inept the rest of Dana Altman’s team looked Tuesday night. As the head coach put it on Wednesday, telling reporters “that’s really easy to let the guys off the hook that way. This team is a lot better, even without him, than what it showed yesterday, and that’s what disappoints me.”

Dillon Brooks (USA Today Images)

The Return of Dillon Brooks Cannot Come Soon Enough for Oregon (USA Today Images)

There is no point in running through the numbers because it is just easier to say that Oregon played its worst offensive game since 2013 and 0.82 points per possession won’t even beat Dartmouth, much less Baylor. To his credit, Altman was the first to admit how poorly his team played Tuesday, but the outcome of the game isn’t the problem inasmuch as some of the holes that Baylor exposed in the process.

The most glaring issue is the team’s obvious lack of depth without Brooks in the lineup. Only seven players received more than 10 minutes of court time and it is obvious that potential rotation pieces Kavell Bigby-Williams and Keith Smith are not yet ready. Without Brooks, this leaves the Ducks undersized and inflexible defensively and forces Altman to heavily rely on freshman guard Payton Pritchard and seldom-used big man Roman Sorkin. Both are useful players but the Ducks are likely better off with them serving as complementary pieces rather than core rotation guys.

It is also somewhat disappointing that Chris Boucher hasn’t yet taken the leap, although It is also worth remembering that he has only been playing organized basketball since 2012. Through two games, Boucher has looked a lot like the same player he was last season, which isn’t a bad thing when you consider his offensive efficiency and shot-blocking ability. But he was also maddeningly inconsistent last season, a player who still disappears offensively at times, doesn’t pass, struggles with foul trouble and doesn’t rebound nearly as well as he should. Against teams like Army, he can go for 14 points and eight rebounds without breaking a sweat; but for Oregon to ultimately win a National Championship, Boucher needs to do better than two rebounds (zero offensive) against quality opponents.

The point guard job is less about whether a hole needs plugging and more about which plug fits that hole best. Pritchard and returning starter Casey Benson have split minutes as the primary ball-handler through two games and most teams in the Pac-12 would kill for a duo like that. But it will be interesting to see how that time-sharing arrangement progresses because each player brings a distinctly different skill set to the table. Benson hasn’t done anything this season to lose his starting spot, but Pritchard is the more talented (and turnover-prone) offensive player. Once Brooks returns, either Benson or Dylan Ennis will be headed to the bench, only making things more interesting as Ennis can play point guard as well. The sample size is admittedly small, but the most logical solution for Altman is to use Benson as the steady hand and let the better shooters, Ennis and Pritchard, provide scoring punch off the ball.

Oregon has no time to lick its wounds as undefeated Valparaiso comes to Eugene tonight. The Crusaders are better than your average mid-major but this is still a chance for the Ducks, even without the services of Brooks for another night, to flex their muscles and prove they are a capable team regardless.

Share this story

Pac-12 Preseason All-Conference Teams

Posted by Mike Lemaire & Adam Butler on November 11th, 2016

Nothing grinds our gears quite like the end of season Pac-12 All-Conference team selection. There is no reasonable explanation for going to the trouble of naming an official first team and an official second team and then casually picking 15 PLAYERS to fill those two teams. We are all for honoring the conference’s 15 best players, but the way to do that is by just making a third team. We are probably taking this way too seriously, but when the official All-Pac 12 team is 10 players deep, it cheapens the honor. Gary Payton II and Jakob Poetl deserved to be separated from guys like Elgin Cook and Rosco Allen last season. Instead it felt more like they were receiving participation trophies for being really good. We are not as inclusive. There are five players on our Pac-12 first team and there are five players on our Pac-12 second team. Picking these teams before the season begins is always a bit of a fruitless exercise. The order of things is bound to change once the season starts and actual play can be evaluated. Aside from the occasional Ivan Rabb or Dillon Brooks, there are usually as many as 25 players deserving of consideration. We started our list with roughly that number of candidates and trimmed it from there. There were very few consensus selections this year, as you will see when we share our thoughts behind the 10 selections below.

ALL-PAC-12 FIRST TEAM

Markelle Fultz Hasn't Played A Minute of College Basketball and He May Be the Best Player In the Conference (Adidas)

Washington’s Fultz Has Zero Collegiate Experience Yet May Be the Best Player In the Conference. (Adidas)

  • Dillon Brooks, Junior, Oregon
  • Ivan Rabb, Sophomore, California
  • Allonzo Trier, Sophomore, Arizona
  • Lonzo Ball, Freshman, UCLA
  • Markelle Fultz, Freshman, Washington

ML: This was one of the more difficult teams to peg in recent memory and the race to make it was almost entirely wide open. Rabb is the only real shoo-in. He will be stronger this season and is easily the conference’s best big man. Brooks needs to get healthy, but Oregon doesn’t seem overly concerned that he will miss extensive time. He is a no-brainer for this team assuming he returns to form on the court relatively soon. Trier could make us look foolish if his mysterious absence turns into a lengthy suspension, but if he plays, he is will score in bunches and should be a better playmaker this season. Fultz and Ball haven’t yet played a single minute of college basketball, but both would be lottery picks if the NBA Draft was held today and each is talented enough to contend for national honors as well as conference awards.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #1 Oregon 82, #4 Duke 68

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 24th, 2016

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

Three Key Takeaways.

Dillon Brooks and Oregon jammed their way past Duke. (Photo: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports)

Dillon Brooks and Oregon jammed their way past Duke. (Photo: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. The Oregon Way. Threes and layups. It’s not a new concept by any means, but Oregon sure runs it to perfection. In a seven-man rotation with a true point guard, two versatile bigs and four athletes who can both shoot and attack off the bounce, the Ducks have made an art out of basing their offense around the long ball and the short ball. For the season, they take about 42 percent of their shots at the rim, and roughly 34 percent from three-point range. Tonight, they were even better than those season averages, taking 23 threes (35 percent of their FGAs) and 28 shots that were either dunks or layups (45%), leaving just 13 (20%) of those inefficient two-point jumpers (they went just 3-13 on those attempts).
  2. Fast-Paced and Fun. In a game chock full of versatile and athletic basketball players (Brandon Ingram, Dillon Brooks, Grayson Allen, Elgin Cook, and on down the line), we saw the type of entertaining basketball we expected. In the halfcourt on both ends of the court, offenses effectively shared the ball and sought out offensive mismatches to exploit. Both defenses trapped to try to slow their opponent down and force turnovers. If defenders were beat off the bounce, there were rim protectors (especially on the Oregon side) waiting to attempt to clean up the mistakes. And the dunks. My lord the dunks. Of those 28 Duck dunk or layup attempts we mentioned above, Oregon converted 19 of them, often in spectacular fashion.
  3. Casey Benson. He’s the quiet man on the Duck team. He’s not going to be playing above the rim. He’s not often going to be among the high scorers on his team (tonight’s 11-point effort was just his fifth double-digit scoring effort this season). But man, he just doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. Tonight, he had one awful first-half turnover, but other than that he was nearly perfect. Benson knocked in three threes, got to the rim for a layup for an additional hoop, handed out eight dimes while facilitating constant ball movement, and generally ran his team to perfection.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Regional Reset: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 21st, 2016

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

New Favorite:  #2 Oklahoma. We previously had Oregon as the favorite here,  but we’re going to switch it up and go with the Sooners instead because it is starting to look like Buddy Hield is going to drag his team to Houston and a possible national title one way or the other. There’s reason to be fearful of the Sooners’ chances, though, as they’ve been pressured by a pair of double-digit seeds. In this region, with the top four seeds still alive, would anybody be surprised if anybody made its way to Houston?

Buddy Was Just Doing Buddy Things to Get to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Buddy Was Just Doing Buddy Things to Get to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #3 Texas A&M. This team was dead. Ceased to be. Expired and gone to meet it’s maker. Shuffled off the mortal coil, and all that. And yet somehow, the Aggies pulled off their best Lazarus impression and miraculously moved on to the Sweet Sixteen. Sometimes, miracles like these in early rounds are springboards to national titles: Witness Tyus Edney 21 years ago. Sometimes, it just extends the inevitable a little longer. For about 39 minutes and 22 seconds on Sunday night, A&M was getting run out of the Tourney by Northern Iowa. But somehow, some way, they survived. Will it be a springboard to bigger and better things or is it a sign of an inherent weakness? Poised veterans Alex Caruso and Anthony Collins have been solid, but leading scorers Danuel House and Jalen Jones will need to be more consistent to keep advancing.

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): Everything Having to Do With Northern Iowa. At this point, we should just offer up a standing invitation to any halfway decent Northern Iowa team to join the NCAA Tournament, because you just know we are going to be treated to a classic one way or another. The Panthers’ opening round game against Texas was absolutely insane. It wasn’t just the final 10 seconds worth of an Isaiah Taylor game-tying floater and the Paul Jesperson game-winning half-court heave; the whole game was amazing. Those final 10 seconds immediately vaulted up into the top tier of NCAA moments ever. And then Sunday night? Northern Iowa, much to its chagrin, may have topped that one by its involvement in an even more memorable game (for completely different reasons). In any March Madness epic, there is always the transposition of the elation of the winner and the heartbreak of the loser. In a 48-hour span, Northern Iowa felt both ends about as shockingly as possible.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story