O26 Top Five (and More), Because It’s Never Too Early

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 7th, 2014

Don’t look now, but college basketball season is only seven months away! Sure, this one hasn’t technically ended yet, but with Dayton respectably bowing out in the Elite Eight and only one game left to play between two power conference teams, O26 folks need something to look forward to. So let’s examine a few teams sure to make some noise in 2014-15.

Top Five

Players like Mo Alie-Cox will have increased roles for VCU in 2014-2015. (vcuramnation.com)

Players like Mo Alie-Cox will have increased roles for VCU in 2014-2015. (vcuramnation.com)

  1. VCU. The Rams lose Juvonte Reddic – the team’s leading rebounder, second-leading scorer and an unquestioned leader – along with Rob Brandenberg, who’s been a reliable offensive weapon for the past four years. Still, contrary to what folks in Milwaukee had us recently believing, it does not appear they will lose Shaka Smart to another program. And that’s a victory in itself. The coveted head coach will remain in Richmond to lead a group that could be even better than this year’s unit, which grabbed a #5 seed in the NCAA Tournament and ranked sixth overall in adjusted defensive efficiency. Dynamic weapon Treveon Graham returns along with quick-handed guard Briante Weber and a cast of other players capable of wreaking HAVOC in 2014-15. To boot, Smart welcomes his best recruiting class yet, led by top-50 forward Terry Larrier, who should see significant playing time right away.
  2. Wichita State. Star forward Cleanthony Early graduates along with role player Nick Wiggins and forwards Chadrack Lufile and Kadeem Coleby, so Wichita State will miss some big-time pieces next year. But the Shockers still return a solid core from this season’s 35-1 squad, including point guard and Missouri Valley Player of the Year Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton and Darius Carter. The frontcourt might be a bit thin – redshirt freshman Shaq Morris and incoming seven-foot transfer Bush Wamukota need to contribute alongside Carter – and Early (a likely NBA first-rounder) is probably irreplaceable, but Gregg Marshall has always relied more on balance and depth than he has on individual talent. Another conference title and single-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament should be doable for next season’s bunch.
  3. San Diego State. Can the Aztecs contend for the Mountain West title next year without Xavier Thames? Why yes, yes they can. Sure, the conference Player of the Year was their only reliable offensive threat for much of this past season, and yeah, rebounding maven Josh Davis also graduates. But Steve Fisher welcomes back a core of long-armed athletes, including NCAA Tournament stud Dwayne Polee and 6’10’’ shot-blocker Skylar Spencer, along with a top-notch recruiting class. Among the incoming freshmen are five-star forward Malik Pope, four-star forward Zylan Cheatham and four-star point guard Trey Kell, each good enough to find minutes right away. Oh, and Arizona transfer Angelo Chol, an athletic 6’9’’ power forward, will also be eligible after sitting out this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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UConn and Cincinnati: Trading Places in the Postseason

Posted by Will Tucker on April 5th, 2014

On March 8, 2014, Cincinnati and UConn looked like two teams headed in opposite directions. Having just hung 97 points on Memphis to complete a sweep of Josh Pastner’s team, the Bearcats went on the road and clinched a share of their first conference championship since 2004. That same day, Connecticut suffered an 81-48 drubbing at the hands of Louisville – the kind of humiliating end-of-season defeat that might spell doom for a team’s postseason.

AAC Men's Basketball Championship

Mick Cronin and Kevin Ollie: diverging paths (Richard Messina / Hartford Courant)

To the Huskies’ credit, they had just beaten Cincinnati a week before, capping a 6-1 stretch that followed a road loss to the Bearcats in February. But Kevin Ollie’s team exhibited red some flags even before being massacred in Louisville. They had eclipsed 70 points during regulation only once in the past seven games. DeAndre Daniels, who in January I predicted was poised for a breakout season, scored in double figures only twice during the same time frame. UConn had been outrebounded in their previous six games by an average margin of 8.3 boards per game.

Cincinnati, conversely, looked like a physically imposing, battle-tested, and veteran squad that was prepared to usher the program beyond the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1996. Rebounding from consecutive close losses to Louisville and UConn, All-American Sean Kilpatrick was firing on all cylinders in his subsequent two games, averaging 29 points on 68 percent shooting. Fellow seniors Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles appeared up to the task of complementing Kilpatrick in the frontcourt. And after winning the number one seed in the AAC Tournament by way of a coin flip, the Bearcats seemed destined for a rematch with de facto home team Memphis, whom they had already twice beaten soundly.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.21.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 21st, 2014

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

South Region

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The RTC Podblast: NCAA Thursday Afternoon Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 20th, 2014

Here are some quick reflections on the first half of the first day of the NCAA Tournament. Two upsets, several blowouts and a spotty performance from #1 Florida… we’ll be doing these twice on Thursday/Friday and as time allows on Saturday/Sunday this weekend. Check back frequently!

  • 0:00-2:38 – Dayton Defeats Ohio State, Moves on to Face Syracuse
  • 2:38-5:47 – Randy Recaps Pittsburgh’s and Florida’s Wins
  • 5:47-7:15 – Harvard Pulls Upset for 2nd Year in a Row
  • 7:15-10:37 – Blowout Round Up/Takeaways from 1st half of day 1
  • 10:37- Looking at the Night Games
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In #5 vs. #12 Games, Avoid the Chic Picks

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 19th, 2014

They are extremely tempting. They are the most difficult picks on your bracket to make, and history says you should pull the trigger on at least one each year. I’m talking, of course, about #5-#12 matchups. Merely seeing the number 12 next to the name of one team, a centimeter or two below the number 5, next to the name of another team, gives you pause. This is natural. Picking #12-#5 games isn’t supposed to be easy. There’s often a gap in quality between the teams placed on the #4 and #5 lines. The latter quartet is usually decent, but a clear notch below the four teams seeded one line above them. Teams seeded on the #12 line usually fall into one of two categories: 1) the quality mid-major that piles up a lot of wins against so-so competition; 2) talented major conference team with major holes in its resumé. In some instances, the #5 will overwhelm the #12. But the #12 shocks the #5 more often than you might think — it’s happened 25 times since 1999. How many #12-#5 shockers will we see this season? That’s what I’m here to help you figure out. Below you’ll find some analysis on this year’s four compelling match-ups, with an emphasis on explaining whether each #12 seed is worth picking.

West 

With Braun leading the way, don't be shocked if NDSU ousts Oklahoma (AP).

With Braun leading the way, don’t be shocked if NDSU ousts Oklahoma (AP).

#5 Oklahoma vs. #12 North Dakota State. The Bison won’t be overwhelmed by a team from a major conference, as they won at Notre Dame earlier this season (when Jerian Grant was available, mind you). NDSU ranks in the nation’s top 20 in offensive efficiency and posted Summit League-highs in offensive and defensive efficiency during conference play. The Bison are shooting 56 percent from inside the arc, good for fourth in the country, and only have five percent of their shots blocked (first). Senior guard Taylor Braun (18.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 3.9 APG) is the Bison’s engine, and by the end of this game, you’ll definitely remember his name. To pull big upsets, smaller programs often need one guy to take over – to drop at least 20 points and hit a few big shots in crunch time — Braun’s that guy. NDSU also has one of the most efficient frontcourt players in the nation in Marshall Bjorklund, who is shooting 62 percent on his twos. Oklahoma can really score – it ranks 13th in offensive efficiency this seaon – but the Sooners haven’t been nearly as good on the defensive end. Whether NDSU pulls the upset, this game promises to be a fun watch. Don’t miss it.

Verdict: Neither NDSU nor Oklahoma play great defense. This sets up as a shootout, one I think the Bison will win.

South

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O26 Bracketbusting: East and West Regions

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 19th, 2014

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The most joyous time of the year is finally upon us, and I’m not talking about tax season. I’m talking about buzzer-beating threes and scoring sprees, nickel-dimers and Nantz one-liners, back-door cuts and Farokhmanesh guts. I’m talking about the NCAA Tournament. And since O26 squads often make the most magic in March, let’s examine the prospects of each non-power conference unit in the upcoming Dance. Yesterday, Adam Stillman reviewed the South and Midwest Regions. Here, Tommy Lemoine looks at the East and West regions.

Regional Threats

These are the teams that have a legitimate chance to reach the second weekend, and perhaps even the Final Four.

Can San Diego State generate enough offense to make a deep run? (AP Photo)

Can San Diego State generate enough offense to make a deep run? (AP Photo)

  • San Diego State (#4, West) – This is the fifth straight season San Diego State has reached the NCAA Tournament, but only once in that span has it advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. The good news for Aztec fans is that this is the best overall defensive unit – not to mention highest-seeded outfit – since 2011, the year Kawhi Leonard and company made that run to the second weekend. Steve Fisher’s club ranks seventh nationally in defensive efficiency thanks to long-armed perimeter defenders like Winston Shepard (he’s a 6’8’’ two-guard) and interior stalwarts like Skylar Spencer. The Aztecs are aggressive, confusing and energetic on that side of the ball. They draw New Mexico State on Thursday, a sizable and athletic #13 seed that’s both offensively proficient and does a good job defending the paint. But they turn the ball over quite a bit, and there’s a good chance SDSU will seize on that sloppiness, even if they have trouble scoring. In the following round, they would meet either Oklahoma or North Dakota State – two really efficient offensive squads that have both shown weaknesses this season against athletic, pressure defense. Both are beatable for the Aztecs. Finding success in Anaheim, though, might be a different story. The offense will need to be more consistent than it’s been up to this point, especially against a team like Arizona – the nation’s best defensive unit (and most likely Sweet Sixteen opponent). If Mountain West Player of the Year Xavier Thames can play like he did in January and early March – when he put up numerous 20-plus point performances – and complementary pieces like athletic wing Dwayne Polee can make solid contributions, SDSU would have a shot. But if they can’t find buckets with regularity, the Aztecs won’t last long.
  • Gonzaga (#8, West) – It seems like everybody is sleeping on the Zags in favor of the ‘Marcus-Smart-can-make-a-run’ narrative, which is fine, and may very well happen. But do people realize that Mark Few’s bunch is ranked 20th overall in KenPom, with a top-15 defensive efficiency rating and a stellar effective field goal percentage? They might not be vintage Gonzaga, but these Bulldogs can still play. Their opening bout with Oklahoma State will probably be a good one – in fact, it has the highest ‘Thrill Score’ according to KenPom’s FanMatch – and  should be winnable if they can contain Smart and limit turnovers. The experienced backcourt of Kevin Pangos, David Stockton and Gary Bell will help in the latter department. If they manage to get past the Pokes, a match-up with Arizona in the round of 32 would be daunting, of course, but not necessarily insurmountable. Consider this: Three of the Wildcats’ four losses this season came against opponents ranked in the top-30 in effective height. Gonzaga, with 7’1’’ Przemek Karnowski and 6’9’’ Sam Dower in tow, ranks 25th. Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon will not be able to simply bully Few’s frontcourt into oblivion. If the big men hold their own and Pangos (41 percent) and Bell (42 percent) get hot from behind the arc, watch out. Admittedly, a deep run into the second weekend or the Final Four seems a bit farfetched for the WCC champions – especially considering their lack of quality wins in 2013-14 – but I’m not willing to completely push aside the possibility of a Sweet Sixteen run.

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Bracket Prep: East Region Analysis

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 17th, 2014

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Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), Midwest (11:00 AM), South (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Brian Otskey (@botskey) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

You should also check out our upcoming RTC Podblast with Brian breaking down the East Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

East Region

Favorite: #1 Virginia (28-6, 16-2 ACC) – The Cavaliers earned the final No. 1 seed and there should be no griping about that. While much is made about Virginia’s unbalanced ACC schedule, you can’t brush off both the regular season and conference tournament crowns. Tony Bennett’s team has a great blend of talent and experience with seniors Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell leading an impressive group of sophomores. This team is one of the finest in the nation on the defensive end of the floor where it has earned its reputation for slow, physical basketball, but its offense doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Virginia ranks No. 25 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and was second behind only Duke in ACC games.

Joe Harris led his Cavaliers team to the ACC title and a No. 1 seed. (USA Today).

Joe Harris led his Cavaliers team to the ACC title and a No. 1 seed. (USA Today).

Should They Falter: #2 Villanova (28-4, 16-2 Big East) – The Wildcats blew their chance to grab the top seed in this region with a quarterfinal Big East loss to Seton Hall on Thursday. That said, Villanova remains a dangerous team. Jay Wright’s group has not received a lot of press because most people may not even know the players on this team. There are no stars or surefire NBA draft picks here, but this team plays with tremendous chemistry and is efficient on both sides of the ball. Are the Wildcats too reliant on the three-point shot? Probably, but the toughest competition for Villanova likely won’t arrive until the Sweet Sixteen at the earliest, where it may have to face Iowa State.

Grossly Overseeded: #13 Delaware (25-9, 14-2 Colonial) – Admittedly, this is a reach. There are no teams in this region I felt were overseeded, but I have to pick one, Delaware is it. The Blue Hens went just 8-7 outside of conference play and are a great example of the stark contrast between the RPI and better rating systems like KenPom. Delaware is No. 70 in the RPI, which no doubt helped them to a No. 13 seed, but its efficiency profile (No. 105 in KenPom) is much more similar to that of a #14 or #15 seed. The Blue Hens are a good team and were very competitive with Villanova and Notre Dame this season, among others, but a #14 seed may have been more appropriate. Again, this is a very minor quibble with an otherwise solid seeding job in this region by the committee.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: AAC Teams

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 16th, 2014

The games haven’t even started yet but the madness has already begun for programs in the American Athletic Conference and their fans. It was supposed to be a relatively low-key Selection Sunday for the AAC. Most figured the top five teams in the conference were all safely in the NCAA Tournament and the only real debate seemed to be about whether Louisville deserved to be a No. 1 seed. Well, when the dust settled and the field of 68 was officially announced, there were more than a few surprises in the conference and plenty will be left wondering how much respect the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee had for the AAC and its members. Here is a bit of analysis about each of the four teams that made the field and the one notable snub.

Louisville, #4 seed, Midwest Region

After running roughshod over the competition in the conference tournament, there were murmurs that Louisville would push itself into the discussion for the No. 1 seed. But when the Cardinals were announced, not only were they not a No. 1 seed, but they actually popped as a No. 4 seed in the Tournament’s most difficult region. Nobody, including the committee, disputed the fact that the Cardinals are playing as well as any team in the country, but a lack of true quality wins and a soft non-conference schedule pushed the Cardinals down the line. When you take a step back and look at the bracket as a whole, the Cardinals don’t actually feel too underseeded. One could argue that Louisville is a better team than Creighton or that they are playing better basketball than Syracuse, but both of those teams have better resumes and wins. And as SMU can now attest, the committee is simply not a fan of soft non-conference schedules. A first-round match-up with former Pitino disciple Steve Masiello’s Manhattan Jaspers won’t be easy, but it will be the potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with Wichita State or Kentucky and potential Elite Eight match-up with either Duke or Michigan that has everyone talking.

Cincinnati, #5 seed, East Region

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Closing out the Ivy League: Harvard Victorious, But Didn’t Come Easy

Posted by Michael James (@mrjames2006) on March 12th, 2014

Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.

The end result was expected, but that’s about all that went as planned in the Ivies this season. Harvard claimed the league crown, a result that had been deemed inevitable by the national media since it was clear that Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry were returning to campus as fifth-year seniors. Its four-game victory margin appears commanding but was hardly so, as it took until March to finish off both a Columbia team projected to finish last in the Ivy media poll and a Yale squad which began Ivy play outside Ken Pomeroy’s top 200. Meanwhile, Penn, the popular preseason pick to be the Crimson’s number one contender, beat three teams ranked in the Top 275 all season.

As expected, Kyle Casey and Harvard earned the Ivy League crown. (Boston.com)

As expected, Kyle Casey and Harvard earned the Ivy League crown. (Boston.com)

Princeton lost its best player since the turn of the century in Ian Hummer, but sprinted out to a 9-1 start that had Twitter abuzz with chatter about a #2BidIvy. Then, it proceeded not to win a Division I game for more than a month during an 0-4 start to the Ivy campaign, only to rebound and finish third with 20 victories for the fourth time in five years. Brown lost two entire backcourt spots off a team that finished 224th in Pomeroy last season but proceeded to get half of its total team minutes from freshmen and rose all the way to the fringe of the top 150. Dartmouth looked like a legitimate sleeper before losing All-Ivy center Gabas Maldunas for the season, but bookended a seven-game Ivy losing streak with shocking sweeps of Penn and Princeton and Brown and Yale.

So, yes, in the end the NCAA bid went to Harvard, but that simple narrative fails to do justice to what was an entertaining and surprising 2013-14 campaign.

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Morning Five: 03.10.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 10th, 2014

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  1. It has been March for a while now, but it didn’t really feel like until Friday night when teams started receiving NCAA Tournament automatic bids. The first team to do so was Harvard by virtue of winning the Ivy League regular season title. They were soon joined by MercerCoastal CarolinaWichita State, and Eastern Kentucky. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the weekend was Milwaukee beating Green Bay in the Horizon League semifinals, but we wouldn’t necessarily call them a bid thief because we doubt that Green Bay will be able to get an at-large bid.
  2. The opposite side of the end of the regular season are the coaches being shown the door. Todd Howard appears to be the first one fired after he was let go by IUPUI. Howard went 26-70 at the school including 6-26 this year (1-13 in the Summit League). On the other end of the spectrum is Oliver Purnell, who will return next season at DePaul despite the Blue Demons going 11-20 overall and 3-15 in the Big East. We understand that Purnell just finished year four of a seven-year deal, but with the city’s plans for possibly building an arena for the school to play in you would expect that they would want to provide a better on-court product to get some votes behind the project.
  3. It seems strange, but in some ways Florida–the #1 team in the country–is largely being ignored. Now some of that may have to do with Wichita State and its undefeated season. It certainly is not because these Gators–particularly the seniors–have not been in the national spotlight before. They will never be the back-to-back championship Gator teams, but they have been to three straight Elite Eights. As Andy Staples points out the growth of this group has been substantial and if they are to get over that Elite Eight hurdle that experience may be the key.
  4. We have seen a lot of strange transfer cases over the years, but the one involving Bubu Palo has to be one of the more unique ones. Palo, who has been mentioned in this space many times, missed much of this season after being suspended following a sexual assault charge that was later dropped. In January, a judge ruled that Palo should be allowed back on the team and he was, but he has not played for team since rejoining the team. Now it appears that Palo, a senior, will attempt to transfer and seek a hardship waiver. Honestly, with how strange this case has been and how easily the NCAA has been granting hardship waivers we would not be surprised to see Palo wind up at another school next year.
  5. If you are looking for an under-the-radar team to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, you could do worse than George Washington. The Colonials are currently 22-7 overall and 10-5 in the Atlantic-10 (4th in the conference), but will be getting Kethan Savage, their second-leading scorer, back in time for the conference tournament. Savage has been out since January 18 after missing the last 11 games with a broken foot. Before his injury, the Colonials were 15-3. Since the injury, they are 7-4. Obviously some of that has to do with playing a tougher conference, but it will be interesting to see how long it takes Savage and the team to get used to playing together because if they adapt quickly the could be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament.
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Circle of March, Vol. VI

Posted by rtmsf on March 8th, 2014

Friday was a fun day of eliminations, with several good games involving a couple of buzzer-beaters, one step closer for #cheerfortheears, and the NCAA Tournament’s first automatic bid (Harvard). All told, 16 teams lost games and were removed from the Circle of March, with two more tournaments on tap to begin today (America East and The Summit). That leaves us with 282 “eligible” teams, but keep in mind that in order to respect the integrity of the regular season, we will not remove teams until their schedules are finished regardless of their current status. This means that the five other already-eliminated Ivy League teams, each of which concludes their seasons tonight, will come off the CoM on Sunday (Penn and Princeton, the two other Ivies, will be removed after their Tuesday night finale).

circlemarch_3_7 Teams Eliminated From National Title Contention (03.07.14)

  • Murray State
  • Appalachian State
  • High Point
  • Evansville
  • Furman
  • Radford
  • Illinois State
  • UNC Greensboro
  • Charleston Southern
  • UNC Wilmington
  • Oakland
  • Loyola (Chicago)
  • Morehead State
  • Gardner-Webb
  • Valparaiso
  • Northern Iowa
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Bracket Prep: Harvard

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 8th, 2014

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The first ticket to the NCAA Tournament was punched in New Haven on Friday night, and as each of the 31 automatic qualifiers plays their way into the Dance over the next week, we’ll take some time to give you an analytic snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets next weekend.

Harvard

Tommy Amaker’s Team Is Back In The Big Dance, And The Crimson Aren’t Planning On Leaving The Party Early

  • Ivy Champion (25-4, 12-1)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #52/#32/#37
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +11.4
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #10-#12

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Well, well, well – look who we have here. The Harvard Crimson, by virtue of their victory Friday night over Yale, clinched the Ivy League title and earned the 2014 NCAA Tournament’s first official bid. Harvard and NCAA Tournament in the same sentence may have been quite a story a few years ago, but after three straight Tournament appearances, the NBA’s brief bout of Linsanity in 2012, and last year’s opening round takedown of New Mexico, the Crimson have become a familiar March entity. This year’s team may be Tommy Amaker’s best since he arrived in Cambridge, but navigating its way to another Ivy title was not the walk in the park many expected, as Yale proved a worthy challenger right up until the end. Read the rest of this entry »
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