NCAA Basketball 2010: The BCS Version

Posted by nvr1983 on April 2nd, 2010

With all the talk about the coming 96-team tournament, many in the sports media have forgotten that there is already another ridiculous major college sport championship in place: the BCS. We took you through this process in a post last year, but it’s worth going over again as the blogosphere is ablaze with opinions on changing our beloved NCAA Tournament.

Here are the basic ground rules:

  1. We are following the BCS Football guidelines as closely as possible. Obviously there are some differences. A college basketball team is expected to win more than 9 games (we kept a cut-off at a 75% winning percentage). We replaced the Notre Dame rule with the Duke rule since they both have sketchy TV contracts (Notre Dame with NBC and Duke with ESPN).
  2. I used the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls as the human polls and ESPN.com’s InsiderRPI, KenPom.com, and Sagarin’s ratings as the computer polls. The computer polls include data from the NCAA Tournament, but as you will see it didn’t affect the results that significantly.
  3. We used the traditional BCS calculations for determining each team’s score weighing the two human polls and the combined computer poll average as 1/3 of a team’s total score each.

Here are the results:

We will let you digest that for a minute and will provide more information/analysis and the BCS Bowls after the jump.

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Final Four Team-By-Team Previews: West Virginia

Posted by zhayes9 on March 30th, 2010

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Yesterday’s Butler preview is here and tomorrow we’ll dissect Michigan State.

It's been a dream season for the senior Butler

Crucial Tourney Moment(s): The Mountaineers have experienced mostly smooth sailing thus far in the NCAA Tournament, facing three double-digit seeds and then maintaining a comfortable lead during the second half in their regional final bout with top seed Kentucky. It was a driving layup from offensively challenged Joe Mazzulla that extended the West Virginia lead to 11 and forced a John Calipari timeout midway through the second half when the Mountaineer diehards could see the Final Four in their sights. Mazzulla led the team in scoring with 17 points, extremely impressive for a kid that hadn’t scored more than eight points in a game all season.

Advantage Area: West Virginia is one of the most efficient teams in the nation when it comes to offense, defense and rebounding. The Mountaineers rank #12 in offensive efficiency, #10 in defensive efficiency and #2 in offensive rebounding percentage. Bob Huggins runs an offense that is largely dependent on running cuts to the rim and methodically wearing down an opponent for 40 minutes rather than dribble penetration, a reason why West Virginia often lets inferior teams hang around for 30 minutes before pulling away. They also boast the best late-game assassin in college basketball in Da’Sean Butler. Nobody in the Final Four will be trusted taking a crucial shot under a minute more than Butler. Duke, Michigan State and Butler also can’t come close to matching the height of West Virginia across the board.

Potential Downfall: West Virginia isn’t a particularly good jump shooting team. They don’t rank in the top-100 in two-point, three-point or free throw percentage on the season. Although they do have forwards such as Wellington Smith and Kevin Jones that can step out and drain a three, there’s no consistent long-range shooter on the roster to trust other than Butler. JC transfer Casey Mitchell was supposed to be that weapon but never truly emerged and Huggins doesn’t trust him for long stretches. Even after Mazzulla’s stunning performance in the regional final, I’d still label point guard a weakness for the Mountaineers. It was a weakness before Darryl Bryant injured his foot, and even though he may return, the sophomore point was mired in a terrible scoring slump. As long as defenders keep Mazzulla in front and don’t allow penetration to the rim, there’s no need to respect any sort of jump shot from him.

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ATB: Selected Thoughts on the Final Four Teams

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2010

We’re down to the Four.  Here are some of the thoughts we had about the last couple of days of games while looking ahead to next weekend in Indy…

Forget the Seedings, These Teams Are Good. With a #1, #2 and two #5 seeds making the Final Four this year, the immediate reaction is that we’ve got a wide-open bracket with the potential for a true Cinderella to cut down the nets this year.  Closer examination, however, reveals that all of the four teams left standing were thought pretty highly of in the preseason.  In both the AP and Coaches Polls, Michigan State was ranked #2 behind Kansas, while Duke, West Virginia and Butler all populated the top ten as well (Butler was #11 in the AP).  So while it may have taken some time for Izzo’s Spartans to get it together (like seemingly every year), they eventually did and they’re playing well enought to be a worthy Final Four participant; the same is definitely true for Butler, penalized by the pollsters and Selection Committee for early losses in November and December, but who is playing as well as anyone left right now.  It’s difficult to lose the mindset that a team is a Cinderella or not based on its Tourney seed, but the truth is that these four teams are all playing like #1 and #2 seeds and they have the talent to back it up.

You Can't Get Rid of This Guy (DFP/J. Gonzalez)

Izzo the Stray CatTom Izzo is like the stray cat in your neighborhood that you can’t get to stay off your front stoop no matter how hard you try.  Just when you think he’s out of your hair for good, he shows up again with that Cheshire grin belying his belief that he’s the luckiest dude alive.  Six Final Fours in twelve years is one better than it was last year (five in eleven), and yet everyone acts completely shocked and amazed that he’s back in the Four with much the same group of players.  How weak are people’s memories?  This is what Izzo does — this trip will make the second time that his team  has reached the final weekend as a #5 seed — and it’s not a mere coincidence.  Everyone knew that he had the talent this season (see above re: preseason ranking), but all of the turmoil surrounding player roles and injuries led people (including us) to believe he wasn’t going to be able to find the combinations to get it done again.  Here’s a bracketing lesson for all of us next year and the years beyond that: Wherever Michigan State is seeded, just put the Spartans in the Final Four and don’t look back.  Your odds are much better doing it that way than actually trying to analyze the matchups and break down the games.  Izzo is a March master, and how anyone can doubt this guy’s abilities is beyond comprehension.

Butler is No George Mason.  To a casual fan, he sees that Butler is in the Final Four this weekend and he’s thinking George Mason all over again.  This lazy thinking is a serious mistake.  Mason was an #11 seed who benefited from catching two teams by surprise in the first two rounds, followed by veritable home games in DC against another Cindy Wichita State in the regional semis and an uber-talented but frustratingly underachieving UConn team in the regional finals.  They deserve all the credit they can muster for winning those games, without question, but things broke well for them to make the run possible.  Butler had to play and beat the top two seeds in its region to make the Final Four this year, and they did it by forcing both Syracuse and Kansas State to bend to their style of play and make numerous atypical mistakes.  Butler’s defense subjugated two of the most efficient offenses in America into their worst performances of the year, and that’s no more a coincidence than Izzo above still having games to play.  Andy Rautins, Scoop Jardine, Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen (combined 20-52 FGs) are undoubtedly still having nightmares of Butler defenders securing temporary eminent domain over their jockstraps.  The key takeaway here is that Butler will defend Michigan State just like the others, and if they can find enough offense themselves through Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack and friends, they are plenty good enough to continue to advance.

Butler Can Win This Thing, Folks (IndyStar)

Bob Huggins, White Knight. One thing we noticed traveling around over the weekend was that every hoophead around the country was unilaterally rooting for West Virginia to take out John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday night.  In the sports bar we were in during that game, Syracuse, Butler, K-State and Xavier fans were teamed up pulling for the Mountaineers.  We’ve picked up similar anecdotes from around the country since then — nobody wanted Kentucky to win that game.  We believe that this sentiment derives from a general feeling that Calipari is a dirty coach who cheats to get his players, but the irony of everyone outside of the Bluegrass backing Bob Huggins wasn’t lost on us.  Since when is tHuggins Huggins the white knight here to save college basketball from agents, cheaters and bags full of money?  Surely people remember his endless problems at Cincinnati with players failing to graduate, numerous asundry brushes with the law, and failing to exert institutional control?  No?  Look, we get that people don’t like Calipari and, by proxy, Kentucky; but isn’t Huggins quite possibly worse given the history of lawlessness on his teams?

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That’s Debatable: Looking Back at Regional Weekend

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2010

We did this last week and it seemed to work pretty well, so let’s do it again.  Here are five questions from the past weekend’s action with a look ahead to the Final Four. Each of the below polls will allow comments, so let’s build some discussion through there.

Q1: What Was the Biggest Surprise This Weekend?

We’re going with Mazzulla on this one.  He came into the game averaging a bucket per contest, yet he shredded the Kentucky defense for easy layups multiple times over the course of WVU’s win over the Wildcats.  Many of the others were also surprising, and if we had to choose a #2, it would probably be Butler defeating Syracuse and K-State.  Not so much because we don’t believe in the Bulldogs (we do!), but just because how methodically they shut down the guards of both of those elite teams.

Q2: Butler: Cinderella or Legit Championship Threat?

We’d be more inclined to think they were a legitimate championship threat if they didn’t have to face a team in Michigan State that thrives on street fight defense.  It’ll be just another day at the Big Ten office for the Spartans in playing the Bulldogs, and there’s no way that Tom Izzo will allow his team to look past them.

Q3: Was JP Prince’s Foul on Raymar Morgan Legit?

Yeah, it was.  We’ve slowed it down a few times and there was enough arm in addition to ball there to warrant the call.  The mistake was letting MSU beat the Vols down the court to the blocks.  If UT had gotten back better, they might still be playing.

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ATB: Butler and West Virginia Punch Tickets to Indy

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 2010

Ticket Punching.  We all should have known something like this was in store by the first afternoon of the NCAA Tournament a short nine days ago.  That Thursday’s early insanity portended an unpredictable week-plus that has ultimately resulted in six teams still standing, only one of whom was given serious consideration for the Final Four (Duke).  Raise your hand if you had Butler and West Virginia in your Final Four, though — not even the autistic kid from Chicago had those two, and even though everyone was well aware as to the talent and capabilities of both the Bulldogs and Mountaineers, few people actually thought they could get to Indy (including us).  We’ve already read several references to the “Final Snore” with respect to the relative star power of these two teams plus the prospects of a not-Duke making it tomorrow, and we really don’t want to hear it.  The Tournament has been mostly chalk the last couple of years and then we heard complaints that there weren’t enough upsets.  This year, we’ve had a wide-open field with any of a number of teams having a legitimate shot to win it all (remember the “there are no dominant teams” meme?), and we’re perfectly fine with that.  Once in a while, the nature of this event unfolds in such a way that causes bracket mayhem, and instead of the same-old traditional power matchups, we end up with magical stories like Butler returning home to play in its first-ever Final Four and Bob Huggins leading his alma mater to same for the first time in several generations.

John Flowers Reps WVU's Muscle (Getty/C. Chambers)

On Knowing Yourself. #2 West Virginia 73, #1 Kentucky 66. Know thyself, the aphorism goes. Attributed to Socrates, it’s a piece of advice the Wildcats should have heeded against the Mountaineers. Everything that’s being written and discussed regarding this game revolves around Kentucky starting off at Absolute Zero from three. In fact, we’ve been hearing all season long about how Kentucky is not a “great shooting team.” Sure, an 0-20 start from beyond the arc doesn’t help, but let’s be honest. That’s an outlier. This stuff about not being able to shoot is not entirely true. Coming into this, Kentucky was the 15th best team in the nation as far as FG%, at 48.3%. That’s 15th out of 345 Division I teams. Sounds pretty great to us — but it’s not the whole story. From inside the arc, Kentucky was sixth in the nation (54.4%). From outside the arc, they drop to 34.4%. In other words, despite all the talk about how fantastic John Wall is (and he is) and how he can own a basketball game, Kentucky was and always should have been a low post-oriented team. The story isn’t that Kentucky went 4-32 (13%) from three-point range — it’s that they were taking them in the first place. Yes, that siren’s song of the open three is hard to resist. But a team with two lottery picks in the post should be looking to get the ball to the post, yes? There’s no reason that Darnell Dodson — a fine shooting guard, no question — should shoot nine shots (all of them threes) in his 12 minutes while Patrick Patterson shoots only seven shots in 37 minutes, with four of those coming from three. By the time Kentucky had gotten to 0-9, 0-10, 0-11…it was in their heads. West Virginia, on the other hand, showed total self-awareness. They relied on the exact same recipe that’s kept them in the upper reaches of the Top 25 all year long, the same recipe that earned them a Big East Conference Tournament championship. Sure, they don’t usually hit threes like they did in the first half, but after that hot start, when they cooled off, they did what they do best — drive to the hole using their inestimable athleticism. Kevin Jones, Da’Sean Butler, even hero-of-the-hour Joe Mazzulla either worked off of high screens to dart for the rim or just took their man to the hoop depending on who they had on them. Time after time, Eric Bledsoe and John Wall were left standing while the Mountaineer they were supposed to be guarding flew past them and got layups, revealing that the alleged weakness of the Kentucky guards is not their shooting, as is popularly believed — it’s that they don’t defend. Nobody’s wanted to say that all season, it seems, as if they’d be pointing out a naked emperor. But it explains the hot shooting start for WVU and the steady diet of layups the Mountaineers enjoyed. Knowing they didn’t have to guard the three as tightly, WVU then packed in that bizarre 1-3-1 zone tighter and frustrated the Wildcat bigs with physical play and quick hands. So yes, this is a shocker, and yes, maybe West Virginia shouldn’t have been in this region. But Kentucky’s players — and certainly their fans — know that UK wins this game if they play to their biggest strength. Indeed, Wall’s biggest strength is driving to the basket, and the only points of his that didn’t result from drives came on a banked-in three. But the Big Blue Nation should be happy, considering where they were last year, what they accomplished last year, and the likelihood of more fun to come. Wall, Patterson, and DeMarcus Cousins are almost certainly headed to the NBA, and you can’t blame them. Eric Bledsoe has considered the jump and there’s a lot of talk of even Daniel Orton leaving school. Our stance is that the latter two need a little more of…well, the Socratic Method. West Virginia has no such worries. And it wouldn’t matter right now, because they’re still alive. They’re going to the Final Four, and they deserve it. Why are they going instead of Kentucky? They were true to their own nature. They knew themselves.

At Only 33, Butler's Brad Stevens Still Has Some Moves (Reuters/R. Galbraith)

Let’s Go Home, Shall We? #5 Butler 63, #2 Kansas State 56.  Chants of “Let’s Go Home!!” echoed throughout the building, and Brad Stevens broke into dance along with his players (pictured above), and who could blame him?  It wasn’t that long ago that simply making the Dance was a great accomplishment for a program like Butler.  Then getting to the Sweet Sixteen was the ultimate goal.  Now, with today’s methodical and defensive-minded defeat of #2 seed Kansas State, the bar has been raised to where the Final Four and beyond are what will define this plucky little program from Indianapolis.  And yet, despite the difference in seeds and the obvious difference in athleticism among the players, the result today was entirely predictable based on what we’ve already seen from this Bulldog team in this Tournament.  Their defense has been the story, now having held four different teams to fewer then sixty points and we’re not exactly talking about Horizon League bottom-feeders here either.  Syracuse and K-State boasted two of the most efficient offenses in the nation, but the Butler preparation, focus and execution on the key scoring threats of both teams was nothing short of phenomenal.  Just like the Bulldogs did on Thursday night against Andy Rautins, KSU guards Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente could not find open looks anywhere through most of this game.  The two primary scoring threats for the Wildcats ultimately connected on 11-30 field goals, but many of those came very late in the game when K-State made its final push to briefly take a lead before running out of gas.  On the Butler side, it was Gordon Hayward (22/9) who was the star of the show, connecting on a wide array of jumpers, drives and even an alley-oop during this game.  Shelvin Mack (16/7/3 assts) had his typically effective game, and when it came down to the last few minutes of play it was clear which team had the clearer head to make the plays needed to win.  Dick Vitale is going on and on about Butler not being a Cinderella, and we agree only to the extent that they are a known commodity.  But we have to be realistic, too, and programs the caliber of Butler simply do not make it to the Final Four very often, and when they do they should be celebrated as such.  This isn’t UNLV in the 90s or Memphis of the last decade — this is a true mid-major school without the luxury of BCS level resources who is still getting major program results.  Programs from Clemson to Colorado and USC to Georgia, would do very well to take notice of how they did it.  It’s an unbelievable story and one of which we hope to report on throughout the week.

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Elite Eight Game Analysis: Saturday Night

Posted by zhayes9 on March 27th, 2010

Over the next two days, RTC will break down the regional final games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are Saturday night’s games from the East and West Regionals.

4:30 pm – #2 Kansas State vs. #5 Butler  (West Region)

This is an unusual regional final, in that two teams that are not typically in this position are facing off for a right to go to the Final Four next weekend.  Which is not to say that either team is undeserving or somehow less worthy, it’s just to point out the uniqueness of it.  The last time the Wildcats were playing this far into the NCAA Tournament, Ronald Reagan was still governing the country and the four letters USSR actually meant something to people under thirty.  The last time Butler played this deep into March?   Well, they haven’t.  As in, this is the Bulldogs’ first trip to the Elite Eight.  So from the perspective of seeing some new blood pushing through to the game’s grandest stage in Indianapolis, this should be compelling theater.  And the hoops ain’t half bad either.  K-State brings an athletic, gritty, defensive-minded team into this game, led by their duo of electrifying guards, Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente.  They don’t always shoot the ball well and they sometimes utilize questionable shot selection, but when the game is on the line as it was on Thursday evening against Xavier, Clemente (25/5/5 assts) and Pullen (28/4) made the plays necessary to win the game.  Butler, on the other hand, is a bit more balanced in their offense with scoring threats at every position, but the Bulldog defense is really what defines Brad Stevens’ team.  Riding a 23-game winning streak on the backs of the stickiness of it, there simply are no completely open looks against this team.  When Pullen and Clemente come off their curls and screens, they’ll find a Butler player waiting for them in much the same way that Andy Rautins and the other Syracuse shooters did on Thursday.  Correspondingly, the one area where SU held a significant advantage over Butler — powerful inside players — ended up being neutralized by the extreme difficulty that the Orange had in getting the ball into those players on the blocks.  K-State’s inside trio of Dominique Sutton, Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels are all talented but not the offensive threats posed by Syracuse’s bigs, so we think that this game will ultimately be decided on the perimeter.  If the Butler team defense can force a relatively poor shooting night from the Wildcat guards, a combined 11-30 or so, we think that the game will be low-scoring enough for the Bulldogs to sneak through and head back home to Indy with a regional championship in tow.  Butler can get enough points from their options of Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard, or Willie Veasley, so if any one player is off, another is capable of stepping up.  All they really will need to score is in the 60-70 point range.  Similar to the Syracuse game, if they can hang with KSU until the end, they’re poised enough to pull the victory out.

The Skinny:  Call us crazy or just plain sentimental, but we’re going Norman Dale with the upset. The rims are still only ten feet tall no matter who you’re lined up against, and there’s no telling when Butler will have another shot like this.  We think the Bulldogs will shock the world with its own personal Cinderella story by heading back home to Indianapolis, a mere five miles from their campus.

7:05 pm – #1 Kentucky vs. #2 West Virginia  (East Region)

The best regional final this season will take place in Syracuse, where chalk prevailed to bring us a 1 vs. 2 matchup of Kentucky and West Virginia. Of course, if the Selection Committee had any sense two weeks ago, this game wouldn’t have happened until Indianapolis. One can make the argument that these are the two best teams remaining in the field. West Virginia methodically dispatched of red hot Washington in their semifinal while Kentucky amassed one of the more impressive Tournament in-game runs in recent memory to vanquish Cornell’s season. The two teams meet on the Carrier Dome floor playing their best basketball of the season- Kentucky running and gunning behind their three lottery picks and West Virginia molding into an elite rebounding and defensive squad that simply wears you out.

This should be an ultra competitive and physical game, especially in the post. The key for the Mountaineers on the defensive end will be containing John Wall. Darryl Bryant is injured and Joe Mazzulla isn’t quick enough to hang with Wall for an extended period of time, so look for Huggins to plug 6’8 point forward Devin Ebanks and his incredible wingspan on the future #1 pick. The problem that poses for Huggins is that decision keeps Ebanks out of the post where Kentucky can play both DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson. It’s going to take a stellar effort from Wellington Smith, Kevin Jones, Deniz Kilicli and John Flowers to keep the two Kentucky behemoths in check. With four serviceable big men, they shouldn’t be afraid to foul and send Cousins to the free throw line to earn his points. Also, analysts talk about how no team works harder than West Virginia. They’ll need to work as hard for 40 minutes as they have all season, most notably on the backboards.

The other question: can West Virginia score enough points to match Kentucky? The Wildcats scored just over seven points per contest more than the Mountaineers during the regular season and numbers on defense are about identical. If Kentucky defends similarly to their effort against Cornell, I have a hard time seeing West Virginia stay with Big Blue, especially if Darius Miller replicates his stalwart defense on Da’Sean Butler. John Calipari’s UMass and Memphis teams that were successful always gave 100% on the defensive end of the floor. With so many young and hyped players, that was a constant question mark. If anyone has watched their three games in this NCAA Tournament, though, that question has turned into a statement.

Skinny: Kentucky is the prohibitive favorite remaining in the Dance, but West Virginia is more than capable of crashing the party. It will take their best performance of the season on both ends, from neutralizing the stronger Cousins and Patterson on the glass to dismissing Kentucky’s transition game to keeping John Wall in front of them to Butler scoring at least 25 points. I believe Kentucky will impose their style of play about midway through the second half, go on one of their patented runs and pull away for a spot in Indianapolis. The way Kentucky is playing right now, how can anyone pick against them unless you bleed blue and gold? But that’s the beauty of the NCAA Tournament. Everything can change in the blink of an eye.

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Sweet Sixteen Game Analysis: Thursday Night

Posted by rtmsf on March 25th, 2010

Over the next two days, RTC will break down the regional semifinal games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are Thursday night’s games from the East and West Regionals.

7:07 pm – #1 Syracuse vs. #5 Butler  (West Region)

We’re starting to worry about this Arinze Onuaku situation.  Sooner or later, Jim Boeheim’s team is going to need the 11 points, five rebounds and general defensive anchor support on the front line that the 6’9, 260-pound big man provides.  Rick Jackson is a serviceable replacement, but the fact that Onuaku reportedly hasn’t even suited up in practice since his injury against Georgetown on March 11 is cause for alarm.  Even if Syracuse survives to advance to next weekend’s Final Four, how productive could he possibly be?  So far, Syracuse hasn’t shown a need for him yet.  The Orange ran over Vermont and Gonzaga without breathing all that hard thanks to the superb play of Wesley Johnson and friends, but there will be a team in the very near future where they’ll need more than Jackson alone can provide.

That team will not be playing SU in the Sweet Sixteen, however.  Butler is an excellent team and Brad Stevens has gotten players other than Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard to step up this season, most notably Shelvin Mack who went 9-12 from long range in the San Jose pod against UTEP and Murray State.  Syracuse is not UTEP or Murray, though, and the wide-open looks that Mack was getting in those games will no longer be as readily available thanks to the length and quickness of the Orange’s perimeter defenders.  Furthermore, Butler center Matt Howard has enough trouble staying out of foul trouble against Horizon League teams; it’s not realistic to think that he’ll be able to play 30+ effective minutes against Jackson, Johnson and Kris Joseph inside.  The main problem we foresee is that Butler is not a very good offensive team in general — when Hayward and Mack aren’t firing on all cylinders, the Bulldogs have trouble scoring points.  Add that to the fact they’ll be facing one of the best offensive teams in America, and you have a situation where numerous things need to go exactly right for Butler to get this win tonight.  Even without Onuaku on the floor for another game, we just don’t see Butler finding enough offense to win this game.

The Skinny: The last time the Bulldogs made it this deep into the NCAAs, they ran into a long, athletic team by the name of Florida in 2007.  They played the defending and future national champions as closely as they were played in that tournament thanks to their control of the tempo, strong defense and  attention to detail, but it still wasn’t enough because the Florida offensive attack was simply too good.  We think the same thing will happen in this game.  Syracuse has too many weapons for the Butler defense to key in on all of them, and even if they catch SU on an off night, where will the Butler points come from?

7:27 pm – #2 West Virginia vs. #11 Washington  (East Region)

Most prognosticators felt that Washington had Sweet 16 talent coming into this season. Lorenzo Romar was returning reigning Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Isaiah Thomas, defensive stalwart Venoy Overton and a forward named Quincy Pondexter ripe for a breakout season. While Pondexter’s prediction panned out, guard play was shaky, road wins were hard to come by, and the Huskies found themselves on the NCAA bubble with seven losses in a weak Pac-10. A conference tournament win punched their ticket, though, and the Huskies have taken advantage of the opportunity, erasing a double-digit second half lead to beat Marquette and wiping the floor with Mountain West champion New Mexico. Their toughest test yet will come Thursday against Big East Tournament champion West Virginia. Washington needs to produce a near carbon copy of their performance against New Mexico. In other words, they need to play a near-perfect game. Thomas must keep his head on straight and continue to make outside jumpers. Overton must frustrate Da’Sean Butler, Elston Turner must continue to produce offensively and Pondexter must out-duel Devin Ebanks.

For West Virginia, Washington seems like a favorable matchup. They may have preferred Joe Mazzulla guarding Isaiah Thomas more than the sidelined Darryl Bryant anyway. Mazzulla is the superior defender and Bryant has been woeful shooting-wise the last three weeks. They also match up well with the length of Washington. Bob Huggins can throw a lineup out on the floor of players 6’6 or above with huge wingspans, meaning the long WVU defense could fluster Pondexter and force him into difficult shots. One possible negative to the Bryant injury is that it increases the likelihood that the Mountaineer offense will become too reliant on Butler to bail them out. He’s done it time and time again this season and in postseason tournament play. Does he have more magic up his sleeve?

The Skinny: West Virginia has a plethora of defenders that can frustrate Pondexter and they boast the best late-game scorer in the nation in Butler. That combination should prove enough to take care of Washington in fairly methodical fashion. Avoiding their typical slow start would be prudent.

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West Virginia Loses Darryl Bryant To Broken Foot

Posted by jstevrtc on March 24th, 2010

West Virginia will be without starting sophomore point guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant for the rest of the NCAA Tournament.  X-rays taken on Tuesday revealed that Bryant has fractured a bone in the fifth toe of his right foot.  It’s not exactly clear when Bryant sustained the injury, but the cited ESPN.com report above says that he had noticed increased pain in the foot during a recent practice, then today’s imaging showed the broken toe.

The Mountaineers are famous for being chock-full-o-forwards, often playing four forwards and a guard at any given time (they have no true center).  Bryant — who averages 9.3 PPG and 3.1 APG in 24.3 MPG — will most definitely be missed, but he’s not a traditional dime-dishing point guard.  He’s known more for the mental and physical toughness he brings to the table for his team, not so much for his high yield in terms of assists or forcing turnovers.  Da’Sean Butler, Kevin Jones, and Devin Ebanks — the only three Mountaineers who average more than 30 minutes per game — do most of the ball-handling, and will only see a slight increase in touches, which they probably won’t mind.

The Truck, unfortunately, has a bum wheel. (AP/Mel Evans)

WVU also has a ready replacement in Joe Mazzulla, a 6’2 junior point guard averaging 2.2 PPG and 2.3 APG.  Mazzulla redshirted last year after injuring his shoulder, but has seen steadily increasing minutes throughout the season.  Mazzulla actually played more minutes than Bryant in the Mountaineers’ second-round game against Missouri, and the two had no problem with the Tigers’ vaunted full-court press.  His assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.5 is higher than Bryant’s 1.5, though Mazzulla did average ten fewer minutes per game.  Any further minutes at the guard position will go to 6’4 junior Casey Mitchell (3.8 PPG, 0.4 APG in 8.3 MPG), who only played three minutes against Missouri but did contribute six points, four assists, and two steals with only one turnover in 11 minutes in WVU’s first round 77-50 win over Morgan State.

There’s been no mention of how severe Bryant’s injury is, but most fifth metatarsal fractures do not require surgery and heal on their own over time with the “conservative” therapies — ice for swelling, no weight-bearing on the foot, and immobilization with a splint or cast.

WVU chief Bob Huggins is certainly no stranger to tournament-time injuries when he’s got a team poised for big things.  Back in 2000 — another year in which the Final Four was held in Indianapolis — his #2-seed Cincinnati squad was a favorite to win it all before Kenyon Martin broke his leg in the Conference USA Tournament, and the Bearcats were subsequently dispatched in the second round by Tulsa.  The next time the Final Four is in Indianapolis and Huggins has a highly rated team, don’t blame the man if he sequesters his whole team in a padded room and locks the door, opening it only for games.

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Boom Goes The Dynamite: Second Round 03.21.10 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on March 21st, 2010

How’s your bracket?  Probably looking pretty sweet if you went to undergrad at St. Mary’s and then took a master’s at Northern Iowa.  Have they stopped partying at UNI yet?  Or campaniling?  Or whatever they do there?  And if not, who could blame them?

That was yesterday, though.  The Panthers and Gaels will be receiving their Official Cinderella starter handbooks in the mail in a couple of days, so the matter now turns to the Sunday games, and any possible candidates that could join them.  Your lineup:

  • #1 Syracuse vs #8 Gonzaga
  • #2 Ohio State vs #10 Georgia Tech
  • #4 Maryland vs #5 Michigan State
  • #2 West Virginia vs #10 Missouri
  • #4 Wisconsin vs #12 Cornell
  • #3 Pittsburgh vs #6 Xavier
  • #4 Purdue vs #5 Texas A&M
  • #1 Duke vs #8 California

Will Northern Iowa’s dismissal of Kansas inspire other underdogs to greater heights?  Or will it cause the higher seeds to sharpen their focus and be even warier of the upstarts?  Keep in mind, things always start and end a tad earlier on Second Round Sunday, and there’s that glut of four games that all start within 30 minutes of each other in the early afternoon.  But no worry, if you can’t see them all — we’ll be here all day, talking about them, updating this post every few minutes, and looking for your comments.  Hard to believe we’ll have whittled the field of 64 down to 16 by Sunday night, and the events of Saturday should drive the point home that we need to enjoy this while it’s here.  We’re here to help.  We’ll start updating the post a few minutes before the first tipoff, and we hope to see you here.

12:00: Here we go, folks!  Day 2, second round.  The day starts with ‘Cuse/’Zags and you see the rest of the lineup above.  Syracuse, Duke, Ohio State…you’ve been put on notice by Northern Iowa.  Let’s see what happens.

12:10: One thing that’s got to make you happy if you’re a Syracuse fan is that Wesley Johnson is being VERY aggressive with the basketball.  Hit his first two.

12:18: See, I don’t think Matt Boldin needs to fire from three for the Zags to put their best foot forward, today.  I think they’ll be better off if he does more creating and dishing, and we know he picks up points that way.

12:27: Goodness, right now it’s Wesley Johnson versus Elias Harris.  Johnson has Syracuse’s first ten and Harris has just made the baseline his second home.

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Da’Sean Da’Smacks Georgetown’s Top Fan

Posted by rtmsf on March 19th, 2010

Maybe this was overlooked amidst the relentless barrage of close games and buzzer-beaters yesterday, but West Virginia’s Da’Sean Butler had a little fun with the Twitter at the expense of conference rival Georgetown’s shocking loss to Ohio University, 97-83.

Spike Lee, of course, was at last week’s Big East Championship game wearing a Georgetown jersey.  He claims that he’s been a Hoya fan since the Ewing era, and maybe he has, but it’s still plenty interesting for a New York guy through and through to be seen rooting for a team from the District instead.  Much like you, we just watched that Reggie Miller vs. Spike Lee thing on ESPN’s Thirty at Thirty this week, so maybe Butler is auditioning for the new role of Spike’s nemesis?

As for Da’Smack, we’re not sure that making fun of a first round loser is the greatest idea one day before playing your own opening game (and especially the way the Big East has looked so far), but hey, we’re not the guy with seven hundred and forty-one game-winners this season either.  If he can back it up…

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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.18.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 19th, 2010

Each day this week during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

South Region Notes (Patrick Sellars)

  • Duke and guard Nolan Smith don’t think they’ll have an easy path to Indianapolis even though all the “experts” agree that Duke has the easiest road to the Final Four of the number one seeds. Smith said, “This is the NCAA tournament, there’s no such thing as an easy path.”
  • California, who was considered by many a lock to make the Tournament, was not feeling at ease after the first three brackets were announced and their name was yet to be called. Head coach Mike Montgomery thinks with his team at full health they will be a very tough out for anyone in the tournament.
  • If there was any doubt that Old Dominion was coming in confident against Notre Dame it should be washed away after reading this New York Times article on their upset victory. I know it is obviously after the fact, but Frank Hassell, ODU’s leading scorer, said “We really weren’t worried about them or Luke (Harangody). We were worried about us.”
  • Another “after the fact” article, but here is a nice interview with Baylor head coach Scott Drew on being in the NCAA Tournament and how he handles each game. Baylor survived a scare from Sam Houston State, which is a big deal because the #14 seeds were on their game today, and it’s Baylor’s first NCAA Tournament win in 60 years.
  • With Omar Samhan in foul trouble Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett went to his bench to look for someone who might be able to fill the void, and he went to a player used sparingly during the regular season. The San Francisco Chronicle looks at the freshman’s role in SMC’s big win.
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer looks at Villanova’s stingy victory over Robert Morris and Jay Wright’s decision to bench star guards Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher to start the game. Wright also said “If we can win this next game and get some practices, we’ve got a chance to be better. But I don’t know if we’re ready for this next game.” That’s music to the ears of all Saint Mary’s fans. What has happened to the Villanova Wildcats?
  • Overall the South Region is exactly what everyone though it would be, which is that its Duke’s region to win. With Baylor and Villanova both struggling against double digit seeds it looks as if the Blue Devils are now the heavy favorites. However, the NCAA Tournament is all about surviving and advancing, one day your team can beat a #14 seed narrowly, the next thing you know they’re in the Final Four (ex: Villanova 2009).

West Region Notes (Andrew Murawa)

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First Round Game Analysis: Friday Afternoon

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are the Friday afternoon games.


12:15 pm – #2 West Virginia vs. #15 Morgan State  (Buffalo pod)

West Virginia enters the NCAA Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the nation. They squeaked out an enormous road win at Villanova to end the regular season then swept through Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Georgetown en route to a Big East championship riding the heroics of Da’Sean Butler. The Mountaineers are an extremely gifted rebounding team; in fact, sometimes their best offense comes after a missed shot. They feature multiple weapons that can step out and shoot a mid-range jumper or three from Wellington Smith to Kevin Jones to the all-around dynamo Butler. Also, few teams can match West Virginia’s intensity in the halfcourt defensively. Morgan State head coach Todd Bozeman will need a gigantic scoring output from their own star, Baltimore native Reggie Holmes. Holmes scored 25 or more points fifteen times this season, averaging 21.3 PPG and ranking in the top-50 in percentage of shots taken. The Bears also feature a rugged forward named Kevin Thompson who comes in at fifth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. In fact, Morgan State ranks 11th in the country as a team in that very category. Unfortunately for the underdogs, West Virginia is never outworked on the glass, not with Jones, Devin Ebanks and Bob Huggins prominently involved.

The Skinny: This one shouldn’t be close from the tip. Morgan State dominated the MEAC all season, but West Virginia is flying high at this point. Expect the Mountaineers to dominate by 25-30 points.

12:25 pm – #6 Xavier vs. #11 Minnesota  (Milwaukee pod)

The answer to which team will win this game depends entirely on which Gopher team shows up to play in Milwaukee.  Will it be the defensive juggernaut that held Purdue to 11 first  half points last Saturday, or will it be the team that got obliterated by Ohio State 52-29 in the second half on Sunday?  Tubby Smith’s team has been schizophrenic like that all year, following up strong wins with disastrous performances (two losses to Michigan?  really?), which probably explains why they were a bubble team up until Sunday evening.  Xavier comes into this one with the stronger resume, but it’s difficult to say if the Musketeers are the better team.  When he plays under control, XU’s Jordan Crawford is a talent, and his supporting case of Jason Love on the interior and Terrell Holloway running the show makes for nice balance throughout the Xavier lineup.  The question we have is who will win the defensive battle, though.  Xavier defends the three really well, while Minnesota behind Blake Hoffarber and Lawrence Westbrook both shoot it equally as well.  This game is essentially a tossup (Vegas agrees, setting Minny as a one-point favorite), and we really liked the first seven halves of basketball that the Gophers put up in Indianapolis on a neutral floor last week, so we’re going with the extremely mild 6/11 upset here, in a close game that comes down to the last possession. 

The Skinny: Despite the seedings, this is a tossup game and we like the Gophers to win it on the last possession. 

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