Midwest Region Final Analysis: Michigan vs. Kentucky

Posted by WCarey on March 30th, 2014

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#2 Michigan vs. #8 Kentucky – Midwest Region Elite Eight (from Indianapolis, IN) – at 5:05 PM EST on CBS.

It seems as if this once enigmatic Kentucky squad has finally figured things out. The young Wildcats have arguably been the team of the tournament on their run to Sunday’s regional final. After wins over nine-seed Kansas State and one-seed Wichita State in the rounds of 64 and 32, respectively, John Calipari‘s squad once again showed that it meant business Friday night against Louisville. Louisville surged out to a very early 18-5 run, but instead of packing it in and getting down on themselves, the Wildcats surged back to make it a game. Trailing by the slimmest of margins with 39 seconds to play, guard Aaron Harrison drained a three-pointer from the corner to give Kentucky a lead it would not relinquish. Harrison finished the evening with 15 points and he was joined by fellow freshmen Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson in achieving that scoring mark. Randle, who has developed a well-earned reputation for being a double-double machine, collected 13 rebounds to go along with his 15 points. Johnson had only scored three points over the first two tournament games before exploding for 15 very important points in the win over the Cardinals. Friday’s win did not come without a price for Kentucky though, as key reserve Willie Cauley-Stein left the game in the first half with an ankle injury and on Saturday, John Calipari said he would be “stunned” if the sophomore big man will be able to play.

Calipari Has The Wildcats Peaking At The Right Time

Michigan arrives to its second straight Elite Eight after a 73-71 victory over 11-seed Tennessee. Against the imposing frontline of the Volunteers, the Wolverines used another marquee performance from senior forward Jordan Morgan (a team-high 15 points and seven rebounds), who has equated himself magnificently in the first three games of the tournament. John Beilein‘s squad also displayed its knack for perimeter, as it hit 11 three-pointers for the game and hit seven-of-nine from behind the arc in the first half. The sophomore trio of Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III combined for 37 points and in the process, displayed why they are one of the best offensive trios in the country. Sunday will be Michigan’s second Elite Eight appearance in as many years, so if experience is a factor, six of the team’s eight rotation players have experience in the Elite Eight setting.

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Versatile Guard Play Gives Michigan a Shot to Beat Kentucky

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 30th, 2014

Even though Jordan Morgan held his own against Jarnell Stokes during the Sweet 16 game, facing Kentucky’s Julius Randle in the Elite Eight is a whole another ballgame. As we try to evaluate the Michigan – Kentucky match-up, there are certain weaknesses on both sides that stick out immediately. If Randle was able to put up 15 points and 12 rebounds against Louisville’s lengthy frontline, he should have no problems going off for 25 points and 15 rebounds against Michigan’s depleted frontcourt. So, Kentucky dominates the paint, controls the glass and beats Michigan comfortably, right? Not so fast. Vegas has Michigan as a two-point underdog, but it has certain personnel that will force Kentucky to play out of their realm.

Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson and Nik Stauskas will force the Kentucky defense to step up on Sunday.

LeVert, Robinson, and Stauskas will force Kentucky’s defense to step up.

Yes, we know that the Wildcats have played at a higher level in the postseason, but let’s not forget that they almost lost to the Shockers – a team with multiple guards that can handle the ball and shoot from beyond the arc. And what is Michigan’s strength? Not a complete coincidence, but similar to the Shockers, they have multiple guys who can handle the ball with ease and can drill the long-range shot if given a chance. Imagine Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert moving the ball horizontally in the half-court and forcing the Harrison twins to not only keep up with them, but also keep eye out for Derrick Walton and Glenn Robinson III on the perimeter.While Randle could dominate on the offensive end, his defensive skills will be tested against four guards who can dribble their way into the paint easily. Will he be able to stay out of foul trouble as Stauskas and LeVert drive the lane off the screens? Even if he gets into foul trouble in the first half and has to ride the pine for 5-6 minutes, it will give the Michigan guards an opportunity to stay ahead. Remember, against the Shockers, the Kentucky backcourt had no answer for Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker off the screens. That could happen again on this afternoon.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.30.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 30th, 2014

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

South Region

West Region

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 74, #4 Louisville 69

Posted by Walker Carey on March 29th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent. He filed this report after #8 Kentucky’s 74-69 win over #4 Louisville. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

Three Key Takeaways.

Julius Randle has been as advertised this season (sportsillustrated.cnn.com).

Julius Randle has been as advertised this season (sportsillustrated.cnn.com).

  1. The atmosphere was unbelievable and the game lived up to the hype. The build up for the Sweet 16 edition of the Battle for the Bluegrass rightfully garnered a ton of national attention leading up to the tip. And boy, was it worth it. Lucas Oil Stadium was overtaken by Louisville and Kentucky fans. Red and blue were all over the place and both factions were loud and involved throughout the night. The game, itself, was a nail-biter to the very end. Both sides were living and dying with every possession and that made for an amazing atmosphere. When Kentucky emerged victorious, the Kentucky section acted as if a weight had been lifted from its shoulders. On the other hand, the Louisville fans were heartbroken over the close lose to their bitter rivals.
  2. Free throw shooting and rebounding did Louisville in. In a close game like Friday night, you can often pinpoint factors that played a big role in deciding the game. Those two factors in Louisville’s loss were its poor free throw shooting and inability to keep Kentucky off the offensive glass. The Cardinals were just 13-of-23 (including 6-of-15 in the first half) from the free throw line. Included in that statistic was that senior standout guard Russ Smith went just 4-of-10 from the charity stripe. Louisville also struggled keeping Kentucky’s bigs off the rebounding glass. The Wildcats out-rebounded the Cardinals 37-29 and gathered 15 offensive rebounds that led to 18 second chance points. A huge Kentucky offensive rebound came at the 2:11 mark when sophomore forward Alex Poythress grabbed a putback and converted a three-point play to turn a 66-63 deficit into a 66-66 tie – and that helped set the stage for the Wildcats to ultimately grab the lead and get the victory.

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Battle of the Bluegrass: Previewing Kentucky vs. Louisville

Posted by C.D. Bradley & Brian Joyce on March 28th, 2014

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The most intense rivalry in college basketball renews Friday night in Indianapolis when Louisville and Kentucky square off in the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years. C.D. Bradley, who writes about the American for RTC, and Brian Joyce, who covers the SEC, preview the showdown and what it means to the basketball-mad bluegrass state.

C.D. Bradley: A lot of people will tell you that Duke and North Carolina is the top rivalry in college basketball, but it’s impossible to convey the ever-present antipathy between red and blue. A big part of it is the usual once-a-year nature of the rivalry, but this will be the sixth time Louisville and Kentucky have met in the NCAA Tournament. For Louisville, which had snatched the advantage over the past year, winning a national title and ending this season in the top five of the national rankings while the Wildcats struggled, the possibility of having their potential repeat title run ended by their neighbors to the east is a doubly unpleasant notion. What does this game mean for UK fans?

Rick Pitino clashes with in-state rival Kentucky and its coach, John Calipari yet again (AP).

Rick Pitino clashes with in-state rival Kentucky and its coach, John Calipari yet again (AP).

Brian Joyce: One might assume that Kentucky fans would be relieved to make a Sweet Sixteen appearance after losing to South Carolina and Arkansas a month ago, but a person with that theory must not know Kentucky fans very well. A win over Wichita State has the Big Blue Nation in a frenzy over the potential of their Wildcats if things come together like they did on Sunday afternoon in Saint Louis. It may even be possible that Kentucky fans are slightly overlooking Louisville. Julius Randle played all of four minutes in the second half of the Wildcats’ victory in December after dominating with 17 points during the first 20 minutes. The Cards struggled with Randle and Kentucky’s length, and while Louisville is a much different team at this point in the season the challenge of stopping the Cats’ imposing front line remains. Since John Calipari arrived in Lexington he has beaten his rival in five of the last six meetings, and Kentucky fans expect that trend to continue.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Friday Night

Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) & Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 28th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent, and Brian Otskey (@botskey) is the NCAA Tournament’s East Region correspondent. Make sure to also follow @RTCMidwestRegion and @RTCEastRegion for news and analysis from Indianapolis and New York City throughout the weekend.

#2 Michigan vs. #11 Tennessee – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Indianapolis, IN) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Tennessee was not supposed to be in this position. It barely found its way into the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the Volunteers had to travel to Dayton last Wednesday to take on Iowa to even advance to the round of 64. Tennessee got by the Hawkeyes in overtime and that was only the beginning of its winning ways. In Raleigh, Cuonzo Martin’s squad was able to throttle Massachusetts and take advantage of Duke’s stunning loss to Mercer by dismantling Bob Hoffman’s Bears in the round of 32 to advance to the Sweet 16. Leading the way thus far for Tennessee has been the spectacular play of forward Jarnell Stokes. The junior has been nothing short of dominant in the team’s recent run, as he is averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds in his last three games. The Volunteers have also received a lift from guard Josh Richardson. The junior, who averaged 10.1 points per game in the regular season, has stepped up his play in the tournament, as he is averaging 19.3 points per contest. As a team, the Volunteers’ performance on the rebounding glass has aided tremendously in taking them to the Sweet 16. Tennessee has been an excellent rebounding team all season and its rebounding prowess was never more on display than in Sunday’s victory over Mercer. The Volunteers had a sensational 41-19 rebounding advantage over the Bears in the winning effort.

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Michigan will take the court in Indianapolis after a relatively easy first weekend in Milwaukee. The Wolverines cruised to a 17-point victory in the round of 64 over an undermanned Wofford squad before wearing down Texas in a 14-point victory. John Beilein’s team has been an outstanding perimeter shooting offense and that has carried over into the postseason. The Wolverines hit a combined 21 three-pointers in the two victories. Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas hit seven of those 21 triples an was the team’s leading scorer in each victory. Michigan’s frontcourt has been seen as a concern since sophomore big man Mitch McGary was lost to a back injury in late December, but forward Jordan Morgan showed he is a capable post presence with his performances in Milwaukee. The senior averaged 12.5 points and 10 rebounds against Wofford and Texas, while living up to his reputation as a solid interior defender. In Friday’s game, it should be expected that both teams will play to their strengths. Tennessee will try to use its size advantage to the dominate the interior and Michigan will attempt to get its perimeter shooting going early and often. Texas had a great advantage over Michigan in size too, but the Wolverines were able to wear the Longhorn bigs down through a terrific transition effort and solid offensive spacing. It would be wise to expect Michigan to do the same Friday. Tennessee will keep close throughout much of the game, but the shot-making ability of Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III will ultimately be too much for the Volunteers to overcome. Two-seed Michigan will win the game to advance to its second straight Elite Eight.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 26th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent, which begins Friday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis with Tennessee vs. Michigan followed by Louisville vs. Kentucky. The South Regional Reset and the West Regional Reset published yesterday, and the East Regional Reset will release later today. Make sure to also follow @RTCMWRegion for news and analysis from Indy throughout the week.

New Favorite: #4 Louisville. The new favorite is the old favorite, but after the first four days of Tournament action, determining a favorite was not an easy task. Louisville was pushed to the brink by #13 seed Manhattan in its first game before needing a late flurry Saturday to race by #5 Saint Louis. The Cardinals still appear to be the best team in this region, but they are going to need to be sharper in Indianapolis than they were in Orlando if they want to advance to their third consecutive Final Four. To be sharper, Rick Pitino’s squad is going to need guard Russ Smith to elevate his play. The senior has struggled thus far, shooting just 6-of-19 from the field and committing 13 turnovers over the first two games.

The intensity in Indy Friday evening should be at an all-time high.

The intensity in Indy Friday evening should be at an all-time high.

Horse of Darkness: #11 Tennessee. For the third time in the four years of the First Four, a team has won three games to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Tennessee will arrive in Indianapolis after a win over Iowa in Dayton and wins over #6 Massachusetts and #14 Mercer in Raleigh. The Volunteers showed during those three wins that they are a very tenacious defensive team and possess a bruising tandem in the post with forwards Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes. The most amazing part of Tennessee’s run to the second weekend might be that Volunteers head coach Cuonzo Martin had been viewed as someone on the hot seat late in the regular season. There was even a faction of the Volunteers fan base that banded together to try to get the school to fire Martin and hire former coach Bruce Pearl. You have to wonder what those fans are thinking now, as the team is headed to the Sweet Sixteen, now with Martin at the controls.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 78, #1 Wichita State 76

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 23rd, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Cleanthony Early was outstanding for the Shockers. (AP)

Cleanthony Early scored 31 points in a losing effort. (AP)

  1. It was the best game of the year. Kentucky and Wichita State played an absolute classic. Not only was it the best NCAA Tournament game this season, it will likely stay that way. And it easily topped any regular season game simply because all that was on the line. The Wildcats and Shockers threw punch after punch, made run and after run, until Fred Van Vleet’s three clanked off the rim at the buzzer. It’s unfortunate that one of these teams had to lose. This game was fitting of a national championship game rather than a round of 32 game, and it may have been the best round of 32 game in the history of the Big Dance.
  2. Wichita State belongs among the nation’s elite. The Shockers were counted out all year long. It seemed like half the nation thought they weren’t good enough. Well, the detractors need to close their mouths. I don’t care that they were the first #1 seed to lose. They played a magnificent basketball game they certainly could have won, and it’s a real shame the Shockers will be going home early. A brilliant season that started with 35 straight wins ended in disappointment. But that shouldn’t take anything away from what the Shockers accomplished this year. Wichita State can play with anybody.
  3. Kentucky played like 40-0 Kentucky. Remember before the season began when there was all that conversation about preseason #1 Kentucky going 40-0? Well, the Wildcats finally played like the team they were expected to be on Sunday afternoon. They were focused, they competed unbelievably hard for 40 minutes, they defended, and they hit shots. The heralded freshman class lived up to its preseason billing. They were absolutely terrific in scoring 68 of Kentucky’s points. From Julius Randle to the Harrison twins to James Young, they were magnificent — if, and it’s big if, but if Kentucky can continue to play at this level, there’s no reason the Wildcats can’t cut down the nets in Arlington, Texas, as national champions two weeks from now.

Star of the Game: Cleanthony Early, Wichita State. Yes, even in a losing effort. The senior forward poured in a game-high 31 points on 12-of-17 shooting. He went 4-of-6 from beyond the arc and 3-of-3 from the free-throw line. Early pulled down seven rebounds, didn’t commit a turnover, and recorded a steal and a block. Early hit big shot after big shot in the second half, and threw down a monster posterizing dunk in the opening half. The only thing he did wrong was a missed layup with three minutes remaining in the tight contest that would have given Wichita State a three-point lead.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 56, #9 Kansas State 49

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 21st, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Julius Randle has been as advertised this season (sportsillustrated.cnn.com).

Julius Randle led Kentucky past Kansas State. (sportsillustrated.cnn.com).

  1. Kansas State had no answer for Kentucky’s size. Starting big men Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson stand at 6’9″ and 7’0″, respectively. Then Willie Cauley-Stein comes in off the bench at 7’0 as well. That doesn’t include three guards who are 6’6″ each in James Young and Aaron and Andrew Harrison. UK’s quintet of talented freshmen didn’t have its best game, but their prodigious size was enough to get by. Kentucky dominated Kansas State on the glass, owning a 40-28 edge in rebounds. Not many teams in the country — if any — can compete with Kentucky’s size across the starting lineup.
  2. Limiting the backcourt. Kansas State’s strength lies with its guards, and Kentucky did its best to take them away. As a result, stud freshman Marcus Foster had a rough night shooting. He entered the game averaging 15.6 PPG on the season, but his 15 points tonight came on a rather inefficient 7-of-18 shooting. Shane Southwell added 11 points as well, but he also produced inefficiently on 3-of-10 shooting. Will Spradling picked up a garbage-time three while going 1-for-8. Without the interior heft to score on a regular basis in the post, Kansas State’s guards were forced to shoulder the load. They just couldn’t get that job done Friday night.
  3. Block party. Willie Cauley-Stein is one of the best shotblockers in the country, ranking 13th in the nation by blocking 12.2 percent of opponents’ shots. Tonight he spearheaded a team effort in protecting the rim, swatting four shots in the contest. The Wildcats blocked seven shots as a team, including six swats in the opening half. Even when Cauley-Stein wasn’t blocking shots, he was altering them or deterring Kansas State from driving the lane altogether. K-State didn’t have much success going to the rim all night long.

Star of the Game: Julius Randle, Kentucky. Randle didn’t come out and dominate from the beginning. In fact, it took him about seven minutes to record his first points of the game, but he sure got going after that. Randle finished with 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting to go along with 15 rebounds and a block in 35 minutes of playing time. Aaron Harrison’s performance can’t be overlooked either, as the freshman guard went for 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting.

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Rebounding Key to Kentucky’s Success Against Kansas State

Posted by David Changas on March 19th, 2014

In one of the most intriguing match-ups of the NCAA Tournament’s Second Round, Kentucky takes on Kansas State in St. Louis tonight. On the surface, as with most #8/#9 battles, this game appears to be a toss-up. And though most oddsmakers have installed Kentucky as a six-point favorite, a fairly sizeable spread for two teams that appear to be equally matched, there is little reason to think this one won’t go down to the wire. Kansas State is battle-tested, having dealt with the rigors of the Big 12 round-robin that allowed for very few breathers. Kentucky, on the other hand, played very few conference games against quality opponents. In fact, the only NCAA Tournament team it has beaten since the calendar flipped to 2014 was Tennessee.

John Calipari and Bruce Weber both have a lot to prove this tourney.

John Calipari and Bruce Weber both have a lot to prove this tourney.

There is no question that Kentucky comes into this NCAA Tournament this season with a lot to prove. For a team that was the consensus preseason No. 1 in the polls, an #8/#9 NCAA Tournament opener is nothing short of disappointing. However, a win over Kansas State almost certainly will give coach John Calipari’s team a shot at top-seed Wichita State, and offer it a chance to wipe away much of that disappointment. Calipari has spent much of the past few days criticizing the Selection Committee for giving his Wildcats a #8 seed despite having played one of the nation’s toughest non-conference schedules. At this point, though, all that should matter to him is what his team needs to do to defeat its Big 12 opponent.

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Rushed Reactions: Kentucky 70, Georgia 58

Posted by CD Bradley on March 15th, 2014

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C.D. Bradley will be reporting from the SEC Tournament semifinals and finals.

The Wildcats Were All Smiles Heading to Sunday's Showdown (Vicky Graff)

The Wildcats Were All Smiles Heading to Sunday’s Showdown (Vicky Graff)

Three key takeaways.

  1. Kentucky’s spurtability key to their success. Georgia hung around and hung around, cutting the UK lead to three at 46-43 with 13 minutes to go in the game. The Wildcats, whose offense had sputtered for much of the game, then showed a bit of that talent we’ve heard so much about all season. First Dakari Johnson hit a shot and drew a foul after getting an offensive rebound. He missed the free throw, but Willie Cauley-Stein corraled the rebound and found Aaron Harrison for a three. UK then got a stop, and Harrison launched another three. He missed it, and Georgia looked to have the rebound, but James Young swooped in for the tip-in. Seven points in 51 seconds, all off of offensive rebounds, pushed the lead to 10, and the Wildcats never looked back.
  2. Georgia was crushed on the boards. The Bulldogs reached 12 SEC wins mostly with smoke and mirrors, but the one thing they did decently was grab offensive rebounds. And while Kentucky is the best offensive rebounding team in America, they rank a middling #119 in defensive rebounding percentage. None of that mattered Saturday, when the Wildcats dominated the defensive glass, outrebounding Georgia at that end 25-3, with two of those Georgia offensive rebounds coming too late to matter much.
  3. The Twins might finally have arrived. Aaron and Andrew Harrison came to UK with enormous expectations, but both have struggled this year along with their team. So Wildcat fans have to be thrilled with the duo’s play in Atlanta, particularly Saturday when Aaron led all scorers with 22 and Andrew had 12 points, nine assists and five rebounds. If Kentucky is to challenge Florida on Sunday and advance very far in the NCAA Tournament, they will need more of such play from their backcourt.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XV, Player and Coach of the Year Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 6th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

As the college basketball regular season wraps up, I thought this would be a good time to run down my Coaches of the Year and Players of the Year in each of the major conferences. Here goes…

ACC

  • POY: T.J. Warren, NC State (24.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG). Warren has been a tremendous bright spot on an otherwise mediocre Wolfpack squad. Since a rough four-point game against Virginia on January 11, Warren has scored at least 20 points in every game he has played (he missed one game due to injury). At 6’8” and an athletic 215 pounds, Warren is a match-up problem for nearly every opponent. He has had eight 30+ point games (only one fewer than Doug McDermott), including Monday’s 41-point explosion in a road win at Pittsburgh. Some may disagree because NC State is not at the top of the ACC, but a season like this where Warren brought it night after night deserves special recognition.
Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

  • COY: Tony Bennett, Virginia (25-5, 16-1 ACC). Bennett’s teams have always been terrific defensively and this one is no exception. Ranked third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, Virginia has allowed only four ACC opponents to score 60 or more points this season. Even in a league with a tempo as slow as this year’s ACC, that is a remarkable statistic. Virginia was a trendy surprise pick but I am not sure anyone thought it would turn out to be this good. The Cavaliers were picked fourth in the preseason ACC poll but currently hold a three-game lead over Syracuse and North Carolina with just one game to play.

American

  • POY: Russ Smith, Louisville (18.0 PPG, 4.5 APG, 2.0 SPG). This was a really close call between Smith and Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick but I am giving Smith the slightest of edges. Both mean so much to their respective teams but Smith’s decision to return to Louisville for his senior year has proven to be a wise one. Smith is enjoying the best shooting season of his career (46.8 percent) and has matured greatly. He is playing smarter and has led this Louisville team to a 25-5 overall record. The Cardinals again have the look of a Final Four contender and Smith is the primary reason why.

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