2012-13 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by KDoyle on April 3rd, 2013

If this was baseball, a batting average of .333 would represent Hall of Fame type numbers. Back in November when our group of RTC pollsters and hoop experts selected their preseason All-America teams, just five names lived up to expectations that we originally had placed on them: Indiana’s Cody Zeller, Creighton’s Doug McDermott, Ohio State’s DeShaun Thomas, Michigan’s Trey Burke, and Kansas’ Jeff Withey. In fact, the only player who was named to the preseason All-America First Team and finished there was McDermott. If there is one thing to take away from this exercise, it’s that projecting player performance is far from an exact science.

McDermott Was Our Only Preseason First Teamer Who Stayed There

McDermott Was Our Only Preseason First Teamer Who Stayed There

The 10 players we selected as preseason All-Americans who failed to live up to our hype were: Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan, Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum — let’s remember McCollum missed more than half the season due to injury — UNLV’s Mike Moser, Missouri’s Phil Pressey, Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin, North Carolina’s James Michael McAadoo, North Texas’ Tony Mitchell, UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad, and Florida State’s Michael Snaer. It would be foolish to think that most of these players did not have exceptional seasons — look no further than Canaan, who averaged 21.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, and 4.3 APG for the Racers this year. He had a very good senior season, but it’s not his fault that a guy like Victor Oladipo came out of nowhere to prove he was one of the best players in the country. Of course, there were a few disappointments, and we can look right at Mitchell as the most obvious example. Whether fair or not, expectations were probably too high for Mitchell, who many project to be a future NBA player. Mitchell averaged 13.0 PPG and 8.5 RPG, but his team slogged to a rough 12-20 season.

With that out of the way, let’s dive into the players who met or exceeded our expectations this season. After tallying up the votes from our nine experts, here are the 2012-13 RTC All-America Teams.

Note on methodology: voters took postseason performance into consideration. Players earned three points for a First Team vote, two points for a Second Team vote, and one point for a Third Team vote. Burke, Porter, and Oladipo were consensus First Team All-America selections.

First Team All-America

No Doubt Burke Won Over Many With His March Performances (AnnArbor.com)

No Doubt Burke Won Over Many With His March Performances (AnnArbor.com)

  • Trey Burke, SO, Michigan (consensus) (18.8 PPG, 6.8 APG, 1.6 SPG, 3.1 A/TO). After spearheading arguably the nation’s most potent offense during the regular season, Burke was named a First Team All-American by the AP. His virtuoso performance in the South Region semifinal against Kansas where he singlehandedly brought Michigan back in the final minutes of regulation supplanted himself as not just a surefire First Teamer here at RTC, but perhaps the National Player of the Year as well. More than just his knack for hitting the big shot, Burke’s most impressive attribute may be as a distributor; boasting a 3.1 A/TO ratio is downright impressive given the responsibility John Beilein has bestowed upon him in running the offense.
  • Otto Porter Jr., SO, Georgetown (consensus) (16.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 48.0% FG, 42.2% 3FG). Many often lamented Georgetown’s stagnant Princeton-style offense as the reason for its lack of production, but imagine where the Hoyas may have been this season without Porter. The sophomore emerged as one of the nation’s best players after consecutive games in Brooklyn where he led Georgetown past then #11 UCLA and nearly upset top-ranked Indiana the following night. Porter was expected to be a key cog for Georgetown this season after averaging just south of 10.0 PPG as a freshman, but his outburst was a surprise to many this year. His stark improvement with his three-point shot — a 22.6% to 42.2% increase — has made Porter a much more complete player, and bodes well for his future at the next level.
  • Victor Oladipo, JR, Indiana (consensus) (13.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 59.9% FG, 44.1% 3FG). A role player in his first two seasons at Indiana, Oladipo emerged as Indiana’s best and most valuable player as a junior, surpassing more celebrated teammate Cody Zeller in that regard. While his offensive game improved in nearly every department — how often is it that a guard shoots 60% from the field? — it was Oladipo’s defense which made him an invaluable part of Tom Crean’s team. There may not be a better on-ball wing defender in the country as Oladipo created havoc — to borrow a term from Shaka Smart — on the perimeter. In looking at just his statistics, one would think Oladipo is a 6’10 power forward given his high shooting percentage and rebounding totals; that’s what makes him such a unique and dominant player.
  • Doug McDermott, JR, Creighton (26) (23.2 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 54.8% FG, 49.0% 3FG, 87.5% FT). Perhaps the most prolific and talented offensive player in college basketball, it came as no surprise to find McDermott’s name on the First Team All-America list. His shooting percentages in all three departments are off the charts, and were a big reason Creighton was tops in the nation in team 3FG% and third in 2FG%; McDermott went off for 20+ points in 26 of his 36 games this season. While his defensive and athletic abilities are both question marks, there’s no denying that McDermott is a natural scorer who is a threat to score from anywhere on the floor. Assuming he returns for his senior season, McDermott will most likely eclipse the 3,000-point mark as a collegian which has only been done seven times in history.
  • Kelly Olynyk, JR, Gonzaga (24) (17.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 62.9% FG). Playing behind Robert Sacre and Steven Gray for his first two seasons at Gonzaga, Olynyk averaged just 12.3 MPG as a freshman and 13.5 MPG as a sophomore. For his redshirt junior season, however, he owned the frontcourt. A legit seven-footer, Olynyk runs the floor like an athletic forward and scores in a variety of ways. His 62.9% FG was especially impressive considering he spent a fair amount of time outside of the paint in Gonzaga’s offense. He was the biggest reason that Gonzaga ascended to its first-ever #1 ranking in the polls and commensurate #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Second Team All-America

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Saturday’s Kansas Collapse a Long Time in the Making

Posted by KoryCarpenter on April 1st, 2013

You could watch the final possession of Kansas’ 87-85 Sweet Sixteen loss to Michigan 100 times and never figure out what was going through Kansas guard Elijah Johnson’s head. The prep point guard turned college shooting guard turned college point guard never adjusted to his new(er) role as floor general this season, and it was no more evident than in those final eight seconds of overtime against the Wolverines in Cowboys Stadium. Kansas had been melting down like Mickelson at Winged Foot since the 2:25 mark in the second half, but they still had eight seconds to force another overtime or win the game outright. Bill Self drew up an effective play for the situation. Jeff Withey set a fake screen at the top of the key and Michigan bit. The 6’8″, 250-pound forward Jordan Morgan immediately switched off Withey and onto Elijah Johnson with five seconds left, changing directions and giving Johnson momentum to go with his decided speed advantage. “I thought he could get to the rim,” Self said after the game. Correction: Johnson was given a free pass to the rim.

Picture 1

There Wasn’t Much Between Johnson, The Rim, And Double Overtime.

For whatever reason, Johnson didn’t take another dribble after this point. Not only that, but he took an awful route to the basket. And when that awful route led him to no-man’s land under the hoop, he did what coaches for decades have told point guards not to do from first grade to college and beyond: He left his feet to make a pass. But not only that, either. He left his feet before deciding where the pass was going. As most know, he ended up kicking it 30 feet away to Naadir Tharpe for a three-point floater off one foot as the clock expired. Because when you have three seniors and the potential No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft on the floor, giving your backup point guard jack up a floating one-footer from distance is the way to go.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Friday Night

Posted by KDoyle on March 29th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The RTC Certified Pick: Louisville

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

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

The RTC Certified PickMichigan

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Kansas and Bill Self In Familiar Territory Against Michigan

Posted by KoryCarpenter on March 28th, 2013

Bill Self and Kansas are back in the Sweet Sixteen for the sixth time in seven years, and that’s not good news for Michigan, the #4 seed in the South Region that the Jayhawks will meet Friday night in Cowboys Stadium. Self is 5-1 in this round in nine seasons at Kansas and 7-2 for his career dating back to Tulsa at the turn of the century. But Michigan fans shouldn’t be worried about an arbitrary record in a certain round of the NCAA Tournament. They should be worried because Bill Self has an entire week to game plan for the Wolverines, and that is where he has made his teams most dangerous in March.  Between Tulsa, Illinois, and now Kansas, Self has made 14 NCAA Tournament appearances and has 13 losses, winning the NCAA Tournament in 2008. Of those 13 losses, nine came in the second game of the weekend (Round of 32, Elite Eight or National Championship game). As Self likes to point out, the NCAA Tournament is basically split into three two-game tournaments over three weekends. For teams not in the preliminary play-in games, there are four or five days to prepare for their first opponent after the bracket is announced, followed by a roughly 48-hour turnaround. The next week is the same at the regionals and it continues at the Final Four. With that near-week or so to prepare, Self is nearly automatic. He is 12-2 in the Round of 64,  7-2 in the Sweet 16, and 2-0 in National Semifinal games, or 21-4 overall with a week to prepare. The short turnaround has stung him, though. He is 9-3 in the Round of 32, 2-5 in the Elite Eight, and 1-1 in National Championship games, although a month of preparation wouldn’t have been enough time against last season’s Kentucky team. He has won at an 84% clip with a week to prepare and his winning percentage drops to only 57% with a quick turnaround. But the game still has to be played, and Michigan is not your average #4 seed.

Bill Self Is Money With Extra Time To Scout

Bill Self Is Money With Extra Time To Scout.

Let’s take a look at the match-ups in this game:

Backcourt

Michigan has one of the best players in the country in sophomore point guard Trey Burke, a Sporting News First-Team All-American Selection and possible National Player of the Year. Burke averages 18.8 PPG and 6.7 APG for the Wolverines and controls their offense almost exclusively. According to Ken Pomeroy, his possession percentage of 29.9% (65th nationally) is higher than all but one player remaining in the Tournament, Louisville’s Russ Smith (31.6%). Of the 12 teams remaining that had a player in KenPom’s top 100 for usage percentage, Michigan and Louisville are the only teams remaining. Since 2005 when Pomeroy began publishing possession percentages, only three Final Four teams had a player in the top 100 nationally: UCLA’s Jordan Farmar in 2006, and last year with the Cardinals’ Russ Smith and Kansas’ Thomas Robinson. That’s 90.6% of Final Four teams that have not relied heavily on one player. Fortunately for Michigan fans, Kansas has been torched by point guards several times this season. Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson had 28 points and 10 assists while handing Kansas its last defeat on March 9. Fellow All-American point guard Marcus Smart had 25 points, nine rebounds, and five steals in an Oklahoma State win over Kansas on February 2. Like Jackson and Smart, Burke should have the advantage over Jayhawk guards Elijah Johnson and his backup, Naadir Tharpe. Off the ball, expect to see Travis Releford guarding Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Ben McLemore on Nik Stauskas. Stauskas is a 43.4% three-point shooter and it will imperative that McLemore — or whichever Jayhawk is guarding him — chases him off the three-point line and funnels him into the paint. Burke is going to have a big game regardless. But if Stauskas and/or Hardaway (39.3% from deep) start knocking down threes, Kansas’ best defensive weapon slowly becomes irrelevant. Offensively, Kansas will need better production from McLemore, who had two points on 0-of-9 shooting against North Carolina. He leads the Jayhawks with 15.8 PPG but has disappeared at times this season. He is averaging only 7.0 points per game in the last four outings despite being the most talented player on the court in nearly every situation. Look for Self to draw up a few plays early designed to get McLemore easy buckets and to give him some confidence.

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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by KDoyle on March 25th, 2013

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Kevin Doyle (@KLDoyle11) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. 

The South Regional begins Friday night in Arlington, Texas, with Kansas vs. Michigan followed by Florida vs. Florida Gulf Coast. The East Region ResetWest Region Reset and Midwest Region Reset published earlier today. Also make sure to follow RTCSouthRegion for news and analysis from Texas throughout the week.

Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Hosts the South Regional

Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Hosts the South Regional

New Favorite: #3 Florida. It hasn’t been an arduous road to the Sweet Sixteen as Florida dismantled #14 Northwestern State and #11 Minnesota to advance to Arlington. Although the Golden Gophers cut a 21-point halftime deficit down to eight midway through the second half, they never truly challenged Florida and the Gators coasted to an easy win. Did we learn anything that we already didn’t know about Florida in the process? Probably not. Billy Donovan’s team is as good as anyone at blowing out inferior competition, but it was impressive to see their resolve demonstrated against Minnesota. The common belief is that the Gators crumble down the stretch in close games — amazingly, they have not won a game by single digits this year — but there was no need for late-game drama this weekend. To reach the Elite Eight, Florida will have to next beat #15 Florida Gulf Coast. Not exactly murderer’s row to get to the South Region final by having to play against all double-digit seeds, but FGCU has already proven that it is far from a traditional #15 seed. After posting big wins over Georgetown and San Diego State, the Eagles have shown they can more than hang with any team in the NCAA Tournament. With that said, I projected Florida to win the region when the bracket was initially released and they’ve only confirmed that belief after the first weekend.

Horse of Darkness: #4 Michigan. So much for Shaka Smart’s vaunted havoc defense. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. had little problem dealing with Virginia Commonwealth’s pressing defense en route to a convincing 25-point victory. The Rams’ 71 point swing— a 46-point win against Akron and 25-point loss to Michigan — is by far the greatest two-game switcheroo in NCAA Tournament history, as the Wolverines demonstrated that all a team needs to foil Smart’s plan is a backcourt consisting of two NBA-level players. Michigan is grossly underseeded and is probably closer to a #2 seed than #4. This is a team that was ranked in the Top 10 for virtually the entire season, but limped into the NCAA Tournament after going 6-6 in its final 12 Big Ten games. It has been evident that Michigan’s style of play has kicked up a notch against non-Big Ten teams; South Dakota State and VCU’s urge to speed up the pace of the action seemed to play right into Michigan’s hands. With Trey Burke running the show, John Beilein has the best point guard in the South Region going up against a Kansas team that clearly lacks a steady one of its own. Kansas played one good half in the first two rounds — albeit an extremely good second half against North Carolina — but is ripe for the taking.

Burke Played Like a NPOY Candidate Last Game (AnnArbor.com)

Burke Played Like a NPOY Candidate Last Game (AnnArbor.com)

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #15 Florida Gulf Coast 78, #2 Georgetown 68. What, like you thought there could possibly be a surprise that trumps what Florida Gulf Coast did in Philadelphia on Friday and Sunday? Not only did the Eagles make history as the first #15 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, they did so with flying colors — quite literally — in beating Georgetown and San Diego State by 10 points each. FGCU’s win over Georgetown was certainly a major surprise, as a 24-10 team that finished in second place in the Atlantic Sun and had been swept by Lipscomb soundly beat a 25-6 Big East team with a slew of wins over top teams. Yet after its resounding win over the Hoyas, was anyone that surprised with its victory over a San Diego State team that proved to be mostly average in a Mountain West Conference that went 2-5 in this year’s Dance? Neither win was a fluke for Andy Enfield’s squad; the Eagles flat out beat these two teams that spent much of the season ranked in the Top 25. From Andy Enfield’s story — a former NBA assistant with Rick Pitino, owning his own company called “Tract Manager,” and marrying a supermodel — to the fact that FGCU has been a Division I program for less than a decade, the endless stream of alley-oops and ridiculous dunks thrown down by high-flying no-name players, the swagger and jovial attitude of Sherwood Brown, and the heartwarming story of Brett Comer, among many other things… words simply cannot do justice to what Florida Gulf Coast accomplished over the weekend.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 70, #8 North Carolina 58

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 24th, 2013

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Brian Goodman is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the third round of the South regional in Kansas City. You can also follow Brian on Twitter at @BSGoodman.

Three Key Takeaways:

Kansas and Releford Advance to the Sweet Sixteen (AP)

Kansas and Releford Advance to the Sweet Sixteen (AP)

  1. Kansas’ experienced players took North Carolina by the horns. While Ben McLemore has had his share of moments this season (more on that later), part of Bill Self’s allure is that he’s enormously successful at his high-pressure job without having to rely heavily on inexperienced but talented phenoms like McLemore, Josh Selby and Xavier Henry in big moments. Sunday’s win was another manifestation of that point, as the Jayhawks received outstanding performances from their fifth-year seniors. Jeff Withey, Kevin Young and Travis Releford – playing in his hometown – combined for 48 points and 33 rebounds. Withey’s defense set the tone for Kansas as it continued to struggle in the first half and keyed the offense in the second half with three authoritative dunks. Young played his usual lockdown interior defense and made the plays fans have expected him to make. Releford is known primarily for his defense, but KU’s results when he’s involved and successful in the offense speak for themselves, as the Jayhawks are 46-1 in his four years when he scores at least ten points. McLemore, who spent most of the second half on the bench and finished 0-9 from the floor, can still be an x-factor in this tournament, but to say his services were not needed tonight would be an understatement.
  2. It was a tale of two halves for Kansas, but not for the Heels: The Jayhawks’ shooting struggles of their first 50 tournament minutes reached a nadir, as they shot 25% from the field in the first half, the worst such mark in their storied tournament history. Kansas missed bunny after bunny and wasted nearly every fast break opportunity presented by their consistently solid defensive presence. However, while North Carolina went into the locker room with a nine-point lead, it very easily could have been 12 or 15, as the Tar Heels missed their share of easy looks themselves. North Carolina’s offensive struggles continued after intermission, but the lid lifted for Kansas. The Jayhawks opened the second half on a 19-5 run, powered by Withey’s authoritative dunks and their first, second and three made three-pointers of the tournament and never looked back. North Carolina became undisciplined in the second half, missing five straight three pointers.
  3. The Jayhawks didn’t need Ben McLemore, but they will soon. Coming into tonight, Ben McLemore, who has bailed Kansas out of many a mess this season, hasn’t had the kind of March fans expected. While he contributed strong outings in the Big 12 tournament, he had an unspectacular night Friday and played the worst game of his short career Sunday night. McLemore rushed shots and passes, prompting a wide variety of flustered reactions from Self, and wasn’t a factor in Kansas’ monstrous second half. The best defense in the country (by opponent field-goal percentage) has a date with the high-powered Michigan offense next weekend, but the matchup also begs the question not just of what Kansas will get out of McLemore, but how badly they’ll need him.

Star Of The Game: Tie - Jeff Withey (16 points, career-high 16 rebounds, five blocks) and Travis Releford (22 points on 9-of-13 shooting, eight rebounds, three steals). Kansas’ seniors were outstanding. Withey was a force on defense and was intimidating on offense, sticking several putbacks and putting North Carolina’s offense on the ropes in front of a supportive crowd. Releford, playing in his native Kansas City for the last time as a collegian, turned in a fantastic outing. The fifth-year swingman has seemingly always played well in this building, and it showed again Sunday night.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 64, #16 Western Kentucky 57

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 22nd, 2013

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Brian Goodman is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Kansas City pod of this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways:

Western Kentucky gave Kansas a ride, but Jeff Withey was the difference and Kansas escaped. (AP/Orlin Wagner)

Western Kentucky gave Kansas a ride, but Jeff Withey was the difference and Kansas escaped. (AP/Orlin Wagner)

  1. For 35 minutes, Western Kentucky evoked ghosts of Kansas tournament past, but not in the classical sense. Even dating back to the Paul Pierce era, the Jayhawks have lost tournament heartbreakers and pulled out near-misses to far inferior teams with undersized sweet-shooting talents. That wasn’t the case tonight, as Western Kentucky held a 31-30 halftime lead despite just one made three. Rather, the Hilltopers made good use of George Fant’s fearlessness, Jamal Crook’s elusiveness and T.J. Price’s nose for the ball to send the hometown crowd into a prolonged state of anxiety. Western Kentucky matched Kansas in the shooting department in the first half, but frustrated Jeff Withey into a pair of fouls and outdoing the Jayhawks on the glass. Kansas’ backcourt struggled mightily, leaving the bulk of the work to Withey and freshman Perry Ellis. Kansas’ defense adjusted at halftime – what else would you expect from Bill Self? – and forced Western Kentucky into an icy 20.5% clip in the second half.
  2. Jeff Withey saved Kansas from the wrong side of history. The Jayhawks’ paint protector dug KU out of the mess with big blocks and baskets in the closing minutes. Withey rejected seven shots total, which begs the question of why exactly the Hilltoppers continued to run at him. Fant had some success against him in the first half, but the Big 12′s all-time blocks leader was having none of it after the intermission, and his contributions on both ends of the court helped Kansas avoid an historic upset. One of the big storylines Sunday will be how Bill Self utilizes his center against a heavily perimeter-oriented Tar Heel squad.
  3. The Jayhawks will need much more out of its backcourt on Sunday. Against a far inferior squad, Elijah Johnson and Ben McLemore combined for just 21 points, a handful of which came in the closing seconds as Western Kentucky desperately tried to come back. The issue wasn’t as much Jamal Crook, Caden Dickerson and T.J. Price being problematic defensively as much as Kansas making suspect decisions. The Jayhawk backcourt finished the game sloppily in the closing seconds, giving Western Kentucky several opportunities that it didn’t earn down the stretch. Looking forward, Kansas has struggled against pressure defense throughout the season, so it will definitely be interesting to see how the Tar Heels approach the Jayhawks defensively.

Star Of The Game: Jeff Withey (17 points, six rebounds, seven blocks) - Kansas’ center was everywhere Friday night, coming up huge in the second half to give KU’s sputtering offense the opportunities it needed to gain separation. It became mind-boggling to see the Hilltoppers continue to dribble right at Withey, and he turned them away at seemingly every opportunity.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Evening

Posted by KDoyle on March 22nd, 2013

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#2 Georgetown vs. #15 Florida Gulf Coast – South Region Second Round (at Philadelphia) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS

Florida Gulf Coast is one of the better stories in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Only in their sixth year as a Division 1 program, the Eagles are riding their first winning season in history thanks to the hiring of former Florida State assistant Andy Enfield. In Enfield’s first year, they finished 15-17, but were a game away from the NCAA Tournament as they lost to Belmont in the Atlantic Sun finals. This year, Florida Gulf Coast has been the team to beat, and it began with an early season win over Miami (FL). FGCU’s style of play greatly differs from today’s opponent, the Georgetown Hoyas. The Hoyas are predicated on a stingy zone defense that rarely allows for clean looks at the basket, and they play at a snail’s pace. Led by Otto Porter, Georgetown has a legitimate star that can carry them deep into the NCAA Tournament. FGCU very much likes to get up and down the floor with Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson leading the attack. If FGCU is able to get out in the open floor and score in transition, they’ll keep it close for much of the game. Problem is that not many teams control the pace of a game quite like Georgetown—that’s what makes them such a difficult opponent as they force the opposition to play their style of game. Historically, Georgetown has struggled in the NCAA Tournament under John Thompson III as they’ve failed to reach the second weekend in four of six appearances under him, but many believe this is a different Hoya team. FGCU is playing with house money and expect them to make a game of this, but in front of a heavy Georgetown crowd in Philadelphia the Hoyas are simply too much in the end.

Andy Enfield has his FGCU squad playing great basketball. (AP)

Andy Enfield has his FGCU squad playing great basketball. (AP)

The RTC Certified Pick: Georgetown

#2 Ohio State vs. #15 Iona – West Regional Second Round (at Dayton, OH) – 7:15 p.m. ET on CBS
One of the nation’s most balanced teams, the knock on the Buckeyes for the longest time this season was that they didn’t have a secondary scorer to help out junior DeShaun Thomas. We’ll get to that in a second, but let’s just say that Iona never had such a problem. Senior guard Lamont “Momo” Jones has always been the main offensive weapon on this team, never afraid to look for his own shot, but the Gaels have always trusted guard Sean Armand and forward David Laury to chip in heavily in the scoring column. And as a result, the Gaels have one of the most efficient offenses in the mid-major ranks. The problem for Tim Cluess’ team is the complete inability to stop teams on defense; only nine times all season have they held an opponent below one point per possession in a game. Given that Ohio State is one of the best defensive teams in the nation (sixth in defensive efficiency per KenPom.com), you can expect the Buckeyes to at least slow Iona’s prolific offense. And given that Thad Matta has been getting significantly improved offensive play out of guys like Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson, you can expect the Bucks to take advantage of that buttery soft Gael defense. While Momo Jones, et al. have the ability to make some exciting plays when they’ve got the ball, their inattention to details defensively will allow the Buckeyes to have more than their share of exciting offensive plays as well.

The RTC Certified Pick: Ohio State Read the rest of this entry »

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March Madness Serves as an NBA Showcase for Big East Stars

Posted by mlemaire on March 20th, 2013

It’s hard not to feel like performances in the NCAA Tournament tend to artificially inflate players’ draft stock. It’s true that the increased weight of the games and pressure on players can help bring out the best in some prospects, but sometimes it seems like scribes and scouts tend to erroneously overdo it and conflate NCAA Tournament success with NBA success. That said, there will be plenty of NBA eyeballs on the NCAA Tournament this year, and there are a number of Big East prospects with NBA potential hoping to use the Big Dance to boost their stocks. Picking guys like Otto Porter and Michael Carter-Williams is too easy, as they have relatively assured NBA futures. We are more concerned here with the Big East players who truly have something to gain from their performances this March.

A big NCAA Tournament could have Gorgui Dieng shooting up NBA Draft boards.

A big NCAA Tournament could have Gorgui Dieng shooting up NBA Draft boards.

Gorgui Dieng (Louisville): Dieng is already a surefire pro prospect thanks to his NBA-ready defensive abilities, but those who think the junior is a defense-only big man haven’t been watching the Senegal native play this season. Dieng’s progression on offense was slowed somewhat this season by a hand injury, but he is an improved passer, a reasonable free throw shooter, and shows impressive touch from inside 15 feet. Dieng will potentially get an early chance to prove his ability against an old foe if the Cardinals advance to play Missouri and Alex Oriakhi, and there are potential match-ups looming with Mason Plumlee or Adreian Payne down the road. If Dieng helps lead Louisville to the Final Four and plays well in those marquee games, he could slip into the back end of the lottery.

Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati): Kilpatrick is another player who could leave early for the NBA Draft if he thinks he has nothing left to accomplish with the Bearcats, but he may be on the outside looking in as the NCAA Tournament gets under way. There is no doubting his scoring and shooting ability, but his size and length give scouts pause so he will need to work on his ball-handling if he wants to make it at the next level. Kilpatrick has the type of gutsy attitude and moxie that are perfect for the NCAA Tournament, and he has a chance to go toe-to-toe with another NBA prospect in the first round when the Bearcats play Creighton and Doug McDermott. If Kilpatrick can lead the Bearcats past the Bluejays and then play well when matched against another NBA hopeful guard in Duke’s Seth Curry, he may impress enough scouts to earn some looks in the second round for his scoring ability and mature game. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bracket Prep: South Region Analysis

Posted by KDoyle on March 18th, 2013

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Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), Midwest (11 AM), South (1 PM), West (3 PM). Here, Kevin Doyle (@kldoyle11) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).

You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Kevin breaking down the South Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

South Region

Favorite: #3 Florida (26-7, 16-5 SEC). A month ago, Florida looked like it was destined for a #1 seed and primed for a Final Four run to Atlanta. The Gators were dismantling SEC teams — albeit some very weak teams — and had their potent offense clicking on all cylinders. But then Florida lost at Missouri, and then at Tennessee, and then at Kentucky. Questions began to arise, and rightly so. A team of Florida’s talent and experience should not be losing to SEC teams that will not even make the NCAA Tournament. They seemed unbeatable in the 2012 portion of the schedule, but played down to their level of competition in the SEC. That being said, it would not be smart to pick against Billy Donovan. Donovan has led Florida to the Elite Eight the past two seasons, and done so with largely the same group he has this year. Two seasons ago it was a loss to Butler as a #2-seed and last year a loss to Louisville as a #7-seed. Of their eight impact players, seven are upperclassmen and have extensive experience in the NCAA Tournament. Veteran leadership and NCAA Tournament experience cannot be discounted, and Florida has both in spades. In the “for what it’s worth” department, Pomeroy has Florida ranked #1 overall in his season-long rankings (fifth in offensive efficiency and second in defensive efficiency).

Is the Third Time the Charm for Boynton and His Gators?

Is the Third Time the Charm for Boynton and His Gators?

Should They Falter: #2 Georgetown (29-5, 15-5 Big East). Recent history is not on Georgetown’s side as John Thompson III has made a habit of exiting the NCAA Tournament too early. In fact, in the six NCAA Tournaments that JT3 has led the Hoyas to, they haven’t made it past the first weekend four times. The Hoyas won’t win any style points, but that doesn’t much matter. What they lack in flash they have in tough defense and methodical but effective offense. Not to mention that the Hoyas are also fortunate to have Otto Porter, the Big East Player of the Year, on their side. The emergence of Markel Starks as a second dependable scorer adds another dimension to the offense beyond him, though. Their adjusted tempo ranks 313th in the country — in other words, a snail’s pace — and inability to score in stretches on the offensive end doesn’t make them a sexy team to watch, but Georgetown is very comfortable playing grind-it-out kind of games making them an apt postseason team.

Grossly Overseeded: #7 San Diego State (22-10, 10-8 Mountain West). The Aztecs began the season with a 14-2 record and a 2-0 mark in Mountain West play, and appeared to be the class of the league alongside New Mexico. Since that blistering start, San Diego State is a pedestrian 8-8 and finished 9-7 in the MW. It is almost unfathomable that the Aztecs earned a much better seed than Pac-12 champion Oregon — prepare yourselves to hearing a lot about the Ducks’ seed in the coming days —and even a higher seed than fellow Mountain West member Colorado State. SDSU benefited from having a strong RPI (#28) and a challenging schedule which ranked in the top 20, but many prognosticators had them wearing road jerseys in their opening round game, not home whites.

Grossly Underseeded: #8 North Carolina (24-10, 14-7 ACC). After getting embarrassed by Miami and then suffering a tough road defeat to Duke, North Carolina looked like it was headed to the NIT; the Tar Heels had a 16-8 record and were just 6-5 in the ACC at the time. Roy Williams’ young group may have had unfair expectations placed on it in the preseason, but there is little doubt that they should be an NCAA Tournament team now. Their talent and maturation as a team began to show in the second half of ACC play by winning eight of their last 10 games including a narrow loss to Miami in the ACC Tournament Championship. North Carolina’s seed was hurt by having a 2-9 mark against the RPI top 50, but the way in which Carolina concluded the regular season shows that it was playing closer to the caliber of a #5 seed and shouldn’t be marred in the dreaded #8/#9 match-up with the top seed looming.

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Kansas Wins Because It Guards, Plain and Simple

Posted by dnspewak on March 16th, 2013

Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is a Big 12 microsite writer. He filed this from the Big 12 Championship game in Kansas City.

Clank, clank, clank. In an arena jam-packed to the rafters and charged with as much emotion as any game in college basketball this season, the most prominent sound during the first half of the Big 12 Tournament title game at the Sprint Center was the sound of those clanks that Kansas State heaved repeatedly at the basket. After taking an 11-8 lead against Kansas with 11:55 to play in the half, the Wildcats did not make another field goal during the next 17 possessions. They were 0-of-11 from the field during that stretch. Five turnovers. Heroically, they trailed by just eight points at the break, but they were already buried. Once the Jayhawks found their groove offensively in the second half, Kansas State never kept pace and eventually fell, 70-54.

Kansas Added More Hardwood To Its Collection

Kansas Added More Hardwood To Its Collection

You don’t want to see the final statistics for Bruce Weber’s team. “The best thing we did was shoot free throws,” Angel Rodriguez said, “and we shot 50 percent. That says a lot.” Rodney McGruder had a simple diagnosis for the anemic offense. “It wasn’t really their defense,” McGruder said. “We missed easy baskets at the rim.” The second part of that statement is correct. Kansas State missed more open shots than an overweight, middle-aged man trying to play a game of H-O-R-S-E, especially during the drought in the first half. But McGruder is wrong about the first part — there’s another reason his team couldn’t score, and it wasn’t self-inflicted. “Our first shot defense was about as good as it’s been all year long,” coach Bill Self said. As always, it was a collective effort for Kansas. Jeff Withey, the Big 12’s leading shot blocker, finished with only one block, but he teamed with Kevin Young and Perry Ellis to bother the Wildcats’ on the interior with their length.

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The Big 12 Tournament, Broken Down

Posted by dnspewak on March 13th, 2013

The Big 12 Tournament begins this evening with a highly-anticipated, once-in-a-lifetime showdown between 13-18 West Virginia and 10-19 Texas Tech. That’s followed by Texas vs. TCU, another elite matchup that might force the people of Texas to actually tune away from spring football practice and watch basketball. Doubtful. Even though conference tournament play-in rounds are often painful, the rest of the Big 12 Tournament may be as entertaining as ever in 2013.

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Kansas won the league again, but it has company this year in the form of Kansas State, which technically shared the championship despite getting swept by the Jayhawks. Oklahoma State could win it. Iowa State, Oklahoma and Baylor are fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives. There are several important storylines — like the potential of Kansas vs. Kansas State, Part III — and a lot of candidates to cut down the nets. Here’s a few of the reasons you need to tune in this weekend:

The Favorites Are All Vulnerable

The Big 12 is a simple conference this season. There are four bad teams. There are three decent teams on the bubble. Then, there are three ranked teams that make up the top of this league: Kansas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The first two were “co-champs,” and the latter has the league Player of the Year in Marcus Smart. Bill Self told the Topeka Capitol-Journal that six teams in this league could win the tournament title, but realistically, these are the three teams you would want to put your money on. They’re all flawed in their own ways. Kansas, for example, sometimes forget how to score and looked bewildered in a 23-point loss at Baylor in the season finale. Read the rest of this entry »

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