2017-18 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on March 29th, 2018

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what will come during the regular season. There will always be several players who fall short of expectations and there will always be several relative unknowns who unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our outfit of RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams in November; nobody could have guessed that only six of the 15 players chosen would live up to their hype: Villanova’s Jalen Brunson; Duke’s Marvin Bagley III; Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham; Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett; West Virginia’s Jevon Carter, and Michigan State’s Miles Bridges.

Here are the 2017-18 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America

  • Trae Young, Freshman, Oklahoma (consensus) (27.4 PPG, 8.7 APG, 3.9 RPG). No player dominated the national conversation this season more than Young. The freshman point guard exploded on the scene in remarkable fashion, scoring 43 points in just his fifth collegiate game (a 90-80 win over Oregon) and was both the country’s leading scorer and assist man far into the year. While Oklahoma faltered as a team, Young’s lone season in Norman was so impressive that, after the Sooners lost to Rhode Island in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, head coach Dan Hurley noted, “I made the mistake of watching some of their early games first. I didn’t sleep for a day.” Considering how quickly and easily the point guard jolted onto the college basketball scene, it is not exactly clear if Hurley was being facetious or not.
  • Jalen Brunson, Junior, Villanova (consensus) (19.2 PPG, 4.6 APG, 52.7% FG, 41.4% 3FG). Entering the season, Brunson had already developed a well-deserved reputation for being one of the steadiest players in college basketball. He took that perception to another level this season, acting as the face of an extremely even-keeled Villanova team that is headed to another Final Four. There has been a great deal of national discussion regarding how methodical and systematic Brunson appears during the course of a game that even Xavier coach Chris Mack offered his thoughts on the matter. Following his Musketeers losing by 24 at Villanova in early January, Mack implied that Brunson is a robot, stating, “You peel his face off, he’d probably have wires coming out of it.” It is currently unknown whether robots are good at basketball, but it is well-established that the junior point guard is one of the best players in the country.
  • Marvin Bagley III, Freshman, Duke (consensus) (21.0 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 61.4% FG). Every so often there is a much-ballyhooed recruit that meets and even exceeds the exorbitant hype that accompanies his arrival to the sport. That was the case for Bagley, as he ensured his only season in Durham was a memorable one. The phenomenally athletic freshman put his stamp on Duke basketball lore, as he became the first Blue Devil since the great Christian Laettner to record a 30+ point and 15+ rebound performance — and he did it four times. Despite missing five games with a knee injury, Bagley still became the school’s all-time freshman scoring leader following a 22-point effort in Duke’s Sweet Sixteen victory over Syracuse. While Duke’s season ended in a disappointing Elite Eight loss to Kansas where the precocious freshman somehow only managed nine field goal attempts, it is impossible to view his sole college season as anything other than a resounding success.
  • DeAndre Ayton, Freshman, Arizona (20.1 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 61.2% FG). Ayton was another much-ballyhooed recruit that delivered on years of promise. The Arizona big man’s dominance was expected, but that did not make it any less awe-inspiring to watch the athletic forward overpower his opposition throughout the season. Ayton is considered among the top prospects for the 2018 NBA Draft because of his incredible size — he has an ideal NBA frame and athleticism — but he is far from just an antiquated back-to-the-basket big man. It truly is a shame Ayton’s sensational freshman season will likely be best remembered for both Arizona’s First Round NCAA Tournament flameout against Buffalo and the unsubstantiated ESPN report that he was the prospect being discussed on an FBI wiretap involving an alleged pay-for-play conversation between Arizona coach Sean Miller and former ASM Sports runner Christian Dawkins.
  • Devonte’ Graham, Senior, Kansas (17.2 PPG, 7.3 APG, 40.3% 3FG). You know the senior floor general has had a substantial impact on the Final Four-bound Jayhawks when Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski noted after Kansas bested his Blue Devils in the Elite Eight: “In Graham, you have really one of the great leaders, not just players, in the country. Look, he’s one of the top five players in America, and it’s not just because he scores, but it’s how he leads. When he’s on the court, everybody is better. […] That’s why they’re as good as they are.” The Big 12 Player of the Year has been the straw that stirs the drink for the Jayhawks all season long. He has made big play after big play, and if Kansas hopes to cut down the nets this weekend in San Antonio, it is going to need Graham to play at an elite level.

Second Team All-America

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Pac-12 Conversation: Did the Pac-12 Get Hosed?

Posted by Adam Butler & RJ Abeytia on March 14th, 2018

With the Pac-12 already off to an inauspicious start given UCLA‘s First Four loss to St. Bonaventure, Pac-12 microsite writers Adam Butler (@pachoopsAB) and RJ Abeytia (@rj_abeytia) break down the burning questions facing ArizonaArizona State and the rest of the conference.

It’s Been That Kind of Year in the Pac-12 (USA Today Images)

Adam Butler: OK – let me start with the obvious – as Pac-12 bloggers, did the Pac get hosed by the NCAA?

R.J.:  I say we start with USC. Screwed or not screwed?

Adam Butler: Screwed! Whenever you’re “the somethingest to not something,” you’ve been screwed.

R.J.: USC was but most people are framing the argument incorrectly. It’s the whole body of work and the committee once again proved that there is no line of demarcation in their view between conference and non-conference play and, if anything, non-conference > conference. Andy Enfield has historically scheduled gutlessly in the non-conference realm but a #34 RPI is still a #34 RPI.

Adam Butler: Well… and this is where it gets weird with the 36 at-larges. Are they the 36 best teams remaining or the 36 most deserving?

R.J.: It has to be the 36 most deserving. I hate when an undeserving team gets in and then people retroactively declare them worthy of inclusion.

Adam Butler: Further – are you buying the FBI conspiracies? That the toothless NCAA is taking passive-aggressive jabs at schools explicitly under investigation?

R.J.:  This is not the first time USC has been made an example, only to have other schools get lesser penalties for greater infractions.

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Pac-12 NCAA Tournament Prospects Looking Slim

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 13th, 2018

And then there were three. The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee took its Excalibur Sharpies and scrawled in the names of Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State onto its 68-team bracket and left an entire conference reeling in its wake. I’ll touch upon USC at another time, but the upshot should not really be that much of a revelation: Conference affiliation is ultimately arbitrary in the case of making the Big Dance. But enough digression. Let’s take a quick look at the three teams who did make it and assess their prospects for this weekend and beyond.

DeAndre Ayton is a Problem for Any Team in His Path (USA Today Images)

Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton gave everybody in Las Vegas a tantalizing glimpse of the dominance he’s capable of inflicting. He became the first player in Pac-10/12 history to ever win Freshman of the Year, Player of the Year, and Most Outstanding Player of the conference tournament. Sean Miller said months ago that “we go as DeAndre goes,” and truer words have never been spoken. Unfortunately, there are two things conspiring to thwart Miller’s Quixotic journey to the Final Four. The first is the Wildcats’ lack of consistent defensive play, a very conspicuous attribute in the Miller Era. This year the Wildcats finished 70th in Defensive Rating, per KenPom, and in the previous three seasons that number was 29th, 29th and third. The strange thing is that with Ayton, Rawle Alkins, Keanu Pinder and Dusan Ristic, you’d think the Wildcats would be a good defensive team.

However, college basketball is a guard’s game, and Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Allonzo Trier have slid significantly on defense from last year. Jackson-Cartwright has gone from an exceptional defender (99.0 DRtg in 2016-17) to essentially average at 105.0. Trier has gone from acceptable (101.0) to a turnstile (107.5) With a 131.0 Offensive Rating in tow, Trier is too good to keep off the court, but by far the biggest basketball question mark for Arizona is the ability of its backcourt to get stops. The other issue is the draw. Arizona by chalk would be looking at #5 Kentucky (gulp) in the Second Round and #1 Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen. By chalk, Arizona would then play #2 Cincinnati in the Elite Eight. That’s a tall order and likely even too tall for the seven-foot Ayton. Best case: Ayton continues to be a Basketball Godzilla and simply carries the Wildcats to San Antonio. Worst case: Kentucky gets revenge for its 1997 championship game loss and maybe Miller’s most talented team fails to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

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RTC Bracket Prep: South Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 13th, 2018

Yesterday and today we will be rolling out our region-by-region analysis for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCSouthRegion).

South Region

Favorite: #1 Virginia (31-2, 17-1 ACC). Oh, how far Virginia has come. After beginning the season outside of both the AP and USA Today/Coaches Poll Top 25, the Cavaliers have won a school-record 31 games en route to the the #1 overall seed on Selection Sunday. In the process, they posted the second-best adjusted defensive efficiency mark in the KenPom era and didn’t allow a single opponent to break 70 points. This is also Tony Bennett’s second-most efficient offensive team since arriving in Charlottesville in 2009, thanks in large part to sharpshooter Kyle Guy (14.1 PPG, 39.5% 3FG). The notion that Virginia would be overwhelmed by Kentucky or Arizona’s athleticism seems particularly far-fetched considering that the Cavaliers beat Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium and handled North Carolina twice this season. The idea that a stout defensive club like Cincinnati or Tennessee would out-grind the ACC champs seems equally questionable. Virginia is the South Region favorite, and there’s no really no argument otherwise.

Kyle Guy and the Cavaliers are the best bet to reach San Antonio. (Photo: Geoff Burke, USA TODAY Sports)

Should They Falter: #2 Cincinnati (30-4, 16-2 AAC). Were it not for Virginia, Cincinnati’s defense would have probably received a lot more national recognition this season. The Bearcats held opponents to just over 0.86 points per possession, a mark which — not adjusting for competition — hasn’t been topped since 2008-09 Memphis. Mick Cronin’s team is tough in every sense of the word, just as willing to pound the offensive glass (third nationally in Offensive Rebounding rate) as it is to grind opponents down on the other end. In senior Gary Clarke (13.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG), Cincinnati has a player who manages to serve as both its star and its “glue guy,” the type of scrappy weapon you want on your team when the game’s on the line in March. The Bearcats don’t have many great wins this season, but fresh off of beating Wichita State on the road and winning the AAC title, Cronin’s team looks primed for a deep March run.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Creighton (21-11, 10-8 Big East). While the seeding was fairly well done in this region, Creighton’s landing spot at #8 came as quite the surprise. Most bracketologists had pegged the Bluejays as a #9 or #10 seed, with some placing them as low as a #11. Its home win over Villanova notwithstanding, Creighton finished just 1-9 against Quadrant 1 opponents this season and failed to win a single road game against teams that finished above .500. Then again, perhaps the Bluejays actually got a raw deal when you consider that instead of a possible Second Round matchup against #2 Cincinnati, they’ll have to face Virginia.

Criminally Underseeded: #13 Buffalo (26-8, 15-3 MAC). According to BracketMatrix.com, the vast majority of projections had atabbed Buffalo as a #12 seed (average: 12.08). Instead, the 26-win Bulls were given a #13 seed and tasked with handling future #1-overall NBA Draft pick DeAndre Ayton way out in Boise. And if you think seeding at this level doesn’t matter, consider this: Historically, #12 seeds have a 35.6 percent chance of advancing to the Second Round compared with just 19.7 percent for #13 seeds.

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Pac-12 Needs the Two Cs to Recover

Posted by RJ Abeytia on February 1st, 2018

The Pac-12 is struggling. About that there can be no doubt. The conference has no teams in the top 10 in the RPI and only two among the top 40 (#16 Arizona, #37 USC). Joe Lunardi’s latest edition of bracketology holds those two teams plus Arizona State in his field of 68, with only Washington landing among the first four out. Jeff Sagarin ranks the conference sixth overall with only (again) the Wildcats and Trojans cracking his top 40. Nothing amazing is going to happen in February to salvage the league this year. The question is whether there are any signs of daylight cracking through the wall of despair the league has built between it and the upcoming NCAA Tournament. First, let’s look to youth. A quick scan of the PER leaders among freshmen shows a pretty impressive group of players.

Player School
DeAndre Ayton Arizona
Kenny Wooten Washington
Romello White Arizona State
Jalen Nowell Washington
McKinley Wright IV Colorado
Donnie Tillman Utah
Justice Sueing California
Kris Wilkes UCLA
Remy Martin Arizona State
Troy Brown Oregon

 

Now, this list does not encapsulate the entirety of elite freshman talent in the Pac. Stanford alone has Daejon Davis, who has already won a Pac-12 Player of the Week award, and KZ Okpala, who despite not playing until the final non-conference game is already garnering calls to the Cardinal offices from NBA scouts. Speaking of Players of the Week, Arizona’s Dusan Ristic and Utah’s Justin Bibbins just ended a three-week stretch from the new year onward when a freshman was the conference player of the week. The most intriguing part of this list is that, aside from Ayton, there isn’t a surefire NBA lottery pick in the group. That’s not to say there isn’t NBA talent on that list or elsewhere across the league. It’s to say instead that, aside from Ayton, most of this group should be back for at least one more season. That certainly matters, because Ayton’s ongoing brilliance isn’t going to single-handedly bring the conference back to glory.

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Arizona Against the Zone and Colorado’s Strategy

Posted by Adam Butler on January 25th, 2018

With modest success this season, teams have been throwing zone defenses at Arizona. The Wildcats have played nearly 25 percent of their offense against the zone, the 35th-highest percentage in college basketball. Overall, Arizona has been an excellent offensive team. Sean Miller’s group ranks among the top 15 teams nationally in offensive efficiency, touts a 57 percent effective field goal rate and – especially as it pertains to zone=busting – is making a healthy 38.2 percent of its threes (53rd nationally). On paper at least, Arizona would seem perfectly adept at breaking the zone. But in truth, when looking at the Wildcats’ offense versus man-to-man defense, Arizona ranks as the ninth-most efficient team in the country (per Synergy Sports). Against zone, however, and this may be where opponents are focusing, the Wildcats dip to 115th nationally at 0.97 points per possession.

Colorado’s Tad Boyle is Looking for the Arizona Sweep Tonight (USA Today Images)

Staring across the court at a roster featuring DeAndre Ayton and Allonzo Trier, I too would be seeking any advantage. It’s perhaps why Colorado head coach Tad Boyle, a staunch man-to-man advocate, exacted a zone defense last month against Arizona in Boulder and is likely to do so again in tonight’s rematch. Considering Arizona is about five points per 100 possessions less effective against a zone, Boyle’s plan is seemingly vindicated. Furthermore, the Buffaloes won that Saturday afternoon in The Keg; the ultimate vindication of strategic success. But also remember that Arizona is, indeed, a quality three-point shooting and offensive rebounding team, and that they’re fantastic at getting into transition (a zone-busting strategy). Theoretically, the Wildcats are well-equipped to beat a zone (and has done so in every attempt since). But the strategy goes well beyond nuance in numbers. Boyle used a similar zone against Arizona State just two days before he beat the Wildcats — on that night, at least, Colorado also beat the Sun Devils, which, over the course of this season, play more efficiently against zone than man (they are, after all, a great three-point shooting team). What gives?

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What’s Trending: The End of 2017

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 2nd, 2018

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

Georgetown’s double-overtime loss to Butler last Wednesday was the second overtime loss of the season for the Hoyas. Those are also the only losses Georgetown had at the time — something worthy of consideration by the committee…?

Depaul fell short in its upset bid against Villanova, but “What’s Trending’s” favorite bench player Pantelis Xidias got some tv time regardless!

Saturday afternoon featured a pair of thrilling finishes at the same time. Duke and Florida State were flying up and down the court on one channel while TCU and Oklahoma were trading late leads on another. At Cameron Indoor Stadium, Marvin Bagley missed a free throw but managed to turn it into a wild bucket and foul.

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Arizona’s Defense Isn’t Very Good and It Might Not Matter

Posted by Adam Butler on December 21st, 2017

Following a week that included wins against Texas A&M and Alabama — quality wins no matter the program — college basketball’s own Jon Rothstein noted the “fact” that Arizona would be a one-loss team had it not been for Rawle Alkins’ absence (broken foot) in those games. Read the tweet. Alkins’ presence would have meant that the sky would not seemingly be falling and all would be well in the desert. First of all, to find that tweet, one has to dig through a lot of tweets — Rothstein tweets a lot and he tweets redundantly. Secondly, we do like to be rooted in fact and the Wildcats are – in fact – a three loss team re-incorporating a starter among an underperforming freshman class (aside from the magnificent Deandre Ayton). Furthermore, through 12 games, this is easily the worst defense that Sean Miller has coached (or at least since advanced defensive statistics have been available on basketball-reference.com). The Wildcats are sitting at an unadjusted defensive efficiency of 1.02 points per possession and the next worse mark for a Miller team through 12 games was during his second season in Tucson (2011-12) — 0.96 PPP. That team was 8-4 at the same point in the season and of course represents the last time Arizona missed the NCAA Tournament.

DeAndre Ayton Has Been a Lone Bright Spot for Arizona This Season (USA Today Images)

At 9-3, the fact is that this could be the worst Miller defense since perhaps his first year in Tucson (2009-10 – 0.995 PPP). That team went 16-15 and had zero players (immediately) drafted from it. This team, however, has three projected NBA Draft picks, a beleaguered point. And beyond the facts there are questions like “can this defense get better?” The short answer has to be “yes,” right? Miller has coached only four worse defenses (by adjusted defensive efficiency) and the assumption is that this year’s team will naturally improve with more experience. A logical conclusion. Defensive trends, however, typically suggest a team’s efficiency worsens as the season progresses. This would make sense as, in the case of an Arizona, their defensive numbers should be more impressive against a lesser, pre-Pac schedule. It would also make sense, however, to expect to see less of a floundering Ayton or a scrambling Parker Jackson-Cartwright as we get into games 20, 21 and beyond.

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On an Amazing Weekend of Basketball in Portland…

Posted by RJ Abeytia on November 27th, 2017

Nike’s goal was to get the best in college basketball together for Phil Knight’s 80th birthday, and a sport that has badly needed an on-court distraction from its off-court shambles absolutely put its best foot forward in Portland over the holiday weekend. The quality of the performances by many of the 16 teams in the double-bracket event has led me to a number of conclusions about the state of the game and this season. First of all, nobody who watched or attended Duke vs. Texas or Gonzaga vs. Florida OR Duke vs. Florida should have any time for arguments against the quality of the college basketball product being undermined in comparison with college football’s regular season. Both the electric atmosphere of the games in the Moda Center and the Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the quality thereof easily passed for elite March-caliber. Everything was great, and it’s still over three months before the first rounds ofthe NCAA Tournament.

Duke Used Consecutive Comebacks to Take Its Bracket of the PK80 (USA Today Images)

This of course begs a question about one-and-dones. Duke‘s Marvin Bagley III — who averaged 27.3 PPG and 10.0 RPG over the weekend — was every bit as good as advertised. After the championship game on Sunday night, Mike Kryzyzewski called the versatile freshman the “most unique player I’ve ever coached at Duke.” I don’t want this piece to digress into a debate on the merits of one-and-dones in college basketball, but suffice it to say that having talents like Bagley, Michael Porter, Jr. (injury notwithstanding) and DeAndre Ayton (Arizona’s Bahaman Nightmare notwithstanding) is great for college basketball. The Duke head coach went on to say in his postgame presser to support the larger point here: There are amazing things happening on the court these days, and the PK80 event played a far more vital role in spotlighting what’s good about the game than anyone could have anticipated. In the other bracket, sophomore “old man” Miles Bridges led Michigan State into a classic lockdown of defending national champion North Carolina, a team with which Coach K has some familiarity.

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From Your Phone or TV? The Thanksgiving Hoops Conundrum

Posted by Adam Butler on November 21st, 2017

It’s 2017 and Little League parents are having Twitter wars with the President. It’s also, perhaps, an inflection point in cord-cutting. For years now we have heard reports of ESPN losing subscribers in droves (although it has seemingly slowed some) while television itself has become a nebulous medium. What is TV if we watch it on our phones, tablets or otherwise? It’s a good question, I admit, but specifically and more immediately draws me to Arizona’s second round (remember, they played an opening round game in Tucson) Battle 4 Atlantis game on Wednesday. It’s the nation’s #2 team playing on a low-work, high-consumption day against a Power 5 school in a high-profile tournament. North Carolina State (the alluded to opponent) doesn’t necessarily project as anything special (12th in preseason ACC voting and 99th currently in KenPom). But the Wolfpack are Arizona’s first real test of the season and it’s going to be broadcast on ESPN3. You cannot watch this game explicitly on your TV. You can stream it through an app and smart TV functionality, watching the game with a slight streaming delay.

Good Luck Catching a Glimpse of DeAndre Ayton on Wednesday (USA Today Images)

Of course, if everyone is delayed eight seconds, is it really a delay? Einstein’s theory of relativity aside, is this game being appropriately broadcast for our evolving consumption? Is it a sign of a national disinterest in college hoops? West Coast hoops? Perhaps I’m overreaching on the latter points but as this game was announced on ESPN3 — online only — many fans were upset. Arizona fans, specifically, felt slighted. More broadly, Pac-12 fans might use this to express continued dissatisfaction with the Pac-12 Networks and Larry Scott’s TV dealings.

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