NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Friday Night

Posted by KDoyle on March 29th, 2013

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We continue the Sweet Sixteen tonight with games from the South Region in Arlington, Texas, and the Midwest Region in Indianapolis. Here are the breakdowns for tonight’s games.

#1 Louisville vs. #12 Oregon Midwest Regional Sweet Sixteen (at Indianapolis, IN) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

It's Russ' World, We Just Live In It (Credit Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

It’s Russ’ World, We Just Live In It (Credit Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The Midwest Regional descends on Indianapolis this weekend, with Louisville and Oregon kicking off the action in a matchup of red-hot teams. If not for Florida Gulf Coast’s otherworldly Tournament performance last week, we would likely be looking at the two most impressive teams of the first weekend. As the top overall seed in the Tournament, Louisville’s tour de force in Lexington may not have been unexpected, but it did drive home the notion that the Cardinals are still the team to beat – in this region, and beyond. On the flip side, Oregon’s pair of resounding victories were not expected (despite getting significant play as the most underseeded team in the field on Selection Sunday), but have quickly afforded the surging Ducks a lot of respect. They will head into a virtual road game as massive underdogs on Friday, but the last two weeks have proven that this is a talented and tough basketball team.

Do not expect Oregon to struggle with the aggressive Louisville defense as much as North Carolina A&T and Colorado State did. A quick briefing of the Oregon statistical profile may suggest otherwise – the Ducks are 264th nationally in turnover percentage – but that number is a bit misleading. For one, quick tempo teams are generally going to turn the ball over more, and Oregon plays fast (48th nationally in possessions per game). Also remember that starting PG Dominic Artis (I know, I know — how could we forget at this point?) missed more than half the Pac-12 season, and that backup PG Johnathan Loyd is just now beginning to hit his stride. These two guards will come as close to replicating the quickness and athleticism of that Louisville Siva-Smith combo as any duo the Cardinals have seen all season. Throw in athletes almost everywhere else on the floor – Emory and Dotson on the wings, Kazemi and Woods in the post – and there can be reasonable expectation that Oregon might actually be able to weather the turnover storm that has felled many Louisville foes.

If Oregon can manage that turnover battle, expect this to be a 40-minute game. Points will not come easily for the Cardinals against a well-school (and athletic) Oregon defense, and the Ducks are also a better rebounding team — at least on paper. Dana Altman’s X-factor will be the burgeoning freshman Dotson. If Dotson and others – here’s looking at you EJ Singler — can replicate the three point barrage that undid Saint Louis, Altman’s group has a legitimate change to swing the upset. Too much to ask for? Probably. This is not your typical #12 seed (how is Oregon a #12 seed again?), but they have run into a #1 seed that is playing its role all too well. I expect Oregon to prove a worthy challenger in all facets – managing turnovers, defending the dynamic Louisville backcourt, finding ways to score themselves – but ultimately they run into a team that is just a little better across the board. The Ducks will hang around, but Louisville should be safely bound for the Elite Eight.

The RTC Certified Pick: Louisville

#1 Kansas vs. #4 Michigan – South Regional Semifinal (at Arlington, TX) – 7:37 PM ET on TBS

The last time Michigan advanced this deep into the NCAA Tournament was all the way back in 1994 with the Fab Five coached by current San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher. Ranked in the Top 10 for much of the season, John Beilein’s team certainly won’t be content just advancing to the second weekend; it is Atlanta or bust for the young Wolverines. To advance to Sunday’s South Regional Final, they will have to knock off a team with a wealth of NCAA Tournament experience in the Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas advanced to the championship game last season losing to Kentucky, but are missing two key components of that squad—Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. While Bill Self has led Kansas to another very successful season—a Big 12 regular season and tournament championship and 30+ wins for the fourth straight year—this edition of Kansas basketball is lacking a rock-solid point guard and dominant scorer. One could certainly make the argument that freshman Ben McLemore is that scorer, but he has largely been a no-show in Kansas’ first two games scoring just 13 points on 2-14 shooting from the field. The combination of Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe at point guard has dished out 11 assists to ten turnovers. Nobody will argue their frontcourt dominance anchored by the defensive prowess of Jeff Withey, but seniors Kevin Young and Travis Releford are prototypical role players and not go-to threats. As such, when looking up and down the roster, this has been yet another good coaching job by Bill Self. If Kansas is to defeat Michigan and advance to Atlanta, Ben McLemore must play up to his Top 5 NBA Draft pick ability. Kansas’ most glaring weakness happens to be Michigan’s clear strength: point guard play. This game will be decided in the backcourt, and Trey Burke along with Tim Hardaway Jr. are simply playing much better basketball than Elijah Johnson and Ben McLemore. Also, let’s not forget the emergence of freshman Mitch McGary who has stepped up in a big way with Jordan Morgan’s nagging ankle injury. Morgan may return to the regular rotation tonight, but he is just 6’8” and would struggle handling Jeff Withey on the insdie. John Beilein doesn’t expect McGary to have a double-double kind of game like he had against Virginia Commonwealth, but if he is able to neutralize Withey then it is mission accomplished. Kansas would be the first one to tell you that they played just 20 good minutes of basketball in their first two games. If they get off to another slow start out of the gate like they did against Western Kentucky and North Carolina, they’ll be hard-pressed to climb their way back into the game.

The RTC Certified PickMichigan

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Sweet Sixteen Preview: Highlighting One Thing to Watch For Each Team

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 27th, 2013

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

Two rounds of NCAA Tournament play have come and gone. Favorites have flopped, upsets have left bracket-wielding fans frustrated everywhere and Florida Gulf Coast is in the Sweet Sixteen. That last one still doesn’t register; how does a team that gained full Division I postseason eligibility just this season, with an entrepreneurial and supermodel-boasting wife in tow pushing them along the whole way, knock off, in sequence, National Player of the Year and projected lottery pick Otto Porter, then follow it up by utterly demoralizing Jamaal Franklin and San Diego State?

Of all the interesting storylines heading into the Sweet 16, none is more captivating than Florida Gulf Coast (Getty Images).

Of all the interesting storylines heading into the Sweet Sixteen, none is more captivating than Florida Gulf Coast (Getty Images).

Everyone will have their eyes on FGCU to see what happens next, naturally, but the next round of bracket proceedings, the Sweet Sixteen, offers more than one team, one storyline, one Brett Comer lob, to watch. Here are 16 items, one specific to each team, to keep an eye on — with the common denominator of shining a new analytical light on each match-up. If Florida Gulf Coast has already revolutionized everything we’ve come to know about today’s scoring-averse, slowdown, micro-managed game, where does that leave us – the humble writers who serve to clarify, in long form, what you see on the court – in attempting to understand the remaining rounds of this Tournament? Onward:

1. Is Louisville The Best Thing On The Block? It sure looks that way, and that’s without even seeing Louisville come up against a team capable of challenging Russ Smith and Peyton Siva on the perimeter, of pulling Gorgui Dieng away from the basket, and decoding Louisville’s No. 1 efficiency defense. Colorado State was the closest thing, and the Rams were hopelessly overmatched on both ends of the floor. The Cardinals got the good side of Russ Smith in that match-up, scoring 27 points and committing just one turnover, and when that happens and Louisville maintains its trademark stingy point-prevention, Rick Pitino’s team is tough to beat. The question is whether Oregon, criminally underseeded as a #12, can use its bruising defensive style to counter the Cardinals’ championship formula. Louisville has done nothing thus far to refute its national frontrunner status, and unless Ducks coach Dana Altman can poke holes in U of L’s defensive fortress with Damyeon Dotson and E.J. Singler on the perimeter, and Arsalan Kazemi keeps up his insane rebounding pace (he’s averaging 16.5 boards per game in Tournament play), the Cardinals will maintain that status and waltz into the Elite Eight undeterred.

2. The End Of Ohio State’s One-Dimensional Scoring Problem.

For most of the season, behind Ohio State’s plainly suffocating perimeter defense, headed by one rosy-cheeked point guard roundly regarded as the nation’s best on-ball defender, lay an offense with one glaring problem: DeShaun Thomas was doing everything. For as devastating as Thomas can be, and as versatile as his scoring arsenal has become – Thomas is just as quick to camp out on the perimeter as he is to back down an opponent in the post – the Buckeyes needed a reliable ancillary scoring option. And during Tournament play (and increasingly at the end of the regular season), they’ve gotten exactly that. In a second-round bout against Iona, Sam Thompson (20 points) and Lenzelle Smith (12) were in double figures; Craft (18) stole the show in the next match-up with Iowa State, and there was no greater symbolic statement to his newfound offensive chutzpah than when he looked off Thomas on a critical final possession, lulled Cyclones’ forward Georges Niang to sleep with a deft walk-up dribble, and iced a game-winning three while holding up his wrist on the follow through as his teammates celebrated a squeaky escape. LeBron James took notice. You should, too.

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Big East M5: 03.27.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on March 27th, 2013

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  1. If nothing else, fans of the current Big East are going to have plenty of channels to catch their favorite schools on when the schools all go their separate ways. The ACC is taking over Big Monday and should have an increased presence on ESPN, the Big East (Catholic edition) will be on FOX, and the soon-to-be-the-conference-formerly-known-as-the-Big-East just inked a deal with CBS, which will get first dibs on the conference’s games through 2019-20. Oh, and West Virginia seemed to be on ESPN like every week this year… so good for the ‘Eers.
  2. Louisville was the number one overall seed in 2009, much like it is this year. That team hoisted both the Big East regular season and tournament trophies, and made a run to the Elite Eight before falling to Michigan State. That team featured excellent former Cardinals like Terrence Williams, Andre McGee, and Earl Clark, and apparently those guys won’t stop talking about that season. Peyton Siva would like to reclaim bragging rights over the 2009 squad with the one trophy they weren’t able to claim — a national title. “I don’t know a lot (about 2009), I just know T-Will and Dre were on it and they always brag about being the No. 1 overall seed… Our whole goal for the year — they had Andre’s picture on the wall from that ’09 team — is to take him off the wall.”
  3. Otto Porter is a finalist for the Naismith Award this season, and for good reason. A very good argument can be made that there was no player more important to his team this season, and it showed in Georgetown‘s best games — Porter scored 33 points in front of over 35,000 raucous Syracuse fans to stun the Orange at the Carrier Dome — as well as their worst — Porter could only muster 13 points on 5-of-17 shooting in Georgetown’s shocking loss to Florida Gulf Coast last weekend. While Porter is up against stiff competition for the Naismith Award, he already has accolade in his back pocket as Basketball Times has named the forward its National Player of the year.
  4. Expansion fever — catch the excitement! Today in schools moving conferences, the old Big East continues it’s mission to restore the halcyon days of mid-2000s Conference USA. Brett McMurphy reports that Tulsa will become the 12th member of the conference, calling the addition “imminent.” According to McMurphy, the Golden Hurricanes will join up in 2014 with Tulane and East Carolina, who will be elevated to full-member status to balance the conference numbers and fill the critical role of having basketball-playing Pirates in the league.
  5. The Journal-Sentinel sat down with former Marquette great Brian Wardle, currently the head coach at Wisconsin-Green Bay, to discuss the state of Warriors basketball. Wardle was obviously thrilled with the success that the program has had under Buzz Williams, and before him, Tom Crean, stating that MU has entered the ranks of the elite in college ball. “The level that Marquette basketball is at now is an elite level that it has not been in for a long time… they’ve gone to three Sweet Sixteens in a row, a Final Four, everything takes time to build. Nothing happens overnight. You’ve got to go through some failures to succeed. You’re seeing Marquette in the Sweet Sixteen every year with the Michigan States, the Dukes, with Kansas.”  There is no denying the success that Marquette has had recently, though dropping the ‘e’ word seems a bit strong.  Until Marquette makes a few more Final Fours or captures a national title, they’re a rung or two below the nation’s elite schools, at least to me. However, they’re not far behind, and with the consistent success that Buzz Williams has had with the program, it may only be a matter of time until they break through.
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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

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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

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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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