Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 81, #9 Alabama 58

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Pittsburgh this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Villanova Ran Through Alabama Like a Freight Train This Afternoon (USA Today Images)

  1. Donte DiVincenzo was the story of the first half. Villanova’s first half did not go as planned. Both Jalen Brunson and Omari Spellman spent more than 10 minutes of the opening stanza relegated to the bench because of foul trouble. Star swingman Mikal Bridges struggled to get anything going in the first 20 minutes, totaling just a single point on an 0-for-5 shooting performance. But amazingly, the Wildcats still held a five-point halftime lead. That advantage was largely because of an incredible first half performance from sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo. The versatile wing tallied 18 of Villanova’s 32 first half points and did so on an impressive 6-of-10 (5-of-9 3FG) shooting performance. DiVincenzo is the Wildcats’ top reserve who often plays starter minutes, so today’s performance did not come completely out of nowhere, but today’s game could have had a much different result if DiVincenzo had not been so brilliant in the early going.
  2. Mikal Bridges was the story of the second half. Bridges certainly struggled in the first 20 minutes of the game. The junior forward could not get any of his shot attempts to fall and it appeared like he was having trouble getting acclimated to the Alabama defense. That all changed very quickly when the second half commenced. The Wildcats ripped off an 18-1 run to open the stanza, with Bridges scoring 16 of those 18 points. He was effective in utilizing his athleticism to get open and he was burying jumpers over the oncoming Alabama defenders with remarkable ease. All in all, Bridges finished the second half with 22 points on 7-of-9 shooting. It was an incredible performance after what was a forgettable first half, and it propelled Villanova easily into the Sweet Sixteen.
  3. Villanova will not lose if it plays like it did in the second half. Considering what happened in Charlotte last night with Virginia and UMBC, it is difficult to make any surefire predictions about this tournament. However, it is pretty safe to say Villanova will not fall victim to the upset bug if it turns in four more performances like this afternoon’s second half effort. The Wildcats were sharp defensively, holding Alabama to just 36 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes, and they were probably better offensively. The ball moved incredibly well, leading to a number of open looks that Villanova buried with ease while building its insurmountable lead. It was truly a fantastic performance. It will be interesting to see if it will carry over to Boston next weekend.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Alabama 86, #8 Virginia Tech 83

Posted by Walker Carey on March 16th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Pittsburgh this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Alabama is a Dangerous Squad (USA Today Images)

  1. Virginia Tech missed an opportunity in the first half. Virginia Tech led by two points at halftime but that thin lead represented a missed opportunity for the Hokies. They had shot 68 percent from the field and 78 percent from the three-point line but they couldn’t get stops on the other end to build any kind of meaningful lead. Alabama on its own right shot 59.3 percent from the field and 50 percent from three in the period – and the Crimson Tide are a team that gets more dangerous as it builds confidence. That confidence allowed Alabama to stay hot in the second half while Virginia Tech regressed. The Hokies have to be kicking themselves for not getting after it more on the defensive end in the first half when they had their chance.
  2. Alabama’s talented freshmen showed out spectacularly. The Crimson Tide received massive contributions tonight from star freshman guard Collin Sexton and reserve freshman swingman John Petty. Sexton provided the energy and attitude Alabama needed all night long, finishing with a game-high 25 points and dishing out a team-high six assists. Petty came off the Crimson Tide bench and knocked down six of his eight three-point attempts on his way to totaling 20 points. Everyone knows the old adage about experience being the most valuable asset in the NCAA Tournament but Alabama seems to be doing just fine with its freshmen leading the way.
  3. How far can Collin Sexton take the Crimson Tide? There have been several examples of lead guards taking their teams deep into the bracket over the years. Collin Sexton certainly fits that mold, as he has the skills and presence to take Alabama to unprecedented heights. Sexton’s next test will not be easy, though, as the Crimson Tide will face top-seeded Villanova on Saturday. That game will present a difficult individual challenge for Sexton in matching up with Villanova All-American point guard Jalen Brunson. There is still quite a bit of basketball to be played prior to Saturday, but college basketball fans should mark Villanova vs. Alabama in the early afternoon slot as appointment viewing.

Player of the Game. Collin Sexton, Alabama. It has to be Sexton. Without the services of its star freshman, Alabama would have lost by 20 or more points. He is the engine that drives the Crimson Tide, and he went well tonight, finishing with 25 points and six assists.

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What’s Trending: Championship Week 2018

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 12th, 2018

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

The week began with CBS Sports and Turner Sports announcing a new format for revealing the NCAA Tournament. The new Selection Show process included having all 68 teams being revealed as automatic or at-large qualifiers prior to learning where they fit in the bracket.

How did people take the news of the new Selection Show format? Well, let’s just say the NCAA came up well short in terms of public opinion…

Championship Week began with a memorable moment at the end of Fairfield vs. Iona in the MAAC Conference Tournament…

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: SEC Teams

Posted by David Changas on March 11th, 2018

For the first time ever, the SEC has placed eight teams into the NCAA Tournament field. Here are some quick impressions of the draws each of those teams received.

Tennessee

Admiral Schofield has been a beast for Tennessee down the stretch. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

  • Seed: #3, South
  • Quick First Round Preview: The Volunteers draw Horizon League champion Wright State. The Raiders are solid defensively, ranking 53rd nationally in defense, per KenPom, but struggle mightily on the offensive end (#248). Tennessee needs to get guard Jordan Bowden going, but the Vols should be able to take care of business here.
  • Intriguing Potential Matchup: Texas in the Sweet Sixteen. Sure, the Longhorns would have to upset both Nevada and Cincinnati to get to the regionals, but who wouldn’t want to see Rick Barnes take on the school he led to 16 NCAA Touranment bids in 17 seasons.
  • Final Word: The Volunteers need to be more efficient offensively, especially inside the arc, but they are a threat to make a deep run as they rarely play themselves out of games.

Auburn

  • Seed: #4, Midwest
  • Quick First Round Preview: The Tigers open with College of Charleston and should be able to exploit the Cougars’ shoddy three-point defense to find immediate success.
  • Intriguing Potential Matchup: Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen. Bruce Pearl had his fair share of success at Tennessee against Bill Self, and if the Tigers can right the shaky ship to make it to the second weekend, they could be dangerous upon arrival.
  • Final Word: Auburn has struggled mightily on the offensive end down the stretch, and may have run out of gas this season. An early exit from the SEC Tournament this weekend might have been a blessing in disguise.

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Recapping the Good and Bad from the Big 12/SEC Challenge

Posted by David Changas on January 30th, 2018

Despite being underdogs in seven of the 10 games of the Big 12/SEC Challenge last weekend, the SEC pulled off its first overall win (6-4) in the fourth year of the battle between power conferences. It was yet another boost to a league that has undergone a revival of sorts this season. Let’s take a look at the good and the bad for the SEC from Saturday’s action.

The Good

John Calipari paid homage to Bob Huggins with his attire, then saw his team pull off a big upset against the Mountaineer coach (John Clay/Lexington Herald-Leader).

  • Kentucky’s Upset of West Virginia. How improbable was it that the previously struggling Wildcats would come back from a 17-point second half deficit in Morgantown on Saturday night? According to KenPom’s win probability metric, the Mountaineers had a 97.8 percent chance of emerging victorious with 17 minutes left in the game. And yet, Kentucky stormed back and notched the impressive victory. While an inspiring road win doesn’t fix all of the Wildcats’ ongoing woes, it will serve as a clear resume-enhancer for a club desperately in need of one and should boost the team’s confidence as it heads into February.

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What’s Trending: Feast Week 2017

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 27th, 2017

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

After some drama with the NCAA entering this season, Alabama‘s Collin Sexton is wasting no time in getting up to speed. Sexton oozes swagger in this end of game sequence against Texas-Arlington…

Speaking of Alabama and Sexton… against Minnesota over the weekend, ejections, injuries and fouls led to the Crimson Tide playing the last quarter of the game 3-on-5.

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Collin Sexton Shows His Importance to Alabama in Much Anticipated Debut

Posted by David Changas on November 16th, 2017

It might have come a game late and after a significant amount of nervousness about whether it would even happen, but Collin Sexton’s debut for Alabama earlier this week was well worth the wait. After being forced to sit out the Crimson Tide’s exhibition contest and opening night win over Memphis because of eligibility questions, the most significant basketball recruit to arrive in Tuscaloosa in many years finally took the court. And he did not disappoint, leading Alabama to a comfortable 86-64 win in its home opener over a pesky Lipscomb club. Sexton led the team with 22 points and five assists in 27 minutes of action, shooting 7-of-10 from the floor and 3-of-5 from three-point range. Beyond the tangible impact he had on the play of the Crimson Tide, he also exhibited leadership and fired up a Coleman Coliseum crowd that was a bit larger than what usually shows up in the middle of November. The focus is almost entirely on football at Alabama this time of year, but Sexton’s debut was enough of a draw so that those in attendance could forget about pigskin for a few hours.

Collin Sexton’s debut against Lipscomb Tuesday night lived up to the hype. (University of Alabama)

Sexton — who had been the subject of an FBI investigation into the sport — was not ruled eligible until just before the Crimson Tide took the floor against Memphis in Annapolis last Friday. He sat out that game, but it felt like a reprieve for a program that was facing the possibility that he may not have been ruled eligible at any point this season. After all, the school’s basketball administrator, Kobie Baker, resigned in September after an FBI complaint revealed that he accepted money in an effort to influence Sexton’s father to sign with a particular financial advisor. Had that been the case, the excitement for a season that fans have been anxiously looking forward to would have been significantly dampened.

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SEC Weekend Preview: Opening Night Edition

Posted by David Changas on November 10th, 2017

It has been a long time since there has been so much excitement surrounding the start of SEC basketball. With so many of the league’s football programs struggling and the promise of widespread improvement across the conference on the hardwood — not to mention the specter of an ongoing FBI investigation hanging over a few schools — everyone is ready to start playing. As we open the season at 13 of the SEC’s 14 schools tonight, let’s look ahead to this evening’s most intriguing match-ups:

  • Texas A&M vs. West Virginia – ESPN, 6:00 PM. This is the marquee game of opening night, as the #25 Aggies take on Bob Huggins’ #11 Mountaineers at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. Texas A&M gets an early chance to show that last season’s downturn was a momentary blip on its long-term trajectory, but it will have to do so without potential lottery pick Robert Williams, who is serving a two-game suspension for a violation of university policy. Freshman point guard JJ Caldwell is also suspended for the team’s first five games after an offseason arrest charge that was later dropped. That leaves it up to junior forward Tyler Davis to lead the Aggies in what promises to be a very difficult match-up with a Big 12 heavyweight.

Alabama received the good news that Collin Sexton will return next week against Lipscomb (rolltide.com)

  • Memphis vs. Alabama, 6:30 PM. The Crimson Tide will also get an early test against a rebuilding Memphis team at the Veterans Classic in Annapolis. Although Alabama got news late Thursday that highly acclaimed freshman Collin Sexton will only sit out tonight’s game and can return on Tuesday against Lipscomb, Memphis is a dangerous team to play at less than full strength. Still, this is a major development for Avery Johnson as it appeared earlier in the week that Sexton, a consensus top-10 player in the class of 2017, may not ever suit up for the Tide.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 10th, 2017

As the regular season tips off a little later today, here are 10 things worth asking about this weekend and beyond.

  1. Who takes a step forward for North Carolina? With Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley all gone — not to mention Joel Berry injured — North Carolina will be looking to replace a total of 64.4 points per game. The Tar Heels begin the season against a Northern Iowa team that likes to slow the pace and limit possessions. North Carolina cannot afford to be careless with the ball tonight.

    All eyes will be on Michael Porter Jr. this season. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

  2. What will Gonzaga be this season? The ‘Zags have won at least a share of the WCC regular season title in each of the past five seasons, yet they received only one of the 10 first place votes in the WCC preseason coaches poll. Three of its four double-figure scorers from last season are now gone — who will step up?
  3. How far can Michael Porter Jr. carry Missouri?: Missouri finished last season 3-20 against teams ranked in the KenPom top 100. The Tigers get an immediate chance to reverse that trend against Iowa State tonight with freshman sensation Michael Porter, Jr., who recently became only the fifth true freshman voted on to the preseason AP All-American team. Read the rest of this entry »
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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 8th, 2017

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our 2017-18 RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of 10 writers provided their ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

  • Jalen Brunson, Villanova – There are few things more daunting in college basketball than a talented team with a heady, veteran playmaker at the point guard position. Brunson certainly fits that bill, as he enters the season with great expectations following a sophomore campaign where the point guard earned unanimous all-Big East honors while averaging 14.7 points and 4.1 assists per game. Villanova is the preseason favorite to win the Big East title — and if that prediction comes true, it will be Brunson’s third in three years running the show for Jay Wright’s squad. Factoid: Many players with Brunson’s pedigree would at least test the NBA Draft waters either after their freshman or sophomore seasons, but Brunson is different, stating, “The NBA is not going anywhere. I can wait. I can still get better. I can still get my degree. That’s the approach I had. I talked it over with my parents, and they’re just 100 percent fully supporting me. So that’s where I am.”
  • Allonzo Trier, Arizona – Arizona experienced some offcourt drama late in the offseason when longtime assistant Book Richardson was arrested by the FBI on charges of bribery, corruption, conspiracy, and fraud stemming from improper conduct on the recruiting trail. That news figures to overshadow much of Arizona’s early season — which is a real shame, as the Wildcats are projected to be among the nation’s best teams. A major reason for that is the return of Trier for his junior year. The talented wing returned from a 19-game performance enhancing drug suspension during his sophomore season to lead the Wildcats to the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles. Many were surprised when Trier opted to return to Tucson in lieu of entering the NBA Draft, but he has acknowledged that last season’s suspension definitely factored in his decision to come back to school. Factoid: Trier was the subject of a New York Times Magazine feature when he was in sixth grade that highlighted his precocious basketball ability at a young age with an introduction to the AAU scene.
  • Michael Porter Jr., Missouri – A coaching change can often make a massive difference in a program’s fortunes. That was definitely the case with Missouri when the Tigers fired Kim Anderson in March after an underwhelming tenure and replaced him with Cal’s Cuonzo Martin, a coach who has long enjoyed a sterling reputation for his ability to recruit at a high level. Martin hiring paid off almost immediately when he secured the services of Porter, who was listed by 247Sports as the third-best player in the Class of 2017. The 6’10” forward will provide Missouri with scoring on the wing and has the versatility to defend a variety of positions. The Tigers are projected as one of the most improved teams in the country — and with Porter now in the fold, it will be intriguing to see just how far they can advance in the postseason. Factoid: It is a family affair for the Porters in Columbia this year, as Michael Porter, Sr. is an assistant coach, Jontay Porter reclassified to play with his brother, sisters Bri and Cierra Porter play for the women’s team, and aunt Robin Pingeton is the head coach of that women’s team.
  • Miles Bridges, Michigan State – Michigan State was the recipient of one of the best offseason surprises when the sure-fire lottery pick Bridges decided to return to East Lansing for his sophomore year. Once the national shock of the decision wore off, it became clear the Spartans would be one of the teams to beat in college basketball this season. Bridges will look to build on a terrific freshman year where he averaged 16.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. With a strong supporting cast in tow and uncertainty with many teams in the Big Ten, the star sophomore should lead the Spartans to a prosperous season on both the conference and national landscapes. Factoid: Like most of us, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo assumed Bridges would be a one-and-done player, going so far as to joke about how Bridges will have to carry bags this year as an NBA rookie. In response, Bridges may have hinted at his ultimate decision by questioning, “Coach, why you always trying to get rid of me?”
  • Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame – It is not a stretch for anyone to reference Colson as the most unique player in college basketball. After a turn as a significant role player on Notre Dame’s Elite Eight teams in 2015 and 2016, Colson became The Man in South Bend during his junior season. Standing at just 6’6″, Colson was the only ACC player last year to average a double-double — 17.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Notre Dame currently finds itself in one of the most successful stretches the program has ever had, and with the talented and experienced Colson as its go-to guy, look for the Irish to continue that run this season. Factoid: Throughout Colson’s career, he has stayed true to two beliefs: play hungry and stay humble. The ACC Preseason Player of the Year vows that will not change as he enters his senior season as one of the country’s top players.

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