RTC 2014-15 Post-NBA Draft Deadline Top 25

Posted by Walker Carey on April 29th, 2014

Although we are less than a month removed from Connecticut’s win over Kentucky for the 2014 National Championship, it certainly is not too soon to gander ahead to the 2014-15 season. With Sunday’s deadline for underclassmen to declare for the June NBA Draft now past, we now have a much better idea of who the top teams should be once the ball is tipped again in November. Three weeks ago we released our Way Too Early Top 25; today we’re back with a much better version that accounts for (most of) next season’s returning rosters.

There is some consensus at the top, with three teams garnering 15 of the 18 top three votes from our pollsters. #1 Kentucky owns the top spot after John Calipari’s squad experienced far fewer NBA defections than was previously thought. While stars Julius Randle and James Young both decided to take their games to the next level, underclassmen Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress all decided to return to Lexington. Coupling these returnees with another star-studded recruiting class (ranked second by most analysts), it is easy to see why expectations will once again be off the charts for next season’s Wildcats. As expected, #2 Arizona lost talented guard Nick Johnson and forward Aaron Gordon to the NBA Draft, but certainly not all is lost in Tucson. Guards T.J. McConnell and Gabe York along with interior behemoths Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski return to form an incredibly strong nucleus for the Wildcats. #3 Wisconsin looks like it will once again be a Final Four contender, as Bo Ryan’s squad returns seven of its eight rotation players from the 2013-14 campaign. The Badgers figure to be paced by what should be one of the strongest duos in the country in versatile wing Sam Dekker and skilled big man Frank Kaminsky. Wisconsin will also have a great deal of winning experience in the backcourt, as Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser both return to Madison. The usual Quick n’ Dirty analysis, with some other thoughts on this poll, follows after the jump….

rtc25 04.29.14

Quick n’ Dirty.

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Morning Five: 04.24.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 24th, 2014

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  1. Yesterday was a big day for Kentucky as both Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson announced that they will be returning to Lexington for at least one more season. Poythress has seen his stock drop during his two years at Kentucky to the point that he would have been a second round pick had he declared, but Johnson had the potential to be a late first round pick so it is somewhat surprising to see him stay. Kentucky still may have issues in the backcourt if the Harrison twins decide to turn pro, but they will have the nation’s deepest, tallest, and most talented frontcourt next season with Poythress, Johnson, Marucs Lee, Trey Lyles, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Karl-Anthony Towns.
  2. The news around Louisville transfer Chane Behanan is a little less clear. Behanan, who left Louisville after repeated issues with marijuana use, had announced his intent to transfer to Colorado State several months ago, but now reports are surfacing that he may have signed with an agent with plans to enter the NBA Draft. If he were to enter the NBA Draft, Behanan would be a late second round pick at best and most likely would go undrafted particularly with his off-court issues. Colorado State has not really commented on it other than to say that they “will support him in whatever decision he makes” while Behanan offered a vague denial.
  3. Two other big names–Jerian Grant and Jordan Mickey–announced that they will be returning to school next year. Neither player would have been a first round pick (at least not a guaranteed one) coming out this year so it makes sense for them to come back to school. Grant’s season was derailed when he was ruled academically ineligible. Grant had been averaging 19 points and 6.2 assists per game before his suspension so it is possible he would have left South Bend if he had a full season to showcase his game. Mickey posted solid numbers as a freshman averaging 12.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks per game. While Mickey certainly has potential he was projected as a late second round pick at best so his decision to come back also makes a lot of sense and could help make LSU a second-tier team in the SEC next season.
  4. People can complain all they want about Duke being on national television all the time and there is a degree of truth to those complaints, but Duke is certainly getting its share of prominent non-conference showdowns. In addition to their annual Champions Classic game (against Michigan State this year), a ACC/Big Ten Challenge road game, and the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic , Duke is close to scheduling a game against defending national champion Connecticut. The Huskies will be without Shabazz Napier, but could have Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels back and will be adding Rodney Purvis. Duke will look completely different with the departure of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood combined with the appearance of their top-rated incoming freshman class.
  5. At this point we are not sure how Craig Robinson still has his job (oh right, the brother-in-law) as Oregon State continues to disappoint. As if losing all five starters from a team that went 16-16 last season was not bad enough, he also will be losing Hallice Cooke, who was supposed to be the team’s top returning player at  8.2 points and 2.6 assists per game last season, after Cooke announced that he was transferring saying “Smh I gotta know what that NCAA tourney feels like ASAP”. We never really bought into the idea that players would want to play for Robinson just because his brother-in-law is the President, but his performance has been fallen short of even our tempered expectations. Now Robinson heads into next season with his top returning player being Langston Morris-Walker, who averaged 4 points per game last season. We are usually hesitant to put anybody on the hot seat, but time seems to be running short for Robinson.
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Morning Five: 04.22.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 22nd, 2014

morning5

  1. Tennessee did not take very long to move on from Michael White after he decided to stay at Louisiana Tech. Just a few hours after that news came out Tennessee reached an agreement with Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall to make him the next coach of the Volunteers. Tyndall is only six years older than White (43 vs 37) and has more experience in Tennessee and the SEC than White does so he is not a bad fallback option for the Volunteers. A formal announcement is expected by the school later today.
  2. Tennessee  school in the state with a new coach as Tennessee State named Dana Ford to be its next coach. Ford has never served as a head coach, but was an assistant at Tennessee State for two years under John Cooper before Cooper left to take over at Miami (OH) and Ford went to serve as an assistant at Wichita State then Illinois State (his alma mater). Ford takes over for Travis Williams, who led the Tigers to a 5-25 record last season so at least Ford does not have a high bar to reach to match last season’s performance.
  3. Elfrid Payton might not be a household name even to college basketball fans, but you will be hearing his name a lot in the coming months as the junior out of Louisiana-Lafayette announced that he will be entering the NBA Draft. Payton averaged 19.2 points, 6 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game last season while leading his team to a NCAA Tournament appearance, but perhaps more importantly for his draft stock he also started every game for the Under-19 team that won the gold medal at the World Championships. Payton is projected to be a late first round or early second round pick.
  4. As crazy as it sounds out all of the early-entry decisions that we have been linking to in the Morning Five there are still several key decisions that we are waiting for. Jeff Eisenberg points out there are five schools that are particularly anxious as they await decisions. It goes without saying that Kentucky will be one of those schools almost every year, but MichiganConnecticutColorado, and UNLV are also waiting on big decisions that will shape next season. So if you are following any of the way-too-early top 25s you should probably wait until after this deadline before taking any of them too seriously.
  5. One of our bigger frustrations in college basketball is with administrators who try to limit local non-conference rivalries for political reasons. So we were very happy to see that Virginia and George Washington have agreed to a home-and-home series the next two years. Although this is not the biggest potential regional matchup it is still a fairly appealing one and Virginia only leads the series 25-23 with the last game being played in the 2004 NIT. Hopefully we will see more schools follow their lead and create some more interesting regional rivalries.
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College Basketball’s Five Best Games of 2013-14

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) on April 15th, 2014

As we continue to sift through the memories of the 2013-14 college basketball season, we take a look back at some of the best games of the season. In order, here are the five best games from 2013-14. We covered the five best stories of the season last week, if you’re interested.

  1. November 12: Kansas 94, Duke 83 – Two of the most anticipated freshmen in recent college hoops history matched up in the Champions Classic nightcap, and neither Wiggins (22 points, eight rebounds) nor Parker (27 points, nine rebounds ) disappointed. Kansas broke open a close game behind a late push from Wiggins and Perry Ellis (24 points, nine rebounds), in the process earning one of the season’s first true statement victories. The young Jayhawks would go on to win 25 games and the Big 12 regular season title, but their finest (and most entertaining) win may have come in their second outing of the year.

    Star Freshmen Jabari Parker And Andrew Wiggins Matched Up In What Was A Memorable Champions Classic Battle. (Getty)

    Star Freshmen Jabari Parker And Andrew Wiggins Matched Up In What Was A Memorable Champions Classic Battle. (Getty)

  2. March 29: Wisconsin 64, Arizona 63 (OT) – The low-possession game that everyone expected came to fruition, but both the Badgers (1.05 PPP) and Wildcats (1.03 PPP) managed solid offensive efforts in this Elite Eight battle. Neither team was able to build more than a three-point lead during the final 17 minutes of play (including overtime) in a tangibly tense seesaw battle, but it was the offensive clinic put on by the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky (28 points, 11 rebounds) that proved to be the ultimate difference. After a controversial replay review in the final seconds that gave the ball back to Arizona, Nick Johnson was unable to get up a winning shot attempt in time, and Wisconsin was headed to the Final Four for the first time under Bo Ryan. Read the rest of this entry »
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The RTC Podcast: UConn Championship Edition

Posted by rtmsf on April 10th, 2014

After nearly six months of basketball, from practice to the podium, the 75th and final RTC Podcast of the 2013-14 season is here. It’s been quite a run, filled with analysis, wild predictions, #cheerfortheears, more analysis, numerous fantastic guests, a bunch of informative correspondents, and even a few t-shirts thrown in. While we exhausted ourselves in some respects by plowing through at least a couple pods per week, we feel like it was well worth the time and energy, and we certainly appreciate all of the listeners that tuned in along the way. For the offseason, we expect to check in at least once every few weeks, depending on when there are enough things to talk about, but we’ll definitely be back when the NBA Draft deadline has passed. In this week’s podcast, we break down the National Championship game, consider UConn’s future and talk about some of our memories from the preceding season. The full rundown is below. Give it a listen.

Make sure to subscribe to the show on iTunes so that you’ll get all of the episodes immediately downloaded to your listening device.

  • 0:00-22:01 – Breaking Down UConn Capturing Championship #4
  • 22:01-26:10 – Shabazz Podium Comments
  • 26:10-31:09 – UConn’s Place Among The Elite Programs
  • 31:09-35:11 – A Brief Conference Realignment Interlude
  • 35:11-37:28 – UConn in the AS (After Shabazz) Years
  • 37:28-44:20 –  Future of John Calipari
  • 44:20-49:13 – Derrick Gordon Comes Out
  • 49:13-56:29 – Evaulating the 2013-14 College Basketball Season
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: Championship Edition Part 2

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 9th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

It’s time to put a bow on the 2013-14 college basketball season, with our final NCAA Tournament Tidbits post on the aftermath of Monday’s National Championship.

Connecticut

  • Like his coach, Jim Calhoun, UConn second-year head coach, Kevin Ollie, wasn’t expected to succeed when he took over the job. However, Calhoun knew UConn had a keeper because of Ollie’s attitude as a player. “The biggest thing I saw was his resiliency and tenacity,” Calhoun said in an October 2013 Connecticut Magazine interview about Ollie. “He wasn’t flashy, not a great shooter, but he was relentless as a player and he didn’t seem to have a great ego.”
  • Coming off a postseason ban, UConn wasn’t exactly a hot pick to make noise this season. And even once the Huskies entered the NCAA Tournament as a #7 seed, it still seemed unlikely that they would go anywhere past the Sweet Sixteen, much less to the National Championship game. However, coach Kevin Ollie knew they had a shot the whole time. “Someone called us Cinderella,” Ollie said. “No. We’re UConn. This is what we do. We’re born for this. We’re bred to cut down nets.”
  • There’s no doubt Shabazz Napier was one of the premier players in college basketball this season, but what impact will he make at the next level? His lack of size and wealth of production will make him a very intriguing NBA Draft prospect.
  • Shabazz Napier had to learn how to be a leader, and once he did, he took his team, against all odds, all the way. For Napier, much of his leadership came from enduring the various hits that UConn took since he arrived in Storrs in 2010. “When you go through a lot it teaches you how to be a man,” Napier said. “Sometimes you go through the ups and sometimes you go through the downs. You’ve just got to learn from it.”
  • Much of what Kevin Ollie has learned has come from his mother, Dorothy. However, though watching his mother fight breast cancer, Ollie has gained even more from her. “She’s [Dorothy Ollie] a strong woman, he learned his resiliency from here,” [Kevin's wife] Stephanie Ollie said. “She and his father both raised a good husband for me. … She’s a very positive woman.”

Kentucky

  • Kentucky was surprisingly positive after losing Monday night’s National Championship game, calling this past season “surreal.” For the Wildcats, their resiliency is what made this season so special. “We just turned a lot of people’s heads,” [freshman] James Young said after Monday night’s defeat. “People that didn’t believe in us at first, they believe in us, now.”
  • Kentucky will always lose numerous players to the NBA Draft, but it will still usually be back among college basketball’s best every season. However, if coach John Calipari makes the jump to the NBA, the Wildcats could be in trouble.
  • Coach Calipari’s freshmen were able to come together for a big run, but soon, like in every season he’s had as Kentucky’s head coach, there will be the “inevitable breakup.” Knowing that much of the team won’t be in Lexington next year, many of the players are just trying to focus on the present. Freshman Aaron Harrison noted that he just wants to “enjoy the rest of the school year.”
  • Kentucky’s group of freshmen wasn’t able to get over the hump, much like the Fab Five, but these Wildcats were quick to credit Michigan’s early 90s squads for paving the way. “You can’t repeat what they did [the Fab Five],” he [Kentucky freshman Julius Randle] says. “They were trendsetters. They moved the game of basketball.”
  • Many believe that Kentucky will lose much of its rotation to the NBA Draft, but imagine what it could do next year if Calipari could get some of his guys to stay. Most of them aren’t thinking about the NBA right now, but sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein, a projected mid- to late-first round pick, is. He’s remains unsure about his decision, but stated, “I feel this emptiness in me like I’ve still got something to prove and I’ve still got so much stuff to work on in my game.”
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The RTC Way-Too-Early 2014-15 Top 25

Posted by Walker Carey on April 8th, 2014

If preseason Top 25s are an exercise in futility, polls the day after the national championship game are an exercise in imagination. We readily admit that we don’t know exactly what rosters are going to look like next season with early entry announcements, transfers (both in and out), late signees, and the inevitable summer run-ins with trouble still pending. So we will try to project, using the partial information that we have, which are the 25 teams most likely to win a national title next season. After the NBA Draft deadline has passed, we’ll do a more educated Top 25, but until then, this is what we came up with. The quick n’ dirty analysis of this way-too-early poll is after the jump.

WTE-2014

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Circle of March: Connecticut Edition (Animated)

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2014

From 340 teams down to a solitary C, and it turns out that the blue glow behind Connecticut‘s logo held some sort of supernatural meaning after all. And with that, the 2014 Circle of March has completed. We started on this journey some five weeks ago yesterday, and once again the beauty was in the process. Click the image to see the entire procession all the way down to one team standing. See ya next year.

circle2014

Teams Eliminated From National Title Contention (04.07.14)

  • Kentucky
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After Fourth Title Since 1999, UConn Has Proven Its Blood is Pure Blue

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 8th, 2014

Elite societies are exclusive societies, and the true blue-bloods of college basketball have long been a part of a near-impenetrable coterie. They are the programs that need no introduction, the schools that we expect to see in preseason Top Tens, midseason games-of-the-week, and on the final lines of the bracket in March and April. With apologies to UCLA and Indiana (it has been too long since either school ended their season with a National Title), conventional wisdom would tell you that this dignified collection has included just four teams for quite some time now – Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas. It has been a nice run boys, but it’s time to welcome another member to your group. After winning its fourth national title in 15 years on Monday night — twice as many as any other school during that time — Connecticut deserves mention in any conversation of the elite college basketball programs in America. With Jim Calhoun watching from the stands and Kemba Walker on a television set far away from Dallas, Kevin Ollie, Shabazz Napier and the rest of the Huskies proved – against perennial power Kentucky, no less — that the UConn program is as elite as any in college hoops.

In Capturing Another National Title For The University Of Connecticut, Kevin Ollie's Huskies Proved That The UConn Program Is As Elite As Any College Basketball Has To Offer

Kevin Ollie’s Huskies Proved That The UConn Program — Now Winners Of Four Of The Last 15 National Championships — Is As Elite As Any In College Basketball  (Getty)

Jim Calhoun has long been synonymous with UConn basketball. After all, Calhoun took a program that was nearly devoid of basketball history when he got to Storrs in 1986 and turned it into a national power, winning 12 times as many NCAA Tournament games in his 26 years (48) as the program had in the 85 years that preceded his arrival. Among those four dozen Tournament victories were three national titles – a nearly unthinkable feat when viewed within the greater picture of Connecticut basketball history. Many even called the Hall of Famer’s work in Storrs underappreciated when he retired in 2012, citing that blank program history and the bleak winters in tiny Storrs as major obstacles to a perennially elite college basketball program. Yet, somehow Calhoun was able to create precisely that.

However, all good things must come to an end, and the Jim Calhoun era was most certainly a good thing. His departure in 2012 brought a fork in the road for the program. One route would have been a trip back to a quiet, defeat-ridden past, where three decades of sustained brilliance would have ultimately come to reveal little more than the immense proficiency of one fantastic head coach. The other fork was more intriguing, one where continued success might actually show that Calhoun had done more than just coach a bunch of great teams. If UConn continued their winning ways, Calhoun’s legacy would be that of a program builder; he would have taken a bad job and turned it into one of the sport’s best.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: Championship Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 8th, 2014

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Connecticut

  • Senior leader Shabazz Napier called his UConn squad the “Hungry Huskies.” The Huskies showed the drive to thwart any Kentucky comeback attempts, as UConn led the entire game and won its fourth National Championship in program history. Napier said about his team: “We worked so hard for it.”
  • UConn coach Kevin Ollie entered a tough situation in Storrs, as the Huskies faced a postseason ban for lackluster graduation rates. Few expected him to succeed, but Ollie proved his doubters wrong as he led his team to the Promised Land in his first-ever NCAA Tournament as a head coach. “I’m just trying to keep proving everyone wrong,” Ollie said amid the postgame celebration Monday night. “Everyone said our program was going to go down after the sanctions and people left, but we’re still here. Somebody the other day called us a “Cinderella.” We’re UConn. UConn is always going to stay here.”
  • Shabazz Napier will surely go down as one of the greatest to ever put on a UConn jersey after last night, but what will the Huskies do without him next year? It will be tough to replace an All-American, but the Huskies aren’t worried about that right now. “I’m going to enjoy this as much as I can,” [junior Ryan] Boatright said after the game. “I’m not thinking about my future right now. I’m enjoying the present. And we’re going to celebrate with my team and my family. And I’m just blessed to be here in this situation. It’s an honor to be a national champion and to play for this university.”
  • Shabazz Napier had some interesting comments directed at the NCAA on the podium after UConn won it all last night. “Ladies and gentlemen, you are looking at the hungry Huskies,” the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player said. “This is what happens when you ban us.”
  • UConn coach Kevin Ollie isn’t seeking to replace both his predecessor and mentor, Jim Calhoun, but is rather seeking to build on what Calhoun built at UConn. After winning UConn’s fourth title in just his second year as the head coach, Ollie is doing what he set out to do. “I don’t look at it like a lot of people look at it, that I’m replacing Jim Calhoun,” Ollie said the other day. “Coach Calhoun is still beside me. He’s in front of me. He’s behind me. I’ve locked arms with coach because of what he’s put inside of me and his belief system. I think that’s what gets us through.”
  • After his second National Championship, Shabazz Napier has surely reached “Legendary Status” at UConn. In particular, the way in which he carried UConn to this year’s title is what cemented his legacy. “He’s going to go down in history as one of the best players to ever play at UConn,” [sophomore] Omar Calhoun said. “Not a lot of people have gone to a national championship and won it, so I feel like he just led the way.”

Kentucky

  • With the season now behind them, Kentucky’s freshmen have some decisions to make about their futures. Though he doesn’t like to discuss the NBA during the season, coach John Calipari is now ready to help out his players. “Now that the season is over, it’s about the players. It’s no longer about the program,” he noted.
  • With rumors circulating that John Calipari could be the next coach of the Lakers, he was sure to quickly dismiss those rumors. When asked, Calipari refused to “dignify” the that discussion.
  • Kentucky had a tough loss, but the Wildcats had nothing but good things to say about UConn’s guards. “They were the best guards, definitely, that we played against,” [freshman James] Young said. “Shabazz and Boatright did a good job of just running their team and getting big shots for them.”
  • Kentucky was able to get to the free throw line, but what did it in was its inability to convert when there. The Wildcats made just 13 of 24 free throws. “We had our chance but missed the free throws and shots,” [coach John] Calipari said.
  • With five freshmen in the starting lineup, Kentucky reminded many of Michigan’s Fab Five. Ironically, Kentucky’s group of freshmen met the same fate that the Fab Five did, losing in the National Championship Game (although Michigan’s group lost there twice). Though his team fell, Calipari was still proud of his young guns. “Even in that loss, I can’t believe what these guys got done together,” Calipari said. “Talking about a bunch of young kids that just went out there and believed and believed in each other and just kept fighting.”
  • The Harrison Twins, particularly Aaron, carried the Wildcats to the National Championship Game, but unfortunately, they were not able to take them all the way. The twins began the season by failing to live up to expectations, but by the Tournament’s end, they proved that they were as good as advertised.
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Morning Five: National Championship Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 8th, 2014

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  1. So it’s over. Another season in the books. If you want to hear our thoughts on last night’s title game, check out our post from afterward. Briefly though, congrats to Connecticut, who played a phenomenal game making all of its free throws and making key shots when they needed to. On the other side of the ball, Kentucky made the plays they needed to stay in the game, but couldn’t make the shot that would put them over the top and never actually led in the game. In fact, they were never tied except when it was 0-0. Oh, and those free throws. Again for a Calipari team. We will have more on the season later this week as we recap the season.
  2. The immediate future of Manhattan basketball will be determined over the next few months in Lexington as Manhattan announced that it would welcome disgraced coach Steve Masiello back to his head coaching job after he receives his degree from Kentucky. The school has decided to frame Masiello’s deceit about his education as poor judgement rather than a lie. While that might be considered as forgiving it is worth noting that the school would not be able to get a coach of Masiello’s caliber if they didn’t take Masiello back.
  3. We are not sure what it is about South Florida that draws former NBA players and coaches to coach lower-tier teams, but we are up to two in the past five years as Florida Atlantic hired Michael Curry to be its next coach. Curry played in the NBA for 11 years and coached the Detroit Pistons for one season where he went 39-43 before being fired. Curry does not have any other head coaching experience, but apparently that was enough to beat out LaVelle Morton and Matt McCall for the job. Hopefully, Curry will have more success in South Florida than the last head coach with NBA experience (Isiah Thomas at FIU) had there.
  4. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced its 10-member class of 2014 yesterday. The headliners for college basketball fans are Gary Williams and Nolan Richardson with Alonzo Mourning and to a lesser degree Mitch Richmond. The resumes of the first three on the college level does not need much explaining, but perhaps Richmond’s does since we noticed that the college part of his Wikipedia entry had been left blank so this might be a useful primer. The induction ceremonies will be held from August 7-9 in Springfield, Massachusetts.
  5. We have probably seen the last of Oregon guard Johnathan Loyd on the basketball court (at least if you don’t want to watch overseas basketball), but we could see him in an Oregon jersey this fall except this time he will be a wide receiver on the Oregon football team. Thanks to a NCAA rule allowing a player to compete for a fifth year if it is in a different sport (remember Greg Paulus at Syracuse) Loyd would have another year of eligibility. Normally we would worry about how someone of Loyd’s size would survive on a football field, but perhaps Oregon’s up-tempo style might help him.
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Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 60, #8 Kentucky 54

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2014

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Rush the Court is covering the Final Four from Arlington, Texas, this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kevin Ollie is a First Time Participant and National Champion

Kevin Ollie is a First Time Participant and National Champion

  1. Shabazzketball. Shabazz Napier said after the game that he told his teammates back in a January home loss to Louisville — the first of three to the defending national champs, none of which were close — that he believed in his team and that they were going to make a run to eventually win the National Championship. While there’s no way to know if Napier is joshing us or simply retelling a tidbit that the team probably repeated many times during the season, the salient point is that Connecticut fulfilled the prophecy to once again raise the gold trophy for the fourth time in 16 seasons. The brash, cocksure point guard from the Boston area is the primary reason why. Napier’s 22 points (including four big threes), six rebounds, and three steals have become par for the course throughout Connecticut’s run to the title, but on a night when the team needed a first half lift because DeAndre Daniels was slow getting started, Napier’s 15 points allowed the Huskies to build an early cushion to put the pressure on Kentucky to make yet another second half comeback. The comeback happened twice, but each time that the Wildcats had whittled the lead down to one point, Napier had an answer. His first response was right out of the half, when he drove into the lane to earn two free throws (both makes, of course); the more important second instance was with six minutes remaining, when it appeared that UConn was wearing down and the Cats were surging forward. Napier put an end to that notion with a calm and accurate three-pointer to push the lead back up to four. After a subsequent Randle two and Giffey three, Kentucky never got closer than four points for the rest of the game. There aren’t many players these days who stick around long enough to win two national titles, and especially three years apart, but Napier has certainly proven that he belongs among the list of greats for his performances in March Madness.
  2. Kevin Ollie Bum Rushes the Tourney. The last time a coach won the national title in his first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the year was 1989 and Michigan’s brand-new head coach Steve Fisher led Glen Rice and friends on a magical run to victory. Kevin Ollie had a little more experience coming into this year’s Dance than Fisher was awarded some 25 years ago, but he should absolutely be commended for the belief that he instilled in his players and the resolve that they exhibited on the court during this Tournament. They beat teams bigger than them, more physical than them, deeper than them, better shooters than them, and more experienced than them. What you’re going to read about a lot in the next 24 hours is how it was UConn’s defensive commitment and resolve that won the school its fourth championship. While the Huskies played excellent defense in the gut-check games against the likes of Michigan State, Florida and Kentucky over the past 10 days (holding the three teams to 0.90, 0.93 and .90 points per possession), it was actually the hyper-efficiency of UConn’s offense that made the difference. Over the six-game NCAA Tournament run, Kevin Ollie’s team never dipped below a 1.00 PPP average (vs. Michigan State and Kentucky), and it maxed out with a necessary 1.24 PPP mark against St. Joseph’s and a 1.23 PPP mark against Iowa State. It’s not a true calculation because every game is different, but some back-0f-the-envelope math suggests that the Huskies averaged about 1.11 PPP in its six wins while holding opponents to 0.99 PPP on the other end. And it did so against five of KenPom’s top 20 teams, with the strange outlier the game against St. Joseph’s that UConn very well could have lost. Crazy.
  3. Kentucky’s Magical Run Ends One Game Short. This Kentucky basketball season was without question one of the strangest that we’ve ever experienced. The highs and lows of it were simply astonishing. From a preseason #1 ranking and at least mild entertainment of the idea of an unbeaten 40-0 season, to the harsh reality of non-conference losses to Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina, to head-scratching but not awful SEC losses to Arkansas, LSU and Florida, to end-of-season disasters vs. Arkansas in Rupp and on the road at South Carolina and Florida, to The Tweak before the SEC Tournament and a solid performance there, to the subsequent three weeks of phenomenal play — especially at the end of games against high-quality competition — that ran all the way to the verge of a National Championship. Life is stranger than fiction, and it certainly felt coming into tonight that all the jabbering about 1-and-done and right way/wrong way and the rest of the related nonsense surrounding John Calipari and how he runs his program was going to be finally put to rest. Alas, UConn had other ideas. Regardless of tonight’s outcome for the Wildcats, there’s absolutely no shame in a runner-up finish, and most Kentucky fans would have taken that in a heartbeat in early March. As for Calipari, this was without question one of his finest coaching jobs — he very nearly lost this team at the end of the season, but he was able to use his magic wand to get their attention, buy into his conceptual framework of team and selflessness, and damn near ran his team to another National Championship. Because of his recruiting prowess, he doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but he’s a top-five coach in this game no matter how you slice it.

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