Final Four Team-By-Team Previews: West Virginia

Posted by zhayes9 on March 30th, 2010

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Yesterday’s Butler preview is here and tomorrow we’ll dissect Michigan State.

It's been a dream season for the senior Butler

Crucial Tourney Moment(s): The Mountaineers have experienced mostly smooth sailing thus far in the NCAA Tournament, facing three double-digit seeds and then maintaining a comfortable lead during the second half in their regional final bout with top seed Kentucky. It was a driving layup from offensively challenged Joe Mazzulla that extended the West Virginia lead to 11 and forced a John Calipari timeout midway through the second half when the Mountaineer diehards could see the Final Four in their sights. Mazzulla led the team in scoring with 17 points, extremely impressive for a kid that hadn’t scored more than eight points in a game all season.

Advantage Area: West Virginia is one of the most efficient teams in the nation when it comes to offense, defense and rebounding. The Mountaineers rank #12 in offensive efficiency, #10 in defensive efficiency and #2 in offensive rebounding percentage. Bob Huggins runs an offense that is largely dependent on running cuts to the rim and methodically wearing down an opponent for 40 minutes rather than dribble penetration, a reason why West Virginia often lets inferior teams hang around for 30 minutes before pulling away. They also boast the best late-game assassin in college basketball in Da’Sean Butler. Nobody in the Final Four will be trusted taking a crucial shot under a minute more than Butler. Duke, Michigan State and Butler also can’t come close to matching the height of West Virginia across the board.

Potential Downfall: West Virginia isn’t a particularly good jump shooting team. They don’t rank in the top-100 in two-point, three-point or free throw percentage on the season. Although they do have forwards such as Wellington Smith and Kevin Jones that can step out and drain a three, there’s no consistent long-range shooter on the roster to trust other than Butler. JC transfer Casey Mitchell was supposed to be that weapon but never truly emerged and Huggins doesn’t trust him for long stretches. Even after Mazzulla’s stunning performance in the regional final, I’d still label point guard a weakness for the Mountaineers. It was a weakness before Darryl Bryant injured his foot, and even though he may return, the sophomore point was mired in a terrible scoring slump. As long as defenders keep Mazzulla in front and don’t allow penetration to the rim, there’s no need to respect any sort of jump shot from him.

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‘Eers A Question: Mazzulla Or Bryant?

Posted by jstevrtc on March 30th, 2010

And now…quiz time!

Here’s your vignette.  You have 35 seconds to take a shot:

A week ago, the news went out that West Virginia point guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant had fractured the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot and that he’d be out for the season. There was even talk that he’d need surgery to fix the break instead of the usual regimen of ice, rest, and a bulky, annoying stabilizer boot.

Then, the Mountaineers beat Kentucky. Bryant is now medically cleared to play in the Final Four.

Using your knowledge in each of the fields of cybernetics, Bob Huggins‘ black warm-up suit collection, and the “High Risk Zone” of the fifth metatarsal bone, how do you account for the change in Darryl Bryant’s status for the games this weekend?  Please select one answer only:

  • a) Darryl Bryant’s right pinkie toe is an orthopedic and osteologic wonder.  It heals even FASTER than that stoic but awesome liquid robot from Terminator 2, and the words “Bryant Metatarsal” will now be added to our language as something representing a person’s/object’s strong point —  the diametric opposite of “Achilles’ Heel.”  As in: “That’s right, Greg Gumbel, Kentucky’s Achilles’ heels are their 3-point shooting and their perimeter defense, but the ability of Wall, Cousins, and Patterson to get close looks in the lane is their Bryant Metatarsal,” *
  • b) the injury wasn’t as bad as originally thought, and the Truck should never have been parked,
  • c) the “rest of the season” part was added because whoever sent out the press release assumed WVU would lose to UK, thereby rendering their prognosis about Bryant correct…or,
  • d) Bryant’s going to try to tough it out…because it’s the Four.

Time’s up.  If you selected a), then, like us, you’re probably hoping that this really is the case. If you chose b) or c), you’re just cynical and wrong and may show yourself out.  If you chose d), we think you’re right.

Bryant (historically) scores more, but is Mazzulla the better option? (David Smith/AP)

Bryant’s change in status should surprise nobody.  It’s easy to wonder how a guy can go from possibly needing surgery one day to being medically cleared to play the next, but there are three reasons why you could see Bryant on the floor this weekend.  First, in athletes, fixing this type of fracture with surgery instead of the ice/rest/boot combo is gaining popularity as the ideal treatment.  Second, Bryant was fitted for a special orthotic shoe-and-insert on Monday — in Durham, North Carolina, of all places — which could help to allow him to play.  Assuming the insert does not, at some point in the first half, emit a strange royal blue-colored sleeping gas to which all Blue Devils are immune (we’re kidding, Durham-area foot doctors), the device is designed to take some weight off the broken bone and reduce Bryant’s level of pain.

Third…it’s the Final Four.

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That’s Debatable: Looking Back at Regional Weekend

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2010

We did this last week and it seemed to work pretty well, so let’s do it again.  Here are five questions from the past weekend’s action with a look ahead to the Final Four. Each of the below polls will allow comments, so let’s build some discussion through there.

Q1: What Was the Biggest Surprise This Weekend?

We’re going with Mazzulla on this one.  He came into the game averaging a bucket per contest, yet he shredded the Kentucky defense for easy layups multiple times over the course of WVU’s win over the Wildcats.  Many of the others were also surprising, and if we had to choose a #2, it would probably be Butler defeating Syracuse and K-State.  Not so much because we don’t believe in the Bulldogs (we do!), but just because how methodically they shut down the guards of both of those elite teams.

Q2: Butler: Cinderella or Legit Championship Threat?

We’d be more inclined to think they were a legitimate championship threat if they didn’t have to face a team in Michigan State that thrives on street fight defense.  It’ll be just another day at the Big Ten office for the Spartans in playing the Bulldogs, and there’s no way that Tom Izzo will allow his team to look past them.

Q3: Was JP Prince’s Foul on Raymar Morgan Legit?

Yeah, it was.  We’ve slowed it down a few times and there was enough arm in addition to ball there to warrant the call.  The mistake was letting MSU beat the Vols down the court to the blocks.  If UT had gotten back better, they might still be playing.

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ATB: Butler and West Virginia Punch Tickets to Indy

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 2010

Ticket Punching.  We all should have known something like this was in store by the first afternoon of the NCAA Tournament a short nine days ago.  That Thursday’s early insanity portended an unpredictable week-plus that has ultimately resulted in six teams still standing, only one of whom was given serious consideration for the Final Four (Duke).  Raise your hand if you had Butler and West Virginia in your Final Four, though — not even the autistic kid from Chicago had those two, and even though everyone was well aware as to the talent and capabilities of both the Bulldogs and Mountaineers, few people actually thought they could get to Indy (including us).  We’ve already read several references to the “Final Snore” with respect to the relative star power of these two teams plus the prospects of a not-Duke making it tomorrow, and we really don’t want to hear it.  The Tournament has been mostly chalk the last couple of years and then we heard complaints that there weren’t enough upsets.  This year, we’ve had a wide-open field with any of a number of teams having a legitimate shot to win it all (remember the “there are no dominant teams” meme?), and we’re perfectly fine with that.  Once in a while, the nature of this event unfolds in such a way that causes bracket mayhem, and instead of the same-old traditional power matchups, we end up with magical stories like Butler returning home to play in its first-ever Final Four and Bob Huggins leading his alma mater to same for the first time in several generations.

John Flowers Reps WVU's Muscle (Getty/C. Chambers)

On Knowing Yourself. #2 West Virginia 73, #1 Kentucky 66. Know thyself, the aphorism goes. Attributed to Socrates, it’s a piece of advice the Wildcats should have heeded against the Mountaineers. Everything that’s being written and discussed regarding this game revolves around Kentucky starting off at Absolute Zero from three. In fact, we’ve been hearing all season long about how Kentucky is not a “great shooting team.” Sure, an 0-20 start from beyond the arc doesn’t help, but let’s be honest. That’s an outlier. This stuff about not being able to shoot is not entirely true. Coming into this, Kentucky was the 15th best team in the nation as far as FG%, at 48.3%. That’s 15th out of 345 Division I teams. Sounds pretty great to us — but it’s not the whole story. From inside the arc, Kentucky was sixth in the nation (54.4%). From outside the arc, they drop to 34.4%. In other words, despite all the talk about how fantastic John Wall is (and he is) and how he can own a basketball game, Kentucky was and always should have been a low post-oriented team. The story isn’t that Kentucky went 4-32 (13%) from three-point range — it’s that they were taking them in the first place. Yes, that siren’s song of the open three is hard to resist. But a team with two lottery picks in the post should be looking to get the ball to the post, yes? There’s no reason that Darnell Dodson — a fine shooting guard, no question — should shoot nine shots (all of them threes) in his 12 minutes while Patrick Patterson shoots only seven shots in 37 minutes, with four of those coming from three. By the time Kentucky had gotten to 0-9, 0-10, 0-11…it was in their heads. West Virginia, on the other hand, showed total self-awareness. They relied on the exact same recipe that’s kept them in the upper reaches of the Top 25 all year long, the same recipe that earned them a Big East Conference Tournament championship. Sure, they don’t usually hit threes like they did in the first half, but after that hot start, when they cooled off, they did what they do best — drive to the hole using their inestimable athleticism. Kevin Jones, Da’Sean Butler, even hero-of-the-hour Joe Mazzulla either worked off of high screens to dart for the rim or just took their man to the hoop depending on who they had on them. Time after time, Eric Bledsoe and John Wall were left standing while the Mountaineer they were supposed to be guarding flew past them and got layups, revealing that the alleged weakness of the Kentucky guards is not their shooting, as is popularly believed — it’s that they don’t defend. Nobody’s wanted to say that all season, it seems, as if they’d be pointing out a naked emperor. But it explains the hot shooting start for WVU and the steady diet of layups the Mountaineers enjoyed. Knowing they didn’t have to guard the three as tightly, WVU then packed in that bizarre 1-3-1 zone tighter and frustrated the Wildcat bigs with physical play and quick hands. So yes, this is a shocker, and yes, maybe West Virginia shouldn’t have been in this region. But Kentucky’s players — and certainly their fans — know that UK wins this game if they play to their biggest strength. Indeed, Wall’s biggest strength is driving to the basket, and the only points of his that didn’t result from drives came on a banked-in three. But the Big Blue Nation should be happy, considering where they were last year, what they accomplished last year, and the likelihood of more fun to come. Wall, Patterson, and DeMarcus Cousins are almost certainly headed to the NBA, and you can’t blame them. Eric Bledsoe has considered the jump and there’s a lot of talk of even Daniel Orton leaving school. Our stance is that the latter two need a little more of…well, the Socratic Method. West Virginia has no such worries. And it wouldn’t matter right now, because they’re still alive. They’re going to the Final Four, and they deserve it. Why are they going instead of Kentucky? They were true to their own nature. They knew themselves.

At Only 33, Butler's Brad Stevens Still Has Some Moves (Reuters/R. Galbraith)

Let’s Go Home, Shall We? #5 Butler 63, #2 Kansas State 56.  Chants of “Let’s Go Home!!” echoed throughout the building, and Brad Stevens broke into dance along with his players (pictured above), and who could blame him?  It wasn’t that long ago that simply making the Dance was a great accomplishment for a program like Butler.  Then getting to the Sweet Sixteen was the ultimate goal.  Now, with today’s methodical and defensive-minded defeat of #2 seed Kansas State, the bar has been raised to where the Final Four and beyond are what will define this plucky little program from Indianapolis.  And yet, despite the difference in seeds and the obvious difference in athleticism among the players, the result today was entirely predictable based on what we’ve already seen from this Bulldog team in this Tournament.  Their defense has been the story, now having held four different teams to fewer then sixty points and we’re not exactly talking about Horizon League bottom-feeders here either.  Syracuse and K-State boasted two of the most efficient offenses in the nation, but the Butler preparation, focus and execution on the key scoring threats of both teams was nothing short of phenomenal.  Just like the Bulldogs did on Thursday night against Andy Rautins, KSU guards Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente could not find open looks anywhere through most of this game.  The two primary scoring threats for the Wildcats ultimately connected on 11-30 field goals, but many of those came very late in the game when K-State made its final push to briefly take a lead before running out of gas.  On the Butler side, it was Gordon Hayward (22/9) who was the star of the show, connecting on a wide array of jumpers, drives and even an alley-oop during this game.  Shelvin Mack (16/7/3 assts) had his typically effective game, and when it came down to the last few minutes of play it was clear which team had the clearer head to make the plays needed to win.  Dick Vitale is going on and on about Butler not being a Cinderella, and we agree only to the extent that they are a known commodity.  But we have to be realistic, too, and programs the caliber of Butler simply do not make it to the Final Four very often, and when they do they should be celebrated as such.  This isn’t UNLV in the 90s or Memphis of the last decade — this is a true mid-major school without the luxury of BCS level resources who is still getting major program results.  Programs from Clemson to Colorado and USC to Georgia, would do very well to take notice of how they did it.  It’s an unbelievable story and one of which we hope to report on throughout the week.

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RTC Region by Region Analysis: 03.27.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 2010

Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

West Region (Andrew Murawa)

  • Usually in college basketball, when you say a team is going home, you mean they just lost and their season is over. For Butler, there are no such problems; they just upset Kansas State in Salt Lake City and are headed back to Indianapolis, the site of this year’s Final Four, to compete in their first National Semifinal just a few miles from their campus.
  • How did they do it? The easy answer is defense, mostly controlling KSU’s explosive backdoor pair of Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen and, rather surprisingly, getting the best of the Wildcats on the glass, winning the rebounding battle 41-29, an astounding number for the smaller, less athletic team.
  • The Bulldog win was a complete team effort, with stars like Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward having their usual strong performances, role-players like Ronald Nored and Willie Veasley adding their gritty play, but also players like little-used freshman center Andrew Smith giving head coach Brad Stevens quite a few strong minutes in the wake of Matt Howard’s foul trouble.

East Region

  • Andy Katz writes that despite Kentucky’s presumed coronation coming up a few games short in Syracuse tonight, the Cats are back, and the health of the UK program is an overall good thing for college basketball in general.
  • Mike Freeman skewers Kentucky for whining and complaining to the refs in most of this game and refusing to give West Virginia responsibility for winning the game.  Interesting stat that Bob Huggins is now 8-1 against John Calipari in head-to-head matchups.
  • West Virginia’s Wellington Smith stated after the Mountaineers defeated Kentucky that they were looking at that as the ‘national championship game’ and had no trouble claiming that WVU should be the resounding favorite in next week’s Final Four.
  • The great game that WVU’s Joe Mazzulla put forth in the regional finals today may have bought enough time for his teammate Truck Bryant to get healthy.  He says that he’s 90% sure that he’ll be able to play in the Final Four next weekend.

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ATB: Where to Begin? Another Tremendous Thursday…

Posted by rtmsf on March 26th, 2010

Another great Thursday night, with the West Region in particular providing loads of excitement with another #1 seed falling by the wayside and arguably the best game of the entire Tournament in the nightcap.

J. Pullen and J. Crawford Went Back and Forth Down the Stretch (AP/C. Braley)

West Region

What.  A.  Game#2 Kansas State 101, #6 Xavier 96 (2OT).  With around four minutes remaining in this game and K-State up three points at 64-61, a public service announcement flashed across the jumbotron in the middle of the arena.  Paraphrasing, it stated that the regional final game between Kansas State and Butler would begin at 2 pm on Saturday afternoon.  Read that again: between Kansas State and Butler… with four minutes remaining in a three-point game.  Notwithstanding whether some gun-jumping intern was immediately drawn and quartered by the Energy Solutions Arena staff, the Xavier fans unilaterally roared their disapproval at such a public slight, and within a minute the game was tied again.  Whether this scoreboard mishap actually energized the XU players is up for debate, but there should be no debate about whom the two best players on the floor were tonight.  KSU’s Jacob Pullen (28/4/3 assts including six treys) and Xavier’s Jordan Crawford (32/2/2 assts) played a game of who can top whom in the last few minutes of regulation and through two overtimes before it was finally decided that K-State would meet the unanticipated scoreboard premonition and move on to face Butler on Saturday afternoon.  From the moment mentioned above, the two players combined to score 31 points, including several clutch threes that kept the game alive for longer than anyone imagined possible.  After K-State fouled Terrell Holloway (26/4/6 assts and 4 treys himself) as he dribbled into a long jumper with six seconds remaining and XU down three, the sophomore guard nailed all three to send the game into overtime.  Back and forth each team went and again K-State looked like they were safely in position to win the game with a single stop.  Instead, Jordan Crawford failed to find room near the three-point line, so he dribbled far enough away until there was space at which time he rose and fired from 35 feet to send Gus Johnson on CBS into a fit of apoplexy.

From there it was back and forth again until KSU’s Jacob Pullen decided enough was enough, hitting back to back bombs in the final minute-plus of the second overtime to finally create enough separation to make the fouling game work for Frank Martin’s team.  The Wildcats will move on to face Butler on Saturday after all.  This was only the second double-overtime game in the last thirteen years of Sweet Sixteen action, and the fans who attended the West Region tonight surely got their money’s worth.  It’s not often that Kansas State gets outbattled on the boards, but tonight Xavier was +2 in that category.  This was probably the game of the Tournament so far, and we wonder if the physical battle with a Xavier team that just would not quit will impact the Wildcats in their next game with Butler.  As we saw tonight, Butler isn’t the kind of team you want to get down early to — they know how to play with a lead.

Butler Survives and Advances to One Win From Indy (Indy Star/S. Riche)

Butler One Win From Home#5 Butler 63, #1 Syracuse 59.  We’re now left with two #1 seeds as Kentucky advanced to the Elite Eight in the East Regional and Duke plays for that prize tomorrow night, but Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange will be heading home after an uncharacteristic scoring drought at the end of the game did them in tonight.  With a little more than five minutes remaining in the game, Syracuse looked to have regained control of a low-scoring closely contested battle, 54-50.  Cuse would not score again until there were thirty-four seconds left and Butler had effectively put things away.  It was Willie Veasley’s  “HORSE” style three from the corner that put the Bulldogs in control with 1:50 left as the strong crowd of orange-clad fans stood and watched in amazement.  For Brad Stevens’ team, this is the kind of victory that can define and sustain a high-mid like Butler for a long time.  His recruiting for the next five years is already done — what can a program like Indiana give a player that Butler cannot at this point?  A chance to play in the NCAAs?  A chance to advance?  How about a chance to go to the Final Four?  Because that’s the cusp upon which his team is standing, merely forty more minutes of superb defense away from returning home with games still to play.  And when we say home, we really mean it.  Not like ‘Cornell home’ tonight or ‘Baylor home’ tomorrow night, but really, actually home — the Butler University campus is a mere 5.4 miles in Indianapolis from Lucas Oil Stadium, site of the Final Four.  Talk about Hoosiers on the grandest scale of all.  It’s so ridiculous we can hardly comprehend it.  As for Syracuse, the Orange struggled with unforced turnovers all night long (18 total), and many of those were expended in trying to get the ball inside to Rick Jackson and Kris Joseph.  It’s easy to place the blame for SU’s ‘early’ loss on the injury to Arinze Onuaku and his missing three games in this year’s Tournament, but  we wonder if his offensive production would have helped take some of the pressure off Wes Johnson (17/9) and Andy Rautins (15/5) tonight had he been available.   We also wonder if Boeheim’s team didn’t wear down a little at the end of this year — even prior to Onuaku’s injury in the Big East Tournament, the Orange had dropped two games to rather pedestrian Louisville in previous weeks.  He was only playing seven players substantial minutes, and with Onuaku out of the lineup, he was forced to surrender minutes to unproven and untested DaShonte Riley (0/1 in 5 minutes) tonight, for example.  His six ‘starters’ played every other minute of the game.  Were the Orange players spent during those last five minutes?  You won’t hear Boeheim use that crutch, but it would certainly be a reasonable excuse.

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RTC (Sorta) Live: Sweet Sixteen Day One

Posted by jstevrtc on March 25th, 2010

It’s here.  We’ve endured the three-day layoff and it’s time for more hoops.  We know you already know, but here’s our lineup for today in the order in which they’ll be showing up on our screens:

  • #1 Syracuse vs #5 Butler
  • #2 West Virginia vs #11 Washington
  • #2 Kansas State vs #6 Xavier
  • #1 Kentucky vs #12 Cornell

Everyone’s been talking about Cornell  (and Northern Iowa in the Midwest) — and well they should — but we doubt Butler, Xavier, and Washington will go quietly.  That’s how great this tournament has been; because of the achievements of teams like Cornell and Northern Iowa, we’ve heard next to nothing about what Xavier and Washington have done! Syracuse will not have Arinze Onuaku and you’ve heard about the Darryl Bryant injury by now, so we expect the Huskies will try to make life difficult for Joe Mazzulla.  It should be an amazing four games tonight, to say the least, and we’ll crank up the live window (located after the jump) about 15 minutes before the first tip.  We hope that as you watch the games you’ll join us for some live discussion, as well.  It’s Sweet Sixteen time!

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West Virginia Loses Darryl Bryant To Broken Foot

Posted by jstevrtc on March 24th, 2010

West Virginia will be without starting sophomore point guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant for the rest of the NCAA Tournament.  X-rays taken on Tuesday revealed that Bryant has fractured a bone in the fifth toe of his right foot.  It’s not exactly clear when Bryant sustained the injury, but the cited ESPN.com report above says that he had noticed increased pain in the foot during a recent practice, then today’s imaging showed the broken toe.

The Mountaineers are famous for being chock-full-o-forwards, often playing four forwards and a guard at any given time (they have no true center).  Bryant — who averages 9.3 PPG and 3.1 APG in 24.3 MPG — will most definitely be missed, but he’s not a traditional dime-dishing point guard.  He’s known more for the mental and physical toughness he brings to the table for his team, not so much for his high yield in terms of assists or forcing turnovers.  Da’Sean Butler, Kevin Jones, and Devin Ebanks — the only three Mountaineers who average more than 30 minutes per game — do most of the ball-handling, and will only see a slight increase in touches, which they probably won’t mind.

The Truck, unfortunately, has a bum wheel. (AP/Mel Evans)

WVU also has a ready replacement in Joe Mazzulla, a 6’2 junior point guard averaging 2.2 PPG and 2.3 APG.  Mazzulla redshirted last year after injuring his shoulder, but has seen steadily increasing minutes throughout the season.  Mazzulla actually played more minutes than Bryant in the Mountaineers’ second-round game against Missouri, and the two had no problem with the Tigers’ vaunted full-court press.  His assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.5 is higher than Bryant’s 1.5, though Mazzulla did average ten fewer minutes per game.  Any further minutes at the guard position will go to 6’4 junior Casey Mitchell (3.8 PPG, 0.4 APG in 8.3 MPG), who only played three minutes against Missouri but did contribute six points, four assists, and two steals with only one turnover in 11 minutes in WVU’s first round 77-50 win over Morgan State.

There’s been no mention of how severe Bryant’s injury is, but most fifth metatarsal fractures do not require surgery and heal on their own over time with the “conservative” therapies — ice for swelling, no weight-bearing on the foot, and immobilization with a splint or cast.

WVU chief Bob Huggins is certainly no stranger to tournament-time injuries when he’s got a team poised for big things.  Back in 2000 — another year in which the Final Four was held in Indianapolis — his #2-seed Cincinnati squad was a favorite to win it all before Kenyon Martin broke his leg in the Conference USA Tournament, and the Bearcats were subsequently dispatched in the second round by Tulsa.  The next time the Final Four is in Indianapolis and Huggins has a highly rated team, don’t blame the man if he sequesters his whole team in a padded room and locks the door, opening it only for games.

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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.21.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2010

Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

East Region Notes (Ryan Restivo of SienaSaintsBlog)

  • Kentucky performed as a top seed should, winning convincingly, building momentum and taking confidence to Syracuse. Ashley Judd isn’t the only star fan, Grammy-nominated rapper Drake was at Saturday’s game and gave hi-fives to the Kentucky coaches.
  • Cornell is going to its first ever Sweet 16 after exposing Wisconsin in a 18-point victory. Meanwhile, the Big Red feel like they belong and will be playing their regional semifinal game just under 60 miles away from campus.
  • Washington continued its improbable run into the Sweet 16 Saturday. The Huskies are coming together as the East Region bracket falls apart, playing their best basketball in a long time. The Seattle Times is asking… why can’t the Huskies continue this run?
  • West Virginia handled the pressure and Joe Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant got redemption in their win over Missouri. Mazzulla showed heart in the Sunday win, the Charleston Gazette says.

West Region Notes (Andrew Murawa)

  • Butler has advanced to their third Sweet 16 in eight years, and while they will be a big underdog to Syracuse on Thursday, they’ve shed the Cinderella label.
  • Xavier, on the other hand, is one of just two programs in the country to achieve the Sweet 16 in each of the past three years (the other being Michigan State), and they’ve got a label they aren’t too big on either: “mid-major”.
  • A day after the BYU season ended, head coach Dave Rose still thinks his Cougars had a “special season.” They will lose seniors Jonathan Tavernari and Chris Miles to graduation and freshman Tyler Haws will head off on his two-year Mormon mission, but they also have two kids returning from missions and expect to be a strong contender in the MWC again next season.
  • Murray State also heads into their offseason feeling pretty good about their accomplishments, and with only two key contributors graduating and freshman forward Ed Daniel looking ready to be an Ohio Valley Conference star, head coach Billy Kennedy feels pretty good about the future of the program.
  • And, finally, while it is never too early to get an Arinze Onuaku update (still somewhere between questionable and unlikely for Syracuse vs. Butler on Thursday), Wesley Johnson offered up a pretty good assessment of his hand injury with his play on Sunday.

Midwest Region Notes (Tom Hager)

  • It may be surprising to hear from Ali Farokhmanesh, but the gutsy shooter claims that open looks are sometimes the harder shots to make, as a shooter has too much time to think.
  • According to Tom Izzo, the odds of Kalin Lucas having a torn ACL are around 85%.  If that is the case, his season is likely over.
  • When Tennessee and Ohio State will meet, it will be a rematch of their 2007 tournament game, in which the Volunteers led by 17 and OSU needed a Greg Oden block at the buzzer to save a one point lead.
  • Kansas coach Bill Self asserts that Northern Iowa shouldn’t be surprising the country as much as they are, claiming that the Panthers are not Cinderella.
  • According to Fox News, the NCAA needs Evan Turner, who can provide the closest substitute to the highly anticipated Kansas vs. Kentucky matchup.  If both Kentucky and Ohio State advance to the Final Four, they would not meet until the title game.
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Second Round Game Analysis: Sunday Games

Posted by rtmsf on March 21st, 2010

Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 16 of the second round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are the Sunday games.

12:10 pm – #1 Syracuse vs. #8 Gonzaga  (Buffalo pod)

In the CBS national game to start the day, everyone will get this very enticing game between Syracuse and Gonzaga.  Given the way this year is winding up, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Orange without their big man Arinze Onuaku found itself on the short end of the score around 2:30 pm today.  But we still have faith in Syracuse even without the talented center and we think that Jim Boeheim’s team is too good to fall short of the Final Four this early.  The primary problem that the Zags are going to have is one they didn’t have to worry as much about with Florida State, and that is in stopping the powerful SU offense.  With offensive scoring threats at all five positions, Syracuse is in a far more advantageous position than FSU was (with their limited offense) when Gonzaga caught fire on Friday — if the Zags want to get into a shootout with Syracuse, that’s not likely to end well for them. Still, with the way the Big East has had so many early round troubles, and the WCC looking great with St. Mary’s already in the Sweet Sixteen, we’re not ready to dismiss the Zags based on that alone.  The Syracuse zone is likely to be something that Mark Few’s team has not seen with such athletes all season, so even with their ability to put the ball in the hole, we hesitate to think the Zags can consistently score on it.

The Skinny: Gonzaga will push the Orange, but we still like this team to advance and make a serious push for the national title in coming weeks.

2:20 pm – #2 Ohio State vs. #10 Georgia Tech  (Milwaukee pod)

You might not see it on their faces, but the Buckeyes are smiling.  Northern Iowa’s removal of Kansas puts Ohio State in the driver’s seat in the Midwest region.  That said, there’s still no way Thad Matta and Evan Turner are going to let the rest of that team look past their opponents and assume an open road to Indianapolis.  Good thing, because Georgia Tech showed us that they’re not just made up of Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal and a bunch of suckers.  The Yellow Jackets shot 2-10 from the three point line but balanced that by holding Big 12 player of the year James Anderson to a 3-12 shooting night, 0-6 from beyond the three-point arc, and an overall 11 points.  But the most impressive aspect of Georgia Tech’s performance on Friday night — by FAR — was the fact that they went to the free throw line 25 times — and hit 24 of them!  It wasn’t just Lawal and Favors.  Tech played nine players, and eight of them shot at least one free throw.  Evan Turner isn’t just the player of the year in his conference, though — he’s likely the national POY, so the Tech task is that much tougher.  Turner wasn’t himself in their first round game against UCSB, going 2-13 and posting only nine points (though he did contribute 10 boards and five assists).  He’s looking to break out, and knows he’ll have to be at his best.  Lawal and Favors, though, will be looking to get Dallas Lauderdale, Jon Diebler, and Turner in foul trouble early and open poke some holes in that OSU front line.

The Skinny:  You probably don’t want to go with our Midwest picks, since yesterday we took Kansas and Ohio.  It’s not exactly going out on a limb to say that this will be a great second round game, but that stat line of Turner’s shows you that he can play such an important role on the team even when he’s not scoring.  For Tech to win, they’d have to turn in a similar performance at the free throw line, keep Turner under wraps and coax him into a supporting role again, and cool down Jon Diebler.  That’s a tough trifecta to pull off.  We don’t see it happening.  But we didn’t see Northern Iowa dismissing Kansas, either.

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Big East Tourney Daily Diary: Finals

Posted by rtmsf on March 14th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is spending the week as the RTC correspondent at the Big East Tournament.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournament, he will post a nightly diary with his thoughts on each day’s action. Here is his submission for the championship game.

West Virginia 60, Georgetown 58

  • Everyone is going to have their own preference about which conference is the best in the country. If you live in Kansas, you may have a different opinion that someone living un upstate New York. I will say this — there is not more competitive of a league in the country, and there is no tournament that matches a league title won in Madison Square Garden. This final pitted an eight seed and a three seed. The semis saw a five seed and a seven seed lose. Don’t bet against the league getting two No. 1 seeds and more than one team in the Final Four. As Huggy Bear said: “If this league isn’t the best in the country, than I need to quit coaching because I don’t know anything.”
  • Is there a player you would rather have take a final shot than Da’Sean Butler? For the second time in three days and the sixth time this season, Butler won a game by scoring a basket in the last 15 seconds. He is the most clutch player in the country, and I don’t think it is even close.
  • Its pretty clear that Chris Wright didn’t know what the score was when he committed that foul on Joe Mazzulla. After the play, Austin Freeman came up to him and said “its a tie game.” In the press conference, an extremely disappointed Wright said “I made a mistake.” That was all he said. His play to tie the game essentially nullified it, however.
  • West Virginia’s length along their perimeter helps them make up for the fact that they lack some quickness. Guys like Jason Clark and a Chris Wright have to be hesitant to shoot it from three simply because they know a guy like Devin Ebanks or Wellington Smith — players with fantastic length who can really get up in the air — are running at them.
  • Are the Mountaineers a No. 1 seed? I’ll let Bob Huggins explain: “We have 18 top 100 wins. We have nine top 50 wins. The 18 is the most of any team in the country. Our non-league RPI was second. Our strength of schedule is going to be one. We’re going to end up in the top two or three in the RPI. They say do those things, we’ve done those things.” I’m not one to argue.
  • Georgetown should end up a three or four seed. While they do have some great wins, and their run through this tournament is commendable — and perhaps even more impressive than what WVU did — they still struggled quite a bit in the middle of the season. They may end up a three depending on how some things shake out tomorrow and the way that locations, conferences and so on break down, but if the Hoyas do end up a four, I don’t think they have a gripe.
  • I’ve written enough about Greg Monroe this week, but good lord is he a talented player. It takes seeing him in person to truly appreciate it.
  • For the third straight game, someone walked away with $10,000 for rolling an oversized die.
  • Tonight was one of the most incredible sports experiences of my life. I was at the 6OT game. I as at game 2 of the 2004 ALCS when Yankee Stadium was chanting “Who’s your daddy?” at Pedro Martinez. I was at the first Redskins game played after Sean Taylor died. Tonight was up there with those three. The atmosphere in MSG tonight was unreal, as both Georgetown and West Virginia fans were loud and into the game from the tip. The game was hard fought and intense. We had great plays down the stretch, a game-winner, and nearly a buzzer beater. But the part that got to me the most was after the game, when all of the Mountaineer fans were still in the arena and sang “Take me home country roads” by Mr. Sunshine on my damn shoulder John Denver. Chills up my spine doesn’t begin to describe it.
  • At some point, Digger Phelps did something to bash West Virginia, because both Huggins and Butler commented on it after the game. In the press conference, Huggins addressed it, criticizing Digger but saying “I like Digger. Digger and I friends.” Butler, on the other hand, made eye contact with Jay Bilas from the podium after the game and pointed at him. Bilas laughed. I asked Bilas what that was about, and as he was saying “Digger said something they didn’t like in the pregame, and…” Butler came up and said to Jay “I told you, I told you.”
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Big East Tourney Daily Diary: Semifinals

Posted by rtmsf on March 13th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is spending the week as the RTC correspondent at the Big East Tournament.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournament, he will post a nightly diary with his thoughts on each day’s action. Here is his submission for the semifinal games.

Georgetown 80, Marquette 57

  • Georgetown whooped Duke. They smacked Villanova. Just yesterday they knocked off Syracuse. That said, would you believe me if I told you that this may be the Hoyas’ most impressive win of the season? Marquette doesn’t get blown out. Prior to this, their ten losses were by an average of 3.5 ppg; just 3.0 in seven Big East losses. They hadn’t lost by more than nine on the season (at Wisconsin) and seven in Big East play (Pitt). 14 of their 21 Big East games were decided by five points or less. With 13 minutes left in this game, Marquette was down one. From that point on, the Hoyas blitzed Marquette, something that simply does not happen.
  • Greg Monroe had a two minute stretch where he showed why people are saying he is a lottery pick. From deep in the left corner, he drove baseline and finished with a dunk. The next possession, he knocked down a three. The following possession, he took a rebound and went coast-to-coast, finishing it with a gorgeous bounce pass to Austin Freeman for an and-1 layup. And for good measure, he blocked a Jimmy Butler shot 20 seconds later.
  • Marquette is going to win a game in the NCAA Tournament. At least one. This is a team that is scrappy, tough, and runs a difficult offense to defend.
  • Jimmy Butler is one of the key players for Marquette. Along with Lazar Hayward, his ability to defend inside and play on the perimeter is a huge reason Marquette is able to play – and is successful doing so – the style they play. Hell, two weeks ago he hit a buzzer-beater in overtime to beat St. John’s. He’s a pretty important part of this Marquette team. You wonder, then, why the Marquette fan sitting next to me asked, after Butler’s tip dunk in the first half, “Jimmy Butler? Who’s Jimmy Butler?” Fan fail.
  • Over the course of the night, as with any big time event, the MSG people like to run promotions that give away money. All week, they have been using this game with an oversized die where three of the same roll in a row wins you $10,000. They’ve done it in each of the 12 previous games, and not once did anyone win, only a few times did they even get to the third roll. Well, in both games tonight, the contestant won the $10,000.
  • There’s more. At halftime of the first game, three people came to center court to try and win $10,000 in a Dickie V impersonation contest. The first two were heartily booed by the NYC crowd. The third contestant, however, had shaved his head bald, was wearing a half of a gray wig, had on a fake unibrow, screamed “Are you serious?!?!?” a good five times, and received a standing ovation and $10,000. I had to pay $8 just to take part in the MSG dinner buffet. I think I need to find a new profession.

West Virginia 53, Notre Dame 51

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