It’s Love/Hate Relationship: Volume XIV

Posted by jbaumgartner on March 26th, 2013

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…. the swag of the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. Absurd (and questionably timed) alley-oops, the wing walk, tongues wagging, unknown jigs while running downcourt – it’s hard not to like the amount of fun that these kids have on the court, and they have the talent to back it up.

Florida Gulf Coast: the Story of the NCAA Tournament This Year

I LOVED…. Duke’s defense on Creighton. The Blue Devils didn’t play well in this one, but man did they defend. I thought Creighton got the exact pace they wanted and the ideal defensive effort to slow down Duke’s perimeter play, and it still didn’t matter. Duke just continued to bang with a relentless Doug McDermott and got the stops that allowed them to finally pull away when a few threes began to drop. That’s the kind of game you have to grind out in March, and they did it comfortably.

I LOVED…. that I don’t have to watch Marshall Henderson for another weekend (and believe me, I was worried there for a while). In case you were wondering, Henderson’s stats in the tourney were about as prolific as the regular season – 14-of-42 from the field (33%), and 7-of-27 on three-pointers (26%). I’d love to see the Ole Miss coach explain to his players why they would build their team next year around a guard that shoots too much, and not particularly well.

I LOVED…. the statement game. For me this was an easy one to pick – Michigan seemed to be fading a bit, but they put on an absolute clinic against a very talented VCU team and showed just how versatile they can be when freshman Mitch McGary can stay on the floor for an extended period of time. It opens up everything else for the Wolverines, and with Trey Burke dancing around the lane and Tim Hardaway, Jr., able to spot up, this looked like a squad ready to make a legit run.

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ACC M5: 03.26.13 Edition

Posted by mpatton on March 26th, 2013

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  1. Raleigh News & Observer: Solid remembrance of Dean Smith here. The thing that’s so sad about Smith’s mental deterioration over the past few years is just how smart he was. He reportedly had an almost photographic memory (the same sort of memory successful politicians call upon to remember the countless people they meet); he was first and foremost an innovator (touching everything from “four corners” to tempo-free stats — though if you run four corners often, it makes sense you’d look past per game statistics); and he apparently was an avid reader of philosophy. While John Drescher’s piece was about Smith, he sets it up in contrast with Jeff Bzdelik’s recent quote: “I don’t read the newspapers or the Internet, and that’s the truth.” 
  2. SBNation: One thing that stands out about North Carolina is the “family” concept. You hear that word thrown around a lot in sports just because of the massive amount of time players spend together. But there is a closeness to North Carolina’s graduates that you don’t see at a lot of other places. Maybe it’s just the fact many of them are good enough to continue playing professionally, but listening to Kendall Marshall talk about it, there’s definitely a special bond there. Interestingly, the other school where I hear “family” thrown around frequently is Kansas (whose unofficial team motto, which is inked in the middle of Travis Releford’s chest, was Family Over Everything a couple of years ago).
  3. FSUnews.com: Michael Snaer is a living legend at Florida State. This is a tremendous article on his tough senior season. It was a season that really signifies how dedicated to the Florida State program Snaer was. Sure the Seminoles didn’t get to cut down the nets again this year, but he pushed a group of very young players to get better. In the process, Snaer probably learned more about his leadership than all three previous seasons combined. He was the go-to guy and backcourt defensive stopper his junior year, but that team didn’t need him to carry it — it wasn’t riddled by injury or loaded with youth. This year was his test. We won’t know until we see the next few years unfold, but it looks like Snaer has made a significant culture change within the Seminole program. That should mean something going forward.
  4. ACC Sports Journal: Barry Jacobs does a great job recounting NC State‘s “missed opportunity” this season. The Wolfpack went from preseason ACC champions to right where they finished last season. Part of this was due to oversight from the media, who expected the Wolfpack to pick up right where they left off last season. But anyone who watched NC State against Duke (at home) or the woodshed beating of Virginia in the ACC Tournament had to wonder: “What if this team played with that kind of intensity every night?” More representative were the incredible highs and lows throughout games (see the Wolfpack almost beating the brakes off North Carolina before letting the Tar Heels come back, or falling behind 18 to Temple before cutting the deficit to a single possession in the last few minutes). The consistency was never there this season.
  5. Blogger So Dear: This ode to Florida Gulf Coast was only missing the acknowledgement of why the Eagles’ run resonates so strongly with Wake Forest fans (or at least my theory). It’s not because Demon Deacon fans dream of being that Cinderella team (though they may). It’s because the loose basketball opined for reaches back to the run-and-gun Wake Forest days under Skip Prosser. Don’t let that take away from Prosser’s ability to coach: he was an offensive genius. But his system had similar space for improvisation. And it was fun to watch.

Reasons to pull for Miami:

  1. Julian Gamble only photobombs after wins.
  2. More Jim Larranaga dancing?
Julian Gamble photobombs Shane Larkin's interview. (gif: The Big Lead)

Julian Gamble photobombs Shane Larkin’s interview. (gif: The Big Lead)

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Jim Larranaga goes straight from a boxing impression into a jig. (gif: College Basketball Talk)

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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by KDoyle on March 25th, 2013

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Kevin Doyle (@KLDoyle11) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. 

The South Regional begins Friday night in Arlington, Texas, with Kansas vs. Michigan followed by Florida vs. Florida Gulf Coast. The East Region ResetWest Region Reset and Midwest Region Reset published earlier today. Also make sure to follow RTCSouthRegion for news and analysis from Texas throughout the week.

Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Hosts the South Regional

Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Hosts the South Regional

New Favorite: #3 Florida. It hasn’t been an arduous road to the Sweet Sixteen as Florida dismantled #14 Northwestern State and #11 Minnesota to advance to Arlington. Although the Golden Gophers cut a 21-point halftime deficit down to eight midway through the second half, they never truly challenged Florida and the Gators coasted to an easy win. Did we learn anything that we already didn’t know about Florida in the process? Probably not. Billy Donovan’s team is as good as anyone at blowing out inferior competition, but it was impressive to see their resolve demonstrated against Minnesota. The common belief is that the Gators crumble down the stretch in close games — amazingly, they have not won a game by single digits this year — but there was no need for late-game drama this weekend. To reach the Elite Eight, Florida will have to next beat #15 Florida Gulf Coast. Not exactly murderer’s row to get to the South Region final by having to play against all double-digit seeds, but FGCU has already proven that it is far from a traditional #15 seed. After posting big wins over Georgetown and San Diego State, the Eagles have shown they can more than hang with any team in the NCAA Tournament. With that said, I projected Florida to win the region when the bracket was initially released and they’ve only confirmed that belief after the first weekend.

Horse of Darkness: #4 Michigan. So much for Shaka Smart’s vaunted havoc defense. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. had little problem dealing with Virginia Commonwealth’s pressing defense en route to a convincing 25-point victory. The Rams’ 71 point swing— a 46-point win against Akron and 25-point loss to Michigan — is by far the greatest two-game switcheroo in NCAA Tournament history, as the Wolverines demonstrated that all a team needs to foil Smart’s plan is a backcourt consisting of two NBA-level players. Michigan is grossly underseeded and is probably closer to a #2 seed than #4. This is a team that was ranked in the Top 10 for virtually the entire season, but limped into the NCAA Tournament after going 6-6 in its final 12 Big Ten games. It has been evident that Michigan’s style of play has kicked up a notch against non-Big Ten teams; South Dakota State and VCU’s urge to speed up the pace of the action seemed to play right into Michigan’s hands. With Trey Burke running the show, John Beilein has the best point guard in the South Region going up against a Kansas team that clearly lacks a steady one of its own. Kansas played one good half in the first two rounds — albeit an extremely good second half against North Carolina — but is ripe for the taking.

Burke Played Like a NPOY Candidate Last Game (AnnArbor.com)

Burke Played Like a NPOY Candidate Last Game (AnnArbor.com)

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #15 Florida Gulf Coast 78, #2 Georgetown 68. What, like you thought there could possibly be a surprise that trumps what Florida Gulf Coast did in Philadelphia on Friday and Sunday? Not only did the Eagles make history as the first #15 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, they did so with flying colors — quite literally — in beating Georgetown and San Diego State by 10 points each. FGCU’s win over Georgetown was certainly a major surprise, as a 24-10 team that finished in second place in the Atlantic Sun and had been swept by Lipscomb soundly beat a 25-6 Big East team with a slew of wins over top teams. Yet after its resounding win over the Hoyas, was anyone that surprised with its victory over a San Diego State team that proved to be mostly average in a Mountain West Conference that went 2-5 in this year’s Dance? Neither win was a fluke for Andy Enfield’s squad; the Eagles flat out beat these two teams that spent much of the season ranked in the Top 25. From Andy Enfield’s story — a former NBA assistant with Rick Pitino, owning his own company called “Tract Manager,” and marrying a supermodel — to the fact that FGCU has been a Division I program for less than a decade, the endless stream of alley-oops and ridiculous dunks thrown down by high-flying no-name players, the swagger and jovial attitude of Sherwood Brown, and the heartwarming story of Brett Comer, among many other things… words simply cannot do justice to what Florida Gulf Coast accomplished over the weekend.

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ATB: I’m In Love With FCGU, Big Ten Flaunts Superiority and La Salle Quietly Presses Forward…

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 25th, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Tonight’s Lede. Florida Gulf Coast Does It Again. Outside of the weak frontrunner status placed upon Louisville after a dominant Big East Tournament run, there wasn’t a whole lot college basketball fans could agree on heading into the NCAA Tournament. Common ground could be found on one particular item: there were going to be upsets. Lots of them. The “no dominant team” theme is a tired headline, but it bears repeating on a night like this, when a No. 15 seed punched its ticket to the Sweet 16 for the first time in Tournament history. We’re down to 16 teams now, but even in a year when chalky, seed-predictable, docile bracket proceedings were far from the main expectation, I don’t think anybody saw this coming…

Your watercooler moment. A Story Everyone Can Get Behind: FCGU.

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Nothing more strongly embodies the spirit of March Madness than high-seeded underdogs. Last season’s edition gave us Norfolk State and Lehigh – on the same day, no less – reveling in the national spotlight, 15-seed brothers-in-arms taking the college hoops world by storm. CJ McCollum was the best and most entertaining star nobody had heard of. Kyle O’Quinn was a wide-grinned big man with NBA aspirations. Fast track one year later, and this season’s captivating March underdog story is nothing like anything we’ve ever seen before. Florida Gulf Coast doesn’t have one leading protagonist (besides maybe its head coach, Andy Enfield, who – for reasons basketball-related and not – is something of a hero for every man not partial to Georgetown or San Diego State) or even a specific stylistic strength to explain its remarkable run into the second weekend. The best way to describe it is a cocky but measured confidence, a newfound flamboyance, a heightened sense of what it means to own the spotlight. And all of it comes together to produce the most thrilling on-court product of recent memory. There are dunks and heel-clicks and impossibly hilarious bird-imitating dances and, of course, dunk city. The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles have stolen the show and I don’t see them giving it back any time soon. Until they meet Florida in this week’s Sweet 16 showdown – and seriously, if they win that game, I give up – stories will be written, lives will be unearthed, and the nation will come to embrace college basketball’s most unlikely March heroes.

Sunday’s Quick Hits…

  • As Expected, The Big Ten is Dominating. All season the Big Ten was drowned in plaudits and glowing recommendations for its upper-tier strength and top-to-bottom quality. The Big Ten was good, and everybody kind of agreed the league was miles ahead of the rest. Now the NCAA Tournament is confirming our suspicions: after Indiana and Ohio State moved past Temple and Iowa State, respectively, Sunday, the Big Ten is 10-3 in tourney competition and can lay claim to one-fourth of the Sweet 16 field. The Hoosiers, Buckeyes, Michigan State and Michigan hovered near the top of the polls all season, and were just as impressive when gauged on per-possession efficiency metrics (as of Sunday, none ranked lower than eighth in Ken Pomeroy’s metrics). To see that play out on the sport’s biggest stage is, for someone who analyzes the game year-round like me, and for fans who have feted their league’s dominance from Midnight madness to March madness, reassuring.
  • The West is Kind of Insane. In a bracket littered with uncertainty and parity, the West region exists in its own province of unpredictability. Ohio State is the only team that has lived up to its seed thus far, and faces as wide-open a path to the Final Four as contender left in the field. The top half of the region will pit Wichita State and – following Sunday’s nail-biting win over Ole Miss – La Salle, who needs just two more wins to go from First Four to Final Four, VCU style, and bring even more wackiness to the field’s weirdest quartile. The Explorers haven’t gotten this far in the Tournament since 1955, but if their stable of talented guards – Ramon Galloway, Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland, who skied in the lane with 2.5 seconds left to ice the game with a deft right-handed finish – stay hot, the Final Four is well within their grasps.

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Rushed Reactions: #15 Florida Gulf Coast 81, #7 San Diego State 71

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 24th, 2013

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Brian Otskey (@botskey) is in Philadelphia for tonight’s Third Round NCAA Tournament games and filed this report after Florida Gulf Coast’s victory over San Diego State.

Three key takeaways:

The First #15 Seed to Ever Reach the Sweet Sixteen: Florida Gulf Coast

The First #15 Seed to Ever Reach the Sweet Sixteen: Florida Gulf Coast

  1. History. For the first time in the 75-year history of the NCAA Tournament, a No. 15 seed has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. Florida Gulf Coast, a little-known school from Fort Meyers, has advanced to play the Florida Gators in Arlington later this week. This team absolutely dismantled two very good teams on its way, Georgetown and San Diego State. Regardless of what happens against the Gators, this will go down as one of, if not the most improbable runs in the history of the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Florida Gulf Coast played its style and never let up. Head coach Andy Enfield said after the Georgetown game that he told his team to play “FGCU basketball.” That’s exactly what it did tonight. The Eagles pushed the pace and showed no fear in taking it right to San Diego State. Florida Gulf Coast forced 17 turnovers and turned them into 22 points, a key to any team that prefers an up-tempo style. This game quickly snowballed out of control for San Diego State and the Eagles never gave it a chance to recover or make a run at them late in the game. It was total FGCU dominance down the stretch.
  3. You can’t fault San Diego State. The Aztecs were in this game for most of it but simply ran into a buzz saw with nothing to lose over the final 10 minutes of the game. Steve Fisher’s club put up 71 points but just was overwhelmed by the Eagles.  Florida Gulf Coast went on a 17-0 run in the second half that sealed it, fueled by the energy of this crowd and their own incredible confidence. It was a dominating second half, one in which San Diego State had no chance after

Star of the Game:  Brett Comer, Florida Gulf Coast. Austin Rivers’ former high school teammate is making quite the name for himself. Comer electrified the Philadelphia crowd once again by pushing the pace and making some incredible passes along the way. Comer controlled the tempo of the game and recorded 14 assists to just three turnovers. How this kid slipped through the recruiting cracks is anyone’s guess. Given the way he played in these two games, Comer would have a spot on almost any major conference team.

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ATB: Florida Gulf Coast Owns The Bright Lights, A Standard Dougie Fresh Master Class and the Wolfpack’s Bitter End…

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 23rd, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Tonight’s Lede. Goodbye Opening Round 2013; Our Time Together was Brief but Unforgettable. The funny thing about Harvard’s improbable upset over New Mexico last night is the way by which most fans came to find out about it. Only a dedicated subsection of college hoops fandom was glued to their TV’s in the wee hours for the Crimson’s magical takedown. The rest were hit with the news upon waking up the following morning. “Woah, man, Harvard won? Really?” Something like that. Friday’s upset du jour took place in a prime viewing window, and the big boy on the losing end – well, let’s just say that program has been in this unfortunate position more than a few times over the past few seasons. Without divulging specifics, it is my gracious privilege to sum up another drama-filled day of Tournament action. And for my money, day two trumped day one by a wide margin.

Your watercooler moment. Down Goes Georgetown. Again. 

For the second straight day, we saw a huge upset. On Friday it was Florida Gulf Coast sinking Georgetown (Getty).

For the second straight day, we saw a huge upset. On Friday it was Florida Gulf Coast sinking Georgetown (Getty).

Once you move past the enormity of Florida Gulf Coast’s 2-15 shocker over Georgetown, the alley-oop dunks and And 1 Mixtape schadenfreude, a very alarming and very relevant recent trend comes into clear focus: Georgetown has seen its Tournament life go up in smoke at the hands of a double-digit seed in four consecutive seasons. You probably remember most of the losses: In 2010, 14-seed Ohio felled JTIII’s three-seeded Hoyas; VCU dropped G-Town as an 11-seed in 2011; and last season, red-hot 11-seed NC State pulled out a three-point win in the third round. None of those losses come close to FGCU’s 10-point win – the Eagles punked Georgetown in a year where the Hoyas, after a rugged Big East season, had every reason to believe their stifling defense and national player of the year candidate, Otto Porter, could push them towards a Final Four berth. Instead, FGCU got out on the break, flourished in transition and contained Porter and co. on the other end. The Eagles staged a massive upset against one of the most upset-proof teams – stylistically, not historically – in the entire bracket, with the defensive chops to weather the sort of up-and-down game FGCU thrives on. Here’s the best part: this little Atlantic Sun upstart took its spot on the big stage and totally owned it. The Eagles had Twitter ablaze with a litany of highlight reel dunks, and an equal accompaniment of bombast to turn the whole thing into what looked like a bunch of running up and down and just plain enjoying themselves on the court against a trendy Final Four pick. It was easily the most entertaining moment we’ve seen in this Tournament so far.

Also worth chatting about.Newsflash: NC State was overrated from the start.

The Wolfpack's performance on the court never reached their national preseason valuation (Getty).

The Wolfpack’s performance on the court never reached their national preseason valuation (Getty).

A few NCAA Tournament wins and a shiny recruiting class can do a few things for a team’s preseason perception. For NC State, it gave the nation – and not just fans, but the ACC preseason media and coaches pollsters – license to elevate the Wolfpack to a No. 6 ranking and a level of expectations unseen in Raleigh for more than two decades. Everybody loved NC State, or at least the idea of NC State using last season’s Tournament success along with an infusion of freshman talent to rip through ACC competition and become a mainstay in the top of the national polls. Those were unreasonably high projections to begin with; I knew it, you knew it and the Wolfpack’s nonconference and ACC opponents who saw them as nothing more than a talented but fundamentally disjointed outfit knew it. Now we can finally put this season to rest. The 2012-13 Wolfpack were nice to look at for a while, but their luster wore off as the season rolled along, and on Friday Temple crunched Mark Gottfried’s team in their opening-round 8-9 game, putting yet another dent in NC State’s supremely talented roster – which, more than anything else, was always about defense. Now this book is closed, and we can go back to never, ever overrating teams in the preseason based off last year’s Tournament performance. Hey, a man can dream, right?

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Rushed Reactions: #15 Florida Gulf Coast 78, #2 Georgetown 68

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 22nd, 2013

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Brian Otskey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #2 Georgetown and #15 Florida Gulf Coast. You can follow him on Twitter at @botskey.

Three key takeaways:

  1. Florida Gulf Coast was just better. The Eagles got the job done on both ends. They made more shots, defended better and were more athletic. Not to mention they clearly wanted it more. This team came in with absolutely no fear and hung around with Georgetown early in the game. Then, they exploded. The Eagles used a 21-2 run to break the game open and Georgetown never recovered despite a late game flurry. Florida Gulf Coast has talent and some really good athletes. It will give either Oklahoma or San Diego State a problem in the next round.

    Sherwood Brown celebrates with fans during the final minute of a second-round game against Georgetown. (AP)

    Sherwood Brown celebrates with fans during the final minute of a second-round game against Georgetown. (AP)

  2. Georgetown did not defend. Ranked fourth in defensive efficiency, the Hoyas came into the game with a reputation as a defensive juggernaut. Not tonight. Georgetown allowed Florida Gulf Coast to shoot 56.5% in the second half as the Eagles pulled away and then hung on for the victory. It was a complete meltdown for the Hoyas, one that included a flagrant-one foul and some fireworks between the two teams at times towards the end of the game. Georgetown lost its cool, not something we’re used to seeing from such a tradition-rich program with a good coach and smart players.
  3. Georgetown’s early NCAA Tournament exits are officially a pattern. Since making the Final Four in 2007, John Thompson III’s program has failed to even get to the Sweet 16. Georgetown was upset by #10 seed Davidson in the second round of the 2008 tournament. In 2010, #14 Ohio stunned the third seeded Hoyas in the first round. 2011 saw another first round exit (#11 VCU) and last season, Georgetown lost to #10 seed NC State in the round of 32. All of the Hoyas’ NCAA Tournament games since 2007 have been against double-digit seeds and their record is a pitiful 2-5. Thompson III even admitted after the game that he has tried to connect the dots and figure out why his team is losing to inferior teams. Like most people, he couldn’t explain it.

Star of the Game: Brett Comer, Florida Gulf Coast. The Eagles’ sophomore point guard (and high school teammate of Austin Rivers) put on a show. Comer didn’t lead the team in scoring, far from it in fact, but he led the way with 10 assists to only two turnovers. Comer, ranked fifth nationally in assist rate, put on an incredible display of skill, flashiness and, as Raftery would say, onions. The pass to Chase Fieler for the alley-oop had shades of Ali Farokhmanesh, just in a different way. Florida Gulf Coast wanted to push the pace in the second half and Comer was directly responsible for doing just that.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Evening

Posted by KDoyle on March 22nd, 2013

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#2 Georgetown vs. #15 Florida Gulf Coast – South Region Second Round (at Philadelphia) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS

Florida Gulf Coast is one of the better stories in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Only in their sixth year as a Division 1 program, the Eagles are riding their first winning season in history thanks to the hiring of former Florida State assistant Andy Enfield. In Enfield’s first year, they finished 15-17, but were a game away from the NCAA Tournament as they lost to Belmont in the Atlantic Sun finals. This year, Florida Gulf Coast has been the team to beat, and it began with an early season win over Miami (FL). FGCU’s style of play greatly differs from today’s opponent, the Georgetown Hoyas. The Hoyas are predicated on a stingy zone defense that rarely allows for clean looks at the basket, and they play at a snail’s pace. Led by Otto Porter, Georgetown has a legitimate star that can carry them deep into the NCAA Tournament. FGCU very much likes to get up and down the floor with Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson leading the attack. If FGCU is able to get out in the open floor and score in transition, they’ll keep it close for much of the game. Problem is that not many teams control the pace of a game quite like Georgetown—that’s what makes them such a difficult opponent as they force the opposition to play their style of game. Historically, Georgetown has struggled in the NCAA Tournament under John Thompson III as they’ve failed to reach the second weekend in four of six appearances under him, but many believe this is a different Hoya team. FGCU is playing with house money and expect them to make a game of this, but in front of a heavy Georgetown crowd in Philadelphia the Hoyas are simply too much in the end.

Andy Enfield has his FGCU squad playing great basketball. (AP)

Andy Enfield has his FGCU squad playing great basketball. (AP)

The RTC Certified Pick: Georgetown

#2 Ohio State vs. #15 Iona – West Regional Second Round (at Dayton, OH) – 7:15 p.m. ET on CBS
One of the nation’s most balanced teams, the knock on the Buckeyes for the longest time this season was that they didn’t have a secondary scorer to help out junior DeShaun Thomas. We’ll get to that in a second, but let’s just say that Iona never had such a problem. Senior guard Lamont “Momo” Jones has always been the main offensive weapon on this team, never afraid to look for his own shot, but the Gaels have always trusted guard Sean Armand and forward David Laury to chip in heavily in the scoring column. And as a result, the Gaels have one of the most efficient offenses in the mid-major ranks. The problem for Tim Cluess’ team is the complete inability to stop teams on defense; only nine times all season have they held an opponent below one point per possession in a game. Given that Ohio State is one of the best defensive teams in the nation (sixth in defensive efficiency per KenPom.com), you can expect the Buckeyes to at least slow Iona’s prolific offense. And given that Thad Matta has been getting significantly improved offensive play out of guys like Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson, you can expect the Bucks to take advantage of that buttery soft Gael defense. While Momo Jones, et al. have the ability to make some exciting plays when they’ve got the ball, their inattention to details defensively will allow the Buckeyes to have more than their share of exciting offensive plays as well.

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Big East NCAA Tournament Capsules: Georgetown Hoyas

Posted by mlemaire on March 22nd, 2013

The Hoyas surpassed everyone’s expectations this season and won a share of the Big East regular season title and the No. 1 overall seed in the Big East Tournament where they lost in the semifinals to Syracuse. The Hoyas were in contention for a No. 1 seed before losing to Villanova down the stretch and not reaching the title game in the conference tournament. Instead the selection committee rewarded their excellence with a No. 2 seed in a winnable region and a first-round date with the Eagles and their rabid fan base.

It doesn't take a basketball expert to understand Otto Porter's importance to Georgetown (M. Sullivan/Reuters)

It doesn’t take a basketball expert to understand Otto Porter’s importance to Georgetown (M. Sullivan/Reuters)

Region: South
Seed: No. 2
Record: 25-6 (14-4 Big East)
Matchup: v. Florida Gulf Coast University in Philadelphia

Key Player: Let’s face it, to call anyone other than Otto Porter the key player for the Hoyas would be forcing it as the athletic sophomore is the at the center of the team’s success this season. Porter is a first-team All-American, the team’s leading scorer (16.3 PPG) and rebounder (7.4 RPG) and three-point shooter (42.7 3PT%) who just so happens to be capable of defending multiple positions well to boot. He might be the most important player in the entire tournament if you consider what type of team Georgetown would be without him. As long as he plays as well as he did during conference play, the Hoyas should make a run, and if he rises to the occasion and turns it up another notch, well the rest of the South Region and the bracket better look out. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East M5: The Day After Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 22nd, 2013

  1. bigeast_morning5(2)Yesterday was the true first day of the NCAA Tournament and overall it was a good one for the four Big East teams that played. Syracuse and Louisville cruised to easy victories and Marquette won the most exciting game in the day, rallying to beat Davidson on a gorgeous left-handed drive by Vander Blue in the last five seconds. Of course Pittsburgh ruined a perfect day for the conference by making exactly one of their 17 three-pointers and turning the ball over 15 times in an 18-point loss to Wichita State. The story for Pitt is getting old at this point. No matter how many times they win 25 games in the regular season, until they actually win a worthwhile NCAA Tournament game, their gaudy records won’t mean anything. It would be one thing if the Shockers had played a clean game themselves, but Wichita State was just 2-of-20 from downtown and turned the ball over 11 times themselves. For Jamie Dixon, that job at Southern California that he shot down oh so casually shot down this week is looking real nice right now, because it seems like the Pitt fans are starting to get fed up.
  2. You want to know why Vander Blue is an NBA prospect? Watch his game-winning layup against Davidson five times, heck I could watch it all day. Too often players settle for long jumpers on last-second plays, Blue on the other hand didn’t hesitate at all, blew past Davidson’s Jake Cohen, and finished smoothly at the rim with his left hand. That was a grown man move with the game on the line. It helped that on a day when the Golden Eagles shot just 34. 5 percent from the field, they hit three improbable three-pointers in a row in the final minute of the game. They weren’t open three-pointers either, they were well-defended, and the man who hit two of them, Jamil Wilson, made just two other field goals on 11 shots up to that point. It was a game that will be hard to top today in terms of excitement, late-game heroics, excitable coaches (what’s up Buzz). But after watching Memphis suffocate and swat down Saint Mary‘s offense, the Golden Eagles will not be able to play that poorly on offense and hope to win in the third round.
  3. An unintended benefit of having so many games spread out across the country is that occasionally a good story is written that wouldn’t have a news peg if there wasn’t an NCAA Tournament game being played in that city. Such is the case with this piece about Villanova’s experience in the realignment done well by the Kansas City Star. The Wildcats play North Carolina in Kansas City tomorrow and rather than write yet another preview, the Star chose to go back and time and talk with coach Jay Wright about the uncertainty of watching the Big East crumble and the move into a basketball-centric, new Big East conference next season. Things are settled now and that’s good, because the Tar Heels present a stiff challenge.  Not unlike Pittsburgh, Villanova is back in the tournament after a disappointing season and they will be looking to prove they belong.
  4. The best part about Syracuse’s near-50-point thrashing of Montana other than the near flawless basketball the Orange played was watching CBS Sports analyst Seth Davis act a fool in full-on Syracuse gear. The outfit was Davis manning up after he picked the Grizz to pull of the upset and felt confident to make a bet with Syracuse sports radio hosts, a bet he honored by looking extra-bright on national television. Yesterday I mentioned that another data-based formula showed that Montana was a good candidate to pull of the upset and last night’s beat down was evidence that none of these formulas are bullet-proof. The zone defense and length of the Orange defenders were too much for Montana’s shooters and the game turned into a boat race midway through the first half.
  5. Georgetown has had less obvious and publicized recent struggles in the NCAA Tournament than Pittsburgh but the Hoyas and coach John Thompson III could use a deep NCAA Tournament run this season to assuage some of the concerns that have crept out of nowhere since the team’s trip to the Final Four.  For whatever reason, Florida Gulf Coast has seen a groundswell of support and most of it is seemingly coming from people who have never seen them play. They have a win over Miami and they definitely have an argument about receiving just a No.15 seed given their resume and talent. But they also haven’t seen a defense as long and athletic as Georgetown’s and just as Montana found out today against a hungry Syracuse team, the Eagles are going to quickly learn how hard it can be to score against a premier Big East defense.
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Big East M5: 03.21.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 21st, 2013

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  1. So technically the first four games of the NCAA Tournament have already been played but today is the day that truly feels like the start as games tip off early and will be broadcast all day long. Speaking of folks who are excited, how can you not want to root for a team that has a fan base comprised of a hodgepodge of students, faculty, and of course 79-year-old Indiana transplants living in nearby Fort Myers. Yes, the ride has already been a fun one for Florida Gulf Coast and its fans, and I don’t think any of them care that the team’s chances of beating Georgetown are not very good. The Eagles may have thought they deserved a slightly higher seed, but the chips have fallen where they did and FGCU is apparently thrilled at the chance to play giant-slayer against one of the best teams in the Big East. It is more fun for us when Big East teams are playing well in the NCAA Tournament, but let’s just say that if FGCU were able to pull off a shocker, I wouldn’t be mad about it.
  2. I really can’t agree more with the opinion that “if you value a player based on how much worse his team would be without him, Otto Porter would be your pick for National Player of the Year.” The Hoyas were, at one point this season, a team that scored 37 points against Tennessee and got a 26-point beat down from Pittsburgh. When the Hoyas lost second-leading scorer Greg Whittington to academic suspension, Porter put the team on his back for the rest of conference play and Georgetown ended the regular season as the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. Admittedly, this is an opinion that is shared by many others, but I still feel like calling it out because Porter really isn’t getting enough NPOY consideration and so I’ve taken on the job of single-handedly jump-starting his campaign myself. 
  3. I called point guard Tray Woodall my key player on Pittsburgh in the Panthers’ NCAA Tourney capsuel, but Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette makes a pretty good case that streaky Lamar Patterson is actually the key to the Panthers’ tournament success this March. Big things were expected of Patterson this season and while he remains a versatile defender and dangerous offensive player, he has been inconsistent and seemingly nonchalant, resulting in an up-and-down year that he is not particularly proud of. The Panthers desperately need a good showing in the Big Dance to silence some of the critics and if Patterson can rise to the occasion and be the guy for coach Jamie Dixon, their chances of making run improve greatly.
  4. While this story about potential major and wide-ranging violations committed by the Syracuse basketball and football programs is somewhat old news, sources in the CBS story certainly do not paint a flattering picture of the sort of things that the NCAA is investigating. UConn fans are already having some tempered fun with the story, while head coach Jim Boeheim has already issued a surprisingly tempered “this happens every year and I don’t care” statement. This no longer feels like it is always something with the Orange, it IS always something with the Orange. The NCAA and its investigations have proven to be a giant joke, but considering the fact that NCAA investigators are sniffing around an alleged 2007 sexual assault and several academic suspensions at the school, brace yourselves for yet another story about some scandal that took place under Boeheim’s watch. At this point, is there anyone in the country who feels confident in saying he will be back on the sideline next season?
  5. It has been rumored for some weeks now because there are good reporters on the beat that Butler, Creighton, and Xavier would be the three schools likely to join the new Big East and, now that it is official, those three teams will join the former Catholic 7 to form a basketball-first conference that is already being over-hyped by giddy college basketball fans forgetful that DePaul has been terrible for nearly two decades. The door is still open for two more teams (good reporters say Saint Louis and Dayton are next) to join the conference in the near future, but for now, the new Big East is set and it will be fascinating for college basketball lovers to watch. These additions make sense on every level and for everyone involved. The Bulldogs, Bluejays, and Musketeers haven’t really been true mid-majors in a long time and there is a chance one of these teams could win a conference title in its inaugural season. They will get a bigger profile and some lovely television cash, while the new Big East gets three teams to further improve their basketball chops and make sure that media rights deal will remain a lucrative one.
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The Other 26: Bracket-Busting, South and West Edition

Posted by IRenko on March 19th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC columnist and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Oh, well. What’s a royal ball? After all, I suppose it would be frightfully dull, and-and-and boring, and-and completely… Completely wonderful. – Cinderella

It’s time for college basketball’s annual ball, which means it’s time for America to fall in love with Cinderella all over again. There are 36 teams from the 26 non-power-conferences who have been invited to this year’s Big Dance, and while the slipper no longer fits for some of the more prominent of these schools, for the bulk of them, this is a rare opportunity to make a name for themselves on the grandest of stages.

This is the first of a two-part series taking a look at the NCAA Tournament prospects for all 36 teams hailing from The Other 26. We focus today on the TO26 teams in the South and West regions, grouping them into five rough categories, and, within each category, ordering them by their likelihood of advancing.

Regional Threats

These are the teams that have a credible chance of dancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.

Can Kelly Olynyk Lead the Zags to Their First Final Four?

Can Kelly Olynyk Lead the Zags to Their First Final Four?

  • Gonzaga (#1, West) — It’s been five years since a TO26 team reached the top seed line. In 2008, Memphis rode its #1 seed all the way to the brink of a national championship, and Zags fans are hoping for the same — and perhaps more — this year. Gonzaga has no glaring weaknesses. They are led by an athletic, skilled frontcourt, the centerpiece of which is NPOY candidate Kelly Olynyk. They get steady guard play from Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, and David Stockton. If they’re to run into any trouble, it will likely be against a team that (1) sports a strong, athletic interior defense that can contain Olynyk, Elias Harris, and Sam Dower and pound the glass, and (2) can hit the three-point shot consistently, as Illinois did in beating them (Gonzaga’s defense allows a lot of three-point attempts). There are a fair number of teams that meet the first criteria in the West bracket, but not many with a lot offensive firepower from the three-point line or otherwise. In short, this is as good a shot as Gonzaga has ever had to make the Final Four. The eyes of the nation will be watching to see if they can make good on their promise.
  • Virginia Commonwealth (#5, South) – VCU is a popular sleeper pick for the Final Four, and there’s some merit to that notion, but here is the most important thing you need to know about them: They are 25-2 on the year (and 14-0 in A-10 play) against teams with a turnover rate over 18 percent. And they are 1-6 (and 0-5 in A-10 play) against teams with a turnover rate under 18 percent. The Rams’ first-round opponent, Akron, falls squarely in the former camp (20.8 percent), a problem for the Zips that will be exacerbated by the absence of their legally-troubled starting point guard, Alex Abreu. After that, things get a bit trickier for the Rams. Their two potential Third Round opponents, Michigan and South Dakota State, rank in the top 10 in the country in turnover rate. Those stats are perhaps somewhat inflated by the fact that both teams play in conferences that don’t feature a lot of pressure defenses, but if you’re looking for a point guard to lead you against such a defense, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than Trey Burke or Nate Wolters. It’s true that Michigan has struggled lately in general, and that if you look ahead to a potential match-up with Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen, Havoc’s odds of success improve, but I’d caution against over-exuberance at the Rams’ chances given a potentially dicey Third Round contest.

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