Sweet Sixteen Storylines: South and East Regionals

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 27th, 2015

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Tonight the Sweet Sixteen moves to Syracuse and Houston, so let’s take a look at the top five storylines in the East and South Regions.

South Storylines

1. Is this finally Gonzaga’s year? Mention Gonzaga to a casual college basketball fan, and more often than not, the word ‘overrated’ pops into his head. The Bulldogs have had some really impressive regular seasons under Mark Few, making the NCAA Tournament every year since he took over in 1999. But time after time, the Zags have come up short in March. Few has never taken Gonzaga past the Sweet Sixteen as a head coach, but this could be the year that the drought ends. This year’s team is more complete and well-rounded than most previous editions, and the final hurdle on the path to the Elite Eight is a #11 seed — albeit a strong one — in UCLA. A program-first Final Four might also be within reach, but let’s not put the cart before the horse just yet — for many reasons, the Zags need to win tonight.

Is this finally the year for Mark Few and Gonzaga? (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Is this finally the year for Mark Few and Gonzaga? (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

2. Duke’s recent Tourney hiccups. Since winning the 2010 National Championship, Mike Krzyzewski’s postseason record has actually been pretty lackluster. He came into this year 5-4 in the NCAA Tournaments from 2011-14 and he has been on the wrong end of some stunning upsets — losses to #15 seed Lehigh in 2012 and #14 seed Mercer a year ago. Even the 2011 Sweet Sixteen loss to #5 seed Arizona was unexpected. It’s exactly that kind of loss that Duke will be hoping to avoid this time around against a dangerous Utah squad.

3. Back aboard the Utah bandwagon? The Utes faded from the spotlight late in the season. They lost three of their last five games and exited the Pac-12 Tournament by losing to Oregon for the second time in less than a month. But they were businesslike last weekend in handling Stephen F. Austin and Georgetown, and come into tonight’s contest as only a five-point underdog against Duke. Utah has been a top 10 KenPom team since early January, and after a methodical but strong second half dispatching of the Hoyas, it seems like everybody has fallen back in love with the Utes as a Final Four sleeper. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #8 North Carolina State 71, #1 Villanova 68

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 21st, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

North Carolina State upended the top-seeded Wildcats in Pittsburgh. (Associated Press)

North Carolina State upended the top-seeded Wildcats in Pittsburgh. (Associated Press)

  1. North Carolina State’s defense was exceptional. It was going to take a complete 40-minute defensive effort for North Carolina State to pull this off, and that’s exactly what it got. The rotations were crisp. The guards did an excellent job of taking away the three-point line, holding Villanova to just 9-of-28 from behind the arc – crucial against a team that relies on the long-ball for over 35 percent of its offense. The frontcourt was rarely out of position, routinely collapsing on Wildcat big men Daniel Ochefu and JayVaughn Pinkston each time they worked the ball in the paint. All told, Mark Gottfried’s bunch held Villanova – the fourth-most efficient offense in college basketball – to just 1.06 points per possession and 31.1 percent shooting from the field, its second-lowest mark of the season.
  2. Yet again, the Wolfpack forwards were integral to its success. Despite no frontcourt players averaging more than 6.8 points per game entering the weekend, North Carolina State received massive contributions from its big guys for the second time in three nights. Lennard Freeman recorded an 11-point, 12-rebound double-double and couple big blocks. Freshman Abdul-Malik Abu also finished with a double-double – 12 points and 13 rebounds – coming up with critical offensive rebound after critical offensive rebound to keep the Wolfpack ahead throughout the second half. As good as its backcourt has been this season (and they were certainly vital again tonight), North Carolina State’s front line was the difference between a huge second-round upset and a “meh” exit from the Tournament.
  3. More disappointment for Villanova. For the second straight year, Villanova rolled through the regular season, earned a top-two seed in the NCAA Tournament and failed to reach the second weekend. “This will not define us,” head coach Jay Wright said after the game. But with arguably his best team ever – at least on paper – it’s hard not to view tonight’s outcome as an enormous disappointment, the kind of “what if?” defeat that lingers for several years to come. Two nights ago, the Wildcats looked capable of winning the whole thing; tonight, they are going home.

Star Player: Trevor Lacey (17 points, six rebounds). The Alabama transfer came up with big shot after big shot every time North Carolina State needed it, including a behind-the-back dribble, step-back three as the first half buzzer sounded, giving the Wolfpack a four-point lead at the break.

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What North Carolina Needs to Do to Beat Providence

Posted by Chris Kehoe on March 19th, 2014

North Carolina has its hands full tonight with its first round match-up against #11 Providence. The Friars are red-hot at the moment, coming off a Big East Tournament title that included an upset win over Creighton. Head coach Ed Cooley placed a premium on winning the title in Madison Square Garden because the Friars hadn’t won it since 1994 and only once in the past 34 years. Providence may have lucked out in avoiding top seed Villanova after the Wildcats were upset by Seton Hall at the buzzer, but they still managed to get past the Bluejays and college basketball’s likely NPOY. The Friars’ best player, senior guard Bryce Cotton, was a unanimous first team all-Big East selection and he is a handful for any defense. A capable scorer who has increased his distribution skills this year, Cotton is much like North Carolina’s Marcus Paige in that they are both rail-thin, ball-dominating guards that are relied upon heavily from the perimeter. Their battle at that position will be one of the key match-ups in this game, and if Paige can play Cotton even or better, the Tar Heels will be well positioned to advance.

Marcus Paige must be looking forward to his matchup with Bryce Cotton (Photo: Robert Willett/ Raleigh News & Observer)

The competitor in Marcus Paige must be looking forward to his matchup with Bryce Cotton ( Robert Willett/ Raleigh News & Observer)

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Big East M5: 03.26.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on March 26th, 2013

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  1. Not only does Louisville own the number one overall seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament, but the Midwest region favorites are also the most profitable college basketball program in all the land. The value of the KFCYum! Center and an abundance of donations to the program have led to the landslide top ranking in this year’s Forbes list of the most valuable basketball programs in the country. Syracuse was the only other Big East squad in the top 20 of Forbes’ list, coming in at ninth.
  2. During Syracuse’s round of 32 game against California on Saturday night, Michael Carter-Williams‘ family’s house in Hamilton, Massachusetts was destroyed by a fire, which is believed to have started in the chimney. The family was inside the house watching his game when the fire started, but luckily everyone made it out of the house without injury. Carter-Williams’ aunt told the Boston Globe that the point guard is a bit “shaken up because he can’t do anything to help,” but that he remains focused on the NCAA Tournament, and won’t return home until after the East Regional games in Washington, D.C., this weekend.
  3. Saturday’s Third Round game between Marquette and Butler could very well mark the beginning of a budding rivalry in the new Big East conference. Both schools play similar, bruising styles of basketball and thrive in close-game situations, this one won by Buzz Williams’ squad. Both are private urban universities in midwestern cities with proud recent basketball histories and top flight young coaches. Where some of the programs that joined the Big East in the mid-2000s expansion failed to live up to their basketball promise, Marquette has played at a consistently high level, and the new conference led by the Catholic Seven will look to Butler to make an immediate impact in a similar fashion.
  4. While Pitt fans seem a bit split on Jamie Dixon, especially after another early NCAA flame-out, Dixon is very happy to be sticking around the ‘Steel City‘.  The university has locked the coach up for the next 10 years, ending much speculation that Dixon would take the vacant job at USC.  The signing gives Pitt security heading into a new conference, if nothing else, and gives the Dixon family a similar sense of stability: “My family’s excited. Our administration felt it needed to be done, so we’re excited and happy.”
  5. There is, of course, a fourth Big East program still dancing… or at least shuffling its feet off away from the spotlight. Providence knocked off notorious Kentucky-killers Robert Morris 77-68 in the second round of the NIT at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, setting up an upcoming quarterfinal with Baylor. In the team’s final hurrah at home, coach Ed Cooley made sure to deliver a message to the Friars faithful to try to kick-start some momentum heading into 2013-14: “We want to see this place full next season as we begin our quest for a national championship.”  While an NCAA title might be a gaudy task for next season, an NIT crown should be attainable this year, and it would be a nice feather in the cap for a program that was better than many probably thought this season.
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NCAA Regional Reset: East Region

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 25th, 2013

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Brian Otskey (@botskey) is the NCAA Tournament’s East Region correspondent.

The East Regional begins Thursday night in Washington, DC, with Marquette vs. Miami (FL) followed by Indiana vs. Syracuse. Be sure to look out for the West, South and Midwest Regional Resets later today. Also make sure to follow RTCEastRegion for news and analysis from Washington throughout the week.

The Verizon Center Will Host This Year's East Regional

The Verizon Center Will Host This Year’s East Regional

New Favorite: #1 Indiana. Despite a challenge from Temple on Sunday, nothing changes for the Hoosiers. This team remains the prohibitive favorite to get to Atlanta out of this region but will have to get through two teams playing well in order to do that. With Syracuse defending as well as it is and Marquette and Miami staying hot, the road is not as smooth for Indiana as it looked when the brackets came out last week.

Horse of Darkness: #3 Marquette. The Golden Eagles nearly lost both of their NCAA Tournament games over the weekend but, as the old adage goes, they survived and advanced. Marquette has limitations but this team is tough as nails and plays with great confidence in pressure situations. A potential Elite Eight match-up with Indiana and former head coach Tom Crean would also serve as extra motivation to push through to Atlanta.

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #3 Marquette. It’s hard to pick a surprise in a region that saw all four top seeds advance to Washington but we’ll go with the Golden Eagles. Marquette was a trendy upset pick in the first round and was outplayed by Davidson for 39 of the 40 minutes in that game. Even after escaping Davidson in the round of 64, the Golden Eagles were on the ropes yet again Saturday against Butler. It’s not a surprise that Marquette is playing in the Sweet Sixteen; the surprising thing is the way it got there.

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