Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 95, #1 Kansas 79

Posted by rtmsf on April 1st, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Three Key Takeaways.

Villanova Advances to the Title Game for the Second Time in Three Years (USA Today Images)

  1. Three-llanova. It was 9-2 before most people had even started their mid-session hot dog. 14-4 by the first TV timeout. 22-4 seven minutes into the game. And everyone in the building, including Kansas head coach Bill Self, knew it was over. Villanova was simply too good to blow an 18-point lead, even if 80 percent of the game was still to come. At that point in the game, Villanova had already nailed six threes, but the Wildcats were far from done. Over the course of the next 13 minutes, Villanova dropped another seven threes, totaling a Final Four record-tying 13 in the first half alone. The Wildcats did so on 26 attempts (50%), effectively eschewing its patented drive game in favor of a number of long-range heat checks that dropped. Furthermore, Villanova only attempted seven two-point field goals for the half and took zero foul shots. All of this goes to show that Jay Wright‘s team was absolutely scorching, feeling it and playing to their hot hands. It was a first half performance for the ages and Kansas never really had a chance after the opening few minutes. Going into the break down 15 points, the Jayhawks never saw a single-figure deficit again.
  2. Villanova is on the Cusp of Greatness. Win a single National Championship at any school in America and you drink for free in the area for the rest of your life. But the truth is that there have been a number of one-hit wonder championship teams that are generally forgotten beyond their localities. If Villanova cuts down the nets on Monday night in San Antonio, however, Wright’s program will ascend to greatness. Three-year runs that include a trio of 30-win seasons and two banners don’t exactly grow on trees. In fact, only Kentucky from 1996-98 can make that claim in the modern era. For a program that doesn’t pile up all of the elite recruits but rather cultivates and grows the ones it gets, this run is nothing short of astonishing. There is still another game to be played, of course, and Michigan is a worthy and capable opponent, but all signs point to Villanova achieving something that perhaps only Wright and his closest supporters saw coming three years ago.
  3. Kansas Did Its Job For America. Bill Self alluded to this after the game, but given the number of issues that Kansas has faced this season — from losing Billy Preston to running a four-guard set — the Jayhawks have nothing of which to be ashamed. Beating a loaded Duke team in overtime of the Elite Eight is what this team will be remembered for, and even though the Kansas program plays for banners, it will be a very nice memory for the Jayhawks and the rest of America for years to come. We made light of Self having his “least impressive team” ever — which is still hogwash, but it certainly had more weaknesses than most of his teams over the last decade in Lawrence. That said, Kansas will continue to recruit great players; Self will continue to coach ’em up; and Kansas will continue to get to Final Fours. Eventually he’s going to win another one of these tournaments.

Player of the Game. Eric Paschall, Villanova. Take your pick on the Villanova roster for this award, but it’s yours when you drop 24 points in 29 minutes with only one missed shot on the entire evening. Paschall is one of the lesser-known players among the Wildcats’ regulars but he was All-American level tonight, draining a couple of threes for eight points in the first half and effectively ensuring Kansas would not make a run with 16 more points in the second stanza.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Michigan 69, #11 Loyola (Chicago) 57

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Three Key Takeaways.

Michigan Heads to the National Championship Game for the Second Time in John Beilein’s Career (USA Today Images)

  1. Loyola’s First Half Was a Microcosm of Its Run. Neither team came out of the gates hot, but Michigan at least was able to get a few things going well enough to jump out to an early 12-4 lead. It was fool’s gold. The Wolverines were being baited into three-pointers from the wrong players (e.g., Zavier Simpson) and they were depending too much on Moe Wagner to bail them out with offensive putbacks (typically not a strength of his). Needless to say, it didn’t last. Loyola started chipping away at the lead and eventually found its groove to make a 25-10 run throughout the rest of the first half, building a seven-point lead that the Ramblers took with them into the break. John Beilein noted after the game that it was the Ramblers’ defense — keyed by ball-screen switching and interesting looks — that really bothered the Wolverines in the first half. Just like the previous four teams that Loyola had vanquished.
  2. Michigan Eventually Responded in Kind. When Loyola hit a layup with 12 minutes remaining to go back up by nine points while Michigan continued to look flummoxed on the other end, it seemed as if this actually might happen. Then a pair of threes sandwiching a layup led to an 8-2 run for the Wolverines, but that was only the precursor to the much larger tidal wave 24-10 run that was coming. By the time Loyola recovered from a Michigan barrage fueled by tired legs, turnovers and even more putbacks (led by Wagner), Sister Jean’s Easter goose was cooked. The Wolverines have won several different ways through this tournament — three-point shooting, defense, offensive rebounding, turnovers — but the point is that they keep on winning. John Beilein is probably the most underrated coach in college basketball, and he has his team poised to win a championship that nobody saw coming a month ago.
  3. What a Run It Was. A #11 seed that beat an ACC team, an SEC team, the Mountain West regular season champion and a Big 12 team in succession doesn’t come around very often. Throwing in a certifiable national sensation like Sister Jean and her uplifting messages (and fandom!) couldn’t have made for a better story in these otherwise trying times. Porter Moser has had a middling career to this point but sometimes all it takes is a special team to lift a coach up and give him the opportunity he deserves. And while Loyola may have to regroup for another 50 years before its next trip to the sports final weekend, college basketball remains better for the chance it provides schools like the urban Jesuit school from Chicago to achieve its own One Shining Moment.

Player of the Game. Moe Wagner, Michigan. The German import had the game of his life on the sport’s biggest stage, going for 24 points and 15 rebounds in a diverse floor game that often propped up the Wolverines when they needed something to go in the basket. His production in the Final Four has only been equaled by Hall of Famers Larry Bird and Hakeem Olajuwon.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Villanova Wildcats

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 27th, 2018

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Next up is #1 Villanova from the East Region.

How Villanova Got Here

Villanova is headed back in the Final Four. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

East Region Champions. In a March defined by massive upsets, close games, and wild finishes, Villanova cruised to San Antonio without too much trouble. On opening weekend, the Wildcats beat #16 Radford by 27 points before hammering #9 Alabama, 81-58, two days later. In its Sweet Sixteen tilt with West Virginia, Jay Wright’s group used a 22-6 second half run to overcome a two-possession deficit and beat the Mountaineers by 12 points. On Sunday, Villanova put forth one of its best defensive efforts of the season, limiting Texas Tech to 0.89 points per possession in another 12-point win. The Wildcats now head to their second Final Four in three seasons, this time as the odds-on favorites to win it all.

The Coach

Jay Wright. The sharply dressed 56-year-old is working his way on to the Mount Rushmore of active head basketball coaches, and its hard to argue otherwise. Wright became the winningest coach in school history earlier this month and is currently in the midst of his fourth-straight 30-win season, which gives him as many such campaigns (five) as Syracuse’s Jim Boehiem and one more than Michigan State’s Tom Izzo (four). In fact, he has gone a remarkable 163-21 over the past five seasons, never once losing more than five games during that span. Now with three Final Four appearances under his belt, Wright is tied with Kansas’ Bill Self and Mississippi State’s Ben Howland for sixth-most among active coaches, and has a chance to join Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams as the only active head coaches with multiple National Championships.

Style

Villanova runs a four-out, one-in motion offense that relies on floor spacing, crisp ball movement, dribble-penetration and great perimeter shooting. The Wildcats, in fact, take 47.1 percent of their shots from behind the arc, which is substantially more than even the three-point reliant Jayhawks (41.4%) or Wolverines (43.1%). And there’s nothing excessive about it. Since every player on the floor is capable of penetrating, all it takes is one help defender to free up an open man somewhere on the court. And considering how well Villanova moves the ball — perhaps no team makes the “extra pass” as often as the Wildcats — that open man often finds the ball in his hands. The result is college basketball’s most efficient offense since 2015. Defensively, Villanova mixes defenses, sometimes running a zone press that’s proved effective throughout Wright’s career. The Wildcats also guard the perimeter aggressively, one reason they rank 29th nationally in three-point defense (32.2% 3FG).

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Loyola-Chicago Ramblers

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 26th, 2018

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. First, #11 Loyola-Chicago, from the South Region.

How Loyola-Chicago Got Here

Seriously: #11 Loyola-Chicago is in the Final Four. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

South Region Champions. In arguably the most chaotic region ever, the Missouri Valley Champion emerged as this NCAA Tournament’s team of destiny. The Ramblers began their unexpected run with a buzzer-beating victory over #6 Miami (FL), followed by an equally dramatic takedown of #3 Tennessee in the Round of 32. After edging #7 Nevada by a single point in the Sweet Sixteen — its third straight win by two points or fewer — Loyola shot 50 percent from behind the arc en route to a lopsided win over #9 Kansas State on Saturday. The Ramblers now join LSU (1986), George Mason (2006) and VCU (2011) as the only #11 seeds to reach the Final Four in NCAA Tournament history, a remarkable feat for a program that went 7-23 in the Horizon League just six seasons ago.

The Coach

Porter Moser. After middling coaching stints with Arkansas-Little Rock (2000-03) and Illinois State (2003-07), Moser took over a Loyola program in 2011 with just one 20-win season on its record since 1985. In a matter of just four years — including a 7-23 campaign and a move from the Horizon League to the Missouri Valley — the former Rick Majerus assistant led the Ramblers to the College Basketball Invitational title in 2014-15, their first postseason appearance in 30 years. Three seasons later, Moser has taken the program to its greatest heights since winning the National Championship in 1963.

Style

As a Majerus disciple, Moser stresses hard-nosed, meticulous team defense that’s enabled Loyola to rank among the top 20 nationally in efficiency for the first time in the KenPom era. The Ramblers do a masterful job of switching and hedging ball screens, closing out on shooters, and providing help defense near the rim, which has forced opponents into an 18.3 second average possession length this season — the longest of any remaining NCAA Tournament team. Offensively, Loyola runs a four-out, one-in system predicated on quick ball-movement, good floor spacing and versatile personnel. In Moser’s system, all four perimeter players should be able to dribble-drive and knock down perimeter shots, while the lone paint presence — often Cameron Krutwig — is expected to be a capable post passer. Among the slower-paced offenses in the country, Loyola works patiently to find the best possible shot on each trip.

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Where 2017-18 Happens: Reason #7 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 4th, 2017

As RTC heads into its 11th season covering college hoops, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish the 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 10. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#7 – Where Welcome Back, It’s Been a While Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 preseasons.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: South Carolina Gamecocks

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 28th, 2017

Now that we’re down to the Final Four, let’s take a deep dive into each of the four remaining teams. Today: South Carolina.

How South Carolina Got Here

South Carolina is headed to its first Final Four ever. (Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images)

East Region Champions. Despite entering Selection Sunday having lost six of its previous 10 games, South Carolina was given a surprisingly-high seed (#7) in a surprisingly-favorable location: Greenville, South Carolina. The Gamecocks took full advantage, crushing #10 seed Marquette before pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the NCAA Tournament against #2 Duke, scoring 65 points in the second half en route to an 88-81 runaway victory against the National Championship favorite. In its first Sweet Sixteen since appearance since 1973, South Carolina then held #3 Baylor to a season-low 0.76 points per possession; two days later, the Gamecocks put the finishing touches on their Cinderella run by upending SEC rival #4 Florida, limiting the Gators to 0-of-14 three-pointers in the second half on their way to a seven-point triumph.

The Coach

Frank Martin. In just five short years, Martin — a former nightclub bouncer and perhaps the scariest man in college basketball — has lifted a program from the depths of irrelevance to its first Final Four in school history. And he’s done it with the same hard-nosed, defensive-minded coaching style that made him successful in his first Division I coaching stint at Kansas State (2007-12). The former Bob Huggins assistant has clear stylistic similarities to his mentor, employing an aggressive, relentless brand of basketball intent on wearing down opponents mentally and physically. In eight of his 10 years as a college head coach, Martin’s teams have ranked among the top 40 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Miami native spent 15 years coaching high school basketball in his hometown before joining Northeastern as an assistant in 2000, so his decision to take the South Carolina job in 2012 — a program with only three Sweet Sixteen appearances in its long history — was not overly surprising. Martin knows how to be patient. After missing the NCAA Tournament in his first four seasons, that patience is finally paying off.

Style

For South Carolina, success starts on the defensive end. The Gamecocks rank second nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, fourth in defensive turnover rate, 12th in effective field goal percentage defense, and perhaps second to only West Virginia — Huggins’ group — in sheer physicality. Led by a pair of elite defenders in 6’5” Sindarius Thornwell and 6’6” PJ Dozier, South Carolina presses and traps all over the court, making it difficult for opposing ball-handlers to cross the timeline, much less comfortably run offensive sets. In the half-court, the Gamecocks aggressively extend on shooters, preferring to commit fouls over allowing open shots from the perimeter. Their length and knack for swarming to the ball (often employing a half-court trap) makes clean interior looks nearly as difficult, especially with 6’9” Chris Silva — a good per minute shot-blocker — manning the paint. They simply deny everything. Offensively, aggression remains the name of the game: South Carolina scores a whopping 23 percent of its points from the free throw line and another 50 percent from inside the arc, attack the basket at will, often off of turnovers. Having big, physical guard/forwards like Thornwell and Dozier helps.

Strengths

Sindarius Thornwell has been Superman for the Gamecocks this season. (Getty Images)

  • Limiting three-pointers. South Carolina does an exceptional job of taking away perimeter jumpers, allowing opponents to score just 25.6 percent of their points from behind the arc. The Gamecock guards relentlessly press up on shooters, sometimes resulting in fouls, but often resulting in forced jumpers or haphazard drives late in the shot clock. Really, the same reason opponents have such a difficult time shooting three-pointers is the same reason South Carolina forces turnovers at a higher rate than all but three other teams in the country: opposing guards simply can’t breathe once they cross half-court.
  • Attacking the basket. Thornwell is in a class of his own when it comes to attacking the rim. The senior ranks 13th nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, a testament to his bullish aggressiveness in the lane and willingness to push the ball as far and as fast as back-peddling defenders will allow. When South Carolina forces turnovers (which is often) he and his teammates waste no time getting downcourt—the Gamecocks average just 16.6 seconds per offensive possession. They also pound the offensive glass, cleaning up misses at the third-highest rate among SEC teams. Between free throws, offensive rebounds, and plain strong drives to the hoop, South Carolina is able to sustain itself offensively despite its poor shooting numbers.
  • Endurance. According to this account, South Carolina full-court presses during the majority of practices and often plays five-on-seven (advantage to the offense) in order to whip its dogged defense into shape. That grueling work ethic clearly pays off on game day. The Gamecocks are +54 in the second half during the NCAA Tournament, wearing down opposing offenses to such a degree that their offense — which, again, thrives on attacking the rim — can flourish. South Carolina’s second-half blitzes against Duke, Marquette, and Florida are shining examples. Conditioning, both mental and physical, seems to matter.

Weaknesses

  • Shooting. At 47.4 percent eFG, South Carolina ranks 299th nationally in effective field goal percentage. That’s not good. Outside of Thornwell (39.4% 3FG), there really aren’t any serious outside shooting threats on the roster. Guard Duane Notice (10.2 PPG) is capable of getting hot, but he’s also very streaky. Dozier (13.8 PPG) takes a lot of shots, but he’s usually not all that efficient. If Thornwell is off and Silva isn’t going to work inside, the Gamecocks can become very stagnant very fast.
  • Foul trouble. That aggressive defense has one glaring downside: free throws and foul trouble. Not only do South Carolina’s opponents score almost 27 percent of their points from the charity stripe, but several crucial Gamecock players — most notably Silva —are often forced to take a seat early. The 6’9” forward has fouled out 10 times this season, seven of which South Carolina lost. Dozier, another superb defender, also runs into similar trouble from time to time. Against talented offenses like Gonzaga, North Carolina and Oregon, free points and foul trouble could become an issue.
  • One-dimensionality. It may be oversimplifying things to say that South Carolina’s success boils down merely to defense and Sindarius Thornwell, but it’s not that far from the truth. Fact is, the Gamecocks must continue dominating on defense, and the senior sensation must continue to playing at a high-level offensively in order for Martin’s team to have a chance in Phoenix. If one of those two elements slips — say, the defense sputters like it did against Arkansas in Feburary, or Thornwell struggles like he did against Alabama in the SEC Tournament — it’s hard to envision South Carolina recovering.

Go-To Scorer

For South Carolina to succeed in Phoenix, PJ Dozier must keep performing offensively. (fansided.com)

Sindarius Thornwell (21.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.2 SPG). Before Duke’s Round of 32 loss to South Carolina, Mike Krzyzewski called Thornwell “the best, unheralded, great player in the United States.” And even that might be an understatement. The 6’5” in-state product is averaging nearly 26 points per game during NCAA Tournament play, showcasing his relentless aggression (he’s already attempted 39 free throws), shooting ability (42% 3FG over four games), and superb defensive skills. He’s also an outstanding offensive rebounder, once ripping down 10 offensive boards en route to a ridiculous 44-point, 21-rebound stat line against Alabama on February 7. Among players who have attempted 250+ free throws this season, only a handful of players boast a higher free throw percentage than the senior (83% FT). Thornwell also led the SEC in steal percentage during the regular season. There’s a reason he was the coaches’ choice for Conference Player of the Year (not to mention 7th in KenPom National Player of the Year rankings)—Thornwell is great.

X-Factor

PJ Dozier (13.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG). For better or worse, the talented sophomore takes a staggering 31 percent of his team’s shots while on the floor, which is roughly 70 percent of the time. That shot rate is higher than Thornwell’s (28.7%). When he shoots 50 percent or better from the field, South Carolina is 11-0; when he shoots under 40 percent, Martin’s team is 10-6. That seem like “picking and choosing” statistics, but it’s hard to deny that the Gamecocks’ offense is markedly better when Dozier is efficient. Silva, and bench production from players like forward Maik Kotsar (12 points vs. Florida), will also be key.

Outlook

When are we going to learn? South Carolina has entered each of its last three games as the underdog, yet won each contest by an average 11.3 points. It hadn’t scored over 1.1 points per possession since February 15 prior to Selection Sunday; in the four games since, Martin’s group has surpassed that mark three times. Tough, confident, and afraid of nobody, the Gamecocks now face their most difficult opponent yet: a Gonzaga team that boasts the nation’s most efficient defense with nearly an offense to match. Still, count South Carolina out at your own risk.

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Getting to Know the Pac-12: Arizona

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 16th, 2017

The footprint of the Arizona fan base is vast and the program’s history and prestige mean few teams on the West Coast get more media attention. But these Wildcats don’t have the same brand names and star power as some of their teams of the past. Casual college basketball fans in fact might have trouble naming more than two players in Arizona’s rotation. But Sean Miller‘s club is a fashionable Final Four pick right now, so there is plenty of time to get acquainted.

Who are the stars?

Allonzo Trier hasn’t missed a beat in his return from a steroid suspension. The sophomore is averaging better than 17 points per game and shoots more than 40 percent from downtown. He also chips in five rebounds per game and has more than doubled his assist rate (16.9%) this season. In short, Trier is becoming the all-around monster many expected him to become after a stellar freshman campaign in Tucson. He has scored at least 19 points in seven straight games and is clearly the team’s best all-around player.

Allonzo Trier is back and better than ever since his suspension. (James Snook/USA TODAY Sports)

Trier is not, however, the best future professional on the roster — that honor belongs to Finnish sensation Lauri Markkanen. After averaging 15.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and shooting an eye-popping 43 percent from behind the three-point arc, Markkanen is one of the hottest NBA prospects in college basketball. A college basketball unicorn, Markkanen is a legitimate seven-footer who Arizona utilizes as a matchup-wrecking gunner.

Rawle Alkins probably doesn’t belong in the same “star” category as Trier or Markkanen, but he gets a pass here. The Brooklyn native is the offensive opposite of Markkanen — a bruiser who is at his best attacking the rim with his physicality. Alkins shoot  37 percent from three-point range, so his shot is far from broken, but his time is better spent bullying weaker opponents on the blocks. He is also an excellent defender and wing rebounder.

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Where 2016-17 Happens: Reason #28 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 15th, 2016

As RTC heads into its 10th season — Season X, if you will — covering college basketball, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are 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 11. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#28 – Where Cinderella Boeheim??? Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15 and 2015-16 preseasons.

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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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