Rushed Reactions: #3 Miami 65, #11 Wichita State 57

Posted by Chris Stone on March 19th, 2016

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

Three Key Takeaways:

Miami's Angel Rodriguez Led His Team to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Miami’s Angel Rodriguez Led His Team to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

  1. The Shockers are gritty and tough, but so is Miami. After the Hurricanes jumped out to an early 27-6 first half lead, Wichita State fought back using offensive rebounding and turnovers to take a one-point lead on a Ron Baker three-pointer with 10:26 remaining. It was what we’ve come to expect from a Wichita State team that is never completely out of it. Miami’s response, though, was noteworthy. The Hurricanes could have wilted under the pressure, but they held strong behind impressive performances from Sheldon McClellan (18 points) and Davon Reed (10 points).
  2. Angel Rodriguez went from Hurricane to drizzle to Hurricane. Rodriguez started the game on fire for Miami, scoring 16 points in the first 10 minutes without missing a shot. But then things turned for the worse. As the Shockers made their eventual comeback, Rodriguez was nowhere to be found. He didn’t attempt a shot for the rest of the first half and didn’t make another field goal until there was just 2:05 left in the game. During that drought he also committed five turnovers, but he woke up to close out the game, scoring the Hurricanes’ final 10 points (including a dagger three to push the lead to seven). This performance only reinforces the idea that a good Angel Rodriguez is the Hurricanes’ most important factor this March.
  3. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, it’s been a pleasure. The Shockers’ two senior guards have been college basketball mainstays for the past four seasons, helping Wichita State to a Final Four, an undefeated regular season and another Sweet Sixteen. Throughout the weekend, it’s been clear that opposing coaches and players hold VanVleet and Baker in high regard because of how they play the game. What’s next for the two guards is uncertain, but their time at Wichita State sure was fun while it lasted.

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State Your Case: Wichita State, Monmouth, Valparaiso, Saint Mary’s

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 9th, 2016

It’s an all-too-familiar story: Several of college basketball’s most promising mid-majors – potential bracket-busters that made mincemeat of their conferences during the regular season – bulldoze their way into March, only to see their dreams of an NCAA Tournament appearance crushed during Championship Week. Nice to know ya; enjoy the NIT; better luck next year. In fact, of the 11 conference tournaments completed so far in 2016, only one top seed (Chattanooga) has managed to clinch its league’s automatic bid. Luckily, for a few of the unfortunate champions, this season may offer new hope. An exceptionally weak bubble, combined with some strong Other 26 resumes, has enabled several teams from non-power conferences to remain in the at-large conversation. In the spirit of election season, let’s allow these candidates to state their cases leading up to Selection Sunday.

Will Ron Baker and the Shockers get another shot on Selection Sunday? (kwch.com)

Will Ron Baker and the Shockers get another shot on Selection Sunday? (kwch.com)

Wichita State

  • The At-Large Argument. Advanced metrics love the Shockers more than any other team on the bubble, and it’s not close. KenPom currently ranks Wichita State #11 in the country – ahead of Miami (FL), Arizona and Xavier, among others – thanks in large part to its second-ranked adjusted defensive efficiency. Sagarin is not quite as high on Gregg Marshall’s group, but he still ranks the Shockers among the top 25. For the sake of comparison, fellow bubble comrades Syracuse and Ohio State do not fall within the top 40 of either ranking. On top of that, the Shockers are a classic example of a team the NCAA Selection Committee might – and perhaps should – judge differently now that they are at full strength. Three of Wichita State’s eight losses came without All-American Fred VanVleet, who missed four games in late November with an ankle injury. In two of those losses, the Missouri Valley champs didn’t have starting center Anton Grady either, who suffered a nearly career-ending injury against Alabama – a game they lost by just four points. There were other injuries, too. Now healthy, Wichita State seems to be a genuinely better basketball team. Oh, and did we mention that non-conference victory over Utah?

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Wichita State Should Make The NCAA Tournament, Right?

Posted by Chris Stone on February 16th, 2016

Even after Saturday’s home loss to Northern Iowa, it would be difficult to make a case that Wichita State is not one of the best 68 teams in college basketball. After a bounceback victory over New Mexico State on Monday evening, the Shockers are ranked 23rd on Team Rankings and 27th in the Sagarin Ratings. They appear even better using KenPom’s efficiency metrics, ranking a robust 13th out of 351 teams. The reason these systems like Wichita State so much is simple: its defense. Despite having one of the worst defensive free throw rates in the country, the Shockers still rank third in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom. While Wichita State gives away too many points at the foul line, its defense is still effective because it excels at creating turnovers (23.5 percent turnover rate) and preventing second shot opportunities (opponents grab just 24.1 percent of their misses).

Gregg Marshall's team could be in trouble come Selection Sunday? (Credit: Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle)

Gregg Marshall’s team may be in trouble come Selection Sunday. (Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle)

The Shockers also have the star power of an experienced Top 25 program. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker were role-playing freshmen when Wichita State went to the Final Four in 2013, and their growth as players helped the Shockers to an undefeated regular season and #1 seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament before going to the Sweet Sixteen last year. VanVleet is the engine that makes the Shockers’ offense hum. He ranks fifth nationally in assist rate (41.9%) and works masterfully in pick-and-roll sets to help free up his teammates. Baker, a former walk-on, is an explosive outside shooter (37.3% career 3FG) who has enough size at 6’4″ and 210 pounds to give him a shot to play in the NBA. Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Top 25: Week 11 Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on February 1st, 2016

College basketball is one of those sports where no development should really surprise anyone. Things can change on a dime and unexpected occurrences are the norm. For example, the way in which the conference season has played out for #25 Duke has been a shock to the system. Mike Krzyzewski’s squad dropped to 4-4  in ACC play last Monday when it was toppled by #16 Miami (FL) on the road. A road loss to the Hurricanes is nothing to worry about on its own, but grouped with losses to Clemson, Notre Dame and Syracuse, it is part of a more troubling trend. Things have a chance of improving this week, as Duke figures to be the favorite in a trip to Georgia Tech on Tuesday and at home with NC State on Saturday. On the contrary, a loss in either of those games would put Duke dangerously close to the bubble. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

RTC25 02.01.16

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Shock Therapy: Finding a Cure to Wichita State’s Ills

Posted by Chris Stone on December 23rd, 2015

It’s been a rough first month of the season for Wichita State, as the preseason top-10 Shockers have struggled mightily in non-conference play. After ankle and hamstring injuries to point guard Fred VanVleet and five losses in their first 11 games, the Shockers aren’t even receiving any votes. VanVleet was absent for three of those defeats and Gregg Marshall‘s group managed to pick up two nice non-conference wins over UNLV and Utah once he returned, but their loss on the road to Seton Hall last weekend raised continued concerns about the Shockers’ postseason hopes. Wichita State has just one game to go before Missouri Valley play begins, so Marshall will need to right the ship quickly if his team wants to make its fifth straight NCAA Tournament. The solution, though, begins with identifying the problem. So, what’s the matter in Wichita?

Fred VanVleet will stay smiling as long as he stays healthy. (Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle)

Fred VanVleet will stay smiling as long as he stays healthy. (Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle)

The obvious place to start is with the injuries to VanVleet, the Shockers’ on-floor captain of the ship. It’s easy to attribute three of the team’s losses to those injuries given that VanVleet didn’t play in those games, but Wichita State also lost twice this season with him in the lineup. Dating back to October, the senior has been dealing with injuries that have affected his ankle and hamstring. The result has been a clear lack of explosiveness that has contributed to a nearly 20 percent drop in his shooting percentage at the rim. According to hoop-math, VanVleet has converted on just 34.5 percent of his layups this season. Time to heal, though, appears to be the optimal solution. VanVleet scored 13 points in the Shockers’ dominant win over Nevada on Tuesday by forcing the issue and getting to the foul line 12 times. “That’s the most burst I’ve shown in a while,” he said afterward. His head coach agreed: “That’s the best he’s looked to me,” Marshall said. VanVleet hinted that his recovery is still a work in process, but it’s one that appears to finally be showing some improvement on the court.

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Throw Out the Leftovers: Four Teams Finding Trouble During Feast Week

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 1st, 2015

In theory, what we know as Thanksgiving week but ESPN has christened “Feast Week” should be a relatively easy time for a highly-ranked college basketball team. Board a plane and head somewhere sunny. Throw on a polo or a Hawaiian shirt if that’s more your style. Win a few games, maybe lose a tough one against another top team. Have some turkey before heading home to continue your season. For many schools, this is exactly what happened. Kansas, for example, went out to Maui, learned that Chieck Diallo was cleared to play, had some fun, and won the tournament. But for several other teams, their Feast Week did not go as planned. Four formerly ranked teams had a rude awakening in the midst of their early season tournaments, with more questions raised than answers.

LSU

Ben Simmons Needs to Find More Aggression (USAT Images)

Ben Simmons Needs to Find More Aggression (USAT Images)

The Bayou Bengals might have the best player in college basketball in Ben Simmons, but the problem is that his teammates aren’t exactly playing as if that is the case. During the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, Simmons posted two impressive stat lines in the Tigers’ two losses. Against Marquette, he finished with 21 points, 20 rebounds and seven assists. He followed that up with four points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists against NC State. (Ed. note: LSU continued its swoon on Monday night in a 70-58 loss at College of Charleston where Simmons logged 15 points, 18 rebounds, four assists and committed seven turnovers.)

In both games, Simmons showcased the high-level talent that has NBA scouts drooling. He leads all of Division I basketball in rebounding and has flashed elite passing ability for a player his size. If the Tigers are going to win more games, however, Simmons needs to be a bigger scoring threat. Against NC State, he only attempted six shots from the field while teammates Tim Quarterman and Antonio Blakeney took 20 and 17 shots, respectively. Some of this discrepancy is likely because of Simmons’ great vision leading to good shots for teammates, but neither player was able to capitalize. Simmons was more aggressive offensively in the previous game against Marquette but he chose to pass to open teammates on two separate occasions in the Tigers’ final possession. He’s only a freshman, of course, but if LSU is going to contend in the SEC or make some kind of a run next March, it will be on the back of a more aggressive Ben Simmons. Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Five: 11.24.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 24th, 2015

morning5

  1. Normally people go to Maui to relax (or take four months of paternity leave), but for Kansas the trip has been a lot more interesting and mostly for stuff that has been happening off the court. The big news is the lack of news from the NCAA about Cheick Diallo, which has led Kansas to take the somewhat surprising approach of publicly criticizing the NCAA. This wouldn’t be the first time that a school has criticized the NCAA, but they usually do it by feeding media sources who do the school’s dirty work for them. The other news was the decision to suspend Brannen Greene for six games after complaining about playing time. Fans and some media might make a big deal out of this, but we doubt it will have a significant impact in the long-term as long as Greene comes back with his head on straight although it does raise some questions about their leadership when an upperclassman does something like that.
  2. Wichita State will likely be without senior point guard Fred VanVleet for this week’s Advocare Invitational in Orlando as he tries to recover from a hamstring injury. VanVleet, who has been limited this season by a series of injuries, is expected to be back for the team’s game against Saint Louis on December 5. With the Shockers senior leadership in VanVleet and Ron Baker we don’t think this will be an issue of making the NCAA Tournament, but losses at this point in the season could have a pretty big impact on what type of seed they receive on Selection Sunday.
  3. On Friday, the 10th class was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame. While Charlie Scott was assigned the role of “headliner” of the class by many media sources the others in the class aren’t too shabby either with the list of inductees including John Havlicek, Quinn Buckner, Rolando Blackman, and Lou Henson. The event, which is held annually as part of the CBE Classic in Kansas City, typically goes under the radar, which is unfortunate because it would be a great way to teach fans about the history of the game. The other problem (and probably the bigger one) is the fact that the Naismith Hall of Fame gets the majority of the attention making the college basketball one a second-tier version.
  4. In the grand scheme of things it was a meaningless game (even for this college basketball season), but last night’s marquee game was the national premier of Ben Simmons. While Simmons and LSU lost to Marquette the big takeaway from the night was that Simmons is probably already the best player in the country and it might not matter because of the rest of his team and the interesting strategy they sometimes employ. Simmons had 21 points, 20 rebounds, and seven assists, but the thing that will end up being the most talked about part of the game was his decision to pass twice in the waning seconds including the last pass of the game that forced Jalyn Patterson to take an extremely difficult three when a two would have won the game. We aren’t sure how many more marquee games we will see Simmons play in college, but we are sure there will be plenty of hyperbole and the accompanying over-the-top analysis this season.
  5. We have read a lot about the injury risks athletes are exposed to, but we have not read much in traditional media about the health risks that coaches face. As Brendan Prunty points out many college basketball coaches suffer from vocal cord trauma–the result of constant yelling. Many of you have noticed some of the short-term changes with the raspy voices of coaches that seem to appear fairly early in the season (something that has become a bit of a joke at this point), but as Prunty notes the consequences can be more severe.
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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 12th, 2015

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our the RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

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  • Kris Dunn, Providence (UNANIMOUS) – Dunn enters his junior season after a finally healthy campaign where he averaged 15.6 points and 7.5 assists per game in leading Providence to its second straight NCAA Tournament. While his numbers show he is a triple-double threat every night, he needs to be watched in order to understand just how good he is. He ranked first in the country last season with a 50.0 percent assist rate; he was named co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year; and he recorded a steal once every 20 defensive possessions for the Friars. The quintessential floor leader does it all for his team and he does it at an awe-inspiring level. Factoid: The television show “Friends” may have aired its last episode in 2004, but that has not stopped Dunn from apparently becoming an avid fan of the series. Could we see the likes of Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer show up at Dunkin’ Donuts Center to root Dunn’s team on before season’s end?
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland – Maryland was quite successful in its inaugural Big Ten season as the team advanced to its first NCAA Tournament since 2010. Those Terrapins were unquestionably led by senior guard Dez Wells, but now that he has graduated, Trimble will take over as the team’s heart and soul. The sophomore guard turned in a highly impressive freshman season where he averaged 16.2 points per game and shot a respectable 41.2 percent from behind the three-point line. Expectations are high this season in College Park, and Trimble will be a big reason why if Maryland ultimately meets its goals. Factoid: Trimble spent a portion of last summer playing for Team USA at the Pan American Games. At 20 years old, he was the youngest player selected to the squad by Gonzaga coach Mark Few.
  • Buddy Hield, Oklahoma – The reigning Big 12 Player of the Year returns to Norman for his senior season. After terrorizing conference foes throughout both his sophomore (16.5 PPG) and junior (17.4 PPG) years, Hield will look to take his game to an even higher level during his final collegiate go-around. When he bypassed the NBA Draft last spring, the junior guard noted, “I just can’t wait to see what Coach Kruger has in mind for next year. I know we’re going to be a really good team.” It’s difficult to argue with Hield’s assertion there. Factoid: Hield, a native of the Bahamas, says that his self-proclaimed “Bahamian Swagger” is something he developed while growing up on the island chain with his single mother and six brothers and sisters.
  • Ben Simmons, LSU (UNANIMOUS) – The 2015 Gatorade National Player of the Year arrives in Baton Rouge accompanied by a great deal of hype. When looking at the freshman’s prep statistics, it’s easy to understand why expectations surrounding him are so high. In 29 regular season games as a senior, he averaged 28.0 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.6 steals per game while shooting 70.7 percent from the field and collecting 24 double-doubles. Factoid: Former LSU great Shaquille O’Neal called Simmons “the best player in the world” when he introduced the prep star to his many Instagram followers last November.
  • Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga – Wiltjer returns to the fold at Gonzaga after a junior season where he averaged 16.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on his way to becoming a consensus second-team All-American. At 6’10”, Wiltjer’s long-range shooting makes him a nightmarish match-up for Zags’ opponents — he shot a sizzling 54 percent from the field and 46.6 percent from behind the three-point line a season ago. Factoid: When Wiltjer arrived in Spokane following his transfer from Kentucky, Wildcats head coach John Calipari called Gonzaga coach Mark Few and told him how good of a post scorer Wiltjer can be, even though he never really had a chance to show that part of his game in Lexington.

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2014-15 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on April 3rd, 2015

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what is going to occur during the season. There will always be players who will fail to live up to expectations and there will always be under the radar types who will unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our group of seven RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams back in November; nobody could have guessed that only five of the 15 names on that list would be able to live up to the hype: Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos, and Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns. The only two players who were projected to be a first team All-American and finished there were Kaminsky and Okafor. The 10 players who we selected as preseason All-Americans who did not make our team: North Carolina’s Marcus Paige, West Virginia’s Juwan Staten, Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell, Wichita State’s Ron Baker, Michigan’s Caris LeVert (spent much of conference play injured), Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker, Arizona’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona’s Stanley Johnson, Iowa State’s Georges Niang, and Nebraska’s Terran Petteway. They all had very productive seasons, but they were surpassed in achievements by the names that rose to the top of our list. Here are the 2014-15 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America

first_team copy

  • Frank Kaminsky, Senior, Wisconsin (consensus) (18.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 54.9% FG, 41.5% 3FG). Kaminsky wrapped up his collegiate career in dynamite fashion. The RTC National Player of the Year and Big Ten Player of the Year has been the best player on a Wisconsin team that won the outright regular season Big Ten title, the Big Ten Tournament title, and the NCAA Tournament West Region. As the Badgers prepare for their final matchup with Kentucky on Saturday, it should be noted that Kaminsky has been excellent throughout March, recording 31 points in a March 1 win over fellow Final Four participant Michigan State, 27 points against Coastal Carolina in the round of 64, and 29 points against Arizona in the regional final.
  • Jahlil Okafor, Freshman, Duke (consensus) (17.5 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 66.8% FG). The ACC’s first-ever freshman to win league Player of the Year has been a sensation from the day he stepped foot on Duke’s campus. The top recruit from the Class of 2014 did not disappoint in what will almost absolutely be his only season in Durham. Okafor was a dominant offensive post presence during the Blue Devils’ 28-3 regular season, as he scored in double figures in 30 of the team’s 31 games. Duke enters the Final Four with national title aspirations — and with a player like Okafor at its disposal, it is easy to see how those dreams could come true.
  • D’Angelo Russell, Freshman, Ohio State (19.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 5.0 APG, 41.1% 3FG). Russell burst on to the scene in incredible fashion in what will likely be his only season in Columbus. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year topped 25 points five times during conference play, and along with his prolific scoring, he showcased some exceptional distribution skills. Ohio State was inconsistent as a team this season, but it always could rely on Russell to fill the stat sheet and act as a terrific playmaker.
  • Jerian Grant, Senior, Notre Dame (16.5 PPG, 6.7 APG, 1.7 SPG, 47.8% FG). Grant’s return from an academic suspension that cost him the second semester of his junior season to lead the Irish to the Elite Eight was one of the stories of the year in college basketball. The senior guard lifted Notre Dame to a new level with his knack for hitting big shotsincredible passing, and overall leadership skills. Grant saved his best for the biggest games, which was evident by his 23-point, 12-assist performance in a January 28 victory over Duke and a 24-point, 10-assist effort in the ACC Tournament championship game victory over North Carolina.
  • Delon Wright, Senior, Utah (14.5 PPG, 5.1 APG, 4.9 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 50.9% FG). Utah advanced to its first Sweet Sixteen since 2005 this season, and the biggest reason for that was Wright’s play. The Utes epitomized team basketball with their style, but it was Wright who was routinely called on to make the big play late in the big game. While Wright has exhausted his eligibility, his consistency and leadership will be etched into Larry Krystkowiak’s program for many years to come.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Notre Dame 81, #7 Wichita State 70

Posted by rtmsf on March 26th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

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Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton Are Moving On to the Elite Eight (USA Today Images)

  1. Time to recognize the IrishIt seems inconceivable that an ACC championship team could fly under the radar, but that is what Notre Dame has done for much of this season. While they were probably only the third best team in the ACC during the regular season, their ACC Tournament title was no fluke. The Irish might not get a ton of attention because they lack the name brand appeal in basketball that many of their ACC colleagues have — and to some degree they lack a recognizable star even if Jerian Grant is an All-American — but they have a good mix of experience, athleticism and size. That might not be enough to win on Saturday, but don’t be surprised to see this team in the game late.
  2. Take a minute to recognize Wichita State. Even though this team isn’t close to what it was last year, the Shockers managed to advance further than they did then thanks to a more favorable draw. We aren’t sure what Wichita State will bring back next year (primarily whether Gregg Marshall will return), but it has been a remarkable three-year run for the Shockers. They went to the Final Four in 2012 and nearly knocked off the eventual national champions. Last year they went undefeated for 35 games before running into an underseeded Kentucky team that was peaking at just the right time. This year was a bit more of a struggle than some may have expected, but they might have pulled off one of the most satisfying victories in the program’s history last weekend when they knocked off a Kansas program that refuses to play them in the regular season.
  3. The Irish are more than just Jerian GrantAs we mentioned earlier, the Irish probably have not received the respect they deserved this season. Grant has garnered some attention thanks to his family tree and some of his Vine-worthy highlights, but this team is a lot more than just the Jerian Grant Show. Zach Auguste provides a solid piece in the middle even if Saturday could be rough with Kentucky. Demetrius Jackson and Pat Connaughton both had big games for the Irish as well. All of them will need to have huge nights on Saturday if they hope to advance.

Star of the GameDemetrius Jackson, Notre Dame. There were so many ways to go with this today, which speaks to how well the entire Irish team played. We will go with Jackson, who almost played Fred VanVleet to a standstill (or maybe even outplayed him) with 20 points on 10 attempts while VanVleet scored 25 on 20 attempts. VanVleet needed to dominate for the Shockers to win this game, but he might have been outplayed by Jackson tonight.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Thursday

Posted by Walker Carey & Andrew Murawa on March 26th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

While the early round upsets and Cinderella stories are what make the NCAA Tournament unique to any other sporting event in the country, there is always something to be said about the best competing against the best. No more might that be true than this season’s Sweet 16, which feature arguably a legitimate “Top 16” team pool … and it all gets started today. Here are four previews of Thursday’s games:

#3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wichita State – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Cleveland) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren't often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren’t often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

The Irish and Shockers will meet Thursday night in what should be a very entertaining battle between two of the country’s best perimeter teams. Notre Dame and its four-guard lineup boasts one of the best scoring offenses in the country. USBWA first-team All-American Jerian Grant is one of the best offensive guards in the country. His scoring ability and ball distribution skills definitely makes him a player to watch each time he takes the court. For Notre Dame, sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson and sophomore guard Steve Vasturia have each made a name for themselves this season. Jackson has greatly matured as Notre Dame’s floor leader on offense and his ball pressure on defense has been a greatly under appreciated facet of his game. Vasturia is the only Irish starter that does not have a scoring average in double figures, but his knack for hitting big shots coupled with some tenacious defense against some very good players (see his performance from last Saturday against Butler’s Kellen Dunham) has contributed to Notre Dame reaching its first Sweet 16 since 2003. When you think of the great glue guys in the country, Irish swingman Pat Connaughton has to be one of the first players who comes to mind. The captain has been an essential asset all season from his three-point shooting to his defensive rebounding to his overall leadership, Connaughton has been the heart of the Irish attack.

Wichita State is equally as talented on the perimeter. Junior point guard Fred VanVleet has had as good of an NCAA Tournament as anyone thus far, as he thoroughly outplayed Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell in the round of 64 before having his way with Kansas guards’ Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham in the round of 32. The other two Shockers perimeter players — Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton — each bring a unique skill set that have lifted the team all season. Baker has a knack for leading the scoring effort and hitting big shots. Cotton is an elite defender and his athleticism results in him constantly being a slashing threat on the offensive end. This is going to be a very fun game and you have to figure that both team’s perimeter groups will get theirs. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 23rd, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Your bracket is busted and the Sweet Sixteen is set. Let’s do a Regional Reset. Follow @rtcMWregion for reporting from Cleveland this week. Check out all of the regional resets for the Sweet Sixteen here.

New Favorite: #1 Kentucky. The new favorite is the old favorite, as there was nothing that happened over the first weekend that suggested a change. Kentucky is now an ungodly 36-0 after easily dispatching #16 Hampton in the round of 64 before overcoming a brief first half scare to ultimately blow past #8 Cincinnati in the round of 32. We all know about Kentucky’s talent level, its excellent defense and its superior depth, but can the Wildcats get to the Final Four with an unscathed record? Right now, it looks like the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

Not much in standing in the way of Kentucky so far. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Not much in standing in the way of Kentucky so far. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Horse of Darkness: #7 Wichita State. It is difficult to call a team whose core (with the exception of Cleanthony Early) went 35-1 last year a “horse of darkness,” but the Shockers had to battle through an offensively potent #10 Indiana squad and intrastate rival #2 Kansas to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Wichita State proved during the first weekend that it is a much better team than the #7 seed it earned on Selection Sunday. Point guard Fred VanVleet was terrific all weekend. Shooting guard Ron Baker recovered from a shaky performance against Indiana to greatly contribute to the win over Kansas. Gregg Marshall’s squad also had an unlikely hero step up against the Jayhawks, as forward Evan Wessell (who averaged 4.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game on the season) tallied 12 points (4-of-6 threes) and collected nine rebounds.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): The way #8 Cincinnati defeated #9 Purdue. If you want to teach a course on how to NOT close out a basketball game, Purdue’s efforts in the final minute of Thursday’s round of 64 game against Cincinnati should be your textbook. The Boilermakers led by seven points with just 48 seconds left in regulation before allowing the offensively-challenged Bearcats to go on an unbelievable 10-3 run over to force overtime. Cincinnati ultimately emerged victorious in the overtime session, and after the final buzzer sounded, Bearcats associate head coach Larry Davis and his players appeared to be more stunned than anything else. Read the rest of this entry »

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