Circle of March: Championship Monday Edition

Posted by rtmsf on April 7th, 2014

From 340 teams a month ago to just two remaining. Kentucky and Connecticut will tip it off tonight in the unlikeliest of championship games, but the beauty of March Madness is that the unpredictable is often the only predictable thing. It’s been five weeks since we debuted this year’s Circle of March, and 338 teams have dropped off in the interim. There’s definitely some magic surrounding this year’s NCAA Tourney, and we’re really starting to wonder if the position of the “C” somewhat randomly in the eye of the Circle has some supernatural meaning. We’ll find out soon; the rest of Monday  can’t pass quickly enough — let’s get this thing started!

circlemarch_4_6Eliminated From National Title Contention (04.07.14)

  • Florida
  • Wisconsin
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Kentucky’s Improbable Journey Rolls On: Three Takeaways

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 6th, 2014

The cardiac ‘Cats did it again. Aaron Harrison continued to make the late-game extraordinary look routine and Kentucky’s unlikely NCAA Tournament run lived to see yet another day. The only thing now standing between the Wildcats and the program’s ninth National Championship is UConn on Monday night, but the #8 seeded Wildcats will be a favorite to knock off the Huskies and complete the six-game sweep. With an eye towards Monday night, here are three quick takeaways from Kentucky’s semifinal victory over Wisconsin.

Kentucky Will Play For The Program's Ninth National Title On Monday Night

Kentucky Will Play For The Program’s Ninth National Title On Monday Night

  1. James Young was aggressive and effective attacking the basket. Young is far from a one-dimensional player, but with more three-point attempts than two-point attempts to his name this season, there have been times when the freshman’s role has been reduced to that of a jump shooter, almost exclusively. This was not the case against the Badgers. Young scored a game-high 17 points, and only three were earned from behind the arc. Nine of his 11 field goal attempts came from two-point range, and Young showed off a more varied offensive game in getting into the lane often and to the free throw stripe almost as frequently (he went 6-of-7 on free throws). His floor-stretching ability will again be crucial on Monday night, but a Young capable of manufacturing points in different ways is a scary proposition moving forward.
  2. Alex Poythress may never be the player everyone hoped he would be when he arrived in Lexington, but he has become a key role player on this team. Poythress played 29 minutes last night, had eight points (4-of-4 FG) and seven rebounds, and even did a nice job defending Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky when called upon. His offensive game is still unrefined, but as an athletic energy guy off the bench who can guard almost every position, Poythress has real value for the Willie Cauley-Stein-less ‘Cats. Expect another heavy dose of the sophomore on Monday night, as he would appear to be a perfect defensive match-up for UConn’s DeAndre Daniels. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 74, #2 Wisconsin 73

Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2014

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Rush the Court is covering the Final Four from Arlington, Texas, this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Aaron Harrison, Redux.

Aaron Harrison, Redux.

  1. Stone. Cold. Aaron. Harrison. Wow, just wow. Every time you think that these Cats have run out of lives, they just continue to make just enough plays, often in astonishing fashion, to survive and advance. One Wildcat in particular — freshman guard Aaron Harrison — has taken the notion of clutch to a whole new level. One week after drilling a long contested three to send the Wildcats to the Final Four, he drilled another from very near the same spot to push his team into a National Championship game that few would have anticipated several weeks ago. After the game, he said that he didn’t feel like he has a clutch gene, but we’d beg to differ. The fact of the matter is that Harrison, along with many of these Kentucky kids, are supremely confident in their gifts, which gives them the requisite swagger to both take and make these big shots.
  2. Calipari’s Tweak Has Worked. For any number of reasons, whatever Calipari and his staff were doing for the first three-quarters of this season only marginally worked. The Wildcats only had one five-game winning streak all season long, and that was from mid-November to early December against the likes of Robert Morris, UT-Arlington, Cleveland State, Eastern Michigan and Providence (average KenPom rank = #131). Kentucky’s current five-game winning streak includes wins over Kansas State, Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin (average KenPom rank = #13). Even accounting for a four-month lapse in time from those games, it’s not like the Wildcats set the world on fire in the SEC either, with a 12-6 league mark. Since the postseason began, though, Calipari has seemed to successfully remove the pressure from the heads of his kids by simplifying the game for each of them at an individual level and referring to sorcery and magic to keep the media at bay. No matter the reason, it’s worked and it’s still working. After all of the ups and downs throughout the season, Kentucky finds itself exactly in the position that many expected before the realities of a long and growth-filled regular season came to pass. Calipari is many, many things, but his best attribute is simply getting players to believe.
  3. Wisconsin is Crushed, But Has No Reason To Hang Its Head. The Badgers did everything required to win this game, as it held a two-point lead with six seconds left against a team running an isolation play for a mediocre shooter beyond the three-point line. In most scenarios, Bo Ryan’s team walks away with a win there and we’re not talking about the Wisconsin players being crushed (and they were absolutely heartbroken, make no mistake about that). But considering that Ryan’s program made the leap this season by getting to his first Final Four and eschewing some of the (deserving) reputation that the Badgers were a defense-only grind-it-out team, he is poised to start making these events more frequently. Hopefully tonight’s game, where the Badgers proved it could go toe to toe offensively with a boatload of NBA prospects, will help to combat some of that perception. Even better for Wisconsin, Ryan expects everyone except for Ben Brust back next season. Expect a top five national spot in the 2014-15 preseason polls for the Badgers.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 63, #1 Florida 53

Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2014

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Rush the Court is covering the Final Four from Arlington, Texas, this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Calhoun

Former Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun Was All Smiles After the Game

  1. Tale of Two First Halves. The tone for this game was set in the first half, with Florida running out to a seemingly dominant 16-4 lead with 10 minutes gone. At that time, the Gators looked nothing less than dominant on both ends of the floor — bigger, stronger, and methodically having their way with the Huskies. The problem was that the lead needed to be bigger than it was, because from the 8:49 point of the first half UConn closed to take a 25-22 halftime lead and kept it up to ultimately double up one of the nation’s best defensive teams by a margin of 59-37 the rest of the game. UConn did it by making some timely shots, of course — DeAndre Daniels’ pair of early threes in particular — but where the Huskies were really able to stifle the Gators was in completely shutting down Florida’s starting backcourt of Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier (3-of-12 FG for seven points). The backcourt duo had essentially taken turns leading Florida offensively through the South Region, but without either capable of getting anything going tonight, it was left to Patric Young (19/5) and Casey Prather (15/6) to carry the load. In a game where points were at a premium, the Gators’ defense wasn’t going to be able to manufacture enough to compensate for a rough 39 percent overall and 1-of-10 from three shooting performance.
  2. On Florida’s Go-To Guy. With 49 seconds remaining, the game was all but final when Florida’s senior leader, Scottie Wilbekin, shot a horrifically off three-point airball that caused a shot clock review. There were a couple of notable moments related to that miss. First, it iced the game for the Huskies and all of the Gators’ body language afterward clearly exhibited that fact. But it also served to illustrate why Florida spent all year gambling in its reliance on a crafty, steady, solid point guard like Wilbekin to become its bona fide go-to guy. Billy Donovan’s team had a magnificent college basketball season, ending a 30-game winning streak with a 36-3 record and a loss in the Final Four — there’s no shame anywhere in those numbers. But as he noted after tonight’s game, “Given our talent level, we played way better than our potential.” And he’s right, with Wilbekin as Exhibit A to that notion. The NCAA Tournament is a cruel mistress, and many players far better than him have been eliminated much earlier than the Final Four, but it’s really difficult for a really good collegian with no professional prospects to have so many good offensive performances in a row (against high-quality competition).
  3. The Huskies Won Without a Huge Night From #shabazzketball. So if you were told before the game that Shabazz Napier would have a pedestrian 12-point, six-assist performance in the Final Four, there’s no way that you pick the Huskies to win, right? That’s what is somewhat scary about how well some of the other UConn players are performing right now, particularly DeAndre Daniels. In a low-possession game (57), a quiet night from Napier is perfectly fine so long as Kevin Ollie also gets 11 points from Niels Giffey, 13 from Ryan Boatright, and 20 from Daniels, all coming in an efficient manner. What he can’t have is guys spraying wild shots all over the place, and I for one can’t remember more than a couple of questionable takes from Ollie’s group all night. The proof is in the pudding, too — the Huskies hit 77 percent of their foul shots, 61 percent of their twos, 41 percent of their threes, and lit up the Gators’ defense for 1.11 points per possession. That kind of full-team performance is how you beat #1 seeds.

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UConn and Cincinnati: Trading Places in the Postseason

Posted by Will Tucker on April 5th, 2014

On March 8, 2014, Cincinnati and UConn looked like two teams headed in opposite directions. Having just hung 97 points on Memphis to complete a sweep of Josh Pastner’s team, the Bearcats went on the road and clinched a share of their first conference championship since 2004. That same day, Connecticut suffered an 81-48 drubbing at the hands of Louisville – the kind of humiliating end-of-season defeat that might spell doom for a team’s postseason.

AAC Men's Basketball Championship

Mick Cronin and Kevin Ollie: diverging paths (Richard Messina / Hartford Courant)

To the Huskies’ credit, they had just beaten Cincinnati a week before, capping a 6-1 stretch that followed a road loss to the Bearcats in February. But Kevin Ollie’s team exhibited red some flags even before being massacred in Louisville. They had eclipsed 70 points during regulation only once in the past seven games. DeAndre Daniels, who in January I predicted was poised for a breakout season, scored in double figures only twice during the same time frame. UConn had been outrebounded in their previous six games by an average margin of 8.3 boards per game.

Cincinnati, conversely, looked like a physically imposing, battle-tested, and veteran squad that was prepared to usher the program beyond the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1996. Rebounding from consecutive close losses to Louisville and UConn, All-American Sean Kilpatrick was firing on all cylinders in his subsequent two games, averaging 29 points on 68 percent shooting. Fellow seniors Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles appeared up to the task of complementing Kilpatrick in the frontcourt. And after winning the number one seed in the AAC Tournament by way of a coin flip, the Bearcats seemed destined for a rematch with de facto home team Memphis, whom they had already twice beaten soundly.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.05.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 5th, 2014

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Kentucky

  • With five freshman starters, Kentucky came into this season ranked #1 despite losing in the first round of the NIT last year. Though the Wildcats were, at one point, arguably the biggest disappointment in college basketball, they have righted the ship. This weekend, the world will be able to see if Kentucky really deserved that preseason #1 ranking.
  • Kentucky coach John Calipari claims that a “tweak” before the SEC Tournament helped create the force that has been Kentucky basketball over the past month. He won’t say what it is, but insists that there was some change made. ”What I told these guys after I saw what it did, I just said, ‘You know what? I screwed this up. Make me look good,’” Calipari said. “And they have. The media doesn’t have enough basketball savvy to figure it out, so …”
  • Instead of “one-and-done,” Calipari is trying to change Kentucky’s mantra to “succeed and proceed.” He doesn’t support the former because he doesn’t see his program as a one-year pitstop before the NBA. As Calipari puts it, ”Every player that I’ve recruited, and they will tell you, I say the same thing: ‘Don’t plan on coming to school for one year. You make a huge mistake. But if after one year you have options, that will be up to you and your family. You plan on being in school two or three years. But if after one year you have options, that’s up to you and your family. Enjoy the experience, enjoy the college environment, because the rest of it is work, it’s not about family, it’s about business.’”
  • For most #8 seeds, a Final Four run is a Cinderella Story that will live on in that program’s history forever. For Kentucky, however, its run to the Final Four is simply “tough” rather than miraculous.
  • Texas natives, the Harrison Twins have been the key catalysts for Kentucky’s run back into their home state. Though the Twins seemed immature at times this season, Calipari believed in them in part because of their high character. ”The Harrisons, good family, mom and dad raised them and did right,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “They were coached, they are skilled. They just had to be challenged in a lot of different ways that they had never been challenged.”
  • Julius Randle’s NBA draft stock slipped a bit partly because his team wasn’t successful for much of the season, but through Kentucky’s run to the Final Four, Randle is proving that he should be a slam dunk top five NBA Draft pick.

Wisconsin 

  • Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan has one of the best systems in college basketball, and is known for his ability to develop players, particularly big men. “Coach Ryan has a system and he recruits people into his system that are going to take their four years to grow, physically and mentally, into that system,” [Wisconsin big man Frank]Kaminsky said. “By the time you’re ready to play you’re going to be effective in that system. It comes with a lot of frustrations and a lot of ups and downs, but he really demands the best out of every one of his players. That’s happened with me and I’ve been able to grow into this person and player that I am today.”
  • Wisconsin is often not intimidating and light-hearted, but the Badgers bring it when it’s time to play. ”Sometimes, we kind of fail that eye test,” [Frank] Kaminsky said. “But it doesn’t matter when the game starts. It matters how we play. … People can say we look like this and we look like that — we look like a bunch of white guys — but it doesn’t matter at the end of the day.”
  • Wisconsin point guard Traevon Jackson has a father who dominated the Big Ten in the late 80s/early 90s. However, the younger Jackson is creating his own legacy by achieving something that his father never did: a Final Four.
  • Even though Kentucky enters today’s game as the 8-seed, is Wisconsin the underdog? With a piping-hot Kentucky team, this may be the case.
  • Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky is big and “goofy“, but the seven-footer has been the key to the Badgers’ success. He was only a role player over the past two seasons, but this year he made huge strides. ”I let a lot of things faze me and get frustrated all the time,” he said. “I really wasn’t doing the best that knew I could do. I knew I had to grow up — physically and mentally. It took me a couple of years.”
  • Though Wisconsin is often characterized as unathletic and slow, it believes that it has the athleticism to hang with Kentucky. Even though the Badgers don’t exactly jump out of the gym, they’re still athletic in their own eyes. ”Athleticism is defined in a lot of ways, OK?” Ryan said. “Eye-hand coordination, jumping ability, strength, being able to hit a baseball, being able to drive a race car. When you say ‘athletic,’ this group we have is athletic in this sense: they have good perception and spatial skills for being a good offensive team.”

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Final Four

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 4th, 2014

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#1 Florida vs. #7 Connecticut – National Semifinal (at Arlington, TX) – 6:09 PM ET on TBS

The Final Four tips off with a Florida team that has won 30 consecutive games facing the last team to beat it, Connecticut. The Huskies knocked off the Gators in Storrs way back on December 2 on a Shabazz Napier buzzer-beater. Although it was four months ago, much can be learned from that game. Contrary to popular belief, Florida’s top six rotation players suited up for it, although Scottie Wilbekin left the game with about three minutes to play due to injury. In that contest, Florida absolutely dominated the paint by holding Connecticut to 41.4 percent shooting from two-point range and winning the rebounding battle by eight. However, the Gators lost the game at the three-point line, where they allowed the Huskies to make 11-of-24 attempts. Sixteen Florida turnovers also didn’t help matters for Billy Donovan’s team.

Napier Has His Eyes Set on Another Title (Credit: UConn Athletic Communications/Stephen Slade)

Napier Has His Eyes Set on Another Title (Credit: UConn Athletic Communications/Stephen Slade)

Fast forward to April and the Gators’ front line is formidable as ever. While Connecticut’s interior play has improved and its rebounding has been terrific in the NCAA Tournament, facing Patric Young and the nation’s top-ranked defense will be a tall task for the Huskies. Connecticut is talented but young and raw up front. Amida Brimah and Phillip Nolan are just a freshman and sophomore, respectively, while DeAndre Daniels loves to drift away from the paint and is not a back-to-the-basket kind of player. For Kevin Ollie’s team to have success, Napier must continue his dominant performance and Daniels has to make jump shots. Napier and Ryan Boatright are the two constants on this team, but it is Daniels who takes it to another level when playing well. He will likely be guarded by Will Yeguete, Dorian Finney-Smith or Young, or any combination of the three. If Daniels cannot get anything going, Napier will have to score 30+ points and Connecticut will have to have another terrific night from the three-point line in order to advance to Monday night’s national championship game.

Defensively, there is no doubt that Connecticut can match Florida. The Huskies’ defense has been phenomenal all season long and doesn’t get the credit it deserves with Napier stealing the spotlight most of the time. Connecticut ranks 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency and actually has a slightly stronger interior defense than Florida when you look at opponents’ two-point percentage (one percentage point better than Florida). An important part of Ollie’s game plan will be to limit Scottie Wilbekin and prevent him from easily getting Florida into its sets and taking over the game. Easier said than done, of course.

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Final Four Previews In-Depth: Florida Gators

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 4th, 2014

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As part of our ongoing NCAA Tournament coverage, RTC is unveiling a detailed look at each of the Final Four teams throughout the week. Kentucky, Wisconsin and UConn have already released. Today: Florida.

Back on December 2, college basketball pollsters would have told you that Florida was the worst of the four teams still standing in this NCAA Tournament. #12 UConn beat the 15th-ranked Gators that night, and both Kentucky (#3) and Wisconsin (#8) rested comfortably among the top 10 teams in the nation. Things have changed quite significantly in the months since. As a result of 30 consecutive victories since that loss in Storrs, Florida now enters the Final Four as the prohibitive favorite to cut down the nets, while their three Final Four mates have lost a combined 24 times since the Gators have. It’s been a relentless and astounding string of success for Billy Donovan’s team, but the Gators know that their winning streak will mean far less if it fails to reach 32 games. The ultimate validation is available in North Texas, and Florida appears poised and ready to snatch it.

Before The Winning Began In Earnest, Billy Donovan Had To Navigate His Team Through A Slew Of Early Season Personnel Losses

Before The Winning Began In Earnest, Billy Donovan Had To Navigate His Team Through A Slew Of Early Season Personnel Losses

Pre-NCAA Tournament Capsule. Florida, picked to finished second in the SEC in the league preseason poll, began the season with a rather discombobulated roster. Scottie Wilbekin started the year suspended, Chris Walker was ineligible, and newcomers Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and DeVon Walker all missed time due to injuries. There were even times when Billy Donovan didn’t have enough healthy bodies to scrimmage five-on-five in practice, which made the Gators’ 11-2 non-conference record (which included victories over Kansas, Memphis, and Florida State) a good, if not great, beginning to the season. But Florida was just getting started. With Casey Prather emerging out of nowhere as an All-American candidate and Wilbekin shedding character issues to become one of the best two-way floor generals in the country, Florida ripped off 21 straight victories to seize the SEC regular season and Tournament crowns, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. Not everything was easy – five of those SEC wins came by five points or fewer – but the Gators posted the most impressive regular season in college basketball this season. They were rightfully awarded the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, and entered the Big Dance on a 26-game winning streak.

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UConn and the ACC: The One That Got Away

Posted by Chris Kehoe on April 4th, 2014

When the most recent jumble of conference realignment was underway, the ACC squarely targeted the Big East for its newest conquests. Commissioner John Swofford wanted to add programs that were strong in the revenue sports of football and basketball, holding distinctive geographic locations that would open up the conference to new fans and marketing possibilities. The ACC won out in a big way, snagging prominent athletic programs at Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh from the old Big East. While these programs are have had varying degrees of success in the sport that drives realignment, Notre Dame is the only football name brand (and the Irish retained their football independence). So while the current athletic landscape is shaped by the financial juggernaut that is college football, the ACC locked up some of the country’s most elite basketball programs.

UConn has a rising star in Head Coach Kevin Ollie (credit: CT Post)

UConn has a rising star in Head Coach Kevin Ollie (credit: CT Post)

So while the ACC may have sought greater football legitimacy as its primary goal, the league also landed two massively successful basketball programs in Syracuse and Louisville. As a result, the ACC may very well have positioned itself as the basketball conference of the future, made up of most if not all of the best programs up and down the East Coast. That is, with one notable exception. As the league plundered the Big East, it may have made a drastic mistake from a basketball perspective. The ACC left behind a basketball powerhouse in its own right, Connecticut, a school that all but pleaded for entry into the ACC and a Final Four participant in a season when no conference team made it past the Sweet Sixteen. Recall the silly preseason talk about how the ACC was supposed to be ‘the best ever’, and it leaves you wondering if the exclusion of a program like UConn was the right move. The basketball program based in Storrs has had continued and sustained excellence in the sport over a long period of time, winning the national title three times since 1999 (as well as 2004 and 2011), and putting 13 players into the NBA as lottery picks since 1994. Few programs can match that record.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.04.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 4th, 2014

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Kentucky

  • Kentucky’s presence at the final weekend of the season may seem like a routine occurrence, but coach John Calipari continues to make the Wildcats’ presence interesting. In particular, Calipari seems to get frustrated when asked about fielding a team of mostly NBA-bound freshmen. “We don’t talk about the NBA,” said Calipari. “We’re worried about winning college games and being a great college team — losing yourself in the team, doing less, which ends up being more, losing yourself in the game. So, I don’t think that kids are thinking those things.”
  • He’s never boring, and John Calipari has seemingly outdone himself again. Yesterday the most effective user of the “one-and-done” strategy stated that he thought the phenomenon should end. In an excerpt from his book, Players First: Coaching From the Inside Out, Calipari says, “I’ve made it work for the teams I coach—and for the players—as best I can. But I don’t like it one bit. Some people say I’m renting players or I’m working the system. Let me make this very clear: I want to coach players for four years. Very few of the young players are truly ready for the rigors of the NBA. All but a handful would benefit from more time playing college basketball, more class time and more time on a college campus.”
  • John Calipari is often disrespected as in-game coach because he’s so good on the recruiting trail, but Dick Vitale credits Calipari for turning a “disappointing” regular season to a Final Four berth, and possibly more.
  • Effective (and sometimes dominant) guard play is a necessity for success in college hoops, and recently, the Harrison twins have given Kentucky just that. Their talent has never in question, but Calipari believes that their struggles came down to him. “We had to define the roles better, and I did a poor job of that until late in the year, by the end of the year,” Calipari said. “I can’t believe it. I was angry when I realized what I had done. I coached all different kinds of point guards. We had to get Derrick Rose to shoot more. We had to get Tyreke [Evans] and Brandon Knight to shoot less.”
  • Coming in as a McDonald’s All-American, Kentucky sophomore forward Alex Poythress didn’t live up to expectations last year. This year, however, his move to the bench has seemingly sparked his game, as he is now averaging nine points and 11 rebounds in only 23 minutes per game. ”Alex is playing out of his mind,” coach Calipari said. “Alex went from the starter to the sixth man, from way too many minutes to probably a few minutes less than he needs, less shots, and all of a sudden … he’s skyrocketing. That stuff doesn’t matter. The shots and points, that’s all ego. It’s how are you playing?”
  • Kentucky as a #8 seed may look like a conspiracy, but in reality, it just happened to be bad luck for Wichita State and Louisville. Expressing his discontent with seeding after his team beat Wichita State in the Sweet Sixteen, Calipari said that ”The winner of this [game between Kentucky and Wichita State] should have gone to the Final Four, that’s what this was.”

Wisconsin 

  • The families of Wisconsin players have become a team of their own through supporting their Badgers. “Everyone just enjoys each other’s company,” said Jonathan Brust [and father of Wisconsin senior, Ben], whose mother, Barb, is cited as the ringleader of much of the group’s social activities. “We’re all enjoying the experience together.”
  • Wisconsin senior Zach Bohannon doesn’t play much, but he’s made a huge impact in the classroom during his time in Madison. Bohannon already has a bachelor’s degree and a masters degree, and is in the process of adding an MBA to the list.
  • A longtime coach in the state of Wisconsin, Badgers coach Bo Ryan was ecstatic when he received an offer to be Wisconsin’s head coach in 2001. Before he took the job, athletic director Pat Richter asked Ryan one simple question: ”Are you ready?” I think we all would agree that Ryan’s resounding “yes” was the correct response.
  • Bo Ryan hasn’t found any new validation in his coaching career by reaching the Final Four, and his peers feel the same way. In the words of his coaching adversary on Saturday, John Calipari: “So I don’t think we evaluate any coach based on Final Fours or who made it, national titles. We just know who can coach, who is a good guy, who gets their teams better, who cares about those kids. We know those guys. If they made it to the Final Four, great. If they didn’t, that didn’t change my opinion of them.”
  • Over the years, Bo Ryan has developed a close connection with his players. As a result, he is enjoying his first Final Four with them and hopes that a National Title will be icing on the cake. ”It would be so exciting if we were to be the last team standing,” Ryan said. “I would just stand back and look at those guys and just smile inside and outside.”
  • Kentucky coach John Calipari has seen success in Lexington through his one-and-dones, but Bo Ryan is proving that you can still reach Final Fours the old fashioned way: “Four-and-Dones.” Ryan, however, was lighthearted when asked about Coach Cal’s methods of winning. ”Here’s all I’ve got to say to Cal,” Ryan said. “When somebody asks me about one-and-done, all I remember is when Mom would give me a pork chop or piece of meatloaf and I would ask for another piece and she would say, ‘No, one and done.’ “

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Debut of Turner’s “Teamcasts” Offers New Twist on Final Four Saturday

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 3rd, 2014

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Despite the participation of familiar programs Kentucky, Florida, Connecticut and Wisconsin, Final Four Saturday will look a little different this weekend. For one, games will be televised on a network other than CBS for the first time since 1982 (TBS), but the CBS/Turner partnership didn’t stop there in its overhaul of National Semifinals programming. We took inventory of the newfangled approach when it was announced back in November, but the introduction of “Teamcasts” – two additional, school-specific telecasts to air on TNT and truTV simultaneous to TBS’ national broadcast – will become a reality on Saturday evening. If successful, the idea could lead to even more specialization in coverage down the road (merits of a journey down this path could be debated), but for now, Teamcasts should provide all viewers – both bipartisan and neutral – a healthy, optional alternative to the national coverage they are used to consuming during the Final Four.

If You Tired Of Jim Nantz And Co. Calling The Final Four Action On TBS Saturday Night, Don't Use The Mute Button Before Checking Out The "Teamcasts" On TNT And TruTV

If You Tired Of Jim Nantz And Co. Calling The Final Four Action On TBS Saturday Night, Don’t Use The Mute Button Before Checking Out The “Teamcasts” On TNT And TruTV

The TBS telecast should still pull in the majority of Final Four viewers, but it will be interesting to see just how significant a segment shift their television sets to the team-specific broadcasts elsewhere. A smattering of fans without a team in the Final Four will undoubtedly use their remotes for the occasional change-of-pace offered by the Teamcasts, but I question how many Kentucky, UConn, Florida or Wisconsin fans will even make the switch. Hearing Jim Nantz, Steve Kerr and Greg Anthony discuss your team can pleasantly solidify the magnitude of the moment your team finds itself competing in — whether you enjoy listening to that trio or not. Following along with a more familiar, school-specific crew may offer thoughtful, precise insights, but it might also make the Final Four experience feel a bit more ordinary than it would with the national crew.

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Final Four Previews In-Depth: Wisconsin Badgers

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 3rd, 2014

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As part of our ongoing NCAA Tournament coverage, RTC is unveiling a detailed look at each of the Final Four teams throughout the week. Kentucky and UConn have already released. Today: Wisconsin.

In the days between Selection Sunday and the actual start of the NCAA Tournament, Wisconsin flew under the radar. In a West Region lacking the punch of, say, the loaded Midwest Region, the #2 seed was picked by just 20 percent of ESPN.com‘s bracket entrants to advance to the Final Four, while nearly half of those brackets instead favoring Arizona. But after riding the a little home-cooking through the Milwaukee pod in the first weekend then taking care of business in Anaheim against two of the hottest teams in the nation (Baylor and Arizona), it is the Badgers that are left standing, delivering the first Division I Final Four in Bo Ryan‘s successful career.

Wisconsin Earned Its Third Final Four Appearance With A Dramatic Win Over Arizona On Saturday (Jae C. Hong, AP Photo)

Wisconsin Earned Its Third Final Four Appearance With A Dramatic Win Over Arizona On Saturday (Jae C. Hong, AP Photo)

Pre-NCAA Tournament Capsule. Coming into the season, expectations were somewhat measured for the Badgers. With last year’s frontcourt stalwarts Ryan Evans, Jarred Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz all having used up their collegiate eligibility, Ryan was going to have to rely more on his veteran backcourt of sophomore Sam Dekker and some additional to-be-determined frontcourt players. Very early in the season, we got a big hint as to which of those candidates had the most potential, as junior seven-footer Frank Kaminsky, after scoring only 10 points in his first two games, dropped 43 points on just 19 field goal attempts in the Badgers’ fourth game of the season. From that point forward, Kaminsky regularly scored in double-figures for Wisconsin, and he did so in a highly-efficient manner. Meanwhile, in fewer minutes, freshman big man Nigel Hayes was also establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with, turning a preseason question mark into a serious strength for Ryan’s club.  With the backcourt of Traevon Jackson, Ben Brust and Josh Gasser locked into their roles and Dekker taking the obvious next step in his development, Wisconsin got off to a great start, winning its first 16 games of the season and jumping into the national top five. Playing with more pace and offensive punch than they had in previous years under Ryan, the Badgers were recognized roundly as maybe the coach’s best bet at a Final Four.

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