Kentucky’s Forgotten Man: Eloy Vargas

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 27th, 2011

The 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats are the media darlings of the SEC and perhaps the entire country. There are already countless stories about the talents of Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones. There are plenty of anecdotes about the leadership of senior Darius Miller. The media likes to talk about the pressure on Marquis Teague to follow in the footsteps of the lineage of great point guards who have played before him in John Calipari’s system. There is even a documentary on HBO focusing on the life of a Kentucky freshman, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. But you probably won’t find another story about the importance of Eloy Vargas’ impact on the Kentucky Wildcats. Until now.

Eloy Vargas could be called upon to do significantly more for the Wildcats this year

The media overlooks Vargas because it is easy to do. But Kentucky fans don’t forget him. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Throughout most of his playing career, Kentucky fans wish they could forget about Vargas.

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Morning Five: 08.15.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 15th, 2011

  1. The talk of the college sports universe throughout the weekend involved the notion of Texas A&M bolting the Big 12 for the (supposedly) greener pastures of the SEC.  On Friday afternoon, it seemed to be nothing more than some wishful thinking on the part of the Aggies.  By Saturday, though, ESPN was reporting that such a move was a done deal and that it could occur as soon as next summer.  Then on Sunday, the SEC pulled the chair out from under its latest paramour, announcing that its committee of presidents and chancellors had met and “reaffirmed [its] satisfaction with the present 12 institutional alignment.”  So what the hell happened here?  How could A&M have been so confident in a place at the table so as to leave itself open to a very public rejection from the SEC, furthering the shame and feelings of inadequacy the school already suffers as a result of the monolithic school 100 miles to its west?  Well, if you read between the lines of the SEC’s statement, you’ll see that the organization carefully left open the possibility of expansion in a way certain to satisfy the legal department.  If TAMU’s Board of Regents approves exploration of such a move on Monday, expect to see things to continue toward the direction of the Aggies to the SEC in relatively short order.  This isn’t over.
  2. North Dakota took its half-decade long fight over its nickname, the Fighting Sioux, to the top of the NCAA food chain on Friday, and still came away with the same result.  The school will have to change its nickname or face banishment from hosting NCAA tournament games in any sport and cannot use the nickname at any NCAA-sponsored events.  Additionally, the Big Sky Conference, which North Dakota hopes to soon join, has made it clear that refusal to change its nickname could jeopardize the school’s consideration for that league.  Today — August 15, 2011 — is the court-imposed deadline put forth by the courts for UND to receive approval from the two Sioux tribes located in the state to justify keeping the name.  Only one of the two gave its approval, and now the school will have to make other arrangements.  For us, it comes down to the two afflicted parties.  If both Sioux tribes were on board with it, we wouldn’t have a problem either; but, apparently, the Standing Rock Sioux were always against the nickname, so we agree with the NCAA and Mark Emmert that it’s probably for the best to scrap it going forward.
  3. We mentioned last week that Virginia Tech refused to clear junior forward Allan Chaney to play next season because of an affliction called viral myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that can cause scarring.  Despite significant testing at Penn and Virginia hospitals that led to team physicians at VT to state that Chaney has “persistent complications” from the disease, Chaney believes that he can find another school that will let him play.  The option of wearing an internal defibrillator to monitor his heart harkens back to the scary collapse and near-death of former Tennessee forward Emanuel Negedu from a heart condition in 2009.  UT would not allow him to play, but Negedu eventually got another chance at New Mexico last season before retiring from the sport permanently in April.  Chaney mentions only a “2% risk” in his comments about health, but how many of us out there are willing to take a 1 in 50 shot on our mortality every day we step onto a basketball court?  We certainly understand that it’s difficult to give up something that you love to do more than anything else in the world, but we  sincerely hope that he finds peace on this issue and will not push himself toward an outcome that everyone will ultimately regret.
  4. A little transfer news not involving life-threatening heart conditions…  LSU sophomore forward Matt Derenbecker announced over the weekend that he will be transferring to Dayton University, sight unseen.  Derenbecker was a promising player in his only year at LSU, averaging 7/2 in 23 minutes per game for the Tigers.  He becomes the third player to leave Trent Johnson’s program this offseason, though, which begs the continuing question as to whether the former Stanford coach will be able to get it done in Baton Rouge.  After an outstanding first season where his team won the SEC and went to the  Second Round of the NCAA Tournament, his last two years have been unmitigated disasters, having won only five conference games and 22 overall.
  5. The story of how former Kentucky center Josh Harrellson went from a benchwarmer to a key contributor on a Final Four team and an NBA Second Round draft pick is a well-known one, but you can also add citizen sheriff to the list of roles of which we never thought he was capable.  According to WKYT-TV in Lexington, Harrellson and several of his friends encountered a drunk driver in a parking lot over the weekend who was so sloppy that he hit several vehicles trying to get his truck out.  Realizing the danger of having such a person on the road, they leapt into action by jumping onto the moving truck and forcing the driver to stop so that they could take the keys out of the ignition.  It’s an amazing story of heroism on those facts alone, but here’s the clincher — after the truck stopped, they realized that there were young children in the back seat of the vehicle.  Forget playing Jared Sullinger straight-up in the NCAA Tournament — Harrellson and his buddies deserve a medal.
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Morning Five: 05.04.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 4th, 2011

  1. Chalk this one up as weird, but one of Gonzaga’s returning players, Demetri “Meech” Goodson, is giving up his senior season in Spokane to transfer back home to play… football?  You read that correctly.  The junior guard from Spring, Texas, and younger brother of Carolina Panther running back Mike Goodson, will have two years of NCAA eligibility remaining upon his arrival on an undetermined campus (likely Texas A&M) next season.  Goodson started all of Gonzaga’s 35 games last year, but he’s consistently struggled with shooting the ball and his departure will represent the seventh Zag transferring out of Mark Few’s program in the last two years.  Everyone of course remembers Greg Paulus’ one-year stint as the quarterback at Syracuse after a four-year basketball career at Duke, but it’s not often that you see a player transfer to play a different sport midstream through their career (it helps that GU doesn’t have a football team).
  2. As everyone is well aware, the NBA Draft withdrawal deadline is next Sunday, so decisions from players on the fence will be trickling out all week.  Two players Tuesday announced that they would be staying in the June draft despite currently facing a second round (if any) projection.  Louisville forward Terrence Jennings and Georgia Tech guard Iman Shumpert must have coaches at both schools shaking their heads, as neither appears to be a first round lock even in a weak draft.  Shumpert was second team all-ACC last year, going for 17/6/4 APG in a dreadful Yellow Jackets season, but Jennings in particular is an interesting case. His collegiate numbers of 10/5 last season were not exactly dominant in the Big East, but he says that he’s getting good feedback from scouts and thinks that the NBA will have a place for him.  This has been a tough week all around for Rick Pitino, as he not only learned that Jennings was officially leaving school, but elite 2012 recruit Rodney Purvis rescinded his verbal commitment to the Cards on Monday.
  3. New Pac-10, er, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott must know how to turn water to wine in light of news breaking on Tuesday that his conference has inked the most lucrative television deal in college sports history with Fox and ESPN for twelve years beginning in 2012-13.  The twelve western schools (now including Colorado and Utah) will average approximately a quarter-billion dollar payout every year over the life of the deal, out-distancing the recent Big Ten ($220M), SEC ($205M), ACC ($155M) and Big 12 ($130M) mega-deals.  The league will also go the Big Ten route with its own Pac-12 Network, and the rest of the games will be split between the two other national networks — now that ESPN will be showing Pac-12 basketball four days a week in addition to all of its other commitments, we wonder if there are plans for a few more ESPN channels.  There simply isn’t enough space on the existing family of networks to cover everything they have in the stable.  You might be wondering how Scott pulled this off given that many national viewers never see a Pac-10/12 football or basketball game all season long — the answer is in the numbers.  Eight of the top twenty-seven US media markets are within the Pac-12 regional footprint, the best such aggregate total in the nation (we shudder to imagine if Scott had pulled off getting Texas too!).
  4. Taking a page from the “pro day” that some major football programs have held in the past for their professional prospects, Kentucky held a similarly-styled event for its three early entries Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and DeAndre Liggins, in addition to graduating senior Josh Harrellson.  All thirty NBA teams were invited to the event to have an opportunity to observe the UK players going through workouts at least once prior to the deadline on Sunday, and a good number of those showed up for at least one of the two sessions this week.  Knight told a reporter that he was still at “50/50″ on a final decision, but he is expected to leave; Liggins, on the other hand, is expected back next season, while Jones’ decision will no doubt be predictably unpredictable (see: his recruitment).
  5. Tennessee forward/impresario Renaldo Woolridge was feeling particularly patriotic on Sunday night after the news about Osama bin Laden’s capture was released, so the junior who only scored 13 points in eight games last year did what he does best — he wrote and produced a new rap video.  “Thank You (USA Troops)” was released Monday afternoon, and as Mike DeCourcy points out, the line packing a punch comes at the 2:20 mark: Almost 10 years/feeling kinda alone/But the fact is/Osama is gone.  Full video below.

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Conference Report Card: SEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 18th, 2011

Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC conference. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • It was a good year for the Southeastern Conference. After a weak showing in the NCAA Tournament last year, the SEC was the only conference with multiple teams (Kentucky and Florida) in the Elite Eight. The SEC also got five teams into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years. It was a major improvement over the sad slump that was 2009 when the SEC only qualified LSU, Tennessee, and Mississippi State at 8, 9, and 13 seeds, respectively.
  • When the season started, I predicted the conference could get five and possibly six teams in the tournament and I still contend that Alabama was snubbed.  But regardless of that, five teams is a good showing and a sign of improvement for a conference that lost a little respect as an elite conference in the past few years.
  • Florida was consistent all year, winning close games by playing calmly even when trailing late, but the biggest turning point for the conference came when Kentucky finally was able to win those same close games.  The Wildcats were sitting at 7-9 in conference play and likely facing a first-round game in the SEC when they won close games against Florida, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee finishing the regular season 10-6 and easily marching through the conference tournament.  Kentucky was the favorite at the Final Four in Houston, but poor shooting likely cost the Wildcats their eighth national championship.  And the debate about John Calipari’s ability to win it all with young teams goes on.
Brandon Knight came up big for John Calipari when he needed the star freshman guard the most.

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Season in Review: By the (Jersey) Numbers

Posted by rtmsf on April 7th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is an RTC contributor.  When he’s not traveling all night to get to Vegas, Los Angeles, Tucson or Anaheim to cover games in the southwestern quadrant of the country, he’s acting as the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences and writing about whatever strikes his basketball fancy.

When it comes to wrapping up a college basketball season, I have a hard time doing an All-American team, because, for one, it just seems hard to narrow down four and a half months of basketball to just five names (or even ten or 15 if I add a second or third team – although, I’ll probably do that too). Instead, in the interests of recognizing more of the players that filled up my brain this season, what I’ll do here today is take all 37 possible uniform numbers (only digits zero through five are possible uniform numbers in NCAA basketball, to aid referees in calling fouls and the foulers) and pick one player for each jersey number.  Note that I am not always going to pick just the best player here. My own prejudices and likes/dislikes will factor in, plus I want to be able to pick a guy that I will most remember from this season. And, in the case of a tie, a senior will get the nod. So without further ado, here is my list of Players of the Year by uniform number.

A Famous Man Once Said We're All Rooting For Laundry, Ultimately

0 – Jacob Pullen, Sr, Kansas State – As I said before, tie goes to the senior, and in this case, the freshman Jared Sullinger gets beat out by a guy who left his heart on the court in his final game as a Wildcat, scoring 38 amazing points in a loss to Wisconsin in the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament. Pullen goes down in history as the all-time leading scorer in Kansas State history, and his exploits in March will be talked about there for years to come.

00 – Rick Jackson, Sr, Syracuse – As far as the scorekeeper is concerned, there is no difference between 0 and 00, but I see two big zeroes on Jackson’s back, and opponents saw a double-double machine for the majority of the season. He posted 17 double-dips on the season and, despite fading a bit down the stretch, was one of the most improved seniors in the country this year.

1 – Kyrie Irving, Fr, Duke – Irving’s college career is complete as he declared for the NBA Draft on Wednesday.  You won’t find his name on any all-timer lists in Durham, as he played just 11 games in his time as a Blue Devil due to a toe injury. When he was on the court, however, he was among the handful of the best players in the nation, with quickness, awareness and maturity rarely seen among freshmen.

2 – Nolan Smith, Sr, Duke – His college career ended with one of the worst games of his career, but for huge swaths of this season, Smith was in the conversation for National Player of the Year. He took over the point guard role when Irving went down with his injury and did a fantastic job of balancing his team’s need for a creator with its need for Smith to score.

3 – Jeremy Lamb, Fr, Connecticut – Jim Calhoun’s precocious freshman earned this honor almost entirely in March. Sure, he had a streak of eight-straight double-digit scoring games in January and early February, but in March, Lamb took his game to a new level and became a consistent second option to Kemba Walker. From the start of the Big East Tournament straight through to the National Championship game, Lamb never failed to score in double figures and averaged 15.3 points per game over that stretch.

4 – Jackson Emery, Sr, BYU – Aaron Craft almost got the nod here, but once again we’ll give the upperclassman the benefit of the doubt. And make no mistake, Emery is very deserving on his own merits, regardless of class, averaging 12.5 points and 2.7 steals per game as Jimmer Fredette’s sidekick in the Cougars’ playmaking backcourt. Emery goes down in history as the career steals leader at BYU.

5 – Kendall Marshall, Fr, North Carolina – I’m not sure Marshall is the best player in the country wearing a single five on his back, but he was likely the most important one – and the biggest story at that. He took over the starting point guard position in Chapel Hill in mid-January and led the Tar Heels to a 17-3 record from there, averaging 7.7 often spectacular assists per game and kick-starting much-heralded freshman wing Harrison Barnes along the way.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.02.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 2nd, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

  • Butler head coach Brad Stevens is undefeated since he has begun wearing glasses on the sidelines. This should be a non-story, but Butler’s recent success makes one consider the importance of this.
  • Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack will be the key players for Butler in their Final Four matchup with VCU. This is not surprising, as Howard and Mack have been the catalysts for the Bulldogs success all season.
  • The hands-on cerebral approaches of Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart have been huge in leading their respective teams to the Final Four. This approach has proved to be extremely successful considering the success of the two young coaches.
  • Despite being a star player, Butler big man Matt Howard tries to keep a low profile at Butler. This is almost impossible due to the contributions Howard has made for the Bulldogs throughout his career.

Connecticut

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.01.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 1st, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

Connecticut

  • Kemba Walkerhopes to have his picture alongside Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton and Emeka Okafor on a wall inside Gampel Pavilion which features UConn’s NBA Draft selections. Assuming the NBA holds its draft as planned despite a looming work stoppage, Walker doesn’t have much to worry about.
  • If you’ve seen footage of Jim Calhoun at a microphone, you can detect his Boston accent without much effort. Calhoun isn’t the only UConn fixture on this season’s team to hail from Beantown, though: Alex Oriakhi, Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Shabazz Napiereach graduated from high schools in the Boston area.
  • There’s no love lost between Calhoun and John Calipari. While it’s rare for them to face off against one another on the court anymore, the waters run back to 1993, when Calipari beat out the UConn coach for the services of Marcus Camby, who chose UMass.
  • Caron Butler, one of UConn’s brightest stars now in the NBA, is amazed by Kemba Walker’s spectacular month. Walker’s ability to lead a young team has also left several coaches in awe of what UConn has accomplished.
  • Shabazz Napier may not stuff the box score on a nightly basis, but his fearlessness is just one component that makes UConn a tough nut to crack. It takes some confidence to speak your mind when your coach is Jim Calhoun.

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RTC Final Four Snapshots: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by zhayes9 on March 31st, 2011

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Here are Butler, Connecticut and VCU. We conclude the series with the third school that John Calipari has taken to the Final Four: Kentucky.

 

It's been big shot after big shot for Brandon Knight this March

Crucial Tourney Moments: Without Brandon Knight’s late-second driving layup against Princeton, his only field goal of the entire game, the Wildcats may not be standing here today as the favorites to win the program’s eighth national championship. Survive and advance has been the mantra for the Wildcats throughout their difficult road to the Final Four. UK needed another Knight game-winner, this time a step-back jumper from the right wing on Ohio State’s ace defender Aaron Craft, to knock off the overall #1 seed in the Sweet 16. A kickout three to Billy Gillispie holdover DeAndre Liggins made the difference in UK’s second upset win on Sunday. No one can argue the Wildcats didn’t earn a spot in Houston after downing teams the caliber of West Virginia, Ohio State and North Carolina in successive fashion. One can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Knight’s shot had rimmed out and Princeton battled Kentucky into an extra session.

Advantage Area: Kentucky boasts the most scoring options of any Final Four participant, a direct compliment of both John Calipari’s ability to reload on the recruiting trail and develop three and four year program players like Darius Miller and Josh Harrellson. Knight is the best pure scoring point guard Calipari has ever had at his disposal. The star freshman is outstanding in handoff ball screen situations with Harrellson where defenders have to opt to either go under the screen and test Knight’s advanced jump shot or fight through where they’ll likely need help on his dribble penetration. Kentucky fell short of expectations last year in the NCAA Tournament largely due to a lack of outside shooting. This season, with the likes of Miller, Liggins and the ultra-efficient Doron Lamb, Calipari can spread the floor and that aforementioned help defense on Knight’s penetration opens up ample room for capable shooters. Kentucky can spread the floor, move the basketball, force help and knock down perimeter jump shots, the primary reasons for their tremendous offensive execution against North Carolina in the regional final.

Potential Downfall: The possibility of foul trouble for Josh Harrellson is a major concern. We knew Knight and Terrence Jones had some serious talent, but with Enes Kanter ruled ineligible the main concern with Kentucky since the offseason was always their frontline. Harrellson has already proven he can hold his own against two of the best big men in the country in Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller, so Alex Oriakhi isn’t a tremendous concern. But what if Harrellson picks up two early fouls and Eloy Vargas has to play 13 minutes in the first half? Kentucky has been fortunate through their run that Harrellson has stayed on the floor for 33+ minutes in every game other than the SEC Tournament final rout over Florida. While Jim Calhoun has four legitimate big bodies he can play if you count Niels Giffey, Calipari has Harrellson and Vargas. Let’s just hope the former can stay on the floor.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.30.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 30th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

Connecticut

  • Jim Calhoun warns that the shine will eventually wear off of prodigious coaches like Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens. One element both coaches will have to consider in potential moves to higher-profile schools down the line is whether they want to take on the balance of increased scrutiny and higher expectations.
  • The Huskies returned to campus for a couple days to recharge their batteries, but passers-by on campus are still as excited as they were on Saturday. The team arrives in Houston Wednesday night, and its rock star status can’t go to the players’ heads if they want to succeed.
  • Patrick Sellers, a former UConn assistant, left the staff in the wake of the NCAA’s investigation of the program last May. Now coaching in China, Sellers remains pumped for his former employer, and, cleared by the NCAA, can seek work at the Division-I level if he wishes.
  • Calhoun believes there are no great teams in college basketball this season, with which we agree, but gives a reason with which we disagree. Calhoun insists that the transience of college basketball’s top players hurts the game, but without those players, even if they only stay one season, the game would be far less interesting.

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The Week That Was: From Sixteen To Four

Posted by jstevrtc on March 29th, 2011

David Ely is an RTC contributor.

What We Learned

Ladies And Gentlemen, Your 2010 CBI Champions! (AP/E. Gay)

Throughout the regular season a lot was made about the lack of an elite team in college basketball. For about a month Duke fit the bill, but then Kyrie Irving hurt his toe and the Blue Devils lost their aura of invincibility. As the season wore on, Ohio State and Kansas emerged as the top two teams in the nation. They had all the elements of an elite squad — size, skill, experience and NBA talent — but no one would have confused the Buckeyes and Jayhawks with, say, 2009 North Carolina, 2007 Florida, or 2001 Duke. This year’s versions of KU and OSU were very good teams, but neither was at that usual level of “great” that at least one team achieves during a season. The NCAA tournament certainly has reinforced the good-but-not-great trend in college hoops this year. For the first time ever, there won’t be a single #1 or #2 seed represented in the Final Four, and the group of #3 Connecticut, #4 Kentucky, #8 Butler and #11 VCU comprises the highest combined seeding of any quartet in Final Four history. The games from the past two weeks show just how little difference there was from #1-20. Kentucky and Arizona looked every bit as talented as Ohio State and Duke, and neither victory felt like an upset. Yes, Butler needed a number of breaks to go its way to advance to the Final Four, but time and time again the Bulldogs made the necessary plays to win, and they never looked overmatched against any one of their higher seeded opponents.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.29.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 29th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

  • Head coach Brad Stevens believes that as long as he remains successful, he will keep being mentioned as a candidate for other jobs across the country. Stevens has been mentioned as a candidate for almost every major opening across the country, but the 34-year-old head coach is intensely focused on bringing the Bulldogs a title.
  • Junior guard Ronald Nored lost his starting spot and has been mired in a long shooting slump this season. However, without the defensive tenacity that Nored supplies off the bench, Butler might not be in the Final Four.
  • Last season, Butler was led by the trio of Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard. With Hayward gone to the NBA, Butler has forged on being led by Mack and Howard.
  • Every successful team needs to be led by a point guard. For the Final Four Butler Bulldogs, that role has been filled admirably by Mack.
  • A fun read about how the Chicago Cubs will invite Brad Stevens and VCU head coach Shaka Smart to conduct the seventh inning stretch at a game at Wrigley Field this season.

Connecticut

  • UConn has followed a similar path of peaks and valleys to its opponent on Saturday, Kentucky. Both teams have evolved considerably since squaring off at the Maui Invitational in November. The Huskies’ freshmen have matured at an incredible rate, and Kentucky is feeding off of Brandon Knight and Josh Harrellson more than Terrance Jones, who had the ball most of the time in the early going.
  • Kemba Walker was named a first team AP All-American on Monday, joining Jimmer Fredette, JaJuan Johnson, Nolan Smith and Jared Sullinger. A Wooden Award and Final Four MOP award are still in Walker’s sights.
  • VCU gets plenty of attention for its improbable run (and should), but how about UConn winning nine postseason games in 19 days to reach the Final Four? This March run from Jim Calhoun‘s squad didn’t look to be in the cards when the season started.
  • The UConn women’s team is one win away from matching their male counterparts. The UConn double-dip has been accomplished twice, in 2004 and 2009, and comparing the runs is inevitable for Huskies fans, writes The Hartford Courant‘s Jeff Jacobs.
  • At the time of his recruitment, Kemba Walker was considered a backup plan to Brandon Jennings, who spurned UConn and Arizona to spend a season overseas before entering the NBA draft. Jennings is doing well, but second-best has worked out pretty nicely for the Huskies.

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NCAA Regional Diary From Newark

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 2011

After another weekend of scintillating and shocking NCAA Tournament results, it’s time to check back in with our various correspondents who were in Anaheim, San Antonio, New Orleans and Newark reporting on the games this weekend.

To read all the diaries throughout the NCAA Tournament, click here.

Location: Newark, NJ
Round: Regional Final
Teams: Kentucky, North Carolina
Date: 27 March 2011
Correspondent: Joe Dzuback   

The UK Defense Was Aggressive From the Start

 

  • And the word at the Rock all afternoon was “matchups.” This is a game of matchups. A strong team on Friday can look very bad on Sunday…why? The matchups. Kentucky Coach John Calipari found a way to neutralize Carolina’s heretofore dominant frontcourt trio. He did it by calling on veteran DeAndre Liggins to start the game – “It wasn’t no big deal. Coach say he was going to start me, no disrespect to Doron or anything like that,” replied Liggins to a question about the switch-up – and told the junior veteran to shut down freshman point guard Kendall Marshall. Liggins embraced his assignment, giving the freshman little room to pass or drive, forcing him to take shots when the clock ran down, or resort to the basketball equivalent of sending the puck into the corner and letting the wings – or in this case UNC’s forwards — dig it out. Though it worked on occasion, as Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes were able to score on a few put-backs, that tactic, combined with John Henson’s foul trouble, disrupted the Tar Heel offensive rhythm to the point where the Heels went into the locker room at the half down eight, 38-30, and their high octane, highly efficient offense, in shambles. So disruptive was Kentucky’s guard and forward pressure that North Carolina turned over 24.5% of their possessions and converted 28.6% of their three point attempts (2-7). Matchups.
  • At times the Heels appeared confused, falling back on attempted threes to draw iron and extend their possession. Barnes and Marshall combined for 14 three-point attempts, uncharacteristic for North Carolina Coach Roy Williams’ offense, and converting on only three (21.4%), unfortunately very much a characteristic of this Tar Heel team this season. “Their team (Kentucky) averages 39.6% from the three-point line and we don’t have anybody shooting better than 39.6%…it’s hard trying to overcome some things that are that big advantage. They scored 36 points from the three-point line and we scored nine.” When asked about the Kentucky game plan, Josh Harrellson responded, “the first five minutes of each half really dictates the game, you know, the first five minutes of the game we came out and we played aggressive, played together as a team…and I think we did a good job…running our stuff and keeping them out of their basketball game.” Keeping them out of their game involved keeping Zeller out of the low post – trapping big-to-big, “but the whole point was Josh (Harrellson)…you have to play this guy and don’t expect help,” and when Zeller posted on the left side, a guard would slide over to double. Matchups.

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