ATB: On Baylor’s Legitimacy, Brandon Paul’s Explosion, and Frank Martin’s Billy Gillispie Moment…

Posted by rtmsf on January 11th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. It wasn’t just any other Tuesday night, as a number of ranked teams were in action and there was more than enough intrigue around the country to keep everyone interested. Whether it was a team few people seem to believe in slowly swaying hearts and minds, or a much-maligned former prep star bringing forth the game of his life, or an acerbic coach showing his true colors in a postgame interview, there was a lot to cover tonight. Let’s jump right in…

Will Some Pundits Begin to Take Baylor Seriously Now? (AP/C. Riedel)

Your Watercooler Moment, Part I. Baylor Stakes a Claim of Legitimacy. One of the knocks against Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears to date has been its lack of exceptional road wins this season. Apparently the non-believers did not take seriously wins at BYU and Northwestern, although neither the Marriott Center nor the Welsh-Ryan Arena these days are the easiest places to escape victorious. Still, Kansas State’s Bramlage Arena is universally regarded as a tough-as-nails venue, borne out most recently by K-State’s dominant weekend victory over an unbeaten Missouri squad. Baylor’s mid-second half run to come back from seven points down behind several eye-popping defensive transition dunks, along with its ability to hold K-State to a single bucket in the last four minutes of the game, showed America how things have changed. Last year, Drew’s Bears hardly played defense, generally preferring to use that end of the court to rest before another wild LaceDarius Dunn field goal attempt. This year, long green-and-yellow-clad arms and legs seem to cover all four corners of the court, and in fact, the two game-saving plays on this night resulted from a strip from behind of Angel Rodriguez with three seconds remaining, and a deflected pass on the ensuing inbounds play. The Bears are not going to win every game this season, but they’ve already won 16 and have survived one of their four toughest road tests on the schedule. With Pierre Jackson (10/11 assts) running the show, Brady Heslip (13/4 stls) providing scoring punch, and an elite corps of forwards in Quincy Acy, Perry Jones, III, and Quincy Miller wreaking havoc defensively, it’s time to stop questioning Scott Drew’s team and take the Bears seriously as a national title contender.

Your Watercooler Moment, Part II. Brandon Paul Hits Everything, Leads Illini Over Ohio State. In two-and-a-half seasons at Illinois, Brandon Paul has been better defined by what he is not rather than what he is. The former Chicago-area prep star who came to Champaign with sky-high expectations has largely disappointed, gradually improving his scoring output over three years but never shooting the ball efficiently (career 37.2% shooter) nor becoming an effective distributor (2.0 APG). Paul must have eaten a full bowl of his Wheaties this morning. The 6’4″ junior literally took over tonight’s game against OSU, scoring his team’s last 15 points en route to a career-high 43 points on 8-10 shooting from behind the arc. Unless you saw the game, you cannot comprehend just how ridiculous a couple of the late threes that Paul hit were, perhaps none more so than his final trey which gave Illinois a four-point lead with 43 seconds remaining.

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After the Buzzer: A Wild and Wacky Wednesday Night to Close Out November…

Posted by rtmsf on December 1st, 2011

Tonight’s Lede. Big Ten Does It Again. Day two of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge finished in the same way as the first — with a Big Ten beatdown. The midwestern-based conference rode wins from Michigan State and Minnesota at home along with Penn State and Indiana on the road, to notch another 4-2 night and win the event convincingly, 8-4. Four of those eight victories this year came on ACC hardwood, showing that Big Ten teams can pick up victories in hostile environments regardless of location. It’s difficult to draw too much from late November events like these, but the eye and sniff test in watching pieces of the twelve games over the last two nights is highly suggestive that the Big Ten appears to go seven or eight teams deep this year for NCAA Tournament consideration, while the ACC looks to be in the neighborhood of five or six. As our columnist Evan Jacoby wrote in Night Line last night, the Big Ten has unquestionably earned the right to hold the mantle as the top conference in college basketball a few weeks into the season. The ACC appears to be in the mid-pack, perhaps as high as third but also maybe the worst of the five power conferences (the Pac-12 has some work to do to earn our good graces again).

Your Watercooler Moment. Double Overtime in the Thunderdome.

How Jacked Up Does the ThunderDome Look? (h/t @amurawa)

That’s right, we’re passing on the #4 North Carolina vs. #7 Wisconsin snoozer in favor of a high-intensity, mid-major game that went two overtimes and featured enough twists, turns and amazing plays to outdo the entire ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Luckily, our man Andrew Murawa was there for all 50 minutes of the action. Here’s his report (and some highlights from the UCSB side here).

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The Pre-Conference Tournaments and the ACC

Posted by KCarpenter on November 18th, 2011

While technically speaking the pre-conference tournaments started long before yesterday, counting the opening rounds of the NIT and a few others with qualifiers, but Thursday was the day that the tournaments began in earnest. I thought it would be a useful exercise to go through the list of all 12 ACC teams and evaluate their individual chances of winning their respective tournaments.

Boston College – 76 Classic

The Boston College team picked to finish last in the ACC would have a tough time in just about any competitive tournament field. An opening game against St. Louis will be challenging enough, as SLU is one of the better teams in a very strong Atlantic 10 this year. If they pass St. Louis, they will probably have to play Villanova, a tough out for an ultra-young BC team. The rest of the field includes New Mexico and Santa Clara, both capable of pushing Boston College to the breaking point. There’s not a good chance that the Eagles win this tournament, but they could at least win the opener.

Clemson – Diamond Head Classic

Xavier is the easy favorite for this tournament, but fortunately for Clemson, they are positioned on the other side of the bracket along with the (by-December) battle-hardened Long Beach State. The Beach is gunning for upsets and Xavier will have to take care to win its opening matchup against Casper Ware and company. Clemson’s path to the finals is significantly easier. The Tigers’ side of the bracket features rebuilding Kansas State, inexperienced UTEP, and a Southern Illinois team that isn’t what it once was. Clemson should make the finals, but taking down XU will be a challenge.

Duke – Maui Invitational

Duke Has Never Lost In Maui (12-0)

The Maui Invitational is loaded, but I’d say that Duke has a good shot at a heavyweight bout with Kansas, and a fair shot at winning considering the troubles the Jayhawks had against Kentucky. Duke will have to beat either a talented Michigan or Memphis team after beating Tennessee (which the Blue Devils should). Michigan and Memphis are both teams with a lot of potential that hasn’t necessarily translated to wins yet and both are trying to make the leap this year. Beating Duke is a great way to make such a statement. On the other side of the bracket, Kansas just has to beat Georgetown to have a clear shot at the final considering the troubles that have plagued Ben Howland’s UCLA team. Beating Kansas, even in a down year is a tall order, but in a head-to-head match-up, I think Duke is certainly good enough to win.

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The AP Preseason Poll: North Carolina #1 On All But Three Ballots

Posted by KCarpenter on October 28th, 2011

The first AP poll repeats the refrain of the offseason: North Carolina is the best team in the country. Amassing 62 out 65 first-place votes, the Tar Heels ran away from the rest of the field. This is no surprise and pretty much matches what the coaches thought last week. Like in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, Kentucky came in second with Ohio State and Connecticut not far behind. One first place vote went to the Buckeyes and two more to the Huskies, with the Wildcats getting no votes at the top spot. While that’s a slight difference from the coaches poll where Kentucky got the only non-UNC vote, it pretty much lines up with the conventional wisdom: Going into the season, there are four clear top tier teams, with the debate being over who goes in slots two through four. While guessing which writers submitted the minority reports favoring Connecticut and Ohio State is an entertaining game, the AP is happy to spoil that fun by posting the voters and their ballots online.

As for the rest of the ACC, Duke comes in at sixth, the same as in the coaches poll. Contributing to this mounting sense of déjà vu, Florida State once again finishes just outside the top twenty-five at the the twenty-sixth spot. Virginia, despite receiving a vote or two in the coaches poll, doesn’t get any love from the AP’s panel. Interestingly enough, the only other team to receive votes outside of last year’s top three finishers is Miami, a team that is returning a lot of highly skilled players and deserves a little more love than it’s been getting. In any case, the preseason is winding down and this poll will soon be forgotten as actual basketball games take the place of educated guesswork. I don’t know if that’s any consolation to an overlooked team like UVA, but it’s something.

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Morning Five: 10.20.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 20th, 2011

  1. In yesterday’s M5 we mentioned that a poll of media facilitated by the Syracuse Post-Standard found that Syracuse and Connecticut were essentially viewed as equals at the top of the Big East this year.  Wednesday’s survey of Big East coaches at Media Day came to the same ultimate conclusion.  The Huskies had more first-place votes (seven) than the Orange (five), but more coaches chose SU second or third than UConn, which accounts for the difference.  Louisville received three first-place votes (Rick Pitino took shots at the votes too), while Pittsburgh received one.  The Panthers’ Ashton Gibbs was chosen as the preseason Big East POY, with UConn’s Jeremy Lamb, Syracuse’s Kris Joseph, Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom, WVU’s Kevin Jones, and Notre Dame’s Tim Abromaitis rounding out the first team.
  2. Down on Tobacco Road, the ACC was simultaneously holding its Media Day Operation Basketball, and the proceedings generally read like a Carolina love-fest.  UNC received 57 of the 59 first-place votes from the media, and the Heels’ Harrison Barnes was a unanimous selection on the preseason all-ACC first team along with teammates Tyler Zeller and John Henson (incidentally, Luke Winn breaks down Barnes’ 2010-11 progression here).  The last time that a single school had three selections on the preseason all-ACC team was a decade ago, when defending national champion Duke brought back Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Boozer.  In no surprise whatsoever, Duke was picked to finish second, with Florida State third.  The remaining all-ACC choices were Duke’s Seth Curry, Miami’s Malcolm Grant, and Virginia’s Mike Scott, with Duke’s Austin Rivers selected as the preseason ROY.  More on Operation Basketball later this morning on our ACC microsite.
  3. We never contemplated a Wake Forest to USC pipeline developing, but if Jeff Bzdelik’s few talented players continue to get into trouble in Winston-Salem so that they ultimately transfer to Southern Cal, we’re sure that Kevin O’Neill will be happy to take them.  After Wake forward Ari Stewart transferred across the country in May to spend his final two years at USC, guard JT Terrell (whom Stewart hosted on his official visit to Troy) has also decided to re-surface as a Trojan.  Terrell is spending this season at a junior college in Washington, but the talented sophomore who averaged 11.1 PPG as a Demon Deacon frosh has announced that he will sign with O’Neill’s club during the early signing period in November.  Between Alex Stepheson (UNC to USC), Larry Drew II (UNC to UCLA), Travis and David Wear (UNC to UCLA), Stewart, and now Terrell, there’s something weird going on here.
  4. Is Billy Gillispie ready to turn around the basketball fortunes at his third Texas destination in his somewhat short collegiate coaching career?  After very successful stints at UTEP and Texas A&M, followed by a disastrous one at Kentucky, Gillispie says that he’s sober and back on track at his new school, Texas Tech.  What was lost amidst all the chaos that surrounded Gillispie in his two years in Lexington is that he had completely rebuilt moribund programs in both El Paso and College Station very quickly, his teams employing a hard-nosed, defensive style that mimicked the coach’s somewhat infamous and notorious work ethic.  Texas Tech seems like a great fit for him not only because he’s back in his home state surrounded by his people, but the expectations and pressures at a school like TTU are incredibly tame in comparison with one of the nation’s flagship basketball schools.  Even during the Bob Knight experiment, getting to the Sweet Sixteen was cause for celebration.  It says here that Gillispie will do well in Lubbock.
  5. We’ve already mentioned the heartbreaking story of Arizona’s Kevin Parrom in this space earlier this week.  Jeff Goodman caught up with him recently and the drive and fortitude that the Wildcat junior continues to show in the face of such adversity — losing his grandmother, his mother, and getting shot in the hand and leg in the span of several months — is nothing short of remarkable.  Rather than feeling sorry for himself, it’s clear in reading his quotes that he considers himself lucky to not only be alive, but also to have the opportunity to get an education on a basketball scholarship, something his mother made sure he put above all else.  And that, my friends, is what good parenting is all about.  Continued best of luck to Parrom as he works through these emotional and physical issues — we’re rooting for ya, kid.
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After the Madness: Highlights From The First ACC Practices

Posted by KCarpenter on October 17th, 2011

The University of Maryland invented Midnight Madness in 1971 under legendary coach Lefty Driesell. That makes last Friday the 40th anniversary of the very first Madness. Terrapin fans turned out in droves for the event, but, sadly, the history of the event and the Maryland program seemed to overshadow the future. The highlight of the event was an alumni game that included many members of the 2002 National Championship squad as well as other famous basketball alumni, like Grievis Vasquez. Fans were happy to see Steve Blake, Chris Wilcox, and Steve Francis, but the largest ovation was for legendary coach and recent retiree Gary Williams. It’s nice that Maryland was able to celebrate and savor it’s proud basketball tradition, but the fact that new head coach Mark Turgeon and the current Maryland squad were overshadowed by the looming legends of the past doesn’t bode well for this season.

Lefty Driesell Invented Midnight Madness 40 Years Ago at Maryland

Meanwhile, at Duke, the focus was squarely on the new guys,  specifically, the highly-touted Austin Rivers. Rivers showed off his range and touch by sinking his first three three-pointers in the intra-squad scrimmage before he began struggling in the second half. Despite this slight letdown, Blue Devils fans have no cause for sadness: Rivers looks like he will be fine. Other highlights of the night? Seth Curry. He absolutely dominated the game, scoring 28 points in 24 minutes to go along with a pair of steals and four assists. Besides the scrimmage, there was also a dunk contest judged by J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams, which was won by Miles Plumlee. That said I think Jim Sumner at Duke Basketball Report summed it up best:

The evening concluded with a dunk contest that demonstrated conclusively that seven-footers can dunk a basketball if no one is guarding them and they don’t actually have to dribble the basketball.

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Where 2011-12 Happens: Reason #24 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 11th, 2011

Another preseason preview gives us reason to roll out the 2011-12 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season 100% guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight. We’ve captured the most compelling moments from the 2010-11 season, many of which will bring back the goosebumps and some of which will leave you shaking your head in frustration. For the complete list of this year’s reasons, click here. Enjoy!

#24 – Where Mr. Barnes Arrives Happens

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-09, 2009-10, and 2010-11 seasons.

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Texas A&M to the SEC: Considering Conference Realignment Scenarios

Posted by rtmsf on September 7th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences and a frequent contributor.

For more than a year now, college sports fans have looked on with some mixture of fascination, excitement, disgust and horror as conferences and their member institutions have played a game of chicken with all-out conference-realignment Armageddon. Last June, following Nebraska’s announcement that it was leaving for the Big Ten, the Big 12 was on the verge of extinction when a quartet of teams led by Texas strongly considered a move west to form the first superconference, the Pac-16. However, after a weekend on the edge of the wire, they backed away and recommitted to the Big 12. But now, with Texas A&M’s slow-motion defection from the Big 12 to the SEC all but finished, the Big 12 is in another fight for its survival, with athletic directors and conference commissioners around the country considering their options should the Big 12 dissolve.

The Latest Domino Falls...

The first big domino here is obviously Texas A&M. They formally announced last week that they intend to leave the Big 12 Conference by July 2012, and the school is expected to announce later today that the SEC is their landing spot. Reportedly the 12 existing SEC schools voted 10-2 Tuesday night in favor of inviting the Aggies to its league, but a formal announcement could potentially hit a snag if any of the other nine remaining Big 12 schools chooses to not waive its right to litigate against the SEC for tortious interference with its conference affiliation.

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Considering the A&M to SEC Rumblings

Posted by rtmsf on August 13th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent and columnist.  He takes a look at the potential fallout from a Texas A&M move to the SEC, viewing it as still more fallout from 2010’s conference realignment maneuvering.  

It’s baa-aack.

A year after the Big 12 and Mountain West (among others) averted Armageddon in a nationwide game of conference realignment, it appears things are on the move again. Last year’s juggling of teams between conferences ended with the Big Ten adding Nebraska, the Pac-10 expanding to 12 with the addition of Colorado and Utah, and the Mountain West adding Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada, just as BYU went independent and TCU threw in with its most obvious natural rivals in the Big East (ahem). But, all things considered, the wildest potential moves from last year’s round of positioning failed to materialize. However, there were some hurt feelings then as a result not only of the shakeup, but also as a result of some of the new television contracts that were negotiated. And now, with Texas A&M seemingly locked on moving to the SEC in 2012, it appears that Texas’ decision to strike out on its own in creating the Longhorn Television network is the primary force generating what could be the second set of conference realignment waves.

Will This Become an SEC Road Trip in 2012?

As mentioned above, all signs point to an A&M move to the SEC; the only thing missing is an official announcement. A special  regents meeting will take place Monday afternoon, with one agenda item discussing the “Authorization for the President to Take All Actions Relating to Texas A&M University’s Athletic Conference Alignment.”  Aggie fans and administrators have long bristled at the uneven playing field in the Big 12 (heavily tilted in Texas’ favor), a sentiment that was only further fueled in recent months as the Longhorn Network and ESPN discussed the possibility of airing the high school games of potential Texas recruits, a possibility that has since been squashed by the NCAA. Nevertheless, it appears that A&M’s flirtations with the SEC, which date back to last year’s near destruction of the Big 12, are about to be consummated. The question is what happens next. An SEC invitation to Texas A&M is likely predicated on their ability to secure a 14th team for their conference with potential invitees including Clemson, Florida State, Missouri, and even potentially North Carolina, among others. However, with the SEC currently near the start of a 15-year/$209 million television contact with ESPN and CBS, the addition of one team, two teams or four teams likely means a reduced piece of the pie for each school. There may be room for renegotiating a bit based on the addition of new teams and new markets, but all indications are that as more teams are added to the conference, each individual member school pockets less, with the new invitees potentially getting an even thinner end of the stick. While the A&M move has been reported as a nearly done deal, there are still quite a few details that need to be worked out.

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Morning Five: 04.13.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on April 13th, 2011

  1. A number of players made NBA stay/go decisions on Tuesday, beginning with RTC NPOY Kemba Walker, who formally announced that he will be heading to the League after his junior season, the most celebrated in UConn men’s basketball history.  The point guard projected as a lottery pick will sign with an agent soon, leaving no possibility of an encore performance in Storrs.  On the other side of the country involving a player in the same high school class as Walker, UCLA point guard Malcolm Lee announced that he too is leaving for the NBA and will sign with an agent.  Despite being a top recruit three seasons ago, Lee never quite became the superstar he was supposed to be, and is currently only projected as a second round pick in this summer’s draft.  UCLA head coach Ben Howland had counseled Lee to return for his senior season, but he decided that it was time to move on from Westwood (maybe he didn’t want to play in the LA Sports Arena — we wouldn’t blame him).
  2. Two other athletic phenoms will also be entering this year’s NBA Draft, as Georgia’s Travis Leslie and Florida State’s Chris Singleton announced on Tuesday their intentions to leave college a year early.  Leslie formally made his announcement yesterday, joining all-SEC forward Trey Thompkins in leaving Mark Fox’s program, while Singleton hasn’t officially announced yet but was apparently outed by his school’s media relations department in this report about his upcoming Wednesday press conference.  Both players are likely first round selections.
  3. In a phenomenal indication as to just how difficult it is perceived to win at The U, Harvard’s Tommy Amaker decided on Tuesday he’d rather stay in Cambridge as the head coach of the Crimson rather than moving south to Coral Gables as the Hurricanes seek to replace Frank Haith.  Amaker must figure that if he can get Harvard to the NCAA Tournament next season (a distinct possibility), he’ll have a much better choice of winning jobs at his disposal — probably a smart move.  Now, Miami is said to be looking at Mike Davis (Alabama-Birmingham), Tony Barbee (Auburn), Donnie Jones (UCF), Billy Kennedy (Murray State) and Rob Jeter (Wisconsin-Milwaukee) as possible new candidates.
  4. There was a big piece of transfer news on Tuesday, as former Utah star Will Clyburn announced that he will be matriculating at Iowa State next year and become eligible to play in Ames for the 2012-13 season.  Expressing a desire to move closer to his home town of Chicago (and having played JuCo ball at nearby Marshalltown CC), the all-MWC forward who averaged 17/8 last season is excited to join a program under Fred Hoiberg that he feels is moving in the right direction.
  5. Billy Donovan’s Florida staff suddenly looks like a dream team of sorts as the school announced the hiring of former Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey and former St. John’s head coach Norm Roberts on Tuesday.  Pelphrey and Donovan, of course, are very close, with the duo coming up together at Marshall and earning their stripes later at Florida in the 1990s, building UF into a national power before Pelphrey moved on to South Alabama and Arkansas.  Both Pelphrey and Roberts found themselves in tough situations, but it’s safe to say that these will be short-lived stopovers for them until other big-name schools offer them another chance.  It’s certainly better than sitting on your couch.
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NCAA Regional Diary From San Antonio

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2011

After another weekend of scintillating and shocking NCAA Tournament results, it’s time to check back in with our various correspondents who were in Anaheim, San Antonio, New Orleans and Newark reporting on the games this weekend.

Location: San Antonio, TX
Round: Regional Final
Teams: VCU, Kansas
Date: 27 March 2011

To read all the diaries throughout the NCAA Tournament, click here.

The San Antonio Riverwalk is Always a Hit.

  • This is the second time in this Tournament that I’ve personally witnessed this happen (Gonzaga vs. St. John’s being the other).  Kansas’ strategy from the opening tip was to get the ball inside early and often to their big men, Marcus and Markieff Morris.  It worked in the beginning as the twins got KU off to a 6-2 start, but VCU started to figure out the entry passes, and before long the Kansas guards were trying to throw the ball into a quadruple-team underneath.  The perimeter players weren’t looking to score at all, and I sometimes wonder if a focused strategy to take advantage of a strength (as here) actually backfires in the sense that the perimeter players don’t have an opportunity to play offensively.  In the Richmond game, as a contrasting example, the KU perimeter players got going early and UR as a result was out of the game by the second television timeout.
  • I love Shaka Smart for many reasons, not least of which is his bulldog mentality of taking on all comers, but watching him get down into a defensive crouch on the sidelines as his players guard the ball on that side of the floor is phenomenal.  He moves his feet very well for his advanced age of all of 33 years old.  With Brad Stevens Lambeau Leap into the team circle after beating #1 Pitt last week, and Smart acting as a sixth defender for the Rams, youth in the coaching ranks is most definitely served.
Shaka Can!
  • Whew, Markieff Morris (eight turnovers) and Tyrel Reed (1-9 FGs) would like to have this game back.  Through the first twelve minutes of action, Markieff had already turned the ball over six times to VCU, including a ridiculous Ewing-step-through travel that he damn well knows better than to do in the college game.  Reed suffered a miserable game, and he never looked less comfortable than when Kansas was in desperate need of someone — anyone — to hit some threes down the stretch, but he was badly off on all of them.  It was pretty clear to me from my vantage point that both of these guys were feeling the pressure of expectations, and they were generally crushed by it.
  • I liked Self’s decision to try to get Josh Selby into the game early to combat the scoring woes of his team on the perimeter.  Other than Selby, none of the KU guards are elite talents capable of scoring on demand.  It didn’t work out today, as Selby went 1-5 for two points and clearly wasn’t feeling it, but it was still worth the gamble.  He couldn’t have done much worse than the pair of Reed and Brady Morningstar (2-16 FGs).
  • Speaking of Selby, has any freshman in America been a bigger disappointment this season?  Hailed as the possible missing piece to a dominant KU team, he looked good in December before tailing off completely the rest of the way to become nearly a late-season afterthought.  It’s not very often that high school players good enough to rate #1 in the nation by at least one scouting service will suffer such a weird diminishment of his playing time and influence.  Yet, had he been akin to a John Wall or even a Brandon Knight, Kansas might still be playing.  The perimeter absolutely killed the Jayhawks today.

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NCAA Sweet Sixteen Game Analysis – Friday

Posted by rtmsf on March 25th, 2011

Last night surely didn’t disappoint, with two games going down to the wire in the early session and a Duke-struction in the second session.  Tonight’s games are heavy on the Cinderella factor, which could be a good or a bad thing, depending on your perspective.

#2 North Carolina vs. #11 Marquette – East Regional Semifinal (at Newark, NJ) – 7:15 pm ET on CBS.

Marshall Makes the Carolina Attack Dangerous

Vegas lists Carolina as only a 4-point favorite heading into the first of two excellent matchups in the Newark regional, but we anticipate a much steeper climb for Marquette than the bookmakers anticipate. The daunting challenge for Buzz Williams will be finding some way to contain the Carolina bigs on the offensive end, notably 6’11 John Henson and 7’0 Tyler Zeller. The Golden Eagles are perennially undersized and plain old toughness and heart can only carry a team so far against superior talents that hold considerable physical advantages. Moderately-used sophomore Chris Otule is the only Marquette player that stands above 6’8 and he must have a career night defensively against either Henson or Zeller. Williams will likely send double teams in the post to aid his forwards in post-up situations just as they did with tremendous success against Syracuse’s Rick Jackson. Sagging off shooters to help in the post could coax the Heels into taking a few too many outside jumpers beyond the arc, a spot on the floor where UNC shoots just 33% on the campaign. Also look for Marquette to attempt the slow the tempo and keep the game in the halfcourt to neutralize Kendall Marshall’s outstanding passing ability in secondary break situations. If Carolina gets off to their usual slow start in the first ten minutes, falls into a shooting funk and one of Henson/Zeller slips into foul trouble, pulling off the upset is a possibility. That’s a lot of ifs. Not only does Carolina hold a considerable advantage down low, but also at the all-important point guard position. While Marquette employs a platoon of actual two-guard Dwight Buycks and the rapidly improving but inexperienced Junior Cadougan, what Marshall has meant to this Tar Heels team down the stretch cannot possibly be overstated. Marshall has dished out 24 assists compared to six turnovers in the tournament thus far and Carolina has only twice to Duke since he was instituted as the starting point guard ahead of the now-departed Larry Drew. A key reason why Marquette upset both Xavier and Syracuse was turnover differential. We’re leaning towards Marshall being able to dictate tempo without turning the basketball over. UNC advances to a showdown against either Ohio State or Kentucky with a trip to Houston on the line.

RTC Certified Pick: North Carolina.

#1 Kansas vs. #12 Richmond – Southwest Regional Semifinal (at San Antonio, TX) – 7:27 pm ET on TBS.

This is the game considered the biggest mismatch of the Sweet Sixteen, with one of the two co-favorites to win the national title lacing up their sneakers to play a mid-major darling, the Richmond Spiders.  To presume Kansas will run away with this one, though, is to make an error of judgment inconsiderate of two things: a) just how well Richmond is playing lately; and b) a recurring tendency by the Jayhawks to allow lesser teams to hang with them longer than they should.  Chris Mooney’s team is built like a mid-major with some high-major talent and athletes on its roster.  The Spiders like to spread the court and play a modified Princeton offense with their big men capable of knocking down jumpers as well as hitting cutters from the high post. Nearly every Spider starter can hit threes, befitting of a team that nailed long  balls at a tenth-in-the-nation best 39.9%.  The two players that the Jayhawk must key on are all-Atlantic 10 performers Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper. Both are athletic players who can pop for 25 on a given night, and with Dan Geriot capable of pulling a Morris twin outside and hitting long jumpers in addition to the range Harper has in his arsenal, the lane should be open for the classic penetration/kicks and the backdoor cuts that the offense is noted for.  As for Kansas, its defense on the perimeter is typically good, holding teams under 30% for the season from deep, but they are small outside, and if the UR big players are able to hit shots, they will keep Richmond hanging around this one.  KU obviously has a huge advantage inside, and as Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezeli showed in the Second Round, if Kansas remembers to throw the ball into the Morris twins from time to time, the big duo should have a combined 40-50-point night.  One problem with Bill Self’s team in this tournament is that they’ve yet to put a complete performance together; they looked and played tight against Boston University for much of the game; and Self even mentioned it afterward.  There were parts of the Illinois game that looked similar.  If Richmond starts nailing some early threes and gets Kansas down 8-12 points, how will the Jayhawks react?  Will they stay calm and play to their strengths inside; or will they panic and face another Northern Iowa situation?  It’s a compelling storyline, and one that will only be answered tonight in San Antonio — it says here that the Morris twins will be too much for UR to ultimately handle.

RTC Certified Pick: Kansas.

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