SEC Way-Too-Early 2015-16 Power Rankings

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 23rd, 2015

The SEC coaching carousel’s dust appears to have settled with Avery Johnson, Rick Barnes and Ben Howland having moved into their new offices at Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi State, respectively. Kentucky’s John Calipari is making the recruiting rounds with a new pitch after seven more of his players declared for this summer’s NBA Draft. Anthony Grant is getting re-acclimated to the assistant’s chair next to Billy Donovan at Florida that has worked out so well for both of them in the past. There’s still more to be determined about how the SEC will look heading into next season, but here are some way too early predictions on the season to come.

Tyler Ulis should contend for SEC Player of the Year honors next season (AP Photo)

Tyler Ulis should contend for SEC Player of the Year honors next season. (AP Photo)

Coach of the Year

  • John Calipari, Kentucky

Player of the Year

  • Tyler Ulis, Kentucky

Freshman/Newcomer of the Year

  • Ben Simmons, LSU

All-SEC First Team

  • Tyler Ulis, PG, Kentucky
  • Stefan Moody, SG, Ole Miss
  • Danuel House, SF, Texas A&M
  • Ben Simmons, SF, LSU
  • Skal Labissiere, C, Kentucky

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The Story of the 2014-15 College Basketball Season: Unwatchability

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 13th, 2015

Every college basketball season supplies its share of moments to remember, and in that regard, 2014-15 was no different. We’ll always have the epic regional final between Notre Dame and Kentucky. Coach K’s 1,000th victory at the Garden won’t soon be forgotten, and Peter Hooley’s bid-delivering buzzer-beater for Albany perfectly encapsulated the madness of Championship Week… even before we learned about his emotional story. There was, without a doubt, plenty to cheer about… but those tremendous moments do not mean everything was hunky-dory in college basketball this season. As the game neared its March climax, critics of college basketball’s decreased scoring and slogging tempos found their numbers growing and voices amplified. Despite record-breaking ratings for the Final Four and March Madness, the “watchability” of college hoops was called into question unlike ever before.

Virginia Was One Of Many Slow-Tempo Teams To Thrive In 2014-15 (AP)

Virginia Was One of Many Slow-Tempo Teams to Thrive in 2014-15. (AP)

“You’ve got three kids passing on the perimeter. With 10 seconds on the shot clock, they try to make something happen and two other kids stand around. They don’t look for anything and then run back on defense, so there’s no transition game because two out of five or three out of five or in some cases four out of five kids aren’t involved in the play. It’s uglier than ugly, and it’s evidenced by the scoring going down.”

— Mark Cuban, Owner – Dallas Mavericks, April 8

The Mavericks’ outspoken owner was just one of the most prominent – and recent – voices to lament the current state of the college game, but he was far from alone – and with fair reason: Putting points on the scoreboard proved to be a universally excruciating task. Teams averaged a smidgen over 67 points per contest this season – the lowest team scoring average in over 60 years. The nation’s leader scorer – Eastern Washington’s Tyler Harvey – averaged 23.1 points per game; no national scoring leader had averaged fewer than 25.0 points per game since 1949. The six most efficient offensive teams in college basketball averaged 63.7 possessions per game; if those six merged into one unit, it would be the 233rd-fastest playing group in the land. Recent rule changes intended to enhance offensive freedom, quicken tempos and improve overall efficiency have quite clearly flopped. Points are at an all-time premium, with tempos nearing historic lethargy.

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The 2014-15 College Basketball Season: The Story of 38-1

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 8th, 2015

The legacy of the this season’s Duke Blue Devils has been affirmed and the record books will forever remember Coach K’s band of youngsters as the 2015 National Champions. His was a talented group that was very good in November and great by April, completing a transformation that left them fully deserving of the esteemed opinions that will forever accompany them. One could even make a case that this team was as good or better than any National Champion in the last decade; the Blue Devils may not have been perfect, but they proved elite in a top-heavy year that included several great teams. The funny thing is, though, that when we think back on the this college basketball season in 20 years, NOBODY will begin the conversation with Duke. From November 14 until April 4, the only story in college basketball was Kentucky. Mike Krzyzewski’s club managed to steal the spotlight just in time for championship Monday, but even the Blue Devils’ historic season will be viewed through the prism of Kentucky’s unfulfilled chase of perfection. It says here that history will be kind to those Wildcats.

The Blue Devils Are Deserving National Champions, But Duke's Title Doesn't Mean Kentucky's Historic Season Will Be Soon Forgotten

The Blue Devils Are Deserving National Champions, But Duke’s Title Doesn’t Mean Kentucky’s Historic Season Will Be Soon Forgotten

Chatter about John Calipari’s platoon system dominated the early November college basketball news cycle in both Lexington and nationally. The early success of his team’s five-for-five substitutions included a 32-point pasting of Kansas and a dominant dissection of UCLA (remember when Kentucky held 28-2 and 43-7 leads against the Bruins en route to a 39-point win?) and did NOTHING to shift the spotlight off of Cal’s ‘Cats. It wasn’t as if compelling storylines weren’t emerging elsewhere — the Jahlil Okafor/Frank Kaminsky National Player of the Year race was well underway by the end of 2014; as was Virginia’s program-validating opening surge (12-0 in 2014 would eventually become 19-0 by late January), while Arizona, Villanova and Northern Iowa were all busy laying groundwork for their wildly successful seasons to come. Interesting things were happening all across the college basketball landscape, but we couldn’t take our eyes off of the doings in Lexington. This Wildcats’ season reeked of history from the get-go.

Kentucky’s season ended somewhere short of history on Saturday night, or at least the kind of history that the Wildcats had envisioned making. Just seven days after winning the most watched college basketball game in cable television history, Kentucky lost the most watched Final Four game in 19 years. The sudden and dramatic presence of a number other than zero in the loss column ended the coupled dreams of both perfect season and national title, but the magnitude of fans following the Kentucky experience made one thing very clear: These Wildcats had already made history. John Calipari certainly thought so: “This season is historic,” he said. “I just can’t believe anybody is going to do what these kids just did to get to this point unblemished with the schedule they played, then how they did it.”

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Circle of March: Vol. XXVI

Posted by rtmsf on April 6th, 2015

And then there were two. With Saturday’s eliminations of Kentucky and Michigan State, the Circle of March is down to its final permutation before we crown this season’s National Champion.

2015_CircleofMarch_V26

Eliminations (04.04.15)

  • Michigan State
  • Kentucky
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.05.15 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 5th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

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.

Duke

Coach K and Duke Will Compete For Their Fifth Title Monday Night (USA Today Images)

Coach K and Duke Will Compete For Their Fifth Title Monday Night (USA Today Images)

  • Duke has been criticized this season for not being as defensively sharp as some of the past Blue Devils teams. After last night’s dominant Final Four victory over Michigan State, however, the doubters are starting to come around. “A lot of people said we couldn’t play defense,” Duke guard Matt Jones said. “For the most part in the NCAA Tournament, we’ve been a very good defensive team. Now we just have to do it one more time on Monday.”
  • Taunting or not, there’s no doubt that Grayson Allen‘s monster dunk sent a message to Michigan State.
  • On Monday night, Duke will play for a National Championship in the same place where it won its last one: Indianapolis.
  • Jahlil Okafor‘s father believes that his son should have been named National Player of the Year over Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. Okafor will have the chance to prove it on Monday, as the Blue Devils will go up against Kaminsky’s team.
  • Justise Winslow is a name you might want to remember for the future… Take it from Charles Barkley. During the pregame show last night, Barkley referred to Winslow as “Winstons Justice.” Ouch.

Wisconsin

  • Sam Dekker wasn’t as dominant as he had been in the past two games, but he was just as clutch. Tied 60-60, Dekker hit a step-back three to give Wisconsin the lead, then drew a charge on Kentucky’s very next possession.
  • Perhaps Frank Kaminsky‘s 2011 Tweet of “I hate Kentucky” foreshadowed last night’s victory over the previously undefeated Wildcats.
  • Wisconsin did it. Against all odds, the Badgers gave Kentucky its first loss of the season in a matchup they’ve wanted since last March. “This is something we’ve been talking about since day one this season,” Sam Dekker said. “Look where we are now.”
  • Somehow, Trey Lyle’s slap on Josh Gasser wasn’t called a flagrant one foul, but it didn’t matter for Wisconsin.
  • Wisconsin lost to Duke earlier this season but the Badgers are far from scared. “They were a tough team,” [point guard Bronson] Koenig said. “They have a great backcourt and they’ve got Jahlil [Okafor]. So it’s going to be a tough game.”

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Final Four Previews: Kentucky/Wisconsin Will Win If…

Posted by Walker Carey & Andrew Murawa on April 4th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

The time has finally come for all the hand-wringing, all the expectations, all the anticipation, and all the office pools between Jim from accounting and Bonnie the receptionist to be decided. In what undoubtedly has evolved into one of the more intriguing Final Fours in recent memory, the story lines bleeding out of Indianapolis this week has been plentiful. Will Coach Cal and the ‘Cats finish off The Perfect Season? Will Wisconsin play spoiler? Will the traditional power in blue once again reign supreme? Will the boys from East Lansing show that a team can win a ‘ship without a boatload of McDonald All-Americans? We’ll all find out soon. In the meantime…

Kentucky Will Win If…

  • It controls the game defensively, does not allow Frank Kaminsky to get comfortable in the post, and is very opportunistic offensively. The Wildcats did not turn in a vintage defensive performance in their hard-fought 68-66 triumph over Notre Dame in the Elite Eight. The Irish shot a respectable 46.4% from the field, collected 13 offensive rebounds, and had a 16-to-7 turnover ratio. Those numbers were quite different than the ones the opposition has routinely put up against Kentucky this season. Even more troubling for the Wildcats, mercurial Irish forward Zach Auguste had a standout game against the vaunted Kentucky frontline, finishing with 20 points (1o-of-13 FG) and nine rebounds.

    Willie Cauley-Stein's defense will be critical in Saturday's matchup. (AP)

    Willie Cauley-Stein’s defense will be critical in Saturday’s matchup. (AP)

  • Kentucky has to rededicate itself on the defensive end if it wants to best Wisconsin and advance to the title game. Much like Notre Dame, the Badgers have one of the best offenses in the country and they will definitely take advantage of defensive breakdowns. That vaunted frontline is going to need to be at its very best because Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky has the ability to completely take over a game in the post. Against a very large Arizona team in the Elite Eight, Kaminsky was able to get comfortable in the post all night, finishing with a game-high 29 points. Read the rest of this entry »
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Final Four Fact Sheet: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 3rd, 2015

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After a week of hype surrounding the most highly-anticipated Final Four in years, let’s do a reset on each of the four teams still standing. Today’s victims: Duke (published this morning) and Kentucky. Wisconsin and Michigan State were published yesterday.

How Kentucky Got Here

Kentucky Stayed Perfect To Reach Indianapolis (Getty Images)

Kentucky Survived Notre Dame To Stay Perfect. Next Stop: Indianapolis. (Getty Images)

Midwest Region Champions. Kentucky opened the NCAA Tournament with a closer-than-expected 23-point victory over #16 seed Hampton, then followed it up with a third-round defeat of plucky #8 seed Cincinnati. The Wildcats had to prove at least one prognosticator wrong to reach the Elite Eight, but did so convincingly against #5 seed West Virginia, improving to 37-0 in a 39-point demolition. Their last hurdle before the Final Four proved to be the toughest. #3 seed Notre Dame did everything it could to end Kentucky’s perfect season, but in an all-time classic quarterfinal matchup, the Wildcats did just enough to squeak by the Irish and into another Final Four.

The Coach

John Calipari. There’s little more to say about Calipari at this point. He’s led a 38-0 team into the Final Four (his fourth appearance in five years), has won multiple National Coach of the Year honors (including our own), and is undeniably atop the profession as his team enters a Final Four that includes three other coaches with a combined 1,866 wins. Coach Cal is dominating college basketball.

Style

Let’s face it: No matter what happens in Indianapolis this weekend, the Wildcats have already put together an historic season. And when you think back on this Kentucky team, the first thing that you will remember will be its defense. The Wildcats rank first in adjusted defensive efficiency (and before Saturday, they were the most efficient defense of the 13-year KenPom era), first in three-point percentage defense, second in two-point percentage defense and second in block percentage. With shot-blockers Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns (among others) protecting the rim, Calipari’s guards have been able to extend their man-to-man defense well beyond the three-point line. You could say that the defensive scheme has worked out pretty well. The Kentucky efficiency bonanza has not been limited to the defensive end, however, as the Wildcats also rank fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. Their aggressive attacking of the offensive glass and frequent trips to the free throw line have paid dividends all season long, while the developing post games of Towns and Cauley-Stein have led to a greater focus on interior touches as the season has progressed. Notre Dame can attest that Towns has developed into a go-to player for the ‘Cats.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Wisconsin Badgers

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 2nd, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Midway through a week before the most highly-anticipated Final Four in years, let’s do a reset on each of the four teams still standing. Today’s victims: Michigan State (published this morning) and Wisconsin.

How Wisconsin Got Here

West Region Champions. The West Region’s top unit began its NCAA Tournament run by downing #16 seed Coastal Carolina, then fighting off pesky #8 seed Oregon in the round of 32. Wisconsin headed out to Los Angeles the following weekend, where it overcame a seven-point deficit to beat #4 seed North Carolina before pouring in 1.33 points per possession against #2 seed Arizona to reach its second straight Final Four.

Wisconsin is the most efficient offensive team in a long time. (Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

Wisconsin is the most efficient offensive team in a long time. (Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

The Coach

Bo Ryan. Wisconsin has made the NCAA Tournament in each of Ryan’s 14 seasons in Madison and never once finished worse than fourth place in the Big Ten standings. He’s been an enormously successful head coach from the get-go, and yet until recently the prevailing narrative was that his ‘system’ – tailoring recruiting to fit his swing offense instead of the other way around – precluded any deep March runs. So much for that. The 67-year-old has now led the Badgers to back-to-back Final Fours, developed unheralded recruit Frank Kaminsky into a legitimate NBA prospect, enabled blue-chipper Sam Dekker to fully realize his talent, and put the Badgers in position to compete for its first National Championship since 1941.

Style

Ryan’s swing offense is predicated on floor spacing, good perimeter ball movement, off-ball screening and cutting. It’s incredibly slow – the second-slowest in college basketball (21.7 seconds per possession) – and also incredibly effective. Wisconsin leads the country in adjusted offensive efficiency. The Badgers take 37.5 percent of their shots from behind the arc, the highest rate among Final Four teams, while earning trips to the free throw line at the second-lowest rate ahead of only Michigan State. On the other end, Wisconsin focuses on playing tough, half-court man-to-man defense without fouling. Read the rest of this entry »

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2014-15 RTC Awards: NPOY, FrOY & COY

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 2nd, 2015

Perhaps it is no coincidence that all three of our individual award recipients this year will play in the upcoming Final Four. It is a remarkable achievement to be the best of your peers at what you do, but we are sure that the following three men would give all the credit to their incredible teams before offering a word about themselves. Here are the 2014-15 RTC individual award winners, chosen by a panel of Rush the Court‘s national columnists and contributors.

Player of the Year: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

frank

There is something to be said for how Frank Kaminsky arrived to the position he is in today. Now a senior and the leading scorer on a Wisconsin team that has lost just three games this season, Kaminsky shunned the fame and fortune of the NBA last spring in order to return to Madison to help lead the Badgers to a National Championship in his final year of eligibility. “Frank the Tank” is unique in the college game today. Standing at a cool seven feet tall, Kaminsky is the definition of a matchup nightmare. The Lisle, Illinois, native is not afraid to get physical in the post but could easily drop a three-pointer on you the next time down the floor. His versatility is off the charts and it shows up in his numbers: 18.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 54.9 percent field goal percentage, and a 41.5 percent mark from three-point range. In his final season under Bo Ryan, the senior increased his production across the board and does not get the credit he deserves for his outstanding defense — averaging 1.5 blocked shots per game and altering many more. Fitting a NPOY winner, he has saved his best production for March, recording a season-high 31 points against Michigan State on March 1, 27 points against Coastal Carolina in the round of 64, and 29 points against Arizona in the West regional final. There were many terrific players in college basketball this year but Kaminsky was a cut above the rest and a very deserving winner of this season’s RTC Player of the Year honor.

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Freeze Frame: Neutralizing Kentucky’s Big Men

Posted by Brian Joyce on April 2nd, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Thirty-eight teams have taken their best shots at Kentucky this season but none have come away with a victory. Last Saturday night, Notre Dame became “another test” for coach John Calipari’s team en route to its fourth Final Four in the last five years. Much has been made over nothing regarding Calipari’s postgame comments following the 68-66 win (the guy just moved to 38-0 on his way to another Final Four; what do you expect him to say when asked questions about the Irish?), but while the Cats have had a few games that were as closely contested, none were more meaningful.

The most efficient offenses this season against Kentucky.

The most efficient offenses this season against Kentucky.

Notre Dame’s defense last Saturday night was nothing particularly special. The Irish played with great toughness on that end of the floor, but so did every SEC team the Wildcats faced during the regular season. Notre Dame’s offense, however, was a completely different story. The Wildcats’ defense had only allowed five teams to score above a point per possession against it all season long, and Mike Brey’s team moved directly to the top of the list with its 1.16 PPP performance. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we analyze the three ways in which the Irish were able to neutralize Kentucky’s big men and do something that few other teams have been able to consistently do: score.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.01.15 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 1st, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

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.

Michigan State

Tom Izzo Is Loving This Team (USA Today Images)

Tom Izzo Is Loving This Team (USA Today Images)

  • Of all people, Duke’s Coach K is perhaps least surprised to be facing Michigan State coach Tom Izzo in the Final Four. “Nothing surprises me that he and his program would do,” Krzyzewski said. “They don’t have a team; they have a program. As he develops each team, I don’t know what the time frame of it is until that group understands what the program is about, whether it be offense, defense or just character-wise, but they’re going to keep improving because it’s a program. It’s a program of excellence.”
  • For Michigan State, the emergence of freshman LouRawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn Jr. has been paramount to the Spartans’ turnaround this season. He hasn’t scored much so far in the NCAA Tournament, but that’s not what makes him so valuable. “He does so much for our team that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet,” said senior guard Travis Trice. “He helps break the press, he gets other guys involved. Tum’s also that energy guy. There are times [before or after practice] where guys are kind of tired and Tum’s there with all the energy and boosts everybody up. Tum does a lot of things for us that people really don’t see.”
  • Michigan State may not have as much individual talent as it usually does, but this bunch has played very well as a team. “This is some of the things that has separated this year’s team: from top to bottom there is a – I don’t know if you can use the word, but there is a true love for one another,” Izzo said, “and that is a powerful, powerful thing, so I’m appreciative of those upperclassmen.”
  • Check out Tom Izzo‘s postgame speech to his team after the Spartans punched their ticket on Sunday to the Final Four.
  • With a BCS Bowl victory and another Final Four appearance, it’s a good time to be a Michigan State fan.

Duke

  • No matter the year, the moment, or the personnel on his team, Coach K is consistently great. “There’s not just one way,” [assistant coach Nate] James said. “Some coaches are stuck in their ways, like ‘I want to do it this way, the way I’ve always done it.’ No. If you do it that way, it may hurt this group. He adjusts.”
  • Even though Duke is a mainstay at the top of college basketball, Krzyzewski insists that this team has worked its way to a “magical season,” just like everyone else. “It’s not a birthright; it’s earned each year,” he said.
  • From losing Rasheed Sulaimon to hitting some midseason lulls back in January, this Duke team has learned to be resilient.
  • Is Coach K the greatest college basketball head coach of all time? Chris Chase seems to think so.
  • Duke may be in the Final Four, but Jahlil Okafor hasn’t exactly dominated in March. Is the freshman standout somewhat overrated?

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.31.15 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 31st, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

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.

Kentucky

38-0 and Still Standing. (USA Today Images)

38-0 and Still Standing. (USA Today Images)

  • Duke handled Michigan State in November’s Champions Classic, but a “true” champions classic would see the Blue Devils face undefeated Kentucky for the National Championship game on Monday night. Luckily for college basketball fans, that potential matchup is just one spectacular round away.
  • Big Blue Nation is notorious for traveling to games, but John Calipari isn’t so sure that the Wildcats will have a boost from the crowd in Indianapolis. “My hope is our [fans] have figured out how to get the tickets more than the other people, but you just don’t know,” he said.
  • Despite having a historic level of amateur talent, Kentucky has benefited from keeping that talent grounded off the court. Sports psychologist Bob Rotella visits Lexington every so often to keep the Wildcats loose and motivated. “The challenge, ultimately, is to get really talented people to go after it that intensely, with that much energy,” he said.
  • Kentucky walk-ons Sam Malone and Brian Long may not be heading to the NBA, but after this season, they’ll have played with possibly 21 future and current NBA players.
  • When it comes to getting his players to the professional ranks, John Calipari goes above and beyond the call of duty. Not only does he showcase each of his 10 (nine after junior Alex Poythress’ midseason injury) rotation players, but he even set up a pseudo Pro Day for his players before the season.

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