Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 83, #16 Florida Gulf Coast 67

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 17th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Brice Johnson's Tar Heels Pulled Away With a Big Second Half (USA Today Images)

Brice Johnson’s Tar Heels Pulled Away With a Big Second Half (USA Today Images)

  1. North Carolina’s defense was not the same as it was at the ACC Tournament. After shutting down two of the nation’s top offenses in the ACC Tournament (Notre Dame & Virginia), nobody expected a #16 seed to light up the Tar Heels just five days later. But that’s what occurred in the first half of today’s game, as Florida Gulf Coast shot 60 percent from the floor against North Carolina before the intermission. Roy Williams’ team was victimized often by dribble penetration which led to easy buckets, and a stark lack of teamwide energy also showed up on the boards, with Florida Gulf Coast holding a +7 rebound edge at the half. The team of course picked up its energy level after halftime, holding the Eagles to only 30.3 percent shooting the rest of the way.
  2. Florida Gulf Coast was not a typical #16 seed. Normally you don’t see automatic bid teams that advance from the First Four built like Joe Dooley’s squad. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Eagles are better than the average #16 seed — just that they are constructed differently. Usually those teams are built around plucky little guards that survive by driving and kicking for long-range bombs. Florida Gulf Coast is not a small team (it ranks 93rd in the country in average height), nor does it rely much on perimeter shooting — ranking 348th out of 351 Division I schools in three-point attempts. That style of play worked against the Tar Heels for a half, but it eventually played right into North Carolina’s hands — a team that plays in a similar way but is bigger and better at it.
  3. The backcourt of North Carolina is becoming elite. We all recognize that the strength of this North Carolina team is in the paint. The Tar Heels have an All-American up front in Brice Johnson and excellent depth to complement him in the post. But while those interior players have been playing at a high level all season, it has been the improvement in the backcourt that puts North Carolina in position for a deep NCAA Tournament run. Marcus Paige and Joel Berry can each handle the ball, shoot from distance (although not consistently) and drive to score. They are also playing good defense on the perimeter. Today this duo combined for 24 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and only two turnovers. They also helped hold the Eagles to 2-of-11 shooting from three-point range.

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Conference Tourney Primers: Atlantic Sun

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 3rd, 2015

It’s the start of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the next 13 days of games by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way – starting with tonight’s action.

Atlantic Sun Tournament

Dates: March 3, 5, 8

Site: Campus sites (higher-seeded teams host)

(cbssports.com)

(cbssports.com)

What to expect: Can the Atlantic Sun create another year of NCAA Tournament magic? After Dunk City’s run in 2013 and Mercer’s upset over Duke last season, North Florida hopes to become the league’s next March darling. The Ospreys, which beat Purdue in December, won the league outright – sweeping preseason favorite Florida Gulf Coast along the way – and earned home court advantage throughout the A-Sun Tournament. They are the team to beat, but don’t discount the Eagles – led by two holdovers from that 2013 Sweet Sixteen team – or USC Upstate, which defeated North Florida twice this season.

Favorite: North Florida. Few teams are as three-point reliant as North Florida, which works out well – the Ospreys shoot 38.5 percent from behind the arc. They also have good size and an excellent point guard, sophomore Dallas Moore (15.4 PPG, 3.9 APG), who hit a clutch three-pointer in that early-season upset over the Boilermakers.

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Atlantic Sun Race Interesting Even Without Cinderella

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 16th, 2015

Dunk City’s Sweet Sixteen run, Mercer’s post-victory Nae Nae dance… I don’t have to explain – you already know the Atlantic Sun’s recent March achievements. The conference has produced arguably the NCAA Tournament’s most iconic moments for each of the past two seasons, enormous upsets featuring even larger personalities. Yet it’s also endured some serious change since the Bears knocked off Duke last spring, and almost none of it has been good. Both Mercer and East Tennessee State, traditionally two of the league’s best programs, bolted for the Southern Conference and no other team has stepped in to fill the void. With just eight teams remaining – one of which (Northern Kentucky) remains NCAA Tournament-ineligible until 2016 – the question now becomes whether the depleted conference has a team even remotely capable of crashing the Dance. The answer to that probably lies somewhere between “unlikely” and “maybe,” although the A-Sun showed moments of promise during non-conference play. As for the race to get there? With Florida Gulf Coast looking vulnerable and a pair of challengers on the rise, the next two months should be better than expected.

The Atlantic Sun race will be better than expected this season. (Naples Daily News)

The Atlantic Sun race will be better than expected this season. (Naples Daily News)

North Florida made something of a statement on Wednesday night. After switching to zone and overcoming an early deficit against Florida Gulf Coast, the Ospreys turned a flurry of threes and several key steals into a 16-2 second half run that put the Eagles away for good – the team’s first victory over its avian foe since 2012. “We talked before the game there would be obstacles and adversity and all those kinds of things, and you’ve just got to fight your way through it,” head coach Matthew Driscoll said afterward. “And they did.” Not only was it a blowout victory over the league’s overwhelming favorite, but the result propelled North Florida ahead of its rival in KenPom for the first time all season. While that may seem insignificant – sure, odd results and blowout wins/losses can skew rankings – it’s important to keep in mind that the Ospreys have climbed almost 100 spots since the season began. Driscoll’s three-point heavy attack, led by reigning Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year, Dallas Moore (27 points on Wednesday), has been reliably explosive through the first couple months and very difficult to beat when shots are falling. In fact, UNF has a chance to become the most efficient offensive unit the conference has seen since Belmont left in 2012. Yet the Ospreys aren’t alone in their emergence as a legitimate challenger to FGCU. USC Upstate – which lost two of its top three scorers and rebounders, including all-conference forward Torrey Craig – has also managed to drastically improve on its preseason metrics. Despite their offensive production taking a dip, the combination of guard-heavy lineups and Eddie Payne’s match-up zone has enabled the Spartans to force turnovers in bunches (12th highest rate in America) and markedly improve their defense from a year ago. That improvement has manifested itself in 13-5 record and the conference’s highest overall ranking (#148) – also nearly 100 spots higher than where it began the year. What does that mean for Dunk City? Even with Brett Comer (11.2 PPG, 7.0 APG) and Bernard Thompson (14.4 PPG) in tow – one of college basketball’s most productive backcourts – the Eagles’ run at the league title will be much more difficult than figured.

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Tip-Off Marathon: The O26 Menu

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 17th, 2014

Tonight kicks off ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon, a jam-packed, 24-plus hour slate of basketball featuring numerous mouthwatering options for O26 fans. And with many of these games serving as important resume-building opportunities, you better come hungry. Let’s check out the menu.

Appetizers/Starters

R.J. Hunter and the Panthers take on Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum. (AP Photo | Gerry Broome)

R.J. Hunter and the Panthers take on Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum. (AP Photo | Gerry Broome)

  • UC Santa Barbara at Florida Gulf Coast – 7:00 PM ET, ESPN3, Tonight. We are not even sure if this is formally part of the Marathon, but what better way to whet your appetite than by watching Alan Williams take on Dunk City? After logging 22 points and 13 rebounds against Kansas on Friday, UC Santa Barbara’s 6’8’’ center gets a shot at the Atlantic Sun favorites in Fort Myers – the first of two contests between the Gauchos and Eagles this season. Florida Gulf Coast’s Brett Comer is among the better point guards in the country, while his running mate, Bernard Thompson, is a conference Player of the Year candidate. Both squads could wind up dancing in March.
  • Georgia State at #14 Iowa State – 9:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Tonight. Certain to be one of the most popular appetizers on the menu, this game features a loaded underdog taking on a top-15 team in one of college basketball’s best environments. The Cyclones better be prepared for Georgia State, which boasts a pair of Bluegrass State transfers – Ryan Harrow (Kentucky) and Kevin Ware (Louisville) – and arguably the Sun Belt’s best player, guard R.J. Hunter (18.3 PPG in 2013-14). Hilton Coliseum will be rocking, as always, but perhaps maybe its magic will work in the Panthers favor, instead of the other way of around.
  • #22 SMU at #13 Gonzaga – 11:00 PM ET, ESPN, Tonight. This is one of those fill-you-up-before-the-entrée type items, a hearty match-up of Top 25 units with high expectations. SMU took a serious hit when forward Markus Kennedy, the team’s best player, was ruled academically ineligible for the first semester, so Gonzaga is in great position playing at home. Still, even though Mark Few’s bunch looked utterly dominant in its opener against Sacramento State (with newcomers Byron Wesley, Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis combining for 44 points), the Bulldogs must come out and execute against Larry Brown’s defensively-tough Mustangs. Kevin Pangos vs. Nic Moore is one of the best point guard match-ups of the young season.

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Morning Five: 09.25.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on September 25th, 2014

morning5

  1. Emmanuel Mudiay‘s decision to head to overseas–maybe partially influenced by questions regarding his eligibility–has sparked some discussion about the possibility of more players spending a year overseas–and be paid–rather than going to college. This is hardly a new phenomenon with Brandon Jennings being the most prominent player to follow this path, but it appears that several players in the class of 2015 are contemplating it. According to Mudiay, three highly rated players in the class of 2015 have contacted him about following in his footsteps. Mudiay didn’t offer any names, but based on the comments in the column by Evan Daniels it would seem like  Jaylen Brown is the most likely candidate in the class. Obviously there is a long time to go until the class of 2015 matriculates and we doubt that this will become a trend, but it is something worth keeping an eye on.
  2. Dunk City might not be getting back to the Sweet Sixteen any time soon, but Florida Gulf Coast picked up a significant addition when Rayjon Tucker committed there yesterday. With Brett Comer, Bernard Thompson and Jamail Jones all entering their senior years this season, the Eagles will need a lot of help starting in the  2015-2016 season, which means that Tucker, a three-star small forward out of North Carolina, could play a big role. It is also a big addition for second-year head coach Joe Dooley as it shows that he can still capitalize on the team’s NCAA Tournament run from two seasons ago despite Andy Enfield leaving for USC soon after the season ended. The school–or at least the location–could sell itself, but there are plenty of schools you could say that about that cannot be consistently competitive. Tucker is not the first significant pick-up for the school after Enfield’s departure, but could help provide the program with momentum going forward.
  3. Lost in all of the Mike Krzyzewski-Team USA debate over the past week is the question as to how much longer Krzyzewski will even be at Duke to “exploit” any recruiting advantage he may have. As we have pointed out many times the Krzyzewski coaching tree is not particularly noteworthy in terms of potential successors. One name that has been mentioned at times is Johnny Dawkins. With his experience as a star player at Duke, working under Krzyzewski as an assistant, and coaching at a big-time program he would appear to be an ideal fit. Unfortunately, his job security at Stanford has been questionable at times, which makes the extension that was announced yesterday notable. The timing of the announcement–details on years and money were not made public–is strange since it would seem that Dawkins does not have anything to bargain with like open jobs. Dawkins, who has a 117-87 career record with four postseason appearances, was on the proverbial hot seat early last year before turning it around finishing with a Sweet Sixteen appearance that included a win over Kansas. We are not sure that Dawkins is the right fit for the Duke job when it opens up eventually, but as long as he has a job at a major program he should be viewed as a top-tier candidate.
  4. Schools cannot financially incentivize student-athletes to come play for them outside of scholarships, which have been discussed here and on other sites ad nauseum, but they can improve their surroudings. The most well-known example of this is Kentucky’s Wildcat Coal Lodge, but even smaller programs need to try to keep up. One example of this is at Houston where they announced their planned “Basketball Development Facility” (basically practice facility) with a reported $25 million price tag. The construction is expected to start this week and finish by August 2015. With what has essentially become an arms race in this area we wondering how much of this is to try to get ahead the competition as opposed to merely trying to keep up with it.
  5. Ivan Cruz Uceda will half to sit out the first half of the season for Miami due to a NCAA rule requiring a student-athlete to enroll in college one year after graduating high school. Cruz Uceda, a native of Spain who turns 23 on October 24, played at Harcum College where he averaged 14.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.1 blocks per game as a sophomore before committing to play at Miami. We don’t claim to be experts on NCAA bylaws, but you would assume that someone in the Miami athletic department would have seen this coming months ago. In any event, it put the Hurricanes in the difficult position of having only nine scholarship players to start the season with seven of them being newcomers. Cruz Uceda will not be eligible to play until January 13 in what should be an extremely difficult environment for this first game–a trip to Duke.
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O26 Storylines: Regular Season Champs and Potential Cinderellas

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 11th, 2014

Championship Week is in full swing. For the O26 conferences, it’s more than halfway over. Eight automatic bids have already been handed out as of Monday night. Let’s take a look at this week’s storylines before Sunday’s Selection Show.

Belmont is just one of many regular-season champions that will miss out on the NCAA Tournament. (GASTON GAZETTE)

Belmont is just one of many regular-season champions that will miss out on the NCAA Tournament. (GASTON GAZETTE)

Should one-bid leagues send their regular-season champion to the NCAA Tournament?

It’s in the best interest of one-bid leagues to send their best team to the Big Dance. That increases the likelihood of an upset, and thus more exposure for the school. We’ve already seen seven teams that won their respective conference’s regular-season title fall in the conference tournament. Enjoy the NIT, fellas. Belmont (Ohio Valley), Davidson (Southern), Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun), Green Bay (Horizon), High Point (Big South), Iona (Metro Atlantic) and Vermont (America East) all were #1 seeds in their conference tournaments, and all probably were legitimate threats to win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament. Instead, those leagues will be represented by weaker teams that don’t have much upset potential. Those top seeds aren’t rewarded for season-long excellence. Instead, they’re being punished for one slip-up. It won’t change because there’s no way any league’s going to want to lose the exposure that comes along with their tournament title game being broadcast on ESPN. It’s just a shame we won’t get to see those teams dancing, and as a result, we have a watered down NCAA Tournament field. Matt Norlander made an interesting argument here.

Which one-bid leagues boast NCAA Tournament representatives that could pull upsets?

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Bracket Prep: Coastal Carolina, Wichita State, Mercer

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 10th, 2014

bracketprep2(2)

As we move through Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. Three more teams — one well known, the other two less so — punched their tickets on Sunday. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners.

Coastal Carolina

Cliff Ellis And Coastal Carolina Are Your Big South Champions -- Finally. Welcome To The Big Dance Chanticleers!

Cliff Ellis And Coastal Carolina Are Your Big South Champions — Finally. Welcome To The Big Dance Chanticleers!

  • Big South Champion (21-12, 14-5)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #228/#226/#239
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = -1.3
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #16 (First Four)

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Seven Big South teams won 10 conference games this season, but in the end, it was Coastal Carolina who emerged from the pack to win the Big South Tournament. Former Auburn and Clemson head man Cliff Ellis is now in his seventh season at Coastal, and his first Tournament appearance with the Chanticleers has to feel long overdue. This was the fifth consecutive season that CCU had won more games than they lost in conference play, and the program posted 28 wins in both 2010 and 2011 only to be upset in the conference tournament final in each season. No Championship Week heartbreak for Ellis’ team this season, however, as the Chanticleers are dancing for the first time in over two decades.
  2. The Chanticleers will be one of the better defensive teams on the lower seed lines. Ellis’ bunch was the best defensive team in the Big South all season long, and they put the clamps on Winthrop Sunday, forcing the nation’s 14th-best three-point shooting outfit into an 8-of-26 effort from behind the arc. They also compete on the boards – an effort spearheaded by 6’10” senior El Hadji Ndieguene (10.1% OR, 18.5% DR). Defense and rebounding are often major weaknesses for Cinderella hopefuls, but that will not be the case with Coastal Carolina. Read the rest of this entry »
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Conference Tournament Primer: Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 4th, 2014

Championship Fortnight is under way, and what better way to get you through the next two weeks of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s conference tournaments as they get started. Today, the Horizon League and Atlantic Sun tip things off.

Dates: March 4, 6, 9
Sites: Campus sites (higher-seeded team hosts)

ASun 2014 tourney bracket

What to expect: Can Dunk City recapture the magic from last season? Florida Gulf Coast won the Atlantic Sun Tournament as the No. 2 seed last year — beating top-seeded Mercer — before becoming the first No. 15 seed in NCAA Tournament history to reach the Sweet Sixteen. The scenario’s a little different this time around, as the Eagles hold the top seed for the conference tournament. Sherwood Brown, FGCU’s star from 2013, is no longer around, but Bernard Thompson, Brett Comer, Chase Fieler and the rest of the high-flying crew are ready for Round Two. Langston Hall and Mercer pose the biggest threat.

Favorite: Florida Gulf Coast. The Eagles nearly broke through in 2012 during their first season of NCAA Tournament eligibility, falling in the A-Sun title game to Belmont. Dunk City certainly did the trick last season.

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Where Are They Now: Catching Up With Cinderellas of Years Past

Posted by Nicholas Patrick on February 26th, 2014

We find ourselves on the verge of annual basketball bliss. Over the next several weeks, the action will crescendo as we progress through the regular season sprint to the finish, with the conference tournaments on tap first followed by the NCAA Tournament. Much of the beauty of the Big Dance is that it doesn’t simply build to a single championship round. In essence, every round, from the opening games in Dayton to the title tilt in Arlington, will be a championship round for some teams, a golden chance to exceed their fans’ wildest expectations and make school history. The question every March isn’t if any teams will assume the Cinderella role, but which teams will. In some cases, teams are able to build on their NCAA success for the long term, especially if they return most of their key contributors or catch the eye of a bigger-fish conference. In other cases, Cinderella’s coach may receive a promotion of his own, moving up in prestige and pay scale, and leading to a rebuilding project for his former team.

Butler is the Cinderella Benchmark (AP/N. Wass)

Butler is the Cinderella Benchmark (AP/N. Wass)

Let’s catch up with a few of the O26 Cinderella teams from recent tourneys:

2011

  • Morehead State. As a #13 seed, the Eagles sent shock waves through the Bluegrass State by defeating Louisville before losing to Richmond in the round of 32. That team, led by rebounding machine Kenneth Faried, won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament after a third place regular season finish. Since then, Morehead State has taken two steps back before moving forward. The following season without Faried, the Eagles finished 10-6 in conference play. In 2012-13, after head coach Sean Woods (from Mississippi Valley State) replaced Donnie Tyndall (who left for Southern Mississippi), the Eagles slipped to 8-8 in the OVC. They now appear to be on the way back this season, approaching 20 wins and contending with Belmont and Murray State for an OVC title.
  • Richmond. As a #12 seed, the Spiders defeated Vanderbilt and Morehead State before losing badly to Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen. Chris Mooney was rewarded with his first NCAA Tournament wins (and second appearance) in his sixth season at the school, after showing steady improvement throughout his tenure. That team, led by seniors Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper, won the Atlantic 10 Tournament after finishing in third place during the regular season. Richmond had to regroup after losing its stars, finishing 7-9 and 8-8 in conference play in subsequent seasons. But this season, led by a balanced attack that includes Cedric Lindsay (who was a freshman on that Cinderella team), the Spiders are on their way to 20 wins, in a tight race for second place in the Atlantic 10, and find themselves squarely on the bubble heading into the final two weeks (they are included on 32 of 95 brackets, according to Bracket Matrix, as of Tuesday evening).

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O26 Storylines: BYU, Gonzaga and Saint Louis…

Posted by Adam Stillman on February 21st, 2014

There’s a lot going on in the O26 conferences right now. Green Bay just became the first team to clinch a regular-season title after defeating Valparaiso on Thursday night. The league races in the Big Sky, Big South, Conference USA and several other conferences became more interesting. The battle on the bubble continues to heat up. Let’s take a look at this week’s O26 storylines.

BYU is inching closer to an NCAA Tournament bid.

BYU is inching closer to an NCAA Tournament bid.

What does BYU’s win against Gonzaga mean?

I believe BYU’s 73-65 victory Thursday night against Gonzaga has a two-pronged effect. First, the Cougar’s win puts them back on the right side of the bubble. Sure, the 19-10 overall record and 11-5 mark in WCC play doesn’t look that great. But BYU boasts the 43rd-best schedule in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy. BYU now has wins at Stanford, against Texas, vs. Saint Mary’s (twice) and against Gonzaga. That’s not too shabby. And yes, there are some really bad losses to Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Portland and Pacific. But with the weak state of the bubble, BYU’s resume currently projects as tournament-worthy. Should the Cougars be able to avoid a loss to either Portland or San Diego in the final two games of the regular season, as well as make a run to at least the WCC Tournament semifinals, BYU should be headed to the NCAA Tournament. The effect part of Thursday’s result deals with Gonzaga. Is its NCAA Tournament bid safe? I don’t think so. It’s hard to believe that a Gonzaga team with a 23-5 record isn’t a lock for the Big Dance. But if you take a closer look at the Bulldog’s resume, it’s easy to become skeptical. Their best win? West Virginia? BYU?  Then add in a bad loss at Portland. That’s not exactly a stone-cold lock. Gonzaga finishes with three road games — San Diego, Pacific, Saint Mary’s. If the Zags lose on of those three and fail to win the WCC’s automatic bid, I’m not so sure Gonzaga is a tournament team. KenPom projects Gonzaga to win its last three regular-season contests. That should be enough. But Gonzaga is far from a lock at this point.

Should we be skeptical of SLU in the NCAA Tournament?

There’s one reason I pose this question. There’s just been so many close calls for Saint Louis this season. The Billikens have won six games by four or fewer points this season, including the last three games against George Mason in overtime, VCU and La Salle. SLU has been able to pull out these games seemingly all season long, except for a couple against Wichita State and Wisconsin. There’s something to be said about starting five seniors who keep calm and find a way to win no matter what. SLU’s defense is great, rated second in the country according to Ken Pomeroy by allowing 88.6 points per 100 possessions. That’s stout. But the offense is just 144th with 106.1 points per 100 possessions. Last year we saw SLU, as a #4 seed, fall in the second round to #12 seed Oregon. I worry we could see the same scenario play out this season: The Billikens get matched up with an uber-athletic team in the second round, have trouble scoring and can’t hold the team in the 50s. SLU is just such a puzzle to me. I could see them in the FInal Four, but I could also see them out in the second round.

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