Set Your Tivo: 01.11.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 11th, 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.

Three key conference clashes from different leagues take place tonight with two of the home clubs desperately needing a win. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#17 Wisconsin @ #20 Michigan State – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

Leuer Made the Midseason Top 30 Wooden Award List, Yet Many Fans Couldn't Pick Him Out of a Lineup.

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ATB: Holiday Hoops? Yes, Please.

Posted by rtmsf on December 23rd, 2010

The Lede.  If you’re anything like us, and we suspect that you are, you spent tonight stationed in front of your television (hopefully HD) for anywhere between four to six hours, munching on way too many Christmas cookies, filling your stomach with eggnog or some similar milky concoction, and watching game after game of college hoops.  Now Texas, now Michigan State and Illinois!  On, Mizzou!  On Gonzaga, on Kansas and Cal! To the top of the polls!  To the top of the key!  Now get out on the break!  Fill those lanes!  Throw it down, all! It was Holiday Hoops at its best this evening, with several marquee matchups on the tube and nothing else on our agenda other than to nod knowingly when the Significant Other Unit started complaining about finishing the shopping.  This guy pretty much nailed it when he said that having the holiday spirit combined with some great hoops on the TV tonight equaled one incomparable thing: bliss.

This is a Snapshot Image of MSU's Evening (DFP/J. Gonzalez)

Your Watercooler Moment. What the Hell is Wrong With Michigan State? Nothing.  The Spartans are who they are.  They were never the second-best team in America — not this year, not last year, nor the year before.  In explaining why there’s nothing wrong with them, we got a little word-happy and decided to turn it into a separate post, which is located here.  Just remember that March basketball is a different animal than December basketball and that Izzo knows and understands this, and you’ll be fine.

Tonight’s Quick Hits…

  • Whelliston’s Red Line Upset Record.  The Mid-Majority’s record of what he calls “red line upsets” was equaled tonight with ten teams from mid-major leagues defeating major-conference teams.  The Las Vegas Classic was particularly inspiring for the little guys, as New Mexico dropped Colorado and Northern Iowa got past Indiana.  The others: North Texas over LSU, Siena over Georgia Tech, Dayton over Seton Hall, Cleveland State over South Florida, Seattle over Virginia, Furman over South Carolina, Green Bay over Wyoming, Butler over Utah, and Northern Arizona over Air Force (note: Whelliston considers the Mountain West a major conference).  And nice representation among the power leagues, with the MWC dropping three games and the ACC, Big East and SEC grabbing two a piece.  Shockingly, the Pac-10 had none tonight (and yes, Oregon State played — see below).
  • Tristan Thompson.  The 6’8 freshman forward was seemingly everywhere for Texas tonight, dropping 17 points and grabbing 15 boards (six offensive) against the typically beefy Michigan State front line.  He’s had his ups and downs this season, but tonight was his best performance of the year, and if Rick Barnes can convince this human pogo stick to crash the glass like this on a nightly basis, Texas suddenly becomes a darkhorse Final Four candidate this year.
  • Jordanesque.  Coming off the bench nursing a sprained ankle to hit several key FTs down the stretch to get a big road win?  That’s what Marcus Jordan did tonight at UMass in a tight contest that could have gone either way, the first such exposure for UCF as a nationally-ranked team.  We’re not going to oversell this — after all, he only scored seven points in fifteen minutes — but UCF is turning into one of the better stories of this college basketball season, and a large part of it due to Heir Jordan.
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One Man’s Opinion: Contenders After One Month

Posted by zhayes9 on December 6th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

After engulfing myself in a nightly binge of college basketball over the first month of the season- taking in games from the Big Apple to the Little Apple and from Cancun to Maui- here is one man’s evaluation on some of the top teams in the country and where they stand heading into the final weeks of non-conference play:

Kyrie Irving has surpassed expectations thus far

Duke- It’s going to take a near perfect effort to beat Duke this season. Being able to lure Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler back to campus coinciding with a severe down year in the ACC was truly the perfect storm of circumstance. One chance a team may have to dethrone Duke is if they lure Mason Plumlee into two early fouls, keep them in the halfcourt and the Blue Devils become three-happy, but Duke does have five players who can catch fire from deep at any time. Kyrie Irving has surpassed any and all expectations during the first month of the season. His court awareness is reminiscent of a 10-year NBA veteran rather than an 18-year old college freshman. His use of the hesitation dribble, ability to split screens, explode to the basket and display innate court awareness has vaulted Irving to stardom. What makes Duke so lethal is that they have a plethora of options that can explode for 25 points on any given night, just as Plumlee did against Marquette or Singler against Oregon or Irving against Michigan State.  There’s three potential lottery picks on this team, but selfishness is never an issue and they flow together seamlessly on the court. I have a hard time pointing out exactly where Duke slips up this season; after all, they don’t face a currently ranked team the rest of the slate.

Ohio State- Here’s the one team I feel would have a good shot at knocking off Duke on a neutral floor right now. They can come close to matching the Blue Devils at every position on the floor if William Buford runs the point. Jared Sullinger has been overrated a bit in the early going. Most of his production has come off easy dunks and layups and I haven’t seen an array of post moves quite yet, although I trust that they exist in his arsenal. It’s his fellow freshmen that should be receiving more attention. DeShaun Thomas is scoring 13 PPG in just over 17 MPG of play and shooting 56% from the floor. I’ve also been wildly impressed with the headiness and intelligence of Aaron Craft at the point. He’s compiled a near 2/1 assist/turnover ratio in the early going and has done a fantastic job finding shooters Diebler and Lighty off screens or Sullinger in low post position. David Lighty is this team’s MVP. He’s a lockdown defender and has really improved his outside jumper, while Buford may have the best mid-range game in the Big Ten. One should always anticipate Tom Izzo’s team to improve as the season wears on, but the Buckeyes have to be the odds-on favorite to win this conference as of now.

Pittsburgh- I know it’s horribly cliché when talking about Pittsburgh, but “tough” is the first word that comes to mind. Jamie Dixon’s teams are never outworked and currently lead all of college basketball is offensive rebounding percentage. Pitt seemingly has an assembly line of big men they can trot off the bench to give Gary McGhee, Nasir Robinson and Talib Zanna breathers. Dixon loves to run Ashton Gibbs off screens for open looks and the junior sharpshooter is connecting better than ever, although he still lacks true point guard skills. Although the rotation will eventually be trimmed down, Dixon has the luxury of digging 10-deep into his bench that Big East rivals like Georgetown and Connecticut simply do not have. McGhee is the type of bruiser inside that every team would love to throw out there for 20 MPG. He gives Pitt’s offense extra shot opportunities and shuts down opposing big men inside. Pitt doesn’t necessarily have the star power of other Final Four contenders, but their toughness and execution as a unit may be enough to carry them to Houston.

Kansas- I think we all need to take a moment to applaud the job Bill Self has done in Lawrence. This program lost two lottery picks and an All-American and have taken maybe one step back. This is a credit to the tremendous depth Self has compiled at Kansas and his staff’s ability to develop players. When Josh Selby is eligible on December 18, this team becomes Final Four good. He could be lumped into the same category as Irving, Walker and McCamey come March. I’ve been wildly impressed with how well the Jayhawks know their roles. The Morris brothers complement each other with Marcus as the inside-outside scoring threat (18.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 65% FG, 9/15 from deep) and Markieff perfectly content with doing the dirty work on the boards and in the paint. In and out of Self’s doghouse during his tenure at Kansas, Tyshawn Taylor has done a quietly solid job filling in for Selby at the point distributing the basketball.  A player who also flies under the radar is Brady Morningstar. Most just view him as a spot-up shooter, but he’s a valuable cog for Self ushering the fast break and setting up teammates for open looks.

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After the Buzzer: Huskies, Saints And Silverswords

Posted by jstevrtc on November 25th, 2010

Your Watercooler Moment. If you actually find yourself anywhere near a watercooler on Thursday and you’re hoping to avoid discussing this ”football” thing that’s evidently popular on this holiday (yeah, we don’t get it, either), there was definitely ample material in the way of college basketball on Thanksgiving Eve to keep the conversation lively. Alaska and Hawaii always make their presence felt in the basketball world this time of year, and on Wednesday we had an unlikely champion crowned in Maui and the beginning of the festivities in the Great Alaska. And that snickering you hear — assuming it’s not still coming from Kemba Walker – might be coming from a couple of non-Division I schools that made turkeys out of a couple of bigger foes.

Today’s Quick Hits…

  • My Name Is Walker. During the ESPN broadcast, commentators Bill Raftery and Jay Bilas both rhetorically asked, “How do you guard him?” Absolutely none of Wichita State, Michigan State, or Kentucky had the answer. Give him space, he drills jumpers. Body him, and he blows by you into the paint, which means you’re in trouble. Just as noteworthy as his scoring ability is that Kemba Walker smiles just as big after making a pass that results in a bucket as he does after hitting a shot himself, as his six assists against the Wildcats prove

Walker And His Teammates Bring Back Some Sun, and Increased Hope, Back to Storrs

  • Ha Ha, Chaminade You Are. There’s only one good thing about seventh place: it’s not eighth. When you’re D-II Chaminade and you knock off a Big 12 opponent in your own tournament, though, it’s a life-altering result. Oklahoma outshot Chaminade from the field and both teams hit six treys, yet the Silverswords were able to pull this off. Head coach Matt Mahar, seen crying with his father after the game, told reporters in the post-game press conference, “For our university and our team, this is something we’ll never forget.”
  • Our Who of the Wha? That’s Our Lady of the Lake University, or OLLU. It’s a small Catholic college in San Antonio, home to around 2,600 young higher-education-seeking souls. They’re called the Saints. And now they own a victory over D-I Texas State from the Southland Conference on Wednesday. According to Mid-Majority, for reasons you should already know, when a school from the “other 25″ conferences beats a school from one of the power six conferences, it’s a Red Line Upset. When a D-II or D-III school knocks off a D-I school in a non-exhibition, it’s a Black Line Upset. When an NAIA school like OLLU does it to a D-I school…well, they don’t even have a name for that. The “It’s just Texas State” argument doesn’t even come close to holding water, here. This win by the Saints is the biggest story of the night that you won’t hear about.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.24.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 24th, 2010

***** – 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 tivobut 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.

Maui lived up to the hype. Kansas City? Not so much. We’ve got two more good ones from paradise today, Thanksgiving Eve. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

Maui Invitational Third Place Game: #3 Michigan State vs. #15 Washington – 5 pm on ESPN2 (****)

All Walker, All the Time in Maui

How’s a top 15 matchup for a third place game? Courtesy of Connecticut’s upset of Michigan State, that’s what we have. The Spartans were the latest team to fall victim to the Kemba Walker show as the Connecticut point guard put up 30 points yet again on 10-19 shooting. Tom Izzo’s Spartans did not hold their customary edge rebounding wise which cost them and poor games from Kalin Lucas, Delvon Roe and Korie Lucious certainly didn’t help the cause, either. Washington lost one of the hardest fought, intense games you’ll ever see this time of year to a Kentucky club that dominated the boards and got to the line enough to win. Former Washington commit Terrence Jones torched the Huskies with 16/17 as he and Brandon Knight (24 points) led Kentucky to the championship game. This figures to be another war but Michigan State must get meaner and more physical if they hope to beat Washington. The Huskies are going to get it up and down quick meaning Michigan State has to hold their ground defensively, be active in the passing lanes and stay in front of the Washington guards. Lorenzo Romar hopes Isaiah Thomas can rebound from a sub-par outing and help prevent a 1-2 finish in Maui. The unbelievable thing is that a top 15 team is going home 1-2 no matter what happens in this game tonight. This is a noon local tip so one or both teams may get off to a sluggish start. If Washington can get better looks and shoot it well, Michigan State will have their hands full. Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday need to be strong in the post against a tough Spartan front line for Washington to get an edge on the glass. We don’t think it’s crazy to think Michigan State will be the top 15 team to leave Maui with two losses on the young season.

NIT Season Tip-Off Semifinal: #6 Villanova vs. UCLA – 9:30 pm on ESPN2 (***)

Villanova has defended much better so far this year, ranking 14th in defensive efficiency. That’s a big improvement from last season’s 62nd ranked defense which failed the Wildcats down the stretch and ultimately resulted in a second round exit to St. Mary’s after being pushed to overtime by #15 seed Robert Morris. Offense is not a problem for Villanova but defense will determine how far they can go this year. So far, the early returns look good. Jay Wright loves to get his team out in transition by causing turnovers. Villanova is in the top ten in steal and turnover percentage and ranks 30th in two point FG%, probably a result of all the layups created through turnovers. One thing the Wildcats have not done, surprisingly, is shoot the trey well. That’ll play right into UCLA’s hands as they rank 8th in three point defense. There is reason for optimism in Westwood after last year’s disaster as the Pac-10 is weak yet again and Ben Howland’s team has a great chance to finish second and get back to the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins have been led by 6’8 sophomore forward Reeves Nelson (19/10) and Tyler Honeycutt (16/8). These two more athletic players could cause problems for Villanova’s Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou inside tonight. While UCLA can hold their own there, the Wildcats will have a big advantage in the back court. Malcolm Lee is listed as probable for UCLA but will still be hampered by a bum ankle. The Bruins will count on Lazeric Jones to steady the ship and control the basketball against the aggressive Villanova defense. Try as they might, Villanova is too tough for UCLA to handle behind a trio of stud guards. Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns lead the way and Corey Stokes is a big guard who can really shoot it. Villanova simply has too much talent and depth for the thin Bruins, playing with just ten scholarship players. It’s not impossible for UCLA to win but it seems highly unlikely tonight under the bright lights of the big city at Madison Square Garden.

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After the Buzzer: 24 Hours of Hoops Review

Posted by rtmsf on November 17th, 2010

Since we’re running late on this, we’re only going to hit some of the most-telling items from yesterday’s 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon.

Yesterday’s Hits…

  • Ohio State’s Offense.  Like Syracuse last season after downing UNC, OSU’s dominant win over Florida makes the Buckeyes the media darling to challenge Duke for the 2011 national championship.  We’ve been high on the Buckeyes since well before last night and the reason is that Thad Matta has weapons everywhere on the floor (although they need to shore up that defense — see “Misses” below).  Perhaps only the Blue Devils have an equal or better amount of experience and offensive talent to avoid prolonged scoring droughts during a game, one of the key differences between good and great teams.  We knew Jared Sullinger was going to be great (22/12 in two games), but Aaron Craft’s 2.8:1 assist-to-turnover ratio has been a revelation.
  • SDSU = Best in the West?  People were buzzing about this throughout last evening as SDSU repeatedly staved off Gonzaga’s advances to become only the fifth visiting team to ever win at the Kennel.  Billy White was outstanding, going for 30/9 on 14-18 shooting, but we’re honestly not sure if this game said more about Gonzaga than it did about SDSU (see “Misses” below).
  • NIT as a Real Tourney.  The last one standing.  Still, it’s worth mentioning that VCU’s “upset” road victory over Wake Forest in the Preseason NIT wasn’t actually for naught, as their players will be rewarded with a trip to New York City and an opportunity to play two games in Madison Square Garden.  Hooray for tournaments that actually advance their winners!!! 
  • Abdul Gaddy.  Quietly, the biggest bust of the freshman class of 2009 is putting together a nice start to the season.  In two games, Gaddy has shot 9-14 from the field and hit four of six three-pointers.  He’s also dished out eleven assists to only three turnovers.  Granted, the competition thus far has been weak, but this game is all about confidence, so it’ll be interesting to see how he handles the much-better competition he’ll see next week in Maui.  He’s worth keeping an eye on.
  • Delvon Roe.  The junior theater major had a night he’ll never forget.  After seamlessly starring in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” as Charles the Wrestler in a school play a couple of hours before MSU’s game with South Carolina, he then exited stage left to the Breslin Center where he dropped 15/5/6 assts in a virtuoso encore performance.  Can you imagine what he was thinking when he saw that the schedules come out?
  • Trent Lockett’s Dunk.  We don’t have to say anything, just watch…

…and Misses.

  • Butler’s Mystique.  That didn’t last long.  In a classic Pitino-fires-up-the-troops situation, Butler learned a valuable lesson as to what it’s like to be hunted at the highest level.  Prior to last season’s NCAA Tournament run to the championship game, the Bulldogs were well aware of what it meant to be the top dog in the Horizon League, where every one of its road games is the biggest game on an opponents’ schedule.  Now Brad Stevens’ team has climbed the pole to where it has also become the featured game on the schedule even at a tradition-rich powerhouse like Louisville.  This step up in class will take some getting used to, although we fully expect Stevens and his crew to figure it out (Matt Howard looked great, by the way, and we still don’t believe in the long-term viability of the Cards).
  • Syracuse’s Slow Start.  Jim Boeheim is spitting mad at his team, and with good reason.  Fab Melo has been disappointing thus far — he has more fouls (13) in three games than points (8), but it’s the play of expected breakout star Kris Joseph that should have him worried.  The junior has shot 6-23 from the field, including a dreadful oh-fer last night against Detroit where he fouled out in nineteen minutes of action.  The Orange are 3-0, but they’re not playing well.  The good news is that they have a fairly light schedule until Big East play (one notable exception is a game against #2 Michigan State at the Jimmy V Classic. 
  • Ohio State’s defense.  By the same token, we should at least raise an eyebrow that OSU gave up 61% shooting to Florida, a team prone to mediocre shooting who never came anywhere close to that mark last season (57% against Jacksonville).  The Buckeyes made up for it by convincingly winning the turnover margin (+10), but we’re going to want to see a much better performance on that end of the court before anointing OSU a title favorite.
  • Gonzaga & Elias Harris.  In three games, Harris is playing like a guy who spent all summer thinking about how good he was supposed to be.  He’s averaging a pedestrian 8/3, but Mark Few’s team needs him to at least double that.  Harris has NBA athleticism and tools to be dominant, but he looked overwhelmed by the big SDSU front line last evening, and the Zags will be nowhere without him.
  • LSU/Texas Tech/Wake Forest/DePaul.  All four major conference schools lost at home last night to a mid-major.  There’s a little more than meets the eye here if you look a little more closely.  Frankly, VCU is a better team than re-building Wake so that’s hardly an upset, and North Texas (an NCAA team last year) defeating Texas Tech shouldn’t really surprise that many people.  DePaul’s several years from becoming competitive again in the Big East, and LSU seems to be treading water these days. 

Tweet of the Day.  It was that kind of a night/day/night around the twittersphere, as Ryan Feldman’s reply suggested last night.

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2010-11 RTC Class Schedule: Michigan State Spartans

Posted by zhayes9 on September 2nd, 2010

Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.  To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.

If there’s one guarantee when it comes to Michigan State on an annual basis, it’s this: more often than not, the Spartans are playing their best basketball in March when the chips are down and the spotlight shines all that brighter. Since the 1997-98 season, Tom Izzo’s team is an extraordinary 98 games over .500 in Big Ten play and have notched five regular season conference titles, so it’s not as if the Spartans go through the motions for four months before kicking it into high gear in the NCAA Tournament. Still, when Izzo and his program are mentioned on a national scale, it’s normally their spring success that defines the last 13 years at the helm: 9 Sweet 16 berths, 7 Elite 8 appearances, 5 Semifinal Saturday’s and that glorious national title in 2000. Prognosticating is never easy, but judging by the talent returning for Izzo in 2010-11, the Breslin Center rafters may have to clear room for another banner.

Tom Izzo's teams get the job done in March

Team Outlook: Whether Kalin Lucas would have made the difference in Michigan State upending Butler and Duke in last season’s Final Four is up for contentious debate, but one silver lining Spartan fans realized when Lucas tore his Achilles was that they’d have their former Big Ten Player of the Year back for his senior season. While it should take Lucas weeks into the season to regain full health and confidence, he’s surrounded by a supporting cast that can pick up the slack. Draymond Green will be thrust into a starting role he should handle, a unique point-forward with tremendous court vision that can also score inside. A focused Durrell Summers can explode for three-point binges bordering on unstoppable, although he must mold himself into a stronger and more consistent perimeter defender in the absence of transfer Chris Allen. Delvon Roe may finally prove healthy for an entire campaign and Izzo brought in freshman Adreian Payne to aid him in the post. Pending Izzo’s decision on how to handle a recent drunk driving incident, Korie Lucious proved a capable sub for Lucas in State’s tournament push while Keith Appling is another guard with a bright future off the Spartan bench. Michigan State is talented, deep, phenomenally coached and will play in March atmospheres every night in the rugged Big Ten. A preseason #2 ranking will likely follow when October rolls around for a program and a coach that’s used to winning under the brunt of sky-high expectations and a challenging schedule.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 9.5. Combine Izzo’s always-aggressive scheduling strategy with a loaded Big Ten and Michigan State’s slate for the 2010-11 season rivals any Big East death march since that conference expanded. A home date in ESPN’s Tip-Off against South Carolina shouldn’t prove too dramatic of a challenge but the Spartans voyage to Maui will be if a championship goal is met. Believe it or not, Wichita State is a tougher semifinal matchup than Connecticut this season, the preseason Missouri Valley favorite that returns a good chunk of their balanced scoring output. A potential finals meeting with either Kentucky or Washington is waiting should State avoid a “shocking” upset (get it? Wichita State Shockers? Never mind). As a much-needed break a week following Maui, Michigan State gets to face Duke in Cameron Indoor, the loaded preseason #1 team in the nation for what should be the highlight game before the calendar turns to 2011. A week later? The Jimmy V Classic against Syracuse. I’m not done- in late December the Spartans continue their series with Texas on their home floor in East Lansing. That’s the potential to face plenty of stiff competition heading into a treacherous Big Ten.

Cupcake City: As any Divison I coach would at this high of a level, Izzo managed to sneak in a few cupcakes to give his Spartans brief reprieves around those hyped matchups. As the team projected to do the most damage this season, State draws Division II Chaminade in their quarterfinal Maui game. The Spartans open the regular season against Eastern Michigan on November 12 and will face Tennessee Tech in their first game back from the islands. One team that could give the Spartans a bit of a scare is Oakland, last year’s Summit champions that received the tremendous news this spring that Keith Benson would be returning for his senior season. If the Golden Grizzlies secondary pieces can step up following the losses of Johnathon Jones and Derick Nelson, this battle at Auburn Hills could be a sneaky one for Izzo. The only other semi-soft team on the docket is Bowling Green. Combine this non-conference schedule with what’s expected to be a strong in-conference slate and it’d be shocking if the Spartans didn’t finish the season with a top-three SOS, which is always a welcomed RPI booster.

Toughest Early Season Test: This one is fairly obvious, no? One year after being thrown to the wolves at what ended up being an underachieving North Carolina squad, it’s Michigan State once again making the trek to Tobacco Road to face likely-#1 Duke on December 1. When Izzo received the news that Lucas was returning to go with an already established core, he had to know the ACC/Big Ten Challenge would likely pit his Spartans in the most marquee contest possible. I can easily envision Duke pulling off similar to what Kansas accomplished last season- nearly a wire-to-wire spot atop the rankings with two or three slip-ups all season long. Although I’m of the opinion they’ll miss Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek more than anticipated given how challenging it is to find a team that played their roles so effectively as last season’s Blue Devil squad mastered, there’s truly an unfair amount of talent returning to the defending champs. Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are both ACC Player of the Year candidates, Coach K lured the top incoming guard in the nation to Durham in Kyrie Irving, they boast the Plumlee brothers in the post and Seth Curry is quite the weapon off the bench. The Spartans will have their hands full in Durham especially if Lucas isn’t playing at 100% to limit Duke’s dynamic frosh.

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RTC Final Four Tidbits: 04.02.10

Posted by rtmsf on April 3rd, 2010

Each day this week during the Final Four 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.

Michigan State (Tom Hager)

  • Alabama football coach Nick Saban, who was an assistant at Michigan State when MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo was also an assistant, insists that Izzo is a football coach who happens to coach basketball.  The statement should come as no surprise given the Spartans’ reputation for toughness and rebounding.
  • Not only is guard Delvon Roe still injured, but apparently the knee injury is affecting him mentally as well.
  • The one thing Izzo does not have to worry about is his team overlooking Butler.  Draymond Green says that being overconfident would be “completely dumb.”
  • Although Joe Wilner says that there will be no top 10 picks from any team, and that this could be the least talented Final Four in years, it will also be one of the most wide-open Final Fours as well.
  • According to Pat Forde, Draymond Green might not be just the smartest player among the remaining teams, he might be the smartest player in college basketball altogether.

West Virginia (Ryan Restivo of SienaSaintsBlog)

  • Rebounding will be key in this game Saturday between West Virginia and Duke.
  • Deniz Kilicli could be a factor in the game against Duke after coming off a 20-game suspension for violating the NCAA’s amateur rules.
  • This is a rematch worth watching, maybe the Mountaineers will be able to repeat a similar feat to their six-point win over Duke two years ago in the NCAA Tournament.
  • The fashion police weigh in on Bob Huggins’ attire.
  • Truck Bryant shot with the team on Friday but isn’t expected to have an impact in Saturday’s game.

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Five Factors That Will Lose You the Title

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2010

We’ve spent most of the week reading and writing about the various ways that one of Michigan State, Butler, Duke or West Virginia will end up winning the national title and cutting the nets down on Monday night.  Duke is the favorite, but bookmakers give all four teams a reasonable shot to win it.  But often it doesn’t come down to the elevation of greatness in these situations, but instead the avoidance of weakness.  Simply playing your average game is sometimes enough to advance if you avoid a bugaboo that has plagued your team in its losses this year.  For example, if you go cold from three (see: Kentucky), or can’t make a foul shot (see: Texas), or start throwing the ball into the crowd (see: Syracuse), or over-rely on your starters (see: Ohio State) or get key players in foul trouble (see: Baylor)… the entire house of cards can come crashing down.  Let’s take a look at the four remaining teams standing to see what, if anything, could cause problems for them this weekend.

Foul Shooting

Duke (76.1%) and Butler (73.9%) are both excellent foul shooting teams, while West Virginia (70.3%) and Michigan State (68.8%) are best described as mediocre.  None of the four are downright terrible, though.  Michigan State lost games when they shot well , average and poorly from the line, so it doesn’t seem to impact their overall performance much.  Contrast that with WVU who lost three of its six games this season (@ ND, @ UConn, vs. Villanova) when they shot a collective 32-59 (54%) from the line, so they certainly appear vulnerable in that regard.  Both the Devils and Mountaineers average about 22% of their total points from the foul line, so keep an eye on WVU’s foul shooters early (especially the better ones such as Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones) to see if they’re making or missing their attempts.  If they’re not going down, West Virginia is going to have to replace those points from somewhere else.

WVU Needs to Make These This Weekend

Three-Point Shooting

Butler takes 40% of its field goal attempts from behind the arc even though they only convert on 34.5% of them.  In all four of their losses this season, the Bulldogs shot at or worse than that percentage, but it has to be noted that despite hitting only 6-24 threes against Syracuse last week, they still managed to win.  Against Michigan State, you should probably figure that will need to hit at least six bombs to put themselves in a reasonable position to win the game.  MSU doesn’t take (14) or make (5) very many threes per game, so an off-shooting night from deep from the Spartans probably won’t impact their offense all that much.  Duke and WVU are equally reliant on the long ball, but Duke shoots it substantially better (38.2% vs. 33.6%).  Both teams have proven throughout the year that they can win games regardless of whether the threes are dropping or not.  The team that appears most vulnerable is this area is Butler.

Turnovers

Turnovers can kill any team if there are too many of them, but Duke (16.4% TO rate) and West Virginia (18.4%) are solid when it comes to taking care of the ball.  Both force more TOs against their opponents than they give up, but neither rely on turnovers to necessarily fuel their offense — it’s just an added bonus when they get one.  Butler is also ok at 19.1%, but Michigan State is in the danger zone here.  The Spartans turn the ball over 21% of the time, highest among the Final Four teams, and are susceptible to games where every one in four possessions ends in a miscue (nine times this year).  When Sparty goes over their season average of turnovers, they’re not a great team: 7-5 is MSU’s record when they commit turnovers greater than 22% of their possessions.  This is something to keep an eye on in the first half against Butler, as both Syracuse and K-State had trouble figuring out the Bulldog defense, and Butler is far better at causing turnovers than Michigan State is.

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Final Four Game Analysis

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2010

RTC will break down the Final Four 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 evening’s national semifinals…aka…THE FINAL FOUR!

6:07 pm – #5 Michigan State vs. #5 Butler The winner of this game will have a built-in motivational mechanism, since this game is popularly considered the “Who will lose to West Virginia or Duke on Monday?” game.  Best be careful, because as we know, there’s almost no better way to get your guys ready to play than to tell them that it’s them against the world.  That nobody respects them.  That everyone expects them to lose and lose big.  In the case of Butler, I know I wouldn’t want to face a team playing in their home city and with that motivational tool.  A lot is being made of the home crowd advantage that Butler supposed to enjoy this weekend, but I ask you: because people love the storyline of a mid-major getting to the Final Four, in what city could you play this thing where Butler wouldn’t have most of the fans in the arena rooting for them?  I’ll tell you — East Lansing, Durham, and Morgantown (or anywhere else in West Virginia).  Well, we’re not in any of those towns.  Let me just add this…walking around this downtown area, I see mostly Butler fans, which is understandable.  But it’s not like the Duke, Michigan State, and West Virginia fans stayed home.  It’s Lucas Oil Stadium, people.  It seats over 70,000 (it must, to qualify to host this thing).  The freakin’ Colts play here.  The Butler cheers might be loud, but the other squads will have their supporters, too.  As to what’s going to happen on the floor, watch the boards.  This will be a rebounding battle for the ages, because it’s the biggest disparity between the two teams.  It’s not something Butler does particularly well, and it’s Michigan State’s greatest strength.  Brad Stevens knows his boys have to swarm the glass to have a chance.  They’ve done everything else he’s asked of them in each tournament game, not to mention the rest of the season, and I wouldn’t doubt that you’ll see them turn in their biggest effort on the boards this whole year on Saturday evening. Can Butler do it but still stay out of foul trouble?

We only picked against you three times, Coach Izzo. And we're sorry. (AP/Al Goldis)

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Why the Spartans Will Win It All…

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2010

We asked writers from each of the four Final Four schools to provide us with a persuasive article on why their team will win it all this coming weekend.  Joey Nowak of the State News tells us that Michigan State has one x-factor that no other school can claim: Tom Izzo. 

In picking a national champion, you can crunch every number and compare every statistic you can find. You can weigh records, odds, matchups and the history books. Champs have been chosen from everything — jerseys, mascots, school colors, height and weight, birthdays and signs of the zodiac. But the reason Michigan State will be the team cutting down the nets at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday night can be spelled out in four letters.

I-Z-Z-O.

Izzo Approaching Some Rarefied Air

The Michigan State head coach’s middle name is March. No one prepares like Izzo and his staff, no one is better on a two-day tournament turnaround and, thus, no team is ever more prepared for the NCAA Tournament than an Izzo-coached squad.  Players buy into his philosophies (defense, toughness and rebounding produce the No. 1 rebounding and No. 58 field-goal defense in the nation) and his promise of “You get me through the first game, I’ll get you through the second” rings true on a perennial basis.

Speaking of crunching stats, let’s do these: Izzo has led the Spartans to a remarkable 16-3 record in the second game of an NCAA Tournament weekend. (For those keeping score at home, that national title game everyone is talking about? That’s the second game of an NCAA Tournament weekend.)  It’s a well-known fact in the college basketball community that no other program has reached six Final Fours in the last 12 years, but it’s also crucial to note that only Izzo, UCLA’s John Wooden and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski have led any team on such a run in history.

Izzo is 35-11 in the Big Dance, good for second in winning percentage among active coaches (he passed Roy Williams with two wins this weekend) and he’s nipping on Krzyzewski’s heels for the number one spot. Should the Spartans win the title, Izzo will be the top dog.  There’s a phrase that is thrown around East Lansing that the “players play the game” and it comes down to nothing else. But with Izzo at their back, these players turn their hopes and dreams over to the man in green and he works his magic.

More Hardware Coming Back to East Lansing (LSJ/R. Sanford)

Some are calling this Izzo’s greatest coaching performance — reaching the Final Four without MSU’s leading scorer and point guard (Kalin Lucas), with their best perimeter defender (Chris Allen) hobbling with a torn ligament in his right foot and an explosive forward (Delvon Roe) playing through “ridiculous” pain with a torn meniscus in his right knee.  No question it’s up there. And with a Final Four field that has been as open as any in recent memory and a national title up for grabs, why not side with the man who continues to prove doubters wrong?

I-Z-Z-O.

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Final Four Team-By-Team Previews: Michigan State

Posted by zhayes9 on March 31st, 2010

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Here are the Butler and West Virginia previews. Today we delve into Michigan State’s chances during their sixth Final Four under Tom Izzo.

It's Mr. Izzo's time of year

Crucial Tourney Moment(s): Michigan State and Maryland played a two-minute stint of basketball during their second round clash unrivaled in this NCAA Tournament. Timeouts, fouls and other stoppages were few and far between. Instead, up-and-down basketball, star players making season-deciding buckets and one backup point guards’ clinching shot at the buzzer made the difference. After Greivis Vasquez capped off a heroic late game performance with a leaner that gave the Terps the lead, it was the roundest point-forward in the land, Draymond Green, finding a streaking  Korie Lucious under the ducked head of Delvon Roe for a three-pointer that sent the Spartans to St. Louis, and, following victories over Northern Iowa and Tennessee, on to the Final Four for the second straight season.

Advantage Area: Coaching can often be overstated. After all, it’s ultimately the players on the floor and their individual decision making and skill level that decide games. Yet there’s something about Tom Izzo and his ability to construct a basketball team that peaks when the stakes are at the highest level. A Spartan team mired with chemistry issues, injuries and suspensions for most of the season has rallied around a single goal and are somehow playing into April. Everyone gives Izzo, aptly nicknamed Mr. March, full credit for the turnaround and the program’s annual success. Everyone except Izzo, of course. There are three other great coaches in Indianapolis this year, though, and the games are determined on the floor. Where the Spartans hold an advantage is their ability to run effective sets in the halfcourt, overall athleticism, capability of functioning at different speeds and the versatility of players like Raymar Morgan and Draymond Green. The second half they played against Northern Iowa on the offensive end was a thing of beauty.

Potential Downfall: There are two areas of great importance that the Spartans lack and both could prove their ultimate downfall- steady, experienced point guard play and reliable low-post scoring. Korie Lucious has done a commendable job replacing the Spartans floor leader Kalin Lucas thus far, but often surrendered careless turnovers to the heavy ball pressure of Tennessee’s Bobby Maze and Melvin Goins. No team defends as physically in the halfcourt as Butler. Both Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored are pests that force turnovers at a decent rate. Lucious shouldn’t worry about wowing anyone under the bright lights of Lucas Oil Stadium; instead, focus on taking care of the basketball and running sets, finding Durrell Summers off screens, locating Draymond Green for open mid-range shots and controlling the pace of the game. Michigan State also lacks a true low post scorer that can go toe-to-toe with Matt Howard. Delvon Roe is playing with a torn meniscus and Derrick Nix is a freshman without much experience. Should they advance, neither West Virginia or Duke possesses a consistent scoring threat on the low block.

X-Factor: Raymar Morgan is the ultimate x-factor in college basketball. When Morgan plays up to his talent level, the Spartans are a team to be reckoned with. Durrell Summers shooting stroke is also a major x-factor in Saturday’s game. Summers has been Izzo’s most valuable offensive cog in the last three games: 25-39 FG, 14-22 3pt and 66 points. The Spartans were able to knock off Northern Iowa largely because the Panthers defense dares opponents to make long jump shots and Summers delivered. He exploded onto the scene as a sophomore last March and will look to do the same this year coming off screens and hitting jumpers. With Chris Allen hobbled and Lucious worried about running the offense, it’ll be up to Summers to bail Michigan State out on more than one occasion late in the shot clock when the Butler defense imposes their will in the halfcourt.

Key Semifinal Matchup: Shelvin Mack vs. Korie Lucious. As it does so often in the Final Four, this game could come down to point guard play. The entire world will be judging Lucious on how he steps up in the absence of Kalin Lucas. It is Mack’s job to annoy Lucious as much as possible, much like Bobby Maze and Melvin Goins gave him as little room as possible to operate. It’s not just about defense for Mack, though. His game on the offensive end has made leaps and bounds from his freshman to sophomore seasons, likely due to his experience playing for the Under-19 U.S. team this summer. Mack drained 39% of his threes this season and also has a strong, built body that acts like a bulldozer attacking the basket. It’s up to the defensively challenged Lucious to contain Mack and force more of the scoring load on Gordon Hayward.

Crunch Time Performer: Tom Izzo doesn’t have one main option down the stretch like West Virginia with Da’Sean Butler or Butler with Gordon Hayward. He could diagram a play to get Durrell Summers an open look from deep, isolate Draymond Green and let him operate (ran this play late in the Maryland game), or even clear out for Lucious if he has confidence in him (ran this play late in the Northern Iowa game). And it was Raymar Morgan who found himself open down the floor against Tennessee. Rather than one player the opposing defense can focus on, Izzo has the luxury known as unpredictability. There’s nobody better in college basketball following a timeout than Izzo.

Experience: The experience factor is clearly advantage: Spartans in this Final Four. Nearly everyone that sees regular minutes played on last year’s runner up squad with the exception of Derrick Nix and Garrick Sherman. Even Lucious hit two threes in the semifinal win against Connecticut. Not to mention Tom Izzo will be coaching in his sixth Final Four, a mark only Coach K can replicate. Raymar Morgan is the Spartans team captain and will need to step up leadership-wise on the floor should Michigan State fall into a deficit against Butler.

Forecast: Many casual fans are labeling Michigan State as “lucky” they received a mid-major 5-seed in the Final Four rather than Syracuse or Kansas State, a point I respectfully dispute. Butler beat both of those aforementioned teams and will be playing in front of a plethora of navy blue-clad Bulldog fans in their backyard, much like Michigan State experienced last year in Detroit. Butler is an extremely fundamentally-sound, well-coached team with talented players that are operating at their best at the most opportune time. All of those factors also apply to Sparty, though. Should they eclipse Butler, West Virginia or Duke will pose a tremendous threat in the title game. Both the Mountaineers and Blue Devils have more talent across the board than the Spartans, especially without Lucas in the fold.

Prediction: I foolishly doubted Tom Izzo and picked Maryland, Northern Iowa and Tennessee all to beat Michigan State. I figured the shaky Spartans I watched the entire month of February would rear its ugly head at some point in the tournament and it still hasn’t happened. Michigan State simply makes winning plays in March and Izzo is the best in the business this time of year. Spartans advance to the final.

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