The Ultimate Breakdown: Ohio State vs. Kansas

Posted by zhayes9 on March 28th, 2012

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court. You can read his Louisville-Kentucky breakdown here.

It was clear from the first game of the season that everyone’s favorite breakout player, Kansas’ Thomas Robinson, was going to live up to the hype. At the same time, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, a first team All-American as a freshman and preseason All-American as a sophomore, was widely viewed as the premier big man in the country. It only took a quick glance at the calendar for December 10 to stand out: Ohio State at Kansas. Or more accurately: Sullinger at Robinson. Unfortunately, Sullinger’s body would spoil all our fun. The Buckeyes’ leading scorer sat out the visit to Allen Fieldhouse with painful back spasms and Ohio State limped to an 11-point loss.

Barring a freak accident in the next three-plus days, the Ohio State-Kansas sequel won’t lack one of its biggest stars. Sullinger is healthy and Robinson is ready, two exceptional talents and future lottery picks banging bodies in the post with a trip to the sport’s brightest stage on the line: Monday night at the Final Four. Of course, Ohio State-Kansas is about much more than two players. It’s about Tyshawn Taylor trying to take Aaron Craft off the dribble. It’s about Travis Releford chasing William Buford all over the floor. It’s about Bill Self and Thad Matta matching wits on the sidelines. Heck, I’m sure Jeff Withey will be matched up with Sullinger for a good portion of Saturday’s game.

Louisville-Kentucky may be the Final Four main event, but you may want to stick around for the after party.

Sullinger and Robinson will finally go toe-to-toe. Oh, and it's at the Final Four.

Backcourt- The much-maligned Tyshawn Taylor posted a redemptive senior season, staying out of Bill Self’s doghouse, limiting turnovers and shooting a robust 39 percent from three. Taylor is a tough cover due to his blazing speed, swift crossover and irrepressible confidence, a characteristic never more evident than when Taylor pulled up for a 3-on-1 three-pointer late in Kansas’ Elite Eight win over North Carolina despite the fact he hadn’t made a shot from behind the arc in the entire tournament. His running mate is the much-improved Elijah Johnson, a bit player turned double-digit scorer and clutch shot-maker. We might be talking about Robbie Hummel’s unprecedented run to the Final Four if Johnson didn’t bail out the Jayhawks during a Robinson/Taylor no-show in Kansas’ second-round escape against Purdue. Travis Releford is Bill Self’s go-to perimeter defender. He’ll receive the challenging task of chasing William Buford around screens for 40 minutes. Buford underachieved relative to inflated expectations this season, coming off an extremely efficient junior campaign, but ask Michigan State if he’s capable of exploding at any moment. Lenzelle Smith is essentially Johnson’s clone, a 6’4” glue guy who’s canned his fair share of clutch shots this tournament. The matchup to track is Aaron Craft, far and away best perimeter defender in the country, and Taylor with his athleticism and quickness. Taylor went 1-of-4 from the floor with six turnovers guarded by Craft in their December meeting. Slight Edge: Ohio State.

Frontcourt- Equally tantalizing are the frontcourt matchups: DeShaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger vs. Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson. Thomas is the leading scorer in this year’s NCAA Tournament, a versatile southpaw who shot a phenomenal 61 percent from two and has never met a shot he didn’t love. That irrational confidence is to Thad Matta’s benefit on the offensive end, but the kindest way to describe Thomas’ defensive effort is the anti-Aaron Craft. It’ll be interesting to see if Self shows some triangle-and-2 or zone so Robinson or Withey don’t have to chase Thomas around the floor. The scenario is similar to when Kansas faced Missouri’s four-guard attack, but there’s no Matt Pressey on Ohio State you can leave unguarded. The one-on-one scrap we all want to witness is Sullinger vs. Robinson. According to Synergy and Luke Winn’s tournament blog, Sullinger is much more efficient away from the block than Robinson. The Buckeye star is fully capable of utilizing the mid-range jumper he perfected last summer, while Robinson is a superior overall rebounder. Withey actually posted a higher block percentage than Anthony Davis, but isn’t much of a low-post scoring threat outside of dunks and put-backs. Slight Edge: Ohio State.

Bench- Much like Louisville and Kentucky, the bench simply isn’t a major factor for either side. Remember 2012 the next time somebody denounces a team’s Final Four chances because of their lack of depth. While Matta has always rejected using more than six or seven players, backup big men Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams simply holding the fort while Sullinger was on the bench for 13 minutes during the first half of Ohio State’s regional final win over Syracuse may have saved their season. It’s doubtful that Williams, backup point Shannon Scott or backup wing Sam Thompson will see more than a few minutes combined because of the stakes, unless of course foul trouble is a factor. Kansas doesn’t have a bench due to a combination of early entries, recruiting whiffs and graduation, an obstacle that renders the job Self did this season even more remarkable. Connor Teahan has the reputation of a solid shooter, but he’s canned only 34 percent from deep on the season. Kevin Young will spell Robinson or Withey. His 6’8” frame is actually a better matchup opposite Thomas. Slight Edge: Kansas.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Third Round – Sunday

Posted by EJacoby on March 18th, 2012

RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East), Kevin Doyle (South), Evan Jacoby (Midwest) and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.

#3 Georgetown vs. #11 N.C. State – Midwest Region Third Round (at Columbus, OH) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS

Thompson's Team is a Real Wildcard in this Region

We originally picked Georgetown to get upset in the round of 64 by Belmont, but that was with knowledge that the Hoyas could be the biggest threat to stopping Kansas from reaching the Elite Eight if they were able to escape that opening game. Not only did Georgetown escape, but it was one of the most impressive showings of any team in the tournament thus far. The Hoyas used their length and athleticism to deny the efficient Belmont offense from ever getting started, and they were unreal at their own end offensively with a 61.2% field goal percentage for the game. This matchup will be more difficult, however, against an North Carolina State team that’s getting better every game and playing spectacular offensively. The Wolfpack have great size inside to match Georgetown, with C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell as long and athletic as any Hoya. Howell had his best game of the season with 22 points on 10-12 shooting last game, but that will also change as he goes up against much stronger post defenders. Georgetown primarily plays zone defense but will also switch things up and defend man-to-man when needed. It will be a battle inside all night as the Hoyas surely won’t let Scott Wood get open looks from three. This game, though, will be decided on the other end of the floor. NC State was not particularly strong defensively throughout the year, but they completely shut down San Diego State on Friday by allowing just 37.7% field goal shooting. The Aztecs played a lot of one-on-one ball, the exact opposite of what the Hoyas will show. It’ll be up to Henry Sims to make smart decisions in the high post, something he’s done all year. Jason Clark was great last game and is a reliable playmaker in this game, while Otto Porter remains rock solid as an X-factor offensively. Both of these teams looked great last round, but Georgetown has the advantage because it should pose a much greater defensive threat to the Wolfpack while also running a motion offense that will be difficult to defend.

The RTC Certified Pick: Georgetown

#1 Michigan State vs. #9 Saint Louis – West Region Third Round (at Columbus, OH) – 2:45 PM ET on CBS

Two top ten teams in defensive efficiency. Two coaches with a well-earned reputation for X-ing and O-ing with the best of them. It isn’t likely to be one of the prettiest displays of basketball you’ll ever see, but if you like fundamentals and you like basketball as chess match, this is a can’t-miss game. The Billikens advanced to this round behind great team defense and great individual offensive performances by Kwamain Mitchell (22 points including four threes) and Brian Conklin (16 points, earned largely from his ten-of-11 performance from the line). But Conklin also turned the ball over eight times, in part due to the active hands of Memphis defenders; he’ll see more of that on Sunday and will need to take better care of the ball. Defensively, the Billikens will need to come up with some sort of answer for Draymond Green, who was brilliant Friday against Long Island, registering a triple-double with 24 points, 12 rebounds and ten assists. But perhaps the biggest battle of the game will be on Michigan State’s offensive glass. The Spartans have historically made a living creating offensive on second-chance opportunities, but the best Rick Majerus-coached teams have been proficient in securing defensive rebounds. If the Billikens can limit the Spartans’ offensive rebounding (a feat easier said than done), Tom Izzo will need to find other ways for his Spartans to score in the halfcourt, and there have been times this year when that MSU offense has bogged down a bit. While sophomore guard Keith Appling is usually excellent getting penetration, SLU is no liable to allow that very often, and there is no one else on the Spartan roster capable of creating his own offense off the dribble on a regular basis. Guys like Green, Brandon Wood and Austin Thornton have been very efficient three-point shooters, but, with the exception perhaps of Green, they need someone to create open looks for them. In short, if SLU can do what no other team has been able to do all year – keep Michigan State in check on their offensive glass – then the Billikens could drag this game down into the mud and pull out a win. But, if the Spartans do what, you know, they always do, I have a hard time seeing Saint Louis pulling this one out.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

The Message From the Final Border War: KU and Mizzou Can Play With Anybody

Posted by dnspewak on February 27th, 2012

In the aftermath of Saturday’s epic finish between Missouri and Kansas, discussion in the mainstream media has focused on everything from the officiating to the drama of the Border War/SEC controversy. Out in the always-entertaining Twitter world, established analysts like Jay Bilas and Doug Gottlieb have criticized late-game foul calls tilted in Kansas’ favor, and just about every outlet has run a story begging the Jayhawks to continue the series despite Missouri’s departure from the Big 12.

Thomas Robinson Certainly Looked Like the Player of the Year on Saturday (photo by AP)

It seems they’re talking about absolutely everything except for the actual basketball game. And, for the record, the actual basketball game was pretty darn appealing to the national college basketball audience. We can quibble about how Missouri blew a 19-point lead and we can argue about how vulnerable Kansas looked during that atrocious stretch at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second. Regardless of all that negativity, it was obvious from the opening tip that this was an even matchup between two elite teams. The first five minutes set the tone: Kansas and Missouri each threw a first punch, matching the other basket for basket. Mistakes were limited. Defense was top-notch on both ends. It was simply two terrific basketball teams playing as hard as possible in a game that mattered so much — for so many reasons.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big 12 Morning Five: 01.25.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on January 25th, 2012

  1. During the past month, the folks at Ballin’ is a Habit have taken a cross-country road trip to visit 13 college basketball venues across the Midwest. It’s a hoops fan’s dream trip — when I ran into them in Springfield during a Creighton-Missouri State game last week, I even told them how jealous I was of their month-long trek. From Nashville to Assembly Hall, they’ve been everywhere. And most recently, they made a stop at Allen Fieldhouse, where they caught up with KU’s Connor Teahan. The piece outlines his journey beginning in high school, when most of his scholarship offers consisted of Missouri Valley Conference schools. Now a senior, Teahan has cracked the rotation for a Top 10 team and one of the most historic programs in college basketball. If you’re a fan of the underdog story, BIAH’s feature is worth a read.
  2. Talk radio is terrific for controversy, and that’s exactly what former UMKC coach Rich Zvosec stirred up after saying Laurence Bowers‘ injury was “addition by subtraction” for Missouri this season. He attributed MU’s success to its four-guard lineup, and he claimed that Bowers would only disrupt this unique style. We see his point, but that’s still a ridiculous position to take. How could losing an All-Big 12 forward ever be a good thing? Even with Bowers in the lineup, Missouri would still be faster than just about every team in the nation. It would still shoot lights out from three and run an efficient half-court offense. That’s because the players have rallied around Frank Haith to play unselfish, inspired basketball. Sure, the four-guard lineup helps, but that’s not why MU beat Baylor last Saturday. That happened because Ricardo Ratliffe came to play and the Tigers’ outrebounded and out-toughed the Bears. You think having Laurence Bowers blocking shots, rebounding and providing post depth wouldn’t help this team? C’mon, Coach Z.
  3. Frank Martin announced Tuesday night the reinstatement of Jordan Henriquez, who could not practice with the team for the past six days because of “conduct detrimental to the team.” We’re still not sure what that phrase means, but Martin attempted to explain it, saying the junior center “just lost his focus and needed time to understand his priorities.” Whatever he did, the junior center and KSU’s best shot-blocker is now back in action. He still may not play against Texas Tech tomorrow night, but the Wildcats shouldn’t have much trouble without him in Lubbock. If they do, then they’ve got bigger problems than Henriquez’s detrimental conduct.
  4. In this age of lame student sections, Kansas actually pulled out a decent Billy Cundiff reference during some free throws in the Jayhawks’ win over Texas A&M on Monday. The Aggies still shot 7-11 from the line, so it didn’t exactly have the desired effect. Still, credit those guys for coming up with something at least somewhat original, although it certainly does not top the time Missouri’s student section made blow-up versions of these incriminating pictures of a future NBA Rookie of the Year in a win over Oklahoma in 2009. That’s still an all-time favorite to this day.
  5. Staying with Missouri, here’s yet another look at the Tigers’ resurgence under Frank Haith. This time, the guys at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch conduct a roundtable about Haith’s success, and there’s nothing new here. Missouri is ranked higher than its been in a decade, and after a tumultuous offseason and the departure of Mike Anderson. Like we’ve been saying for a while, as long as MU keeps winning, expect these articles to keep rolling out.
Share this story

Night Line: Kansas’ Offensive Weaknesses Exposed in Surprise Loss to Davidson

Posted by EJacoby on December 20th, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

Despite having two losses, Kansas had earned the right to be ranked No. 13 this week, thanks to some great wins (Ohio State, Georgetown, Long Beach State to name a few) and a consistent effort that’s a staple of Bill Self‘s teams. But Monday night’s loss to Davidson at the Sprint Center in Kansas City  exposed some major offensive flaws for this team that should be concerning as they head into Big 12 play. The Jayhawks saw just three players –Thomas RobinsonTyshawn Taylor, and Elijah Johnson — score in double figures, which is becoming a common theme for a team that doesn’t have much scoring prowess elsewhere. And with five more turnovers tonight, the senior point guard Taylor is up to 4.4 per game, a rate that is second worst in the entire country of qualifying players. This is not the same KU offensive juggernaut of old, and the Jayhawks’ run of consecutive Big 12 regular season championships (now at seven years) appears in jeopardy.

Davidson Controlled the Game Against Kansas on Monday (AP/O. Wagner)

The Jayhawks lost 65.4% of their scoring from last year’s 35-win team, including three early-entry NBA draft picks. That cause for concern finally reared its ugly head in Monday’s 80-74 defeat against the Wildcats, a 6-3 team coming off a 23-point loss at Charlotte. The Jayhawks had trouble keeping up with Davidson’s efficient offense, a problem that KU will no doubt have again going forward. The trio of Robinson, Taylor, and Johnson are the only three players that average in double figures for Kansas, with Robinson leading the way at 18.1 points per night. Travis Releford and Jeff Withey, the other two starters, are strong defensive players but each scores about eight points per game and have shown limited offensive games. Kansas teams are used to being loaded with dynamic young players off the bench, but that’s not the case this year. The Jayhawks managed just six bench points on Monday, all of them from Connor Teahan‘s pair of made three-point shots. Outside of his 7.4 points per game, which comes mainly from the outside, no other bench player scores more than 4.6 points per night or has any defined role in the offense.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Set Your TiVo: 12.09.11 to 12.11.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 9th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

It is road test Saturday as Kentucky and Ohio State face strong tests in Bloomington and Lawrence while a fierce intra-city rivalry plays out on the hardwood in Cincinnati. Also, Duke faces a challenge from Washington at MSG while Wisconsin and Gonzaga look to get back on the right track on their home floors. [Editor's Note: There will be no Set Your TiVo on Monday due to the barren nature of that night’s schedule as most schools transition into finals week. We will resume on Tuesday.]

#6 Duke vs. Washington (at New York, NY) – 12:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (***)

Duke is Back at MSG For Another Great Game (Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

  • Duke returns to Madison Square Garden for the second time this year to take on a Washington team that also will be playing its second game in the building after a thrilling game against Marquette on Tuesday night. This game will be up-tempo and you can expect guard-heavy Duke to try to take advantage of Washington’s inability to defend the three-point shot. Seth Curry, Austin Rivers, Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelly can all knock down the triple at a high rate and they’re the reasons why the Blue Devils rank #19 in that department. They’ll be shooting against a Huskies defense that ranks a paltry #262 (37.1%) against the trifecta. The Huskies used a zone at times against Marquette earlier this week. That may be effective at stopping Duke inside, but the Blue Devil guards can shoot right over it. If Lorenzo Romar goes man-to-man, his team will have to fight its way through the tremendous screening action that is a huge part of Duke’s offense, allowing shooters to get open with ease. If Duke knocks down its threes, it’ll be a long early afternoon for Washington.
  • The defensive matchups don’t look good for Washington, so you would have to think the Huskies will need to put up a lot of points in order to win. They certainly can do that against Duke’s perimeter defense, but the key will be Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox making a bunch of threes to offset the barrage that may come from the Duke shooters. Washington has the height and athleticism necessary to neutralize and even take advantage of Duke in the paint with Aziz N’Diaye and Darnell Gant which will force the Blue Devils to make shots. Offensively, UW’s guards have to be able to penetrate to open up some outside shots while getting N’Diaye and Gant some easy buckets around the rim. That means Abdul Gaddy and (especially) Tony Wroten can’t turn the ball over. The freshman is certainly talented but he turns it over more than four times per game.
  • This is a big chance for Washington (4-3) to snag a crucial victory with hardly anything of note left on its non-conference schedule. Washington must rebound the basketball and push the pace as much as possible. The Huskies do a very good job on the boards, outrebounding Duke by an average of 10 RPG coming into the game. The Huskies need to be tough around the basket on both ends of the floor and should not be afraid to foul Mason Plumlee when he receives the ball in the post. Plumlee is a 42.3% foul shooter and should be in for a battle around the basket. While Washington may not be able to defend the three-ball straight up, the Huskies’ length and athleticism has the potential to bother Duke’s guards. Rivers can break down a defense at will but Curry is susceptible to shaky ballhanding and turnovers. If Washington can rattle Curry and put points on the board, they’ll be in the game for the long haul. We’re looking for a closer than expected game but still have to favor the Blue Devils because of their three-point shooting and the partisan crowd sure to fill Madison Square Garden.

Cincinnati @ #7 Xavier – 12:30 PM EST Saturday on ESPN2 (****)

  • The Crosstown Shootout is one of the perennially underrated rivalries in the game. While the teams aren’t always great, the basketball is intense between two schools that don’t particularly care for one another. Xavier is the better team but can’t afford to take the Bearcats lightly. The Musketeers needed second half rallies to defeat Vanderbilt and Purdue before going on the road and winning at Butler this past Wednesday. Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons do most of the work for this team but the X-men will need an interior presence against Cincinnati big man Yancy Gates. Gates is a load inside but Kenny Frease should be able to match up with him, at least on the defensive end. If Chris Mack’s squad can limit Gates, who is struggling with only 15 total points scored in his last two games, Xavier will be well on its way to a win at the Cintas Center.
  • Cincinnati plays terrific defense but Mick Cronin’s team really struggles to score. The Bearcats have a stunning lack of depth for a team that is supposed to contend for an upper tier finish in the Big East. Since it is putting up only 64 PPG, Cincinnati has to win games with its defense. The good news is Sean Kilpatrick and Dion Dixon can hit from deep with some level of consistency but they’ll face their toughest test to date against a Xavier defense allowing only 25.5% shooting from the three-point line. If the shots don’t fall, Cincinnati doesn’t stand much of a chance, especially if Gates continues his lackluster play of late. To win, the Bearcats must shoot well but they also have to control the glass and the pace of the game. Holloway loves to push the ball, penetrate and get to the line where he’s an 86.2% shooter. He averages nearly ten free throw attempts per game and it’s vital that Cincinnati keep him off the charity stripe if it is to win.
  • These teams are similar with regards to their defense and toughness but Xavier is a more talented and deeper version of Cincinnati. Playing in front of a raucous home crowd, it’s hard to see the Musketeers dropping this game. For the Bearcats to have a chance to pull it out, Gates has to be the player he was towards the end of last season when he was putting up 20+ points a night. In addition, Cashmere Wright can’t be turning the ball over at the rate (3.3 per game) he has so far this season. We may be making a mistake since it is a rivalry game, but Xavier by 10-15 points seems like a good bet.
Share this story

Big 12 Morning Five: 12.01.11 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on December 1st, 2011

  1. It appears Missouri may have a new basketball player. Andrew Jones, a backup tight end on the football team, practiced with Frank Haith’s team on Wednesday. He was an All-State basketball player in high school, and at 6’5” 255 pounds, he may be able to help this team somehow. No decisions have been made yet, and Jones has said he will play in Missouri’s football bowl game. Jones, who never materialized into a star on the gridiron after a high hopes to start his career, will probably also never strike it big on the basketball court. Still, this could be an interesting story to follow.
  2. It has been quiet on the Kansas State front lately, but that’s about to change. After facing Cupcake City, Frank Martin‘s players will face a stiffer test with Virginia Tech, West Virginia, and Alabama on the horizon. Keep an eye on that WVU game in particular– remember, coach Bob Huggins left Kansas State  in 2007 to return home to West Virginia. Even though Martin has established a fine program, Huggins’ departure did not sit well with anybody in Manhattan.
  3. Staying in the state of Kansas, Bill Self has to be happy he landed prized recruit Perry Ellis. Ellis could have played at any school in the nation next season, but he chose the Jayhawks– and he brings more than just basketball skill. Ellis is a star student, averaging a 4.0 GPA despite taking pre-calculus and physics classes. Most normal students cannot get straight A’s with that kind of a demanding schedule, but Ellis is able to do it while playing basketball at the highest level, which is pretty extraordinary.
  4. As for the players currently on Self’s roster, there may be a bit of a depth issue early on here. No, it’s not going to hold Self back from competing for an eighth straight Big 12 title, but Self is playing less players in his rotation so far, and he’s even given big minutes to former walk-on Connor Teahan. It’s a different Kansas team this year, no doubt, but it’s not necessarily less talented. It’s just a little more blue-collar and workmanlike.
  5. Here’s another edition of the fascinating “Behind the Numbers” series at Burnt Orange Nation giving you every statistic known to man pertaining to the Texas Longhorns basketball team. There’s a lot of numbers, that’s for sure. Too many for us to comprehend– I mean, who do you think we are, Perry Ellis? But one thing is clear: Texas is relying on its perimeter shooting right now. As the writer mentions, the Longhorns are “clearly a team built to punish its opponents who don’t guard the three-point line.” And when the shots start falling even more consistently, we may see a different team emerge under Rick Barnes. 
Share this story