Eight Questions For the Sweet Sixteen

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 28th, 2019

The lack of major upsets in the opening two rounds of the NCAA Tournament has created numerous intriguing match-ups for the upcoming Sweet Sixteen. Here are the questions I have for each match-up:

Thursday Games

Brandon Clarke Has Been Putting on a Show for the #1 Zags (USA Today Images)
  • Florida State vs. Gonzaga: Does Gonzaga have a Rui Hachimura problem? While Hachimura is averaging 19.7 points per game this year, he is coming off of a season-low six-point performance against Baylor. Hachimura scored in double-figures in each of the first 32 games of the season, but has failed to eclipse 10 points in two of his previous three games. What’s going on with the junior All-American? The 6’8″ forward will be put to the test against the length of the Florida State front line.
  • Purdue vs. Tennessee: Will Carsen Edwards’ shooting be the difference? Carsen Edwards is coming off of an explosive 42-point performance against Villanova — a game in which he went 9-of-16 from beyond the arc. Tennessee’s three-point defense ranks below the national average and the Volunteers allowed Colgate to shoot 51.7 percent from distance in the First Round.
  • Texas Tech vs. Michigan: Which offense will be more dynamic in a match-up of elite defenses? According to KenPom, this game features the top two defenses in college basketball, as both teams have held their Tournament opponents under 60 points. The Wolverines are led offensively by freshman Ignas Brazdeikis — who scored just five points on 2-of-8 shooting against Florida — while Texas Tech is led by Jarrett Culver, who is averaging 25.5 points per game over his last four outings. The Red Raiders’ All-American, however, has shot only 20.6 percent from beyond the arc in games Texas Tech has lost.
  • Oregon vs. Virginia: Can Oregon’s defense stifle the immensely efficient Virginia offense? Since being blitzed for 90 points in a loss at UCLA, Oregon has given up an average of just 54.2 points per game over its last 10 contests. During that stretch, the Ducks have held their opponents to a sterling 20.9 percent on three-point attempts. While Virginia has shot over 40 percent from distance on the season, the Cavaliers have gone just 29.8 percent so far in the Tournament.

Friday Games

Duke Survived the UCF Push (USA Today Images)
  • LSU vs. Michigan State: Will LSU be able to put together a full 40-minute performance against Michigan State? Through two NCAA Tournament games LSU is +25 in the first half and -18 in the second half. That disparity features a 30.8 percent field-goal percentage in the second half and an even worse 16.7 percent from beyond the arc. Over their last five games, the Spartans, on the other hand, have outscored their opponents by 36 points in the second half.
  • Auburn vs. North Carolina: As hot as Auburn can get offensively, can its defense slow down North Carolina? Auburn has played 13 games against opponents with adjusted offensive efficiency rankings of 40th or better, and the Tigers have gone just 5-8 in those games. Additionally, the Tigers are just 2-6 in games against an opponent with an offensive rebounding rate that ranks among the top 20 in college basketball. For your consideration, North Carolina owns the nation’s eighth most efficient offense and has a top 20 offensive rebounding rate.
  • Virginia Tech vs. Duke: Can Virginia Tech replicate its winning formula against Duke? The Hokies defeated Duke, 77-72, back in late February in a game both Zion Williamson and Justin Robinson missed. Kerry Blackshear had a season-high 23 points to lead the Hokies in an all-around balanced effort. The return of the point guard Robinson will give Buzz Williams’ squad an extra ball-handler to deal with the pressure defense of Tre Jones.
  • Houston vs. Kentucky: What will the status of PJ Washington be come tip-off time? Kentucky’s PJ Washington missed the first two games of the NCAA Tournament and his availability remains unclear for Friday night’s game. Washington was the SEC’s second-best three-point shooter in conference play and is a player that would help spread the floor for a Wildcats’ team that has made just 25.9 percent of its 27 three-point attempts in the NCAA Tournament.
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16 Questions: Friday’s First Round Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 22nd, 2019

It’s time for another exciting day of 16 games. Here are the questions I have going into Friday’s action:

The Zion Show Moves to the NCAA Tournament (USA Today Images)
  • 1) Duke vs. 16) North Dakota State: Will Duke’s perimeter players begin the Tournament knocking down shots? Zion will be Zion, of course, but Duke will need its other players knocking down shots down the line if the Blue Devils are to cut down the nets in Minneapolis.
  • 1) North Carolina vs. 16) Iona: Can Iona make it to the half within closer range than last year against Duke? As a #15 seed against Duke last year, Iona trailed at the half by 14 points before going on to lose by 22. While the Gaels shot a sterling 58.3 percent from inside the arc, they were just 5-of-24 from beyond the stripe. Duke, on the other hand, shot 62.2 percent from two-point range and went 13-of-30 from behind the line.
  • 1) Virginia vs. 16) Garder-Webb: Will Virginia be quick to rid itself of last season’s nightmare? A 29-3 regular season was great, but memories of last year will surely still be on everyone’s minds as the Cavaliers’ postseason begins. Virginia scored just nine points during the opening 10 minutes against UMBC one year ago, so its first few segments of the game will be telling.
  • 2) Tennessee vs. 15) Colgate: Will Tennessee make quick work of Colgate? Colgate comes into this game with a defensive efficiency ranking of #202, and the Raiders will be tasked with stopping the nation’s third most efficient offense led by the force that is Grant Williams. Good luck.
  • 3) Houston vs. 14) Georgia State: Does Georgia State coach Ron Hunter have more Tournament magic up his sleeves? On the season, Houston has out-rebounded its opponents by an average of 7.7 rebounds per game, whereas Georgia State finds itself getting outmuscled by the tune of 5.3 rebounds per game. If the Panthers can survive on the glass, the duo of D’Marcus Simmonds and Devin Mitchell might be able to keep Georgia State within striking distance.
  • 3) Texas Tech vs. 14) Northern Kentucky: Will Texas Tech’s loss to West Virginia have any carry-over effects? While Texas Tech held the Mountaineers to just 38.8 percent shooting, the Red Raiders gave up 19 offensive rebounds and 20 points at the charity stripe.
  • 4) Kansas State vs. 13) UC Irvine: Will Kansas State be able to get any play and production out of Dean Wade? Wade did not play in the Big 12 Tournament and his status remains up in the air for today’s game. Without the big man inside, the Anteaters could be able to take advantage of its offensive rebounding prowess.
  • 4) Virginia Tech vs. 13) Saint Louis: How will Virginia Tech work Justin Robinson back into the lineup? After missing the last 12 games of the season, Robinson is set to return for the Hokies. The senior guard averages just under 14 points per game while shooting better than 40 percent from deep.
  • 5) Wisconsin vs. 12) Oregon: Can Wisconsin get D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison to knock down open shots? In Wisconsin’s five March games, the pair of Trice and Davison have gone a combined 11-of-48 from behind the three-point line. Without knocking down open shots, Oregon will be able to throw everything they have at slowing All-America center Ethan Happ.
  • 5) Mississippi State vs. 12) Liberty: Will Liberty be overwhelmed by the Mississippi State offense? The Flames played 14 games against an opponent with an offensive efficiency ranking of 260th or worse. The Bulldogs have an offensive efficiency ranking of 56th and are led by Quinndary Weatherspoon, who shot an SEC-best 44.9 percent on three-point attempts during league play.
  • 6) Buffalo vs. 11) Arizona State: Will Buffalo get the best of a school from Arizona again? Bobby Hurley and the Sun Devils won on Wednesday night in Dayton and are rewarded with a match-up against Hurley’s former squad. Arizona State will need more than 23 minutes of action from Remy Martin to get another victory.
  • 6) Iowa State vs. 11) Ohio State: With Kaleb Wesson back, can Ohio State pull off the upset? The Buckeyes lost two of their last three games with Wesson back before falling in his return to the Spartans. Ohio State averaged 10 fewer points per game on the road than they did at home.
  • 7) Cincinnati vs. 10) Iowa: Can Iowa change its late season misfortune? The Hawkeyes come into this game losers of five of their last six games. Throw in needing a pair of last second baskets to beat Northwestern and Rutgers and it’s clear Iowa is playing its worst basketball at the wrong time of the year.
  • 8) Ole Miss vs. 9) Oklahoma: Can Ole Miss knock down enough threes to beat the Sooners? The Rebels were just 2-8 when they failed to make a third of their three-point attempts this season. On the year, Oklahoma has held opponents to a three-point average of 33.3 percent.
  • 8) Utah State vs. 9) Washington: Can the Pac-12’s highest seed help the conference from its dismal 2018 showing in the NCAA Tournament? The Pac-12’s regular season champion scored fewer than 50 points in two of its final four games, both coming against Oregon. The Huskies’ defense does a terrific job of creating havoc, however, led by the wizardry of defensive ace Matisse Thybulle.
  • 8) VCU vs. 9) UCF: If VCU’s Marcus Evans is not at 100 percent, will the Rams have enough firepower? Evans suffered a bone bruise in VCU’s loss to Rhode Island in last week’s Atlantic 10 tournament. The starting guard averages a team-best 13.9 points per game and VCU could be tested greatly by UCF’s stout defense — which includes the towering presence of 7’6″ Tacko Fall.
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Ten Questions to Consider: Conference Races Heating Up

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 8th, 2019

Football season is now completely in the rear view mirror and the casual fan is welcomed to a weekend of college basketball highlighted by the #1 vs. #2 Duke/Virginia rematch along with numerous other heavyweight contests. Here are 10 questions I have for this weekend’s loaded slate of action.

It’s Part Two of Potentially Four Duke-Virginia Match-ups This Season (USA Today Images)
  1. Which elite team’s defense improves upon a lackluster performance in the first match-up? (Duke @ Virginia, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) In Duke’s 72-70 win over Virginia last month, the two teams combined to shoot 67.1 percent from inside the arc. R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson, in particular, made 20 of their 28 two-point attempts that night. If interior defenses improve in round two, which team wins the three-point contest after the two teams combined for 5-of-31 shooting? This is without question the game of the weekend, and quite possibly the entire regular season.
  2. Can LSU protect its home court against a surging Auburn team? (Auburn @ LSU, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN2) Since losing three straight games in mid-January, Auburn has rallied back with three consecutive double-figure wins. In SEC play, no team has gotten to the free throw line at a better rate than LSU, while no team has put the opponent at the line at a worse rate than Auburn. Which matters more?
  3. Will Mississippi State’s offense show up against Kentucky? (Kentucky @ Mississippi State, Saturday 1 PM EST, CBS) The last match-up between these two teams was very one-sided as Kentucky held the Bulldogs to a season low 0.79 points per possession. Mississippi State could not buy much success either inside the arc (16-of-41) or outside it (3-of-20).
  4. Which Steven Enoch does Louisville get against Florida State? (Louisville @ Florida State, Saturday 4 PM, ESPN2) Since an early January decision to bring Steven Enoch off its bench, Louisville has gone 7-2. The big man transfer has scored 10 or more points in six of those games. On the season, Enoch averages 10.5 points per game in Cardinal wins and just 5.8 points per game in Louisville’s six defeats.
  5. Can Marquette make the Big East title race interesting? (Villanova @ Marquette, Saturday 2:30 PM EST, Fox) Marquette sits two games behind Villanova in the Big East standings heading into Saturday’s match-up. The Golden Eagles are undefeated (14-0) when holding opponents to an offensive efficiency of 100.0 or worse, but just 5-4 when opponents pass that threshold. Last season, Villanova torched the nets against Marquette, posting offensive efficiency totals of 122.2, 132.2, and 142.7 in three games.
  6. Will Ethan Happ be a dominant force against Michigan again? (Wisconsin @ Michigan, Saturday Noon, Fox) Ethan Happ scored 26 points on 12-of-22 shooting, dished out seven assists and grabbed 10 rebounds in Wisconsin’s first win over Michigan. Going back to his sophomore season, Happ is averaging 20.5 points per game on 45-of-87 shooting against the Wolverines.
  7. As bad as the Pac-12 might be, is it time to start taking Washington seriously? (Washington @ Arizona State, Saturday 10 PM EST, ESPN) After starting the season 7-4, Washington has now reeled off 11 straight victories, eight of which have been by 10 or more points. Three of the Huskies’ early season losses were at the hands of top-15 KenPom teams. If the Huskies can get through their desert trip unscathed, it might be time to consider them a dangerous, if not legitimate, Pac-12 team.
  8. What can be made of Nebraska moving forward? (Nebraska @ Purdue, 8:30 PM EST, Big Ten Network) Just a few weeks back Nebraska sat at 13-4 overall and 3-3 in conference play. Since then, the Huskers have dropped six straight games, four of which came at home. Tim Miles’ squad still sits in the top 40 in both NET and KenPom, so a win at Purdue would go a long way toward saving Nebraska’s free-falling NCAA Tournament chances.
  9. Can Houston take advantage of Cincinnati’s lackluster three-point defense? (Cincinnati @ Houston, Sunday 4 PM EST, ESPN) On the season, Mick Cronin’s Bearcats are ranked among the bottom 100 nationally in three-point defense. Their lack of success guarding the line has continued as American opponents are shooting 40.4 percent from distance against them. Houston’s Corey Davis and Armoni Brooks are both shooting better than 37 percent from downtown in conference play.
  10. Can Princeton stay in control of the Ivy League regular season race? (Princeton @ Yale, Friday 7 PM EST, ESPN+) While Yale has the Ivy League’s best NET Ranking, it is Princeton that is currently the only unbeaten team in conference play. Over its last six games, Princeton’s opponents have shot just 20.5 percent from beyond the three-point line.
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Where 2018-19 Happens: Reason #3 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 4th, 2018

As RTC heads into its 12th season covering college hoops, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish the games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Tuesday, November 6. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#3 – Where Splayed Out Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17  and 2017-18 preseasons.

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Untrustworthy: Caveat Emptor on These 10 Teams

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on March 14th, 2018

Preseason rankings — they are, in most sports, completely irrelevant when the postseason rolls around. But not in college basketball. When projecting Final Four teams, as we have covered in this space before, the preseason AP Poll is just as predictive as the current AP poll. The rationale for this is that preseason rankings account for things that the mathematical models struggle with (for example, coaching changes, big recruiting classes, injuries and suspensions, etc.), making them a surprisingly accurate projection system. So what about the handful of teams each year that are excluded from these rankings but go on to do great things in the regular season? Is it safe to assume that if you can’t crack the preseason Top 25, you won’t cut down any nets in March?

Can Virginia Break the Trend? (USA Today Images)

To answer this question, I looked at historical NCAA Tournament teams that were unranked in the preseason but were ranked in the final regular season poll (this one) to examine whether they came crashing down to earth when it mattered most. My findings indicate that these teams have in fact underperformed as a group in the NCAA Tournament. Since 2007, 106 teams fit the criteria. Just 37 of that group (35%) exceeded their seeds’ average win expectation (based on average wins for each seed since 2002), and the group as a whole won just 120 games. That mark is 30 below an expected aggregate total of 150 victories, a statistically significant difference at the five percent level. Furthermore, just one of 51 top-four seeds ultimately made the Final Four (Kemba Walker’s 2011 Connecticut squad), although they have collectively produced 11 Elite Eight appearances with Florida‘s run last year being the most recent example. The conclusion here is that, although a handful of teams in this group may turn out to exceed expectations, it is likely as a whole to underperform.

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Kelvin Sampson Is Helping Houston Basketball Turn the Corner

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 13th, 2016

Kelvin Sampson walked into a postgame press conference last week and strangely had difficulty getting his words out. He appeared to be fighting a toothache or something like that, but he quickly explained himself. “I put a Tootsie Roll in my mouth,” Sampson said, smirking. “That was a bad idea.” As he puts together another college hoops reclamation project — this time at Houston — Sampson can’t help but feel relaxed enough to pop in a Tootsie Roll before a press conference. His Cougars had just finished off Tulane before 3,235 fans at Hofheinz Pavilion to move to 13-2 on the year. It was yet another easy win in the career of a coach who has tallied a lot of them, but it wasn’t always this easy.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson watches his Cougars rack up another home victory over Tulane. Houston improved to 10-0 at home. (Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle)

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson watches his Cougars rack up another home victory over Tulane. Houston is now 10-0 at home. (Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle)

Sampson’s inaugural season at Houston in 2014-15 was predictably difficult. The Cougars went 13-19, good for a 10th place finish in the 11-team American. Many of their issues centered on a lack of consistent scoring (64.4 points per game — 234th nationally). During the offseason, Sampson was scouring the transfer market to improve his team’s scoring when he stumbled upon Rob Gray, Jr., a shooting guard from Howard College. Gray was in the midst of winding down his recruitment process and had just enjoyed dinner with then-Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall and his coaching staff on March 26. The next morning, Tyndall was fired by Tennessee. Sampson quickly pounced on the opening and got Gray to commit to an official visit before signing him in mid-April. Read the rest of this entry »

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Report Card: Finals Week Wrap in the American

Posted by Jared Kotler on December 22nd, 2015

Finals week is always one of the slower times of the college basketball season, but there was still a decent amount of action that took place in the American last week. With the events of the last week in mind, here’s an AAC Report Card.  

A: SMU. This was a great week for SMU. Not only did the Mustangs roll over Nicholls State and Hampton to stay undefeated, but head coach Larry Brown also returned from his nine-game suspension for rules violations. What has made this SMU team so potent? Based on the most recent KenPom ratings, SMU owns the eighth most efficient offense in college basketball and the 55th most efficient defense. That offense, with potential AAC Player of the Year Nic Moore leading the way, has carried SMU through its relatively soft non-conference schedule, but there is hardly a Mustang who hasn’t joined the party: seven of SMU’s eight rotation players have offensive ratings among the 115 best in the country. The lone exception, Keith Frazier, is still 371st nationally with an offensive rating of 116.9. There will be no postseason in Dallas, but this is a fun team that really knows how to run an offense.  

A: UConn. Following close losses to Maryland, Gonzaga and Syracuse, UConn was looking for another quality win to go along with its late November victory over Michigan. The Huskies found it in a 20-point demolition of Ohio State, a team that has struggled but managed to beat Kentucky last weekend. Kevin Ollie tightened up his rotation against the Buckeyes, reserving major minutes for only seven players. This meant no playing time for Sam Cassell Jr. and Phil Nolan and only a minute of mop-up action for freshman big man Steven Enoch. UConn will look to build on this win as they play one-win Central Connecticut on Wednesday before heading to Austin to face a rising Texas team in its final non-conference game.

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Houston Transfers Leading Offensive Surge

Posted by Jared Kotler on December 11th, 2015

Going into Tuesday night’s matchup against Rhode Island, Houston had been a pleasant surprise. The Cougars’ 5-0 record looked great, even if all of their games had come at home against subpar opponents (none ranked higher than #143, according to KenPom). However, a road game against a team picked to finish near the top of the Atlantic 10 represented Houston’s first attempt to compete with legitimate teams. Kelvin Sampson‘s team ended up falling short against the Rams, but it showed in the loss that an improved offense will make the Cougars a tough out in the American this season.

Purdue transfer Ronnie Johnson is leading the Houston offense to new heights this season. Photo Credit: Ronnie Johnson Twitter

Purdue transfer Ronnie Johnson is leading the Houston offense to new heights this season. (Photo: Twitter)

To say Houston was bad offensively last year would be an understatement, as the Cougars ranked no higher than 200th in every KenPom offensive category but one, offensive rebounding percentage. In Sampson’s second year, however, Houston appears to have turned the corner, ranking in the top 100 of almost every category to date. Transfers Rob GrayRonnie Johnson and Damyean Dotson have joined a mix of veteran returnees in allowing the Cougars to employ a more fluid and successful offense. 

Gray, a JuCo transfer, has quickly settled in. He has scored in double figures in every game so far, including a 14-point outing against this week against the Rams. In addition to being a consistent scorer, Gray has been one of the team’s most effective three-point shooters, making 40 percent of his shots. Gray’s backcourt mate Johnson has been even more effective, as evidenced by his sensational 136.3 offensive rating (23rd in the nation). However, the Purdue transfer struggled in his first game against tough competition, recording only two points on 1-of-7 shooting. It could easily be a random anomaly, but if Houston would like to make a run in the American, Johnson will need to play at a high level against every level of competition. Dotson, the most highly regarded of the trio, submitted a 19/12 double-double in the losing effort against Rhode Island, but he has a sterling offensive rating of his own (121.2) and will be called upon to continue the scoring touch that he brought over from Oregon.

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Morning Five: 12.01.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 1st, 2015

morning5

  1. Today is the culmination of the #FreeDiallo campaign as Cheick Diallo, the heralded Kansas freshman, will make his debut tonight at Allen Fieldhouse.The whole saga has been discussed ad nauseum so we won’t rehash it here (you can follow Jay Bilas on Twitter for an almost daily recap), but would encourage you to watch the Jayhawks tonight if only to see the reception Diallo gets from the Kansas crowd the first time he steps on the court.
  2. Diallo may be free now, but David Collette is still waiting for Utah State to lift its universal block on his attempt to transfer. The circumstances around Collette’s decision to leave the Utah State basketball team might seem suspicious, but the school’s decision to prevent him from transferring to any program is absurd. Jeff Eisenberg details some of the other petty steps that the school has taken to try to get back at Collette. While these seem extreme the school is hardly the first to do this sort of thing and it always seems to backfire on the school so we are not sure why schools continue to do it.
  3. We probably would not have realized that former Duke star Chris Duhon is back in college basketball as an assistant coach at Marshall if not for his arrest early Monday morning for driving under the influence. Duhon was reportedly found asleep in the driver’s seat of his car with the engine running and had a blood alcohol level of 0.202, which is more than 2.5 times the legal limit. Duhon, who is an assistant under Dan D’Antoni, has been suspended for violating department rules and policies. We aren’t sure how long the suspension will last, but we hope that Duhon gets the help that he needs.
  4. The college basketball world lost an icon last Thursday when Guy Lewis died at the age of 93. Lewis, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013, is best known for his Phi Slama Jama teams of the early 1980s that featured [H]Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, but his career was much more than that. Lewis won 593 games making the Final Four five times and first came to national prominence in 1968 when he engineered the “Game of the Century” in which his Houston Cougars led by Elvin Hayes knocked off a UCLA team led by Lew Alcindor [Ed. Note: We’re a college site so we go by college names.] Lewis was also one of the first coaches in the South to openly push for integration, an often overlooked aspect of his legacy.
  5. This actually is not the first time we have talked about Cal Tech on the site, but Chris Ballard’s in-depth look at the program is too good not to pass along. We will warn you that this definitely falls into the #longreads category, but we doubt that you will find an article that provides a more in-depth look at the personalities around a program that what this does. Obviously this program is very different than almost any other program in the nation (probably one of the few where student-athlete is used in the correct order), but in many ways that makes it even more interesting.
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Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 66, #2 Gonzaga 52

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 29th, 2015

RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is in Houston this week for the South Regional semifinals and final.

Three Key Takeaways.

Both Jones' -- Tyus And Matt -- Were Instrumental In Duke's Elite Eight Victory Over Gonzaga (Photo: Duke Chronicle)

Both Jones’ — Tyus And Matt — Were Instrumental In Duke’s Elite Eight Victory Over Gonzaga (Photo: Duke Chronicle)

  1. Offenses Fail To Get Going, Again. In Friday night’s regional semifinals, four teams that began the night among the 65 most accurate three-point shooting teams in the country combined to shoot 23 percent from long-range. Much was made of the clumsy dome setup inducing the offensive malaise, but the forecast for Sunday was still for efficient offense by the bucket-load, given the firepower Duke and Gonzaga brought to the table. The two teams got off to a fast start – 22 points in the first five minutes – but things settled down significantly from there on out. Gonzaga and Duke combined to shoot 41 percent from the floor, including just 38 percent for the victorious Blue Devils. Duke did do two things extremely well offensively: shoot the ball accurately from three-point range (8-19) and maximize possessions (an amazing three total turnovers for the game). Gonzaga was less proficient in each category, making only two of 10 three-point attempts and turning the ball over 13 times. There were glimpses of the offensive brilliance we witnessed from both these teams all season, but this regional final never escalated into the explosive matchup many expected.
  2. Matt Jones, Who? Matt Jones. The Duke sophomore supplied the game of his life in this Regional Final. Jones, who entered Sunday averaging just 5.9 points per game, finished with 16 points (one shy of his season and career highs) and converted four of Duke’s eight made three-point field goals. With Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones again struggling to find the range from deep (combined 2-8 on three-point attempts), Jones’ unexpected scoring was crucial in getting the Blue Devils into the final minutes with a lead. Mark Few said afterwards that concerns about guarding Justise Winslow had led to Gonzaga to do a significant amount of cross-matching with Kyle Wiltjer defending Jones, a reasonable coaching decision that devolved into a disastrous result for the Zags. Jones, Duke’s fifth starter and a Texas native (like Friday night hero Justise Winslow) playing in his home state, was as important as any of his more acclaimed teammates Sunday afternoon.
  3. Wiltjer-Winslow Matchup. This was the matchup many fixated on in advance of Sunday afternoon, and with good reason: Winslow was coming off a scintillating Friday night performance, while Wiltjer has been arguably the Zags best player all season. Mixing and matching by both coaches saw both players spend a good deal of time defending elsewhere, but Wiltjer kept Gonzaga close in the first half, scoring 13 points on 5-7 field-goal shooting. Meanwhile, Winslow forced the action early and managed just five points in the opening frame, missing five of his six field-goal attempts. Things changed dramatically after intermission, however. Wiltjer struggled to get touches and was a virtual non-factor in the second half, while Duke’s freshman swingman found his Friday night form, pumping in 11 second-half points. Among the 11 was the biggest shot of the night, a three-pointer with the shot clock winding down and less than three minutes to go that put Duke up nine. Both players finished with 16 points, but Winslow’s big second-half was a key differentiator for Mike Krzyewski’s team.

Star of the Game. Tyus Jones, Duke. None of Duke’s big four – Jones, Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and Quinn Cook – played anything close to a perfect game today. Heck, they combined to shoot 15-45 from the field. Still, it was Jones that catalyzed Duke’s quick start, scoring seven points as the Blue Devils jumped out to a 17-10 lead. The South Region’s Most Outstanding Player finished the day with 15 points, six assists and no turnovers, helping Duke to that minuscule turnover total of three. Matt Jones’ unexpected scoring was a huge boost Sunday afternoon, but it was the more familiar Jones on the Duke roster who dictated this game’s flow from the outset. His ball-handling and all-around savvy will now be put to use in Indianapolis.

Quotable. “It’s meant everything. Best team I have ever been on talent-wise and the best group of guys. We can look back and be pretty happy with what we have been able to do.” –Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga senior point guard, on what this Gonzaga season has meant to him.

“It’s a shot he makes. It’s a shot he makes 499 times out of 500.” –Mark Few, on Kyle Wiltjer’s missed layup with 4:51 to go that would have tied game. Duke went on a 13-1 run to close the game after the miss.

“Our defense the last 16 minutes was spectacular — not (just) good. I love these guys and they came through.” –Mike Krzyewski, Duke head coach

“This team is eight guys. There is not someone hiding in the locker room that is going to come out and appear.” -Krzyewski.

Sights & Sounds. Whether it was the Sunday afternoon time slot, a Final Four bid on the line, or just the anticipation of the region’s top two seeds meeting, there was an urgency in NRG Stadium that never existed Friday night. The Duke faithful significantly outnumbered Gonzaga supporters (rough estimate — 5:1 ratio of Duke to Gonzaga fans), but enough folks from the Pacific Northwest made the journey South to create a back-and-forth feel to the cheering. In the end, however, the final image of NRG Stadium was all too familiar: Thousands of contented Duke fans standing in acknowledgment of a Blue Devil team advancing to face their next challenge.

What’s Next?  Duke advances to the program’s 16th Final Four, where it will take on Tom Izzo and Michigan State in Indianapolis. The fourth overall meeting between Mike Krzyewski and Tom Izzo in the NCAA Tournament will double as the second time they have met in a National Semifinal. Duke has won two of those three prior matchups, which includes a Sweet 16 game two seasons ago. On the other side, the loss to Duke ends what will likely go down as the greatest season in Gonzaga history. The Zags, now 0-2 all-time in the Elite Eight, will finish the year at 35-3. Mark Few loses Byron Wesley, Gary Bell and WCC Player of the Year Kevin Pangos to graduation after an undeniably special year in Spokane.

 

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