Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 66, Connecticut 56

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 19th, 2014

rushedreactions

Brian Otskey filed this report from the Duke-Connecticut game at the Izod Center on Thursday night.

Three Key Takeaways.

Duke and Connecticut (USA Today Images)

Duke and Connecticut Battled Out in an Ugly Game in New Jersey Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Duke found a different way to win. On a night when the shots did not fall at anywhere near the rate they have for most of this season, the nation’s top team in adjusted offensive efficiency won with defense and rebounding. The Blue Devils held the Huskies to 40.7 percent shooting in the second half, snuffing out any possibility of an extended Connecticut run. Duke also turned the ball over much more than usual (19 times), leading to plenty of extra UConn possessions. With Amile Jefferson and Jahlil Okafor combining for 21 rebounds, however, Duke was able to negate the Connecticut advantage in shot attempts. Getting to the free throw line was also key, as the Blue Devils attempted 34 free throws to Connecticut’s 13. Kevin Ollie refused to take the bait from the assembled media after the game, instead placing the onus on his players for committing too many fouls.
  2. It can’t just be the Ryan Boatright show. While Boatright scored 22 points, he was bothered by Quinn Cook for much of the evening. When he did get free, usually through screening action along the three-point line, Boatright knocked down some impressive three-pointers with a quick release. With Shabazz Napier no longer around, though, opposing defenses can key in on the UConn guard and contain him to a degree. You also see that when Boatright gets frustrated, his shot selection suffers greatly. That can’t continue to happen because it results in a wasted possession and can lead to a long rebound and a runout for the opposition. Kevin Ollie touched on it a bit in the postgame press conference, so he knows that his team must find another reliable scoring option besides Boatright.
  3. Jahlil Okafor is not normal. We know this by now, but it deserves to be repeated. From his post-up moves to defense and court vision, Okafor has the complete package. What is most impressive is his ability to immediately recognize a double-team and find an open man in an instant. In a way, his passing reminds you of a good NFL quarterback under pressure. Okafor threw a couple of lasers to teammates tonight, usually resulting in points for Duke. One nice thing about Okafor’s game is he actually “plays big,” so to speak. When he receives a post entry pass, he usually makes a strong move to the basket or keeps the ball in an elevated position where it cannot easily be stolen. Should he decide to make the move and shoot, Okafor has tremendous awareness. He knows when and where to make the move, and it often results in a bucket. Having the presence of mind to know where to go with the ball is one thing, but combing that with the touch and skill level Okafor possesses puts him far and away above any other college big man. I’m sure a few NBA bigs are below his level too.

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Freeze Frame: Alabama’s Shift to Man to Man Defense

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 18th, 2014

Alabama nearly came up with a huge victory for itself and the SEC when it lost by one at Wichita State on Tuesday night. Anthony Grant’s team felt secure with an 11-point lead and 5:50 remaining, but the Tide’s Achilles Heel — fundamental defense — came back to haunt them once again. Grant’s defense has struggled all season, and after nearly 35 minutes of solid pressure on the road (forcing the Shockers into 40.8 percent shooting), it failed them once again.

Alabama's defensive profile is less than stellar (statistics via KenPom).

Alabama’s defensive profile is less than stellar (statistics via KenPom).

In this edition of Freeze Frame, we will look at the final 15 minutes of Alabama’s defense against the Shockers. The Tide to that point had found a lot of success with a 2-3 match-up zone that frustrated Fred Van Vleet, Ron Baker, and their Wichita State teammates into a bunch of contested outside shots. But with the momentum clearly in the hands of Alabama, Grant made a huge mistake in shifting back to his man-to-man defense. Van Vleet was then able to penetrate the lane to find open teammates, rendering the pick-and-roll option more effective, and ultimately erasing a late double-figure lead.

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Cincinnati Win Gets AAC on the Board, Only Six Weeks Too Late

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 18th, 2014

Let’s be clear: Cincinnati’s Wednesday night victory over San Diego State was very important for the Bearcats. Mick Cronin’s team was in urgent need of a quality victory, and it got one. But the Bearcats didn’t need the win nearly as badly as the American Athletic Conference. Before Cincy’s takedown of the Aztecs, the league’s best wins were over Wyoming, Dayton and Creighton. Let’s do that again: The league’s best wins were over Wyoming, Dayton and Creighton. Throw in Temple’s home victory over Louisiana Tech, and you VERY quickly have the entirety of the league’s victories over KenPom top-100 foes this season. Four top-100 wins, none over a team in the top 60 as of December 17. Conference USA, a league that nine of 11 AAC programs chose to leave of their own accord, has more than twice that number. More unflattering comparisons are available, but the point is already clear: The AAC is off to a disastrous start. For the sake of a league that once formed a significant portion of the Big East, San Diego State had to lose last night.

Winston Shepard Should Know: Troy Caupin's Bearcats, Not To Mention The Entire AAC, Needed Wednesday Night's Game Far Worse Than San Diego State Did

Winston Shepard Should Know: Troy Caupin’s Bearcats, Not To Mention The Entire AAC, Needed Wednesday Night’s Game Far Worse Than San Diego State Did (Photo: Aaron Doster, USA Today Sports)

As far as early resumes go, Cincinnati’s looks pretty good, especially after last night. The bad isn’t so bad (their two losses came away from home to Ole Miss and Nebraska), and the Bearcats now have an actual win of substance. Further non-conference profile-bolstering opportunities also lurk in upcoming matchups with VCU (home) and NC State (road). Whether the Bearcats are good enough to take advantage of those chances is another story. The match-up with the Aztecs was billed as a “first to 50 wins” type of deal, but Cincy actually got by the Aztecs with some sneakily stingy shooting – 17-of-21 from the line, 21-of-42 on two-point field goals, and 4-of-11 from three-point range. Out of character? Certainly. Completely unsustainable? We’ll see. Expect the Cincinnati defense to remain as fortified as ever (among the top 25 nationally in defensive efficiency over the past four seasons, 26th this season), so the offense won’t need to come in bunches for the Bearcats to keep winning games. Keep an eye on sophomore Troy Caupin – the better his Sean Kilpatrick imitation, the more games this team will win.

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ACC Players Among the Most Valuable in College Basketball

Posted by Brett Thompson on December 18th, 2014

This week, Business Insider released a list of college basketball teams that bring in the most revenue per player, with the ACC’s own Louisville topping the list, averaging over $1.53 million per player on its 13-man roster. Joining the Cardinals were Syracuse in the second spot ($1.12M), Duke in the fourth spot ($1.02M), North Carolina in the eighth spot ($788,000), and Pittsburgh in the 18th spot ($534,000). The list features the 20 highest “fair market values per player,” and the ACC accounts for half of the top eight. It’s important to note a few things about the methodology here, though. First, these figures were determined by taking 49 percent of the school’s annual college basketball revenue (the same number used in the NBA’s latest collective bargaining agreement) and dividing it by the 13 scholarship players on each roster. Second, teams generate revenue through a variety of different sources, things such as merchandise sales, television deals, sponsorships, and NCAA Tournament appearances — not just ticket sales. Lastly, it’s also important to note that the fair market value figures do not actually apply to each individual player; Montrezl Harrell is responsible for more of Louisville’s revenue than his walk-on teammates, but the analysis treats each player as the same in the aggregate.

Louisville's Move To The ACC? Should Be Fun For Pitino & Co., Less So For The American Athletic Conference. (Getty)

Rick Pitino, surrounded by approximately $3 million of revenue, according to Business Insider. (Getty)

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the five ACC schools listed are those that represent the conference’s highest revenue-producing entities. Louisville has established itself as one of the most successful programs in America, making it to three Elite Eights, two Final Fours, and winning a National Championship in the last five years, all while striking an extremely favorable deal with the school’s lease of the KFC Yum! Center. Duke and North Carolina are the two names most synonymous with ACC basketball, selling merchandise around the world thanks to their marketable former stars and allegiance to the Nike/Jordan brands. And Syracuse, thanks to its massive Carrier Dome venue, can house up to nearly 35,000 fans for its biggest home games, which provides plenty of additional revenue when the team is hot. These are basketball programs that have had great historical success, legendary coaches and alumni, and massive fan support. That’s a formula for generating consistently high basketball revenue. What’s also striking is that the top two teams on this list are two of the latest additions to the conference rising from the ashes of the old Big East. Syracuse joined the ACC last year, and Louisville will soon play its first conference game in its new home. The addition of these teams may have ruffled some feathers among the traditional ACC crowd, but this list alone may help some of the remaining detractors understand why the conference was eager to add the new blood.

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A Column of Enchantment: On Hoiberg, Pitino-Pacino & Frank Martin’s Past

Posted by Joseph Nardone on December 18th, 2014

There have been very few programs in the country who have been as entertaining to watch as Iowa State over the last few seasons. That is despite the program not being filled with multiple lottery picks or having guys who are known to the casual fan. However, they have had some excellent players, some of whom have gotten drafted highly or have even (eventually) become more known to viewers who usually stick to watching solely the name programs. Gone are the guys who first helped make the program a perennial Big 12 contender and more nationally relevant than Saturday Night Live. In their place are new guys, who — not oddly enough, at all — are continuing the same exciting, up-tempo and three-point heavy system which puts the Cyclones on any viewers’ must-watch list. Basically, goodbye Royce White (etc.) and hello Georges Niang (never a scrub, but he went from really good side player to possible dark horse NPOY candidate).

Fred Hoiberg Continues to Work His Magic at Iowa State (USA Today Images)

Fred Hoiberg Continues to Work His Magic at Iowa State (USA Today Images)

How can all of this happen? Really, how in the hell is this happening in Ames? Well, I am glad you asked. The answer is pretty obvious. It is the handsome, take him home to mom-ish, Fred Hoiberg.

It has been well-documented at this point, but here is the dilly on Iowa State and the Mayor of Ames. Hoiberg, a journeyman NBA player who started at Iowa State and was known as a relatively athletic three-point specialist, came home. Not came home like LeBron came home or like The Rock came home or how I come home after work, but just simply came home — to coach at his old stomping grounds. Instead of implementing an NBA system or using some tried-and-true college structure, Hoiberg used one of the best alternatives ever, he essentially recruits and coaches as if there were five more athletic Fred Hoibergs (what else is plural for Hoiberg? Hoibi? Hos?…) galloping across the hardwood.

Hoi-Ball (patent pending) is one of the best things to happen to college hoops in a long time. It has more staying power — because of logic — than Kentucky’s platoon (which is already dead. Goodnight, kind platoon). So, for America Mr. Hoiberg, I just wanted to say thank you for being you — and making Iowa State’s roster all be you as well.

——-

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Best of the West: Ranking the Top 20 Teams West of the Rockies

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 17th, 2014

We’re a little more than a quarter of the way through the season now, so it is time to roll out our first edition of Best in the West. We’re going to take all the schools west of the Rockies (and we’re going to be a bit generous with our geography here – basically we’re looking at schools from the Pac-12, Mountain West, WCC and Big West, and then some of the schools from the Big Sky and WAC) and give you the top 20 teams as of today. But rather than just ranking schools #1 though #20, we’re going to divide them up into tiers, mostly because I don’t think putting Gonzaga at #2 when they played Arizona into overtime in Tucson feels right to anybody.

Here are our Top 20 teams in the West (their overall ranking is in parentheses), with descriptions of what the teams in each tier have in common as well as brief comments on each school.

The Best of the Best  – In a league of their own.

  • Arizona (#1 overall, Pac-12 #1) – There have been some growing pains for the Wildcats, but with an unblemished record and wins over Kansas State, San Diego State, Gonzaga and Michigan, they’ve still got a ways to go before they tap out on their potential.
Arizona and Gonzaga Played A Fun One A Week Back, Proving Themselves Nearly Equal

Arizona and Gonzaga Played A Fun One A Week Back, Proving Themselves Nearly Equal. (AP)

  • Gonzaga (#2 overall, WCC #1) – Really, the Zags are more of a #1A in this tier. An overtime loss at Arizona in which they didn’t play all that well and let some good chances slip away bodes well for their upside. Read the rest of this entry »
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O26 Game of the Week: Hawkeye State Showdown, Harvard-Virginia & SDSU-Cincy…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 17th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Northern Iowa (9-1) vs. Iowa (8-3) – 7:30 PM ET, Big Ten Network, Saturday.

Northern Iowa has a knack for playing in really good basketball games this season. The Panthers upended Stephen F. Austin by two in overtime during last month’s Tip-Off Marathon, ending the Lumberjacks’ 33-game home winning streak; they squandered a big second-half lead against George Mason earlier this month before escaping in overtime; and on Saturday, Ben Jacobson’s group lost its first game in one of the best games of the season, a double-overtime thriller at VCU. So what does UNI have in store this week, bumping up against intrastate foe Iowa in Des Moines? Probably another barnburner.

Seth Tuttle and the Panthers look to take down Iowa on Saturday. (UNI Athletics Communications)

Seth Tuttle and the Panthers look to take down Iowa on Saturday. (UNI Athletics Communications)

KenPom currently ranks the Hawkeyes and Panthers 29th and 31st overall, respectively, which – on a neutral floor – results in a virtual coin-flip projection. Iowa is one of the nation’s top-30 fastest teams offensively (15.9 seconds per possession), while Northern Iowa is among the 30 slowest (20.4 seconds), yet the Hawkeyes’ strong suit has been its defense thus far this season, while the latter unit has been more offensively proficient. The Panthers, despite their preferred snail’s pace of play, demonstrated an ability to get out and run against VCU, so they should have no problem adjusting if Iowa’s uptempo pace wins out. The Hawkeyes’ most notable strength is its frontcourt, which provides much of the team’s scoring and prevents easy looks on the interior – which might actually suit Northern Iowa just fine, considering the majority of its points come from behind the arc and at the free throw line. This match-up may come down to Jacobson’s guys hitting perimeter shots – they went just 3-of-16 from distance in the game two years ago – and whether Fran McCaffery can get quality production from his backcourt. This should be a really good, really close contest either way.

More to Watch

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The RTC Podcast: Exam Week Catch-Up Edition

Posted by rtmsf on December 17th, 2014

We heard you! After some polite gnashing of teeth in the Twitterverse — the best hashtag was clearly #freethepod — we finally got our collective acts in gear at the same time long enough to record another RTC Podcast. We’re going to try to get this thing moving again on the regular twice-weekly schedule, but make sure to blame Shane (@sconnolly114 #blameshane) if we don’t! This week we take the time to dig into the first four weeks of the regular season, discussing what we think we’ve learned at this early stage and looking forward to the next three months. We also invited RTC national columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) along for the ride, and we hope to have him on board more often than not this season.

Make sure to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record, and feel free to contact us through Twitter or email — we’re listening.

  • 0:00-8:53 – What does Gonzaga’s impressive start mean?
  • 8:53-11:52 – Villanova, Virginia and convincing the country they are for real
  • 11:52-15:29 – Surprise teams that are legit
  • 15:29-18:10 – Early impressive victories
  • 18:10-27:15 – Conferences that helped or hurt themselves so far
  • 27:15-38:15 – Kentucky’s dominant start
  • 38:15-43:58 – Duke’s almost as dominant start
  • 43:58-52:48 – You, Me and the AP – Maryland, Michigan State, UNC
  • 52:48-56:26 – Moving past finals week
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Kentucky’s Rotations Most Impacted by Alex Poythress Injury

Posted by David Changas on December 16th, 2014

News that broke late last week that Kentucky forward Alex Poythress would miss the remainder of the season with an ACL injury was met generally with the notion that the Wildcats are so deep, so talented, and have such good overall chemistry that it will not impact their quest to win the national championship. Given the Wildcats’ subsequent performance in an 84-70 thumping of North Carolina in Lexington — a game the Wildcats controlled from the start — it’s understandable that people would feel that way. But it’s also impossible to take too much from one game, and any definitive statement of how the loss of the 6’8″ junior forward will be felt is premature.

The loss of Poythress leaves Kentucky without a true small forward (Bleacher Report)

The loss of Poythress leaves Kentucky without a true small forward. (Getty)

There is no question that Kentucky’s depth, and the quality of it, is unmatched in college basketball. The Wildcats have operated well under John Calipari’s much-discussed platoon system, as no one on the team averages more than 24.5 minutes per game. For his part, Poythress played just over 20 minutes per game in his eight contests, and his overall numbers were nothing special. He averaged 5.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per outing, and often appeared lost in the shuffle on the offensive end. Still, given his size and athleticism, he is projected by several outlets as a second rounder in the 2015 NBA Draft. As an explosive leaper with a propensity to make astounding plays, his demonstrated ability to guard athletic wings on the perimeter will be missed because Kentucky does not have anyone else who can be classified as a true small forward.

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Weekly Primer: Don’t Sleep on Mid-December Games

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 16th, 2014

Every Monday (sometimes Tuesday), Henry Bushnell will provide a look ahead at the week to come. He’ll discuss the week’s top storylines, preview the three most prominent and compelling games, put a giant or two on upset alert, and decide which teams are in desperate need of a big week.

It’s a cold, dark Monday night in December. The holiday scent is in the air. Subpar football unwillingly seeps out of a TV. Winter threatens to envelop us – if it hasn’t already done so. On this cold, dark Monday night in December, college basketball doesn’t really matter. Or at least it seems like it doesn’t. The Monday evening slate is tinged with irrelevance. Duke sleepwalks over Elon, and not many take note. The sport still lurks in the distance. Lenses are still out of focus.

Exam Weeks Around the Nation Building Young Minds

Exam Weeks Around the Nation Building Young Minds

But this, my friends, is a time as important as any in college basketball. When the final weekend of February rolls around, we’ll be scrutinizing teams inside and out, but December matters too. Just ask a team like Cal, which barely missed out on the NCAA Tournament a year ago. Analysts rued their March losses to Arizona State and Utah, but how about that December loss to UC Santa Barbara? That hurt too. Or ask Southern Miss, which built up a solid résumé, but was left to wonder what might have been if it hadn’t slipped up against Western Kentucky during the week before Christmas. On that same day, December 18, 2013, NC State toppled Tennessee. The Wolfpack made the field as one of the last four teams in. That’s not a coincidence.

Don’t ignore this week. Even with those lenses somewhat out of focus, the results will come into plain sight soon enough. It doesn’t matter how you win; your performance doesn’t have to be aesthetic. Just get the job done. Statements can be made. They will not be forgotten.

Three for the Money

North Carolina vs. Ohio State | Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS

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O26 Weekly Awards: SMC, D.J. Balentine, Kyle Smith, Incarnate Word…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 16th, 2014

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

Saint Mary’s. It’s a full month into the season and we still didn’t know much about the Gaels before last weekend. They were transfer-laden, proficient on offense and led by Brad Waldow (21.1 PPG, 10.1 RPG) down low – that much we understood – but Randy Bennett’s club had yet to play a road contest (or even leave Moraga) through its first six games. And aside from a pair of solid wins over New Mexico State and UC Irvine, Saint Mary’s most noteworthy performance prior to Saturday was a 83-71 loss to Boise State on December 6. Was this team good? Mediocre? An at-large contender? Even if the Gaels’ 71-67 victory at Creighton over the weekend doesn’t fully answer all of those questions, it does make one thing clear: These guys are going to be competitive in the WCC.

Saint Mary's pulled off a huge road victory in Omaha. (MATT MILLER/THE WORLD-HERALD)

Saint Mary’s pulled off a huge road victory in Omaha. (MATT MILLER/THE WORLD-HERALD)

Creighton entered Saturday on a 24-game home winning streak, an impressive run that coach Greg McDermott probably would have assumed safe if you had told him Waldow would end up with just 11 points on 2-of-10 shooting. “Obviously, our game plan was to slow down Waldow, because he’s such a big part of their offense,” McDermott said afterwards. Unfortunately for the Bluejays, the Saint Mary’s backcourt more than picked up the slack, as Stanford-transplant Aaron Bright scored 22 points and Kerry Carter dropped in 19. Equally as important was sophomore forward Dane Pineau, who – having never reached double figures in his career – stepped up enormously in wake of Waldow’s off night, scoring 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting and ripping down 10 boards. The Gaels withstood an early-second half Creighton surge by responding with a 12-0 run of their own, ultimately forcing an extra period – where Bright and Pineau sealed the deal. Now at 6-1 and with a marquee road victory under its belt, Saint Mary’s looks capable of challenging BYU for second-best in the WCC and putting itself in the NCAA Tournament discussion. This weekend’s victory at the CenturyLink Center could go a long way.

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Is Anything Really Different With Gonzaga This Year?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 15th, 2014

At the end of last season — after Gonzaga was run out of the NCAA Tournament by Arizona, and amid all the hubbub and wailing and weeping and gnashing of teeth that tends to accompany the Bulldogs’ exit from March Madness — I wrote a little bit about the Zags. Go back and read it. I’m biased, but I think it is a pretty good summation of the Bulldogs basketball program. Sixteen straight NCAA Tournament appearances! Fifteen in a row since Mark Few has taken over the program! Sure, there have been some disappointing exits, but you find some interesting things if you look back over the years. Namely, in all of those years, only six Gonzaga players have been taken in the NBA Draft. Or that 14 of the 16 teams that have knocked Gonzaga out of the Tournament have had future NBA players on their teams. Or that they’ve run into some extremely bad luck in some of their March exits.

Fifteen Straight NCAA Tournament Appearances For Mark Few Speaks For Itself (David Becker, Getty Images)

Fifteen Straight NCAA Tournament Appearances For Mark Few Speaks For Itself (David Becker, Getty Images)

So, with that history fresh in our minds, let’s turn to this year’s vintage of the Zags, a team that just finished a three-game mini-tour of Pac-12 basketball with a road win over UCLA, a home win against Washington State and a heart-breaking overtime loss at Arizona. If you read college basketball scribes from around the nation, you’ve already seen plenty of love for Gonzaga. ESPN‘s Jeff Goodman went out on a limb and picked Gonzaga to win the NCAA Championship, while John Gasaway, Seth Greenberg, Jeff Borzello and Joe Lunardi all punched Mark Few’s team into the Final Four. Several other national writers from around the country are on the bandwagon too. So, the obvious question is whether Gonzaga is again being set up to be called, erroneously, March failures.

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