Final Four Previews: Syracuse/North Carolina Will Win If…

Posted by Brian Otskey & Bennet Hayes on April 2nd, 2016

The Final Four tips off later today, so it’s time to break down the upcoming games by determining what it will take for each team to win. Yesterday we previewed the early battle between Oklahoma and Villanova, tipping off at 6:09 PM ET. Today we review the Syracuse-North Carolina nightcap, scheduled to tip at 8:49 PM ET. RTC’s Brian Otskey (North Carolina) and Bennet Hayes (Syracuse) with the honors.

Syracuse Will Win If…

Syracuse is One of the Most Unlikely Final Four Entrants Ever (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Syracuse is One of the Most Unlikely Final Four Entrants Ever (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

  • North Carolina misses three-point shots…and Syracuse rebounds them. The Tar Heels killed Syracuse on the offensive glass in their last meeting (19 offensive rebounds to Syracuse’s 22 defensive rebounds), which severely mitigated the damage done by North Carolina’s anemic perimeter shooting (6-of-25 from three-point range). UNC is fully capable of struggling to make three-point shots again (it shoots just 32 percent on the season), but Syracuse must hold its own on the defensive glass this time around. There’s a reason the Orange rank 337th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, but expect Jim Boeheim to emphasize constant awareness and early box-outs when the Tar Heels hoist a long-range attempt.
  • They make three-point shots. There’s no avoiding the fact that Syracuse isn’t a good offensive team. Michael Gbinije has been the lone consistent source of offensive production this season, and even he has looked tired at times during this NCAA Tournament. However, there are a handful of players capable of getting hot from the perimeter. Senior Trevor Cooney is prime among them (35% 3FG), but Malachi Richardson, Tyler Lydon and Gbinije himself would all boost Syracuse’s chances if they are able to knock down shots tonight. No need to think too hard here – the three-point shot will always be an underdog’s greatest equalizer.
  • An Orange freshman is the best player on the court. North Carolina is nearly a 10-point favorite in this game but it’s possible that Syracuse will have two players drafted before any Tar Heel this June. Lydon and Richardson are freshmen with rapidly rising draft stocks – particularly the former – and each is capable of having a huge impact on Saturday. Hoping they will be the best player on the floor against a team with talented veterans like Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige is asking a lot, but both freshmen have shown glimpses that suggest they are more than capable. Heck, Richardson has already dominated the ACC Player of the Year (Malcolm Brogdon) for a half in this Tournament; why can’t he or Lydon produce a similar feat against the Heels?

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Final Four Previews: Oklahoma/Villanova Will Win If…

Posted by Brian Goodman & Tommy Lemoine on April 1st, 2016

We’re a little more than 24 hours from the Final Four, so it’s time to break down the upcoming games by determining what it will take for each team to win. Let’s start with the early battle between Oklahoma and Villanova, tipping off at 6:09 PM ET on Saturday evening. RTC’s Brian Goodman (Oklahoma) and Tommy Lemoine (Villanova) with the honors.

Oklahoma Will Win If…

Buddy Hield and the Sooners look to reverse the trend of poor shooting at the spacious NRG Stadium. (Getty Images)

Buddy Hield and the Sooners look to reverse the trend of poor-shooting teams at spacious NRG Stadium. (Getty Images)

  • It overcomes NRG Stadium’s reputation as a challenging shooting environment. Though the sample size isn’t overwhelming, teams have historically shot below their averages in the expansive confines of this year’s Final Four venue (as detailed last year by Ken Pomeroy and expanded upon earlier this week by Yahoo!‘s Jeff Eisenberg). The Sooners and Wildcats are notoriously reliant on jump-shooting, but what you may not know is just how eerily similar the two teams are in this fashion. Per hoop-math.com, 67.4 percent of Villanova’s field goal attempts this season have come away from the rim, and Oklahoma is just below the Wildcats in that category at 67.2 percent. Though it’s hardly earth-shattering, sometimes these things are simple: Whichever team solves the puzzle of performing well in spite of a tougher shooting environment will prevail, and with three Sooner regulars connecting from long range at rates of 42 percent or better, Oklahoma should have the slight edge.
  • It wins the battle of the interior. Should both teams struggle to find the range at NRG Stadium, inside play will become much more important to the outcome, and Oklahoma will have to answer some questions there. Ryan Spangler logged 10 points and eight rebounds against Texas A&M, but he hasn’t had a very good NCAA Tournament otherwise. The same can be said for rim-protector Khadeem Lattin, who went for 10 points and a pair of blocks against the Aggies, but has blocked just four shots in the Sooners’ other three tourney games. Though he’s technically a guard, freshman Christian James, a Houston native who emerged with a pair of quality outings in Anaheim, may be called upon to help inside as the Sooners look to best Daniel Ochefu and Kris Jenkins.

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ACC Back in the Final Four With Two Teams, Again…

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 31st, 2016

When North Carolina squares off with Syracuse in Saturday’s late national semifinal, it will mark the sixth time in league history that the ACC has entered two schools into the season’s final weekend. It’s been a great March Madness showing for the conference, with a record six schools in the Sweet Sixteen, a record-tying four teams in the Elite Eight, and an overall 18-5 record. The last time the ACC sent two teams to the Final Four was in 2004, when the league still carried nine teams. Since then, the ACC has undergone two major expansions that resulted in an immediate and noticeable downturn in its long tradition of basketball excellence. But combined with last year’s fine NCAA Tourney showing, it appears that the ACC has regained its status as the best among the nation’s major hoops conferences.

Marcus Paige and North Carolina will face a familiar foe in Saturday's National Semi-Finals. (Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)

Marcus Paige and North Carolina will face a familiar foe in Saturday’s National Semifinals. (Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s a little surprising how often individual conferences send multiple teams to the same Final Four. Of course, only one school per conference could participate in the NCAA Tournament for the first 36 years of the event. That changed in 1975 — thanks in large part to Maryland’s exclusion in 1974 — and, from there, it only took one season for a league to place two teams in the season’s final weekend — Indiana defeated fellow Big Ten school Michigan in the 1976 title game. In 1980, the Big Dance became a fully open tournament, with no limit on the number of teams a conference could send. Since then, 65 percent (24 of 37) of the subsequent Final Fours have featured multiple teams from the same conference. Particular hats off to the 1985 Big East, a league that sent three of its members to the Final Four. As you can see below, the Big Ten leads the way with multiple appearances over that span.

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The RTC Interview Series: One on One With Ernie Johnson

Posted by Chris Stone on March 30th, 2016

RTC interviews one on one

Turner Sports‘ Ernie Johnson is perhaps best known for his role mediating the rambunctious crew on TNT’s Inside the NBA, but this weekend he will host TBS’s coverage of the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four and National Championship. With the event just days away, we had an opportunity to sit down with Johnson to discuss the NCAA Tournament’s first championship on cable, the differences between preparing for the NBA and March Madness, and what advice he has for sports media hopefuls.

Rush the Court: As a longtime employee and icon for Turner, can you give us your thoughts on what it means to have this level of coverage for such a huge event in the college basketball world?

Ernie Johnson: Well, first of all, let’s go with longtime employee and you can hold off on the icon. It means a lot to all of us. It really does. I’ve been there since 1989. I’ve seen this company grow in ways we never thought and then have properties that I didn’t know we’d be covering. We were all excited when we signed the deal with CBS to team up on this for a long time and we knew somewhere down the road this would happen, but now that it’s here, it is very special. It’s certainly a point of pride for all of us that when you want to watch the games Saturday and on Monday night, you’ll be watching it on TBS. Turner’s got the championship game in the NCAA Tournament. We are pumped about that.

ernie johnson 1

Ernie Johnson will host studio coverage of the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four this weekend. (Credit: CSE)

Rush the Court: You also have the Team Streams as well, right?

Johnson: Yeah. They’re going to have the homer broadcasts, for lack of a better word. My hope is that everybody gets that stream, but I know that not everybody will because somebody will think, “OK, let’s watch the game on TNT,” and expect to hear Jim Nantz and Grant Hill and Bill Raftery and Tracy Wolfson on there and they’re going to get somebody that yells and they’re going to be cheering like mad for Villanova and they’re from Oklahoma and they’re ticked. It happened last year, too. We had people on social media going nuts saying, “What are these guys doing? Why don’t they just wave their pom-poms?” Hey, you’re watching the wrong channel. So really, right down the middle, the standard broadcast, TBS. If you’re anywhere but TBS and you’re watching the game, you’re going to hear some cheerleading.

Rush the Court: As we head into the Final Four, we’ve had a couple of weeks to get used to March Madness, so we were curious what storylines you are most interested in now that we’re down to just four teams.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Syracuse Orange

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 29th, 2016

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Finally, Syracuse. 

How Syracuse Got Here

Syracuse unexpectedly conquered all foes in the Midwest Region. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Syracuse unexpectedly conquered all foes in the Midwest Region. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Midwest Region Champions. Syracuse took a ride through the Midwest region that few expected. The tenth-seeded Orange defeated Dayton in round one, then made the most of a fortunate second round draw by knocking off fifteenth-seeded, Spartan-slaying, Middle Tennessee State. Jim Boeheim’s team proceeded to find lightning in a bottle twice at the Chicago regional, overcoming a nine-point deficit with less than five minutes to play against Gonzaga before supplying the most shocking victory of this stunning Syracuse March run: a regional final victory over #1 Virginia in which they overcame a 15-point deficit with less than ten minutes to play.

The Coach

Jim Boeheim. No stranger to Final Fours (this will be his fifth), even Boeheim himself has to be surprised to be making the trip to Houston this week. No Syracuse team has ever entered the Tournament with a higher seed than this one, and an uninspiring regular season left little hint that a run like this was coming. Boeheim has always enjoyed a little disrespect from the media and he’s been masterful in using the “nobody believes we deserve to be here” narrative as fuel for this run. If he can use that rallying cry (or any other tactic) to grind out two more wins in Houston, this will undoubtedly go down as his greatest coaching job in a career full of them. Read the rest of this entry »

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Final Four Fact Sheet: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 28th, 2016

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Next, North Carolina.

How The Tar Heels Got Here

Roy Williams Leads North Carolina to the Final Four for the 19th Time in School History (USA Today Images)

Roy Williams Leads North Carolina to the Final Four for the 19th Time in School History (USA Today Images)

East Region Champions. North Carolina faced little resistance from Florida Gulf Coast in the first round and then used a strong second half against Providence to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in Philadelphia. Once there, the Tar Heels throttled Indiana on the strength of a 1.42 points per possession effort. In the regional final, North Carolina answered a spirited charge from Notre Dame midway through the second half by dominating the paint in pulling away for a 14-point win.

The Coach

Roy Williams. This is Williams’ eighth Final Four appearance in 28 seasons as a head coach, the fourth-most all-time behind Mike Krzyzewski, John Wooden and his mentor, Dean Smith. Williams has faced his share of criticism over the last couple of years given the academic scandal involving North Carolina, but his team has successfully blocked out that distraction this season. Williams is moving towards the end of his tenure as a head coach (some retirement rumors have been floating around) and his team will head to Houston as the clear favorite to cut down the nets for what would be Williams’ third national championship at his alma mater.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Villanova Wildcats

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 28th, 2016

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. First, Villanova. 

Villanova hopes to do more celebrating in Houston. (Timothy D. Easley/AP)

Villanova hopes to do more celebrating in Houston. (Timothy D. Easley/AP)

How the Wildcats Got Here

South Region Champions. Villanova handled #15 seed UNC Asheville in its NCAA Tournament opener before crushing #7 seed Iowa in the round of 32. The Wildcats then headed to Louisville, where they posted 1.56 points per possession – the most efficient performance in college basketball all season long – en route to a 23-point drubbing of #3 seed Miami. Two nights later, the Big East champs came up with the necessary late-game stops to grind out a victory against #1 seed Kansas and clinch its first Final Four appearance since 2009.

The Coach

Jay Wright. Before Wright took over for Steve Lappas in 2001, the Wildcats had not reached the Sweet Sixteen since 1987-88. In the 15 years since, Villanova has made five second weekend appearances, including Final Four trips this year and in 2009. The 54-year-old coach, known for his cool demeanor and sharply tailored suits, has elevated the program to even greater heights in recent seasons, posting a 95-13 record since 2013 and earning a #1 or #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament three years in a row. With another Final Four now under his belt, Wright should now be considered among the finest regular season and tournament coaches in college basketball.

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Preseason Rankings May Reveal Final Four Destiny

Posted by William Ezekowitz on February 12th, 2016

With March right around the corner, teams that rank highly in the Top 25 are daring to dream of a magical run to the Final Four in Houston. Because the NCAA Tournament is so matchup-based, it makes sense that most observers can’t realistically pick their favorites until Selection Sunday. But what if there were data that allowed us to eliminate a few upstarts before we even saw the brackets? Well, there are ways to do that. One oddity of college basketball is how important and even predictive the preseason rankings are. Nate Silver uses them as one of the tools in his formula for picking winners, a fact that should nearly legitimize them by itself. But the argument behind it makes sense: Preseason rankings are a good way of measuring the overall roster talent of a team (because what else are we going to rank teams on before we see them play?), so teams that were ranked in the preseason Top 25 should generally be accepted as talented teams. But how predictive are they when it comes to the Final Four?

Using data stretching back to the 2003 Final Four, we looked at the average Preseason and Pre-Tournament rankings of every Final Four team. For the purposes of getting an actual number for an average, we changed “not ranked” to “35,” which was somewhat arbitrary but seemed about right given that several teams just missed out in the “also receiving votes” category, while others came totally out of nowhere (Note: if we had used a higher number, the averages and standard deviations would have both been slightly higher, but not much would have otherwise changed). Here are the results:

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 5.40.14 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-11 at 5.40.40 PM

Shockingly, preseason rankings appear to be just as predictive of which teams will make the Final Four as pre-Tournament rankings. This makes us wonder why we even bother with that pesky regular season! But are preseason rankings truly destiny? Iowa, Xavier, Oregon and West Virginia all figure to be in and around the top 10 for the rest of the season, but none of that group were in the Top 25 when the season started. Could teams like these make the Final Four? The short answer, according to historical trends, is probably not. Since 2002, only four teams have ever made the Final Four after being unranked in the preseason but ranked after the regular season (this distinction is important, as it eliminates such Cinderellas like George Mason and VCU), and only one team has done it since 2006. In fact, since the 2012 NCAA Tournament, there have been just seven teams to achieve the rare feat of being unranked in the preseason but in the top 10 at Tournament time — interestingly, none of those teams has made it past the Sweet Sixteen.

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The RTC Podblast: Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 17th, 2015

Well, it certainly was an interesting opening weekend of college basketball. A number of upsets from coast to coast came across the news wires on Friday night, and a handful of others followed in the ensuing days. In this, the first RTC Podcast of the regular season, host Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) and Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) run down their thoughts on all the upsets, look ahead to tonight’s Champions Classic battles and revisit their preseason Final Four picks. It’s a quick-hit, podblast version of the show, but it’ll keep you busy for 20 minutes as you wait on tonight’s games to begin. Make sure to add us to your iTunes subscription list so it will automatically download to your listening device each week. The full rundown is below!

  • 0:00-8:54 – Virginia & Other Opening Weekend Upsets
  • 8:54-13:26 – Final Four/Championship Picks
  • 13:26-19:23 – Champions Classic Look Ahead
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Where 2015-16 Happens: Reason #3 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 11th, 2015

Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2015-16 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Friday, November 13. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#3 – Where Dream Seasons Happen.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-14 and 2014-15 preseasons.

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Where 2015-16 Happens: Reason #26 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 19th, 2015

Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2015-16 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Friday, November 13. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#26 – Where Onions at the Final Four Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-14 and 2014-15 preseasons.

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Circle of March: Duke Edition (Animated)

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2015

And so it’s done. From 333 eligible teams 36 days ago to just one standing as the clock struck midnight on Tuesday, Duke is the 2014-15 National Champion, and once again the Circle of March has officially and regrettably come full circle. Below is our animated edition. On to next year, folks!

2015_CircleofMarch_animated (2)

Eliminations (04.06.15)

  • Wisconsin

 

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