Is the Fourth Time the Charm for the Gators?

Posted by David Changas on March 29th, 2014

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David Changas (@dchangas) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. He filed this report in advance of Saturday’s regional final game between #1 Florida and #11 Dayton.  RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Elite Eight. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion. 

It may be tempting to look at the seeding of Florida‘s Elite Eight opponent (11) and the Vegas line on the game (Gators -10), and think that it is a sure thing the Gators will finally get back to the Final Four for the first time since their second of back-to-back national championship seasons in 2007. Florida is in the round of eight for the fourth consecutive year. The first three ended in disappointment, and though it appears that everything is set up well for the Gators to advance, doing so won’t be easy. And for coach Billy Donovan, he knows that what has happened the past three seasons won’t have any impact on what happens this year. “Patric Young and Scottie Wilbekin and (Casey) Prather and some of those guys were here last year, but also a lot of guys weren’t in the roles they’re in right now,” he said Friday.

Scottie Wilbekin Continues to Push Florida Forward

Scottie Wilbekin Continues to Push Florida Forward

The South Region’s second and third seeds were Kansas and Syracuse, respectively, so it comes as quite a surprise that Florida’s regional final opponent will be No. 11 seed Dayton. The Flyers arrived here by virtue of their wins over Ohio State, Syracuse, and Stanford, and have shown that they belong. They boast a small but efficient offense, as constant ball movement results in open looks. Against Stanford, the Flyers had an effective field goal percentage of 55.2%. They also turned the ball over only ten times, with several of those coming after they had the game in hand. Dayton also is a very deep and gets scoring from a variety of sources. The team’s leading scorer, Jordan Sibert, averages only 12.5 PPG, but made 43% of his 183 three-point attempts on the season. Eleven Flyers scored for coach Archie Miller against the Cardinal, and only Sibert played more than 30 minutes in the win. “It was a true team effort. That’s what they’ve been about all year, so it’s nice to see on the biggest stage, us be ourselves,” Miller said after the win over Stanford.

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Big East M5: 03.27.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on March 27th, 2013

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. If nothing else, fans of the current Big East are going to have plenty of channels to catch their favorite schools on when the schools all go their separate ways. The ACC is taking over Big Monday and should have an increased presence on ESPN, the Big East (Catholic edition) will be on FOX, and the soon-to-be-the-conference-formerly-known-as-the-Big-East just inked a deal with CBS, which will get first dibs on the conference’s games through 2019-20. Oh, and West Virginia seemed to be on ESPN like every week this year… so good for the ‘Eers.
  2. Louisville was the number one overall seed in 2009, much like it is this year. That team hoisted both the Big East regular season and tournament trophies, and made a run to the Elite Eight before falling to Michigan State. That team featured excellent former Cardinals like Terrence Williams, Andre McGee, and Earl Clark, and apparently those guys won’t stop talking about that season. Peyton Siva would like to reclaim bragging rights over the 2009 squad with the one trophy they weren’t able to claim — a national title. “I don’t know a lot (about 2009), I just know T-Will and Dre were on it and they always brag about being the No. 1 overall seed… Our whole goal for the year — they had Andre’s picture on the wall from that ’09 team — is to take him off the wall.”
  3. Otto Porter is a finalist for the Naismith Award this season, and for good reason. A very good argument can be made that there was no player more important to his team this season, and it showed in Georgetown‘s best games — Porter scored 33 points in front of over 35,000 raucous Syracuse fans to stun the Orange at the Carrier Dome — as well as their worst — Porter could only muster 13 points on 5-of-17 shooting in Georgetown’s shocking loss to Florida Gulf Coast last weekend. While Porter is up against stiff competition for the Naismith Award, he already has accolade in his back pocket as Basketball Times has named the forward its National Player of the year.
  4. Expansion fever — catch the excitement! Today in schools moving conferences, the old Big East continues it’s mission to restore the halcyon days of mid-2000s Conference USA. Brett McMurphy reports that Tulsa will become the 12th member of the conference, calling the addition “imminent.” According to McMurphy, the Golden Hurricanes will join up in 2014 with Tulane and East Carolina, who will be elevated to full-member status to balance the conference numbers and fill the critical role of having basketball-playing Pirates in the league.
  5. The Journal-Sentinel sat down with former Marquette great Brian Wardle, currently the head coach at Wisconsin-Green Bay, to discuss the state of Warriors basketball. Wardle was obviously thrilled with the success that the program has had under Buzz Williams, and before him, Tom Crean, stating that MU has entered the ranks of the elite in college ball. “The level that Marquette basketball is at now is an elite level that it has not been in for a long time… they’ve gone to three Sweet Sixteens in a row, a Final Four, everything takes time to build. Nothing happens overnight. You’ve got to go through some failures to succeed. You’re seeing Marquette in the Sweet Sixteen every year with the Michigan States, the Dukes, with Kansas.”  There is no denying the success that Marquette has had recently, though dropping the ‘e’ word seems a bit strong.  Until Marquette makes a few more Final Fours or captures a national title, they’re a rung or two below the nation’s elite schools, at least to me. However, they’re not far behind, and with the consistent success that Buzz Williams has had with the program, it may only be a matter of time until they break through.
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Tracking The Four: Let’s Play 21 Questions

Posted by EJacoby on January 20th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor & correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

For this week’s wildcard edition of TT4, we’re going to tackle some burning questions regarding each team. All four teams have pressing issues as they try to hit their strides in conference play, and there’s one team on our list that specifically needs to find some answers, quickly, if they want to stay relevant as a contender. Find out the answers to each question, or at least our quick takes, below each question. If you want to play along, comment with any of your answers!!!

Is Mike Moser the Best Player of our Four Teams? (Getty Images/E. Miller)

1. Which game on Syracuse and Murray State’s schedules should be circled as their toughest challenge to an undefeated regular season?

Monday night’s game in Cincinnati is Syracuse’s first shot at going down, while Murray State’s game on February 15 at Southeast Missouri State will be their toughest test.

2. Can Indiana recover from this losing streak to regain their status as a top three team in the Big Ten?

They’ll be able to recover, but Indiana is not a top three Big Ten team (OSU, UM, & Michigan State are better).

3. Will UNLV be able to win big games outside of Las Vegas, like SDSU did in The Pit this week?

They’ve already played seven true road games, so yes this will help UNLV win conference road games.

4. The Hoosiers have lost three straight games while the Racers have won 19 straight, but who would win on a neutral court if they played today?

We’d love to see this in the NCAA Tournament and today we’re going with Indiana, but if Ivan Aska comes back strong for MSU, ask again in two weeks.

5. When they inevitably need a bucket in crunch time, whom will Syracuse and Jim Boeheim draw the play for?

He doesn’t specialize in taking over games, but Kris Joseph is still the most talented offensive player and toughest mismatch on the team, so he should get his number called.

6. Will UNLV’s 69.1% free throw percentage come back to haunt them at some point this season?

Although it’s the worst of these four teams, no a 69% rate should not be a huge concern for the Rebels.

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Boom Goes the Dynamite: Elite 8 Day One

Posted by nvr1983 on March 28th, 2009

dynamiteWe’re back for the Elite 8 today. As we mentioned yesterday, the tournament up to this point hasn’t been as exciting as we are used to, but perhaps all this chalk means that we will get a phenomenal last three rounds. The match-ups today look like they will produce some solid action (particularly in Boston) so we’re definitely looking forward to that.

  • 4:40 PM: #3 Missouri vs. #1 UConn
  • 7:05 PM: #3 Villanova vs. #1 Pittsburgh

In the first game, it will be interesting to see how Missouri’s frenetic style holds up against UConn and what impact Hasheem Thabeet will have in that style of game. One guy to look out for on UConn is Kemba Walker who might thrive in an up-tempo game. In the nightcap, we have two of the Big East’s top teams going against each other in a rematch of a game that Villanova won behind Reggie Redding‘s 18 points and 7 rebounds. DeJuan Blair only had 9 points and 8 rebounds in 23 foul-riddled minutes. An interesting subplot to this game is that some are heralding it as a look at the future of Big East coaching with Jamie Dixon pitted against Jay Wright.

3:55 PM: I love college basketball, but is it a good idea to encourage people in Detroit to spend their last dollar to get tickets? Isn’t that what caused this financial crisis (outside of the idiots on Wall Street playing around with CDOs and credit default swaps)?

4:15 PM: I’m guessing this is the part of the NCAA tournament where CBS uses human interest stories as filler.

4:38 PM: Here we go…  let’s hope for a group of E8 games like in 2005 (where three of the four went to OT)…

4:43 PM: The problem I see with Mizzou pulling the major upset in this game is that UConn is very comfortable playing this style.  A matchup against Pitt would have been a more interesting contrast for Mizzou to take advantage of.

4:46 PM: Horrid start for Mizzou and fantastic start (obviously) for UConn.  The Huskies are already 6-7 from the field with several wide-open shots available.  The thing about Missouri is that theie pressure can get them back into games, but it’s going to be tough to turn over AJ Price and Kemba Walker.

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Breaking Down ESPN’s Prestige Rankings

Posted by nvr1983 on August 4th, 2008

Ed. Note:  Don’t like ESPN’s Prestige Rankings?  Provide your comment on how to improve them here.  We’re going to take this information and create a new set of rankings based on additional factors (and getting rid of the moronic NIT appearance = NCAA appearance (1 point) criterion). 

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that ESPN was trying to fill the dead space between the NBA Finals and the Olympics with yet another list. Normally I wouldn’t have even bothered to look at it because ESPN’s lists have been getting progressively more ludicrous (hitting its peak–or nadir–when John Hollinger put Dwayne Wade’s 2006 “Fall down 7 times, shoot 14 free throws” performance above every single one of Michael Jordan’s masterpieces). However, when I noticed that ESPN was trying to rank the most prestigious programs for college basketball in the 64-/65-team era, I was intrigued and figured it was worth some analysis.

Your #1 team of the era
Your #1 team of the era

The first thing I always do when looking at any list is to see the scoring system used and ESPN sure picked an interesting system. I’ll break it into segments with some analysis:

• National title … 25
• Title game loss … 20
• National semifinal loss … 15
• Elite Eight loss … 10

- All four of these things seems pretty reasonable. I think that most fans would value the post-season performances in a way that is pretty close to the points awarded although it seems like a Final 4 berth is considered a great accomplishment for any program (even for the Duke’s and North Carolina’s of the college basketball world). I probably would have bumped up the national title, title game loss, and national semifinal loss by 5 points to give a 10 point spread between an Elite 8 loss and a national semifinal loss.

• Best W-L record in conference’s regular season … 5
• 30-plus wins in a season … 5
• Sweet 16 loss … 5

- This is where the scoring starts to get questionable. I’m assuming the “Best W-L record in conference’s regular season” is lawyerspeak for regular season conference champion. I’m glad that ESPN has decided that the America East regular season champion deserves more points for their in-conference performance than the regular season runner-ups in the ACC, Big East, and SEC. The 5 points for the 30-plus win season may seem like a lot, but in fact they are very rare (Duke leads with 9 such seasons and I could only count/remember 16 programs with any 30-win seasons since the start of the 1984-85 season) so that seems reasonable (as does the 5 points for a Sweet 16 loss although 16 programs achieve are awarded this each season while approximately the same number have achieved it for a 30-win season during the entire era). My main question with the 5-point awards is if they really consider all regular season conference titles the same as it is easier to win certain titles than others. One interesting note about this methodology is that Princeton with 10 regular season Ivy League titles is awarded 50 points with this methodology while Duke with 9 30-plus win seasons is only awarded 45 points for that feat (ignoring the fact that Duke probably won the regular season conference title most of those years).

• Conference tournament title … 3
• AP first-team All-American … 3
• Losing in NCAA second round … 3

- I’m assuming that the Ivy League regular season champ automatically gets the 3 points for winning the conference tournament title since they don’t have a post-season tournament. This only further skews the points Princeton and UPenn get in this system as they receive 80 points and 96 points respectively for their Ivy League titles not to mention the 20-win seasons they racked up beating up on Cornell, Columbia, Harvard, and Brown. I’m perfectly fine with the AP 1st-team AA points as at most 5 teams a year will have a player earn that distinction. Perhaps they should have thrown in a National POY bonus as that player is the one who usually defines the season (Ralph Sampson, Christian Laettner, etc.). Likewise, I’m in agreement with the 3 points for the 2nd round NCAA tournament loss.

• Player in top 10 of NBA draft … 2
• NCAA first-round win as a 12-16 seed … 2
• NIT title … 2
• AP second-team All-American … 2

- This is where it starts to get really weird. Let’s get the reasonable things out of the way first. Top 10 pick worth 2 points? Ok. That seems fine even if the draft was dominated by high schoolers and Euros for a few years. In the future, the one-and-done rule might make this benefit the schools that are willing to take the one-and-done guys even if it does hurt their APR. That is unless those guys start going to Europe. Cinderella getting 2 points for a 1st-round upset? Fine with this too even if we will all remember the Hampton upset of Iowa State more than we will remember the annual 5-12 upsets. AP second-team AA worth 2 points? Ok with this one too even if I think once you start getting to the 2nd team the players selected start getting more dependent on the voters. I’m too lazy to check this out (perhaps rtmsf can do it), but I’d be willing to venture there is a lot more variation in the guys selected to the 2nd team by various publications/groups than there is with the 1st team. Now for the crazy one. . .Awarding 2 points for a NIT title? Maybe in the 1950s, but today winning the NIT only makes you the butt-end of every more successful team in your conference. How many message board threads have trolls made mocking the 65th (now 66th) best team in country? I’ll admit that the NIT champs would probably beat the 13-16 seeds most of the time, but is there really any pride in being the small fish (mediocre team) in the big ponds (power conference) that can beat up on the plankton (13-16 seeds)? I’d give the NIT champ 1 point overall, which leads into the next big problem. . .

• 20-29 wins in a season … 1
• NCAA tournament berth … 1
• Postseason NIT berth … 1
• AP third-team All-American … 1

- Let’s get the easy ones out of the way. No problems here with the 20-29 wins or AP 3rd team AA getting 1 point. I would probably differentiate between 20-24 wins, which is usually a solid season, and 25-29 wins, which usually will put you into consideration for a top 4 seed if you’re from a power conference. Like I said before the further down the AA list you go, the more variation you will have by publication/group, but it’s not really worth arguing about for 1 point. The thing worth arguing about is giving the same number of points for a NCAA tournament berth and a postseason NIT berth. To borrow an over-used phrase from John McEnroe, “You cannot be serious!” While I recognize that in this system the NIT team can only receive 2 points from the tournament (if they win), it is ridiculous to even consider invitations to the 2 tournament similar when the entire selection special is based on camera crews camping out in rooms with bubble teams to see if they got into the NCAA tournament. Maybe the ESPN stat whizzes have access to different camera feeds than I do, but it seems like the players, coaches, and families are happier when they get into the NCAA tournament than when they find out they are going to the NIT (even if Madison Square Garden is a slight upgrade from Boise, Idaho–unless we’re talking NBA). That’s just one man’s interpretation of the reactions I see although I could probably point out that a few years ago Georgetown declined an invitation to the NIT because they wanted to give their players more time to study for exams. . .in March. I wonder why Georgetown didn’t turn down its #2 seed this year. Do John Thompson III and the Georgetown AD not care about those same exams any more?

• NCAA first-round loss to a 12-16 seed … -2
• Losing season … -3
• Ban from NCAA tournament … -3

- No problem with the first two although I wonder if a losing season is counted against you if you have it expunged from your record and throw your long-time assistant coach under the bus? Also, I’d consider a 15-16 season a disappointment while I would consider 8-20 a complete embarrassment, so I’d probably make the less than 10-win season a significantly bigger penalty. I think the NCAA tournament ban should be a much larger penalty in this scoring system as the public (and press) reaction tends to be pretty bad (see below).

This is only a 3 point deduction per year?
This is only a 3 point deduction per year?

>> Minimum 15 seasons in Division I
** Ties are broken by overall winning percentage since the 1984-85 season

- After all the issues with the scoring system, I’m not going to complain about these minor qualifiers and tiebreakers. Both of them seem reasonable and none of the top 50 teams were tied.

Now that we’ve looked the methodology it’s time to pick apart the rankings to see what ESPN got right and what they screwed up. Duke is the run-away winner as even the most ardent Duke-hater (feel free to chime in here rtmsf) would agree that Coach K’s Blue Devils have been the most dominant program of the era even if their results have been underwhelming the past few years. The Blue Devils are followed by the Jayhawks in 2nd and the Tar Heels in 3rd. I’m not going to argue much with this although I would have UNC in 2nd just because I consider Kansas a team that historically underperforms in the tournament (Mario Chalmers’ shot and Danny and the Miracles not withstanding). Now onto the rankings I am utterly confused by.

Overated:
- UNLV: 8th?!? I loved Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebs, who may have been one of the best college teams ever even if they lost/threw the 1991 national semifinal against Duke, but there is no way this has been the 8th most prestigious program in the country over the past 20+ years just like Memphis isn’t in that category. ESPN provides a pretty clear summary of why UNLV shouldn’t be in the top 10: “2 NCAA sanctions; 10 coaches since 1984-85; 0 NCAA tourney wins between 1992 and 2007″. I’d keep UNLV in the top 20, but they definitely don’t belong in the top 10 with that track record.
- Xavier: The Muskeeters (at #17) have a nice Atlantic-10 program, but the fact that they have never made a Final 4 should automatically keep them out of the top 25. The Musketeers are buoyed by 21 combined conference titles, but have not really been a threat in the NCAA tournament having only racked up 15 NCAA tournament wins. Interestingly, Xavier came in 2 spots ahead of Cincinnati even though Xavier is widely considered the red-headed stepchild in the city.
- Temple: I don’t mean to sound like Billy Packer ripping on the mid-majors (sorry, if you’re not a BCS conference, you’re a mid-major in my eyes), but the Owls never made the Final 4 despite five trips there under John Chaney. I think they’re a very good program, but like Xavier, Temple shouldn’t be in the Top 25 without a Final 4 appearance.
- Murray State: Now this is the point where I rip the little guy. I was absolutely stunned when I saw this one. The Racers always seem to be one of those teams you see at the bottom of the bracket and maybe every once in a while you decide to take a chance on them to pull off the huge upset. Unfortunately, if you’re one of those people, you’ve only been rewarded once (1988 against 3rd-seeded NC State). The Racers piled up the points by dominating the Ohio Valley Conference racking up 22 (or 24 depending on your addition skills) conference titles and twelve 20+ win seasons (thanks to an easy conference schedule). Somehow this manages to put them above Villanova, Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, and Wake Forest.

Underrated:
- Maryland: The Terps (28th) are killed by the fact that they play in the ACC and have lost out on a ton of points thanks to playing in the same conference as Duke and UNC. Although Gary Williams hasn’t had good teams the past few years, the Terps run especially in the Juan Dixon era should have been enough to propel them into the top 20. How does this program only rank 2 spots ahead of Murray State?
- Utah: I don’t think the Utes would be able to move up much higher, but it would be interesting to see how high they would be on this list if they didn’t have the misfortune of playing Kentucky so many times in the 1990s. While the Utes benefited playing in a softer conference than some of their peers on the list (SEC and ACC), the Mountain West has been a fairly strong conference in recent years.
- Florida: I’m not sure how much higher the Gators could move up because of their relative lack of success (not counting Lon Kruger’s 1994 Final 4 run) before Joakim Noah and company ran off back-to-back titles, but it seems like that alone should be enough to crack the top 20 especially when programs like Xavier and Temple are ranked ahead of them despite not making a single Final 4 appearance. The Gators probably belong in the top 15 although that may be more of a recency effect, but it just seems that there recent run puts them at a level that isn’t that much different than UNLV with its run with Larry Johnson.

Other points of interest:
- Coach K’s current program (Duke) ranks #1. The program he left (Army) comes in tied for 298th, or as it is more commonly referred to “DFL”. Hopefully the Duke athletic department program has a better succession plan in place than Army did when Coach K decides to leave the sidelines.
- I found this rather amusing from personal experience. Boston University comes in at 108th ahead of programs such as Clemson, Providence (with a Final 4 appearance), Washington, and USC.
- In the current SportsNation voting, Kentucky is in the lead (good work out of the Sea of Blue crowd) with Duke in 4th even though they have the most #1 votes (something tells me they were left off a lot of ballots or voted 25th). The three teams I singled out as being overrated in the top 25 were moved down quite a bit. Note: I thought they were overrated even before I saw the online voting.

No bonus points for Dream Teamers?
No bonus points for Dream Teamers?
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One last shining moment for this season. . .

Posted by nvr1983 on April 6th, 2008

After Saturday night’s blowouts, we can only hope that tonight’s title bout will give us a great game to finish off the season. I think both teams have too much talent to get blown out, but I never would have expected UNC to fall behind 40-12 before nearly making Billy Packer look like an ass (again).

I’ll offer my take and hopefully rtmsf will add his too later (see below).

Aside from a shaky performance at the free throw line against Mississippi State that made their 2nd round game much closer than it should have been, Memphis has totally dominated the opposition on its way to Monday night. I don’t think I am going too far into the realm of hyperbole when I say that their performance in the last 3 games has been as dominant as any team I can remember from the Sweet 16 to the National Semifinals. The even more amazing thing is that a lot of people were picking the Tigers to lose each of those games. The Tigers gave us all an indication of how far off we were in the first game of that stretch when they destroyed Michigan State in their Sweet 16 game as they led 50-20 at half. After easily beating Texas in Houston to advance to the Final 4, the Tigers had a little tougher time with the Bruins who hung tough for a half. Despite the close score for most of the game, I never got the sense that Memphis might lose the game. Of course, the poor FT shooting was at the back of my mind. As I noted in my post immediately after the game, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose completely dominated the game with Rose controlling the game from end-to-end and CDR controlling it inside the 3-pt line. Joey Dorsey also submitted what may be the greatest 0-point performance in a Final 4 by a non-PG (I can’t think of a great 0-pt performance by a PG, but just trying to be safe). Memphis also got a solid performance out of Shawn Taggert. One thing that has gone largely overlooked in the CDR-Rose lovefest was how good the Tigers played defense, which is something they have been doing all year. Perhaps it is because they are so captivating on offense or the fact that they rely on length and instincts rather than the Shane Battier step-in-front-for-the-charge style that the ESPN analysts seem to love so much. In any case, the Tigers’ defense is what really gets things going for them. Perhaps, if their key guys stuck around for another year or two or Rose came in a few years earlier (and they learned how to shoot FTs), we would be talking about this Memphis team along the lines of a 21st century Runnin’ Rebs team.

As for Kansas, like I said on Saturday night I’m not really sure what to say. They had one of the easiest paths to the Final 4 (based on opponents’ seed) that I can remember and the cruised all the way to San Antonio with the exception of the Davidson game where they looked tight. However, they made up for it on Saturday night against #1 overall seed UNC. Their performance in the first 15 minutes of the game was among the best I have ever seen at the college level. They were all over the court hounding UNC into countless turnovers as they jumped out to a 40-12 lead. The image of the game for me was little-used, but much-hyped freshman Cole Aldrich ripping the ball away from everybody’s national POY Tyler “Psycho T” Hansbrough. After Billy Packer declared the game was over with 7:32 left in the 1st half, Kansas fell apart and appeared to be headed towards an epic collapse when UNC brought the game to 54-50 with 11:16 left in the game. The Jayhawks survived with a late run of their own (possibly due to UNC running out of gas too). If you watched the first half of the game, you are aware of the tremendous pressure that the Kansas guards can exert. That pressure will certainly be put to a challenge against the Tigers’ talented backcourt.

A couple key things to watch tonight:
1) What tempo does Kansas want to play at? Kansas showed us on Saturday night that it can thrive on a fast pace against a very talented team. However, as you have probably read Kansas has the ability to play at both a quick (talented guards & inside guys who can run) and slow pace (guards who can penetrate & multiple inside guys with developed post games). Normally I would recommend that Bill Self flip a coin and use that to decide which way to play because Kansas can win either way, but against Memphis that is a different story. While the Tigers have talented, athletic guys at every position, they are much better when the game is up-tempo and they can use their athleticism. The Tigers lack a traditional inside game and don’t have many great outside shooters. Thus, Self should really thing about trying to slow the game down. It sounds crazy given how good Kansas looked against UNC (and it’s easier said than done), but doing so would give the Jayhawks their best shot at winning their first title since Danny Manning and Larry Brown led them to the promised land in 1988.

2) Who will guard Derrick Rose? Kansas has 2 exceptional defensive guards in Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson, who both did a great job harassing UNC in the first half. As you may have heard, Rose is a completely different beast. As good as the Jayhawk defenders are, I don’t think they can stay with Rose if it is an uptempo game. However, if Bill Self listens to me and slows the pace of the game down, Kansas can use both in addition to Brandon Rush to try to contain Rose. I am assuming Rush will draw CDR, which is a tough assignment in itself, but he will need to help off CDR if and when Rose gets by his man.

3) Will Dorsey stay out of foul trouble? Shawn Taggert is a nice player, but he isn’t really built to battle the big guys from Kansas. If Memphis is going to win the title, they will need Dorsey on the court as he is the only one with the strength to give the Tigers an edge in this match-up. Dorsey will have to win the battle (or at least limit the Jayhawks’ advantage) against Darrell Arthur, Sasha Kaun, & Co. if Memphis wants to cut down the nets in San Antonio.

Who will take home the trophy?

Opening Line: Pick ‘em.
Prediction: It looks like the money in Vegas is going towards Memphis winning as the line has shifted to Memphis -2, which is a pretty big shift for a game that was originally a pick ‘em less than 24 hours ago. I could see this game going either way, but in the end I think the brilliance of Rose (assuming he lays off the Gummy Bears) and solid all-around play of CDR will carry the day. Plus, as I’ve learned decision markets are usually pretty reliable indicators of what will happen so I’m going with the Tigers in a hard-fought battle.

rtmsf take:

We’re still in considerable shock at just how dominant Kansas looked vs. North Carolina Saturday night. For the first ten minutes of that game, it appeared as if KU was playing Colorado in the Phog; NOT the de facto tournament favorite led by everybody’s favorite superhero, Tyler Hansbrough. Kansas was bigger, quicker, faster, and simply wanted it more. One thing we believe was a major factor but has been left unsaid in much of the MSM was that the KU players spent the entire week hearing Roy this and Roy that and they wanted to stick it to him for leaving the program in the manner that he did (even though his departure predates all of their arrivals at KU). Of course, all of the players and certainly Bill Self will deny this forever more, but KU played that first half as if something had been stolen from them. Carolina didn’t play with the same fire and intensity, and it showed (40-12). We’ll leave it to the KU fans to provide this info, but we can’t remember the last time a Roy Williams coached team was so thoroughly and completely dominated as they were last night. If it has happened at all, we’re guessing it would have been in the 90s.

As for the other semifinal, UCLA’s tendency to endure prolonged scoring droughts ultimately proved ineffective when facing a team with the caliber of Memphis’ talent. We were surprised with just how thoroughly dominated Darren Collison was by Derrick Rose as well as UCLA’s maddening inability to get the ball to Kevin Love in the post. Part of that was the Tiger defense making it very difficult for Love to find his preferred spots, but part of it is also attributable to poor decision-making by Mbah a Moute, Collison and others. It wouldn’t ultimately have mattered, because the Bruins were an offensively flawed team and they were never going to score enough points to threaten Memphis, but it still surprised us.

So we’re now left with the two least flawed teams in the tournament. It’s been well documented that Memphis struggles with FTs, and it showed in their one semi-scare against Mississippi St. in the second round; it’s also been commonly discussed that Bill Self teams have a tendency to choke under pressure, and KU certainly had a scare against Davidson and looked shaky at times yesterday after leading by 28 points. But these are ultimately nitpicks because both of these teams are beyond excellent and filled with NBA talent all over the floor. So which of these two squads is better and will win Monday night?

The thing that really stood out to us when we were watching the Carolina massacre was just how big and athletic Kansas looked compared to UNC (a team that itself has a reputation for size and athleticism). We think that this is the one area where Memphis can be exploited. UCLA was unable to capitalize on this advantage because only Love was a capable scorer on the blocks. Kansas can get offense underneath from not only Arthur, Jackson and Kaun off the bench, but also apparently from Cole Aldrich (who looked fantastic (8/7) in his 16 minutes yesterday). We think this is the mismatch that will have Bill Self salivating for the next 20 hours or so.

Memphis will counter with the silky smooth Derrick Rose (25/9/4 assts) and Chris Douglas-Roberts (28/4), but with the perimeter defense that we expect from the KU guards (who held the UNC perimeter players to 16-47 shooting), we think that Memphis is going to have trouble finding enough offense to match the Jayhawks. Put simply, there’s absolutely no way we see that the KU defense allows 83% of Memphis’ points to come from the backcourt as UCLA did, and who among the Memphis bigs will pick up the scoring slack? Dorsey? Taggart? Dozier? If that group collectively scores over 15 pts, we’ll be shocked.

So despite what the decision markets and our compadre on this blog suggest, we’re going with the Jayhawks to cut down the nets tomorrow night. Bill Self gets his first title, and John Calipari starts to hear the ignoble distinction of being the best active coach to not win a championship.

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Chalk City

Posted by nvr1983 on March 30th, 2008

It looks like Clark Kellogg will have bragging rights over the CBS Sports studio for the next week as for the first time in the 64+ team era the Final 4 will be composed of all #1s. In the end all four of these #1 seeds definitely seemed to be the best teams in their region.

All Chalk

East: UNC absolutely dominated every game they played. Louisville made it close for a little bit in the 2nd half, but Rick Pitino had no answer for Tyler Hansbrough, who apparently developed a great outside game sometime this year as he started to hit fall-away jumpers against good defense to put the Cardinals away.

West: So we got this game wrong. Out of all the #1 seeds, UCLA appeared to be the most vulnerable during their march to San Antonio. The Bruins looked very beatable between their drubbing of Mississippi Valley State in the 1st round and their beatdown of Xavier in the Elite 8. The one constant for the Bruins during the entire tournament has been Kevin Love, who has made himself several million dollars during this tournament if he decides to leave after this season. While everybody else on the team had at least one horrible game, Love showed up every night and is the reason that UCLA is in the Final 4. This didn’t hurt either.

South: After a shaky game in the 2nd round, Memphis looked like the #1 team in the country. After cruising in during the 2nd half of their win against Michigan State, Memphis dominated Texas in Houston. It seems like almost every analyst had Texas advancing out of this region. I certainly did although I was smart/fickle enough to change my mind and prediction before the Elite 8. Everybody picked on their inability to shoot free throws, but like Shaq they make them when it matters. In the Elite 8, Derrick Rose controlled the game winning the head-to-head match-up against D.J. Augustin ensuring he will be a top 2 pick in the draft if and when he declares (Beasley will be #1 unless a team really needs a PG). They will be a tough match-up for pre-tournament favorite UCLA.

Midwest: After rolling through the first 3 rounds, Kansas finally ran into a challenge in the Elite 8. Davidson put up a great fight, but in the end Kansas just had too much as they dominated the Wildcats on the inside the entire game. Stephen Curry and Brian Barr had great games for the Wildcats, who did a phenomenal job of getting back on defense to prevent Kansas from running the way they like. The Jayhawks took the lead for good on a 3 by Sherron Collins with 6:35 left. Davidson had a chance to win on the last possession, but Stephen Curry made a rare mistake for him in this tournament by taking too much time leaving Jason Richards to attempt a desperation 3 at the buzzer. Tip of the hat to Davidson and Curry who had a great game and tournament. It seemed to me that Curry ran out of gas at the end as he had a great first half, but did not have his usual second half explosion or one of his best shooting days today (4/15 from 3). Congrats to Bill Self for finally getting to the Final 4.

We’ll be back later with a preview of the Final 4 along with some shots at Roy Williams going against his old school Kansas in the late game on Saturday. Check back throughout the week as we’ll be making more posts.

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Elite 8 Preview: UCLA-Xavier & UNC-Louisville

Posted by nvr1983 on March 28th, 2008

- #1 UCLA vs. #3 Xavier (6:40 PM): Both teams are coming off hard-fought victories in the Sweet 16. Xavier obviously was challenged by West Virginia, who took them into OT and may very well have won if Joe Alexander had been able to hit a FT at the end of regulation (81% FT) or not foul out early in OT. The Bruins were challenged by Western Kentucky, who came back from 21 down at half as Tyrone Brazelton scored 31 pts abusing Darren Collison (before Collison fouled out with 5:39 to play). The Bruins held strong at the end and won with big efforts from Kevin Love (29 and 14–no surprise) and James Keefe (18 and 12–huge surprise).

The Bruins can count on a big game from Love who finds a way to get his numbers because he knows where he needs to be. What the Bruins can’t count on is Keefe coming anywhere near those numbers. They need Collison, Russell Westbrook, and Josh Shipp to really step up their games this round. If they can get this inside/outside balance, they should control this game, but they haven’t looked that good since their opening round game against Mississippi Valley State. However, I’m not sure if that was more UCLA or their opponent. In either case, the Bruins haven’t looked like the team that most analysts predicted would cut down the nets in San Antonio.

As noted earlier, Xavier escaped with a win in their Sweet 16 game with Joe Alexander’s mistakes and some clutch 3 point shooting from B.J. Raymond. Even though Josh Duncan dominated the scoring last round, the Muskeeters are usually pretty good at spreading the ball around leading to their extremely balanced scoring averages. It will be interesting to see how they try to match up against Love, Collison, and Westbrook as that may be the key to the game.

Opening Line: UCLA -6.
Prediction: As Kevin Love said after their last game, the Bruins play has been “unacceptable”. I think that on paper (and when they are on) UCLA has all the makings of a championship team with a nice mix of experience, talent, and an inside/outside game. If they’re firing on all cylinders, the Bruins could blow this game wide open like they did in the early part of their Sweet 16 game. Unfortunately for Ben Howland, they have not been able to do that consistently. I think UCLA has have played with fire one too many times and tonight it will catch up with them. I’m going with Xavier in a hard-fought game earning a trip to the Final 4.

- #1 UNC vs. #3 Louisville (9:05 PM): This is probably the best match-up of the weekend on paper. Both teams are absolutely loaded and appear to be playing at their peak. The Tar Heels have been the most dominant team in the tournament so far while the Cardinals have matched them in dominance the past 2 rounds. Both teams absolutely crushed their very capable opponents (Washington State and Tennessee, respectively) on Thursday night.

The Tar Heels’ calling card this season has been their phenomenal offense, but in the last round they showed Tony Bennett’s Cougars that they know how to play a little D too. Offensively, Tyler Hansbrough has been solid if not spectacular although he hasn’t needed to be so far in the tournament. One of the major drivers of the Tar Heels dominance in the tournament has been Ty Lawson who appears to be back near 100%. When he gets in the open court, I’m not sure if anybody can keep up with Lawson. Although those two get all the hype, I think the key to the game for UNC will be if Wayne Ellington can hit from outside. He’s the only great outside shooter that Roy Williams has and his ability to hit from 3 will be very important against Rick Pitino’s 2-3 zone. If he is hitting, Pitino will have a decision to make: let him bomb away or go man-to-man and risk having Psycho T go off.

Louisville is peaking at the perfect time. They made a very good Tennessee team look very bad on Thursday night although the Vols PG issues certainly contributed. They don’t have quite the star power that UNC has, but Pitino’s boys (David Padgett & company) are no slouches. Padgett has a lot of help offensively as the Cardinals have another half dozen guys who can get in double figures on the right night. The key for the Cardinals will be how their defense controls UNC. It will be interesting to see how their press is able to handle Lawson and how their zone matches up against Ellington’s outside shooting.

Opening Line: UNC -5.5.
Prediction: I’m going with the Tar Heels tonight. They’ve been the best team in the country in the first 3 rounds and they weren’t even clicking offensively against Washington State. Louisville has a great team and that line is ridiculously high, but I don’t think Hansbrough will let the Tar Heels lose. He’s had a very good college career so far, but he hasn’t been able to get his team over the hump. This will be a tight game, but I think that Hansbrough will come up big down the stretch giving the Heels the slight edge. The Tar Heels were on the verge of going to the Final 4 before collapsing against Georgetown and I can’t see them letting it happen again. As an added bonus, this sets up a potential national semifinal of Roy Williams versus Kansas. . .(more on that set of Elite 8 games later)

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