Final Four Daily Diaries: Saturday

Posted by rtmsf on April 3rd, 2011

RTC is at the Final Four in Houston, our sixth as a fan but our first as a member of the working media. What that means, exactly, we’re still trying to figure out, but we think it has something to do with wearing a rectangular piece of plastic with our mug on it and nodding approvingly at the people in the NCAA blazers walking around the innards of Reliant Stadium. Or maybe it means dropping dime on one of the coaches at the dais for one thing or another — we’re not sure. Anyway, over the next four days of collegiate basketball activity here in H-town, we’ll be providing a daily diary in much the same way we’ve done with our correspondents throughout this year’s Tournament — equal parts observation and analysis, with a hint of the absurd.

Saturday, April 2 – Houston, Texas

  • For my money, of which I will have very little after this trip to Houston, the moments prior to the start of the first game at Semifinal Saturday are the absolute best of the entire season.  The anticipation, buzz, nervous vibe, whatever you want to call it… is off the charts, as all four schools dare to dream the impossible.  Bands are playing, fans are screaming, media are flittering, and the whole place contains an electricity that is only captured in my opinion at the collegiate level of sports.  There’s something peculiar about schools and fandom that makes this so, and it’s different than what you see with fans in the various professional sports leagues around the country and world.  At any rate, if I could bottle that energy in the air in those fifteen minutes prior to the first tipoff, I’d strap a nipple to that thing and drink it down as a part of my daily regimen.  No question.

VCU Fans Were More Amped Than Anybody Here Tonight

  • That said, my seating arrangement in the pressbox of Reliant Stadium (remember, this is a football stadium by design) left a little to be desired.  The worst part actually wasn’t the view — I could see the players and the ball going through the hoop fine, and so forth — rather, it was the giant windows that kept the noise of the stadium below from reaching all of us within the box.  It muffled everything to the point where I felt I wasn’t actually watching the game live inasmuch as viewing it as a tourist observes the sharks as the local aquarium.  It was more like watching the game on television rather than being there, even though I didn’t have a high definition screen in front of me and the PA announcer was clear as day (piped into the room).

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.01.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 1st, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

Connecticut

  • Kemba Walkerhopes to have his picture alongside Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton and Emeka Okafor on a wall inside Gampel Pavilion which features UConn’s NBA Draft selections. Assuming the NBA holds its draft as planned despite a looming work stoppage, Walker doesn’t have much to worry about.
  • If you’ve seen footage of Jim Calhoun at a microphone, you can detect his Boston accent without much effort. Calhoun isn’t the only UConn fixture on this season’s team to hail from Beantown, though: Alex Oriakhi, Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Shabazz Napiereach graduated from high schools in the Boston area.
  • There’s no love lost between Calhoun and John Calipari. While it’s rare for them to face off against one another on the court anymore, the waters run back to 1993, when Calipari beat out the UConn coach for the services of Marcus Camby, who chose UMass.
  • Caron Butler, one of UConn’s brightest stars now in the NBA, is amazed by Kemba Walker’s spectacular month. Walker’s ability to lead a young team has also left several coaches in awe of what UConn has accomplished.
  • Shabazz Napier may not stuff the box score on a nightly basis, but his fearlessness is just one component that makes UConn a tough nut to crack. It takes some confidence to speak your mind when your coach is Jim Calhoun.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.31.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 31st, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

Connecticut

  • Much has been made of Kemba Walker‘s spectacular season and Jeremy Lamb‘s breakout in the tournament, but Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Alex Oriakhi share a bond that goes back to before Walker even set foot in campus.
  • Houston has been good to UConn during Jim Calhoun‘s tenure, as the city was home to Jake Voskuhl, Emeka Okafor and Hasheem Thabeet before the three players made their respective trips up to Storrs. The Huskies are looking for Houston to give them another great memory.
  • Youth will dominate Saturday’s semifinal between Connecticut and Kentucky, with a probable six freshmen combined in the two teams’ starting lineups.
  • If UConn is the last team standing in Houston, one question sure to be asked surrounds Jim Calhoun’s future with the university. And if the end of his coaching career is nigh, who might succeed him? Former Husky player and current assistant Kevin Ollie might lead that list.
  • More hardware rolls in for Kemba Walker, who was named the recipient of the Bob Cousy Award as college basketball’s top point guard, beating out Nolan Smith, Norris Cole, Jordan Taylor and Jimmer Fredette.

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RTC Final Four Snapshots: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by zhayes9 on March 31st, 2011

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Here are Butler, Connecticut and VCU. We conclude the series with the third school that John Calipari has taken to the Final Four: Kentucky.

 

It's been big shot after big shot for Brandon Knight this March

Crucial Tourney Moments: Without Brandon Knight’s late-second driving layup against Princeton, his only field goal of the entire game, the Wildcats may not be standing here today as the favorites to win the program’s eighth national championship. Survive and advance has been the mantra for the Wildcats throughout their difficult road to the Final Four. UK needed another Knight game-winner, this time a step-back jumper from the right wing on Ohio State’s ace defender Aaron Craft, to knock off the overall #1 seed in the Sweet 16. A kickout three to Billy Gillispie holdover DeAndre Liggins made the difference in UK’s second upset win on Sunday. No one can argue the Wildcats didn’t earn a spot in Houston after downing teams the caliber of West Virginia, Ohio State and North Carolina in successive fashion. One can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Knight’s shot had rimmed out and Princeton battled Kentucky into an extra session.

Advantage Area: Kentucky boasts the most scoring options of any Final Four participant, a direct compliment of both John Calipari’s ability to reload on the recruiting trail and develop three and four year program players like Darius Miller and Josh Harrellson. Knight is the best pure scoring point guard Calipari has ever had at his disposal. The star freshman is outstanding in handoff ball screen situations with Harrellson where defenders have to opt to either go under the screen and test Knight’s advanced jump shot or fight through where they’ll likely need help on his dribble penetration. Kentucky fell short of expectations last year in the NCAA Tournament largely due to a lack of outside shooting. This season, with the likes of Miller, Liggins and the ultra-efficient Doron Lamb, Calipari can spread the floor and that aforementioned help defense on Knight’s penetration opens up ample room for capable shooters. Kentucky can spread the floor, move the basketball, force help and knock down perimeter jump shots, the primary reasons for their tremendous offensive execution against North Carolina in the regional final.

Potential Downfall: The possibility of foul trouble for Josh Harrellson is a major concern. We knew Knight and Terrence Jones had some serious talent, but with Enes Kanter ruled ineligible the main concern with Kentucky since the offseason was always their frontline. Harrellson has already proven he can hold his own against two of the best big men in the country in Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller, so Alex Oriakhi isn’t a tremendous concern. But what if Harrellson picks up two early fouls and Eloy Vargas has to play 13 minutes in the first half? Kentucky has been fortunate through their run that Harrellson has stayed on the floor for 33+ minutes in every game other than the SEC Tournament final rout over Florida. While Jim Calhoun has four legitimate big bodies he can play if you count Niels Giffey, Calipari has Harrellson and Vargas. Let’s just hope the former can stay on the floor.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.30.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 30th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

Connecticut

  • Jim Calhoun warns that the shine will eventually wear off of prodigious coaches like Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens. One element both coaches will have to consider in potential moves to higher-profile schools down the line is whether they want to take on the balance of increased scrutiny and higher expectations.
  • The Huskies returned to campus for a couple days to recharge their batteries, but passers-by on campus are still as excited as they were on Saturday. The team arrives in Houston Wednesday night, and its rock star status can’t go to the players’ heads if they want to succeed.
  • Patrick Sellers, a former UConn assistant, left the staff in the wake of the NCAA’s investigation of the program last May. Now coaching in China, Sellers remains pumped for his former employer, and, cleared by the NCAA, can seek work at the Division-I level if he wishes.
  • Calhoun believes there are no great teams in college basketball this season, with which we agree, but gives a reason with which we disagree. Calhoun insists that the transience of college basketball’s top players hurts the game, but without those players, even if they only stay one season, the game would be far less interesting.

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The Week That Was: From Sixteen To Four

Posted by jstevrtc on March 29th, 2011

David Ely is an RTC contributor.

What We Learned

Ladies And Gentlemen, Your 2010 CBI Champions! (AP/E. Gay)

Throughout the regular season a lot was made about the lack of an elite team in college basketball. For about a month Duke fit the bill, but then Kyrie Irving hurt his toe and the Blue Devils lost their aura of invincibility. As the season wore on, Ohio State and Kansas emerged as the top two teams in the nation. They had all the elements of an elite squad — size, skill, experience and NBA talent — but no one would have confused the Buckeyes and Jayhawks with, say, 2009 North Carolina, 2007 Florida, or 2001 Duke. This year’s versions of KU and OSU were very good teams, but neither was at that usual level of “great” that at least one team achieves during a season. The NCAA tournament certainly has reinforced the good-but-not-great trend in college hoops this year. For the first time ever, there won’t be a single #1 or #2 seed represented in the Final Four, and the group of #3 Connecticut, #4 Kentucky, #8 Butler and #11 VCU comprises the highest combined seeding of any quartet in Final Four history. The games from the past two weeks show just how little difference there was from #1-20. Kentucky and Arizona looked every bit as talented as Ohio State and Duke, and neither victory felt like an upset. Yes, Butler needed a number of breaks to go its way to advance to the Final Four, but time and time again the Bulldogs made the necessary plays to win, and they never looked overmatched against any one of their higher seeded opponents.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.29.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 29th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

  • Head coach Brad Stevens believes that as long as he remains successful, he will keep being mentioned as a candidate for other jobs across the country. Stevens has been mentioned as a candidate for almost every major opening across the country, but the 34-year-old head coach is intensely focused on bringing the Bulldogs a title.
  • Junior guard Ronald Nored lost his starting spot and has been mired in a long shooting slump this season. However, without the defensive tenacity that Nored supplies off the bench, Butler might not be in the Final Four.
  • Last season, Butler was led by the trio of Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard. With Hayward gone to the NBA, Butler has forged on being led by Mack and Howard.
  • Every successful team needs to be led by a point guard. For the Final Four Butler Bulldogs, that role has been filled admirably by Mack.
  • A fun read about how the Chicago Cubs will invite Brad Stevens and VCU head coach Shaka Smart to conduct the seventh inning stretch at a game at Wrigley Field this season.

Connecticut

  • UConn has followed a similar path of peaks and valleys to its opponent on Saturday, Kentucky. Both teams have evolved considerably since squaring off at the Maui Invitational in November. The Huskies’ freshmen have matured at an incredible rate, and Kentucky is feeding off of Brandon Knight and Josh Harrellson more than Terrance Jones, who had the ball most of the time in the early going.
  • Kemba Walker was named a first team AP All-American on Monday, joining Jimmer Fredette, JaJuan Johnson, Nolan Smith and Jared Sullinger. A Wooden Award and Final Four MOP award are still in Walker’s sights.
  • VCU gets plenty of attention for its improbable run (and should), but how about UConn winning nine postseason games in 19 days to reach the Final Four? This March run from Jim Calhoun‘s squad didn’t look to be in the cards when the season started.
  • The UConn women’s team is one win away from matching their male counterparts. The UConn double-dip has been accomplished twice, in 2004 and 2009, and comparing the runs is inevitable for Huskies fans, writes The Hartford Courant‘s Jeff Jacobs.
  • At the time of his recruitment, Kemba Walker was considered a backup plan to Brandon Jennings, who spurned UConn and Arizona to spend a season overseas before entering the NBA draft. Jennings is doing well, but second-best has worked out pretty nicely for the Huskies.

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NCAA Regional Diary From Newark

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 2011

After another weekend of scintillating and shocking NCAA Tournament results, it’s time to check back in with our various correspondents who were in Anaheim, San Antonio, New Orleans and Newark reporting on the games this weekend.

To read all the diaries throughout the NCAA Tournament, click here.

Location: Newark, NJ
Round: Regional Final
Teams: Kentucky, North Carolina
Date: 27 March 2011
Correspondent: Joe Dzuback   

The UK Defense Was Aggressive From the Start

 

  • And the word at the Rock all afternoon was “matchups.” This is a game of matchups. A strong team on Friday can look very bad on Sunday…why? The matchups. Kentucky Coach John Calipari found a way to neutralize Carolina’s heretofore dominant frontcourt trio. He did it by calling on veteran DeAndre Liggins to start the game – “It wasn’t no big deal. Coach say he was going to start me, no disrespect to Doron or anything like that,” replied Liggins to a question about the switch-up – and told the junior veteran to shut down freshman point guard Kendall Marshall. Liggins embraced his assignment, giving the freshman little room to pass or drive, forcing him to take shots when the clock ran down, or resort to the basketball equivalent of sending the puck into the corner and letting the wings – or in this case UNC’s forwards — dig it out. Though it worked on occasion, as Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes were able to score on a few put-backs, that tactic, combined with John Henson’s foul trouble, disrupted the Tar Heel offensive rhythm to the point where the Heels went into the locker room at the half down eight, 38-30, and their high octane, highly efficient offense, in shambles. So disruptive was Kentucky’s guard and forward pressure that North Carolina turned over 24.5% of their possessions and converted 28.6% of their three point attempts (2-7). Matchups.
  • At times the Heels appeared confused, falling back on attempted threes to draw iron and extend their possession. Barnes and Marshall combined for 14 three-point attempts, uncharacteristic for North Carolina Coach Roy Williams’ offense, and converting on only three (21.4%), unfortunately very much a characteristic of this Tar Heel team this season. “Their team (Kentucky) averages 39.6% from the three-point line and we don’t have anybody shooting better than 39.6%…it’s hard trying to overcome some things that are that big advantage. They scored 36 points from the three-point line and we scored nine.” When asked about the Kentucky game plan, Josh Harrellson responded, “the first five minutes of each half really dictates the game, you know, the first five minutes of the game we came out and we played aggressive, played together as a team…and I think we did a good job…running our stuff and keeping them out of their basketball game.” Keeping them out of their game involved keeping Zeller out of the low post – trapping big-to-big, “but the whole point was Josh (Harrellson)…you have to play this guy and don’t expect help,” and when Zeller posted on the left side, a guard would slide over to double. Matchups.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.28.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 28th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

East

  • In what was thought to be a transition year for Kentucky, head coach John Calipari has led the Wildcats to the Final Four. Due to the personnel and roster turnover from last season, it can be argued that this season is Calipari’s best work.
  • The Final Four matchup between Connecticut and Kentucky is made even more interesting due to the history between John Calipari and Jim Calhoun. However, both men have acknowledged that the feud is behind them.
  • John Calipari has seen his Final Four banners from his tenures at UMass and Memphis get taken down due to NCAA violations. Kentucky president Dr. Lee Todd insisted on Sunday that “this banner will not be taken down.”
  • Kentucky junior guard DeAndre Liggins was undoubtedly a pest for North Carolina. Liggins was a stalwart defensively, got into the heads of several Tar Heels, and made the shot that seemingly lifted the Wildcats to the Final Four.
  • While Sunday’s loss stings for North Carolina now, it can be argued that the loss will eventually benefit the program. If Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller all return to Chapel Hill, UNC will enter next season as a title contender once again.

Southeast

  • With two Final Four appearances already under his belt at the age of 34, Butler head coach Brad Stevens is moving up the coaching pantheon at a rapid pace. Considering the success of the past two seasons, we can assume that Stevens is just getting started.
  • Butler forward Matt Howard takes a workmanlike approach to the game of basketball. This approach embodies Butler basketball, and he’s not through yet.
  • The Bulldogs have experienced two close calls with injuries in their last two games. The anxiety that fills Butler fans’ hearts when someone comes up limp have been as heart-stopping as the Butler’s unexpected heroics.
  • An interesting piece about whether Miami (FL) should go after Brad Stevens or Shaka Smart to be the Hurricanes’ head coach. This is interesting due to the fact that Frank Haith is still gainfully employed by the Hurricanes and was thought by many to have one year left to translate the Durand Scott/Malcolm Grant/Reggie Johnson trio into some postseason success.
  • Even with his Elite Eight loss to Butler, Florida head coach Billy Donovan is still proud of the season his Gators put together. After embarrassing early season losses to Central Florida and Jacksonville, the Gators put together a run that mimicked the 2006 and 2007 editions of the Florida Gators.

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It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume XV

Posted by jbaumgartner on March 14th, 2011

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC contributor. In this weekly piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball. This week, Jesse asks who the best prototype player in the game is, backs the Princeton Tigers, and laments his bad bracket luck. Yeah, Jesse…tell it to Coach Greenberg.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…..trying to figure out a unique question. I was having a debate with someone about Connecticut, and in the course of that argument said that “you have to remember, the Huskies don’t have five Kembas.” Well, my buddy (RTC’s own David Ely) asked which player I would take five of in order to form a team that would be the most competitive against a full squad from another school. Think about it, it’s a really interesting question. They have to be able to handle the ball if a team pressed, have to be big enough to compete on the boards (is 6’4 or 6’5 big enough?), have to shoot well enough to keep a D honest, have to be a versatile defender, etc. I think Jordan Hamilton from Texas might be my pick, but here are some of players that came to mind: Harrison Barnes (he’s the prototype you’d think of, 6’8 with some guard skills), Kyle Singler, Derrick Williams, Daniel Hardy, Brad Wanamaker, Scotty Hopson, DeAndre Liggins, Brandon Knight, Cory Joseph. Who would you take?

Is Barnes the Best "All-Rounder" of a Player?

I LOVED…..two perfect buzzer beaters. Kemba Walker and Washington’s Isaiah Thomas gave us a couple of doozies to salivate over this week, and I liked them for different reasons. With Kemba, it was the ridiculous move. Yes, he had a post player on him, but that stepback was so comically absurd (Pitt’s Gary McGhee fell down) that the only critique might be that he exerted too much energy getting more space than he needed. He’s still my POY, by the way. With Thomas, it was the perfect setup. It was an incredible game (a TITLE game), overtime, swings for both teams…and a perfect ending. Thomas played the clock absolutely perfectly, and the backboard lit up just as his J swished through the hoop. Oh, and by the way, Gus Johnson was on the call (watch to get excited for this coming week): “Thomas….shake….crossover….stepback…..AHHHHIAAHHHH!!!!! AT THE BUZZER!!! YOUNG!!!…..ZEKE!!! (someone told Gus that Thomas was named after the NBA great PG)…….. COLD!!!! ….. BLOODED!!!!!”

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Set Your Tivo: Selection Sunday Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 13th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

We finally made it. It’s Selection Sunday and one of the best Championship Weeks ever played concludes today. I’d like to thank any reader out there who has read even just one of these daily features this season. I hope you enjoyed it and maybe even learned something you didn’t know about a team(s) from following Set Your Tivo. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

ACC Championship (at Greensboro, NC): #5 Duke vs. #6 North Carolina – 1 pm on ESPN (*****)

Barnes and the Heels Could Snag a 1-Seed Later Today With a Win

The greatest rivalry in college basketball for the third time this year on the last day of the season? Sign me up. In an ACC year full of mediocrity, the two top dogs stepped up and have successfully found their way to the title game today. As you know, these teams split the regular season series with each winning on their home floor. The rubber match will be in Greensboro today, about an hour west of each campus and right in the heart of Tobacco Road.

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Around The Blogosphere: March 9, 2011

Posted by nvr1983 on March 9th, 2011

If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to rushthecourt@gmail.com. We will add to this post throughout the day as the submissions come in so keep on sending them.

Top 25 Games

  • #18 UConn 97, DePaul 71: “The five-year hex hovering over the Huskies at Madison Square Garden has been lifted. And all it took was playing one of the worst teams in major college basketball. But as is UConn’s tradition when playing in NYC in March, it wasn’t pretty.” (The UConn Blog)

News/Analysis

  • Jalen Rose Discusses Fab Five Documentary: The former Fab Five member talks about the documentary that will premiere this Sunday at 9 PM on ESPN. (UM Hoops)
  • Debunking the conference tournament myth: Questioning some common assumptions about conference tournaments. (Card Chronicle)
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