Rushed Reactions: #5 Kentucky 95, #13 Buffalo 75

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Three Key Takeaways.

Hamidou Diallo Flexes After a Huge Second Half Dunk (USA Today Images)

  1. John Calipari Doesn’t Lose to Mid-Majors. After tonight’s victory, John Calipari’s record against mid-majors at Kentucky is an incredible 83-1 — with the one loss coming as an NIT road game against Robert Morris in 2013. Now, let’s get the obvious out of the way in saying that most of those mid-majors were simply outclassed by Kentucky’s typical overwhelming talent. It’s also true that a sizable portion of those mid-majors were forced to play Kentucky in Rupp Arena, and good luck for any team (mid- or high-major) to come out of there with a win. But ask Virginia about playing mid-majors in the NCAA Tournament. Or Arizona. Or UCLA. Or Tennessee. Or Texas. It’s not easy to consistently beat those very hungry and admittedly talented teams in their own right — time after time after time again. Yet Calipari continues to win those games, and he should be commended for it. It comes down to having your players ready to perform, and as he showed yet again today, he’s proven a masterful coach in that regard.
  2. The Artistry of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Much has been written this season about the ascent of Gilgeous-Alexander from expected role player to perhaps Kentucky’s most important piece. But today was perhaps his best game of the season, peppering a highly efficient shooting performance (10-of-12 FG) along with a masterful floor game. It certainly seems that the Wildcats are going as far as the precocious freshman can take them — in his last nine games, his only mildly inefficient performance came in Kentucky’s only loss — at Florida to end the regular season. Given that he’s a point guard in a wing’s body at this level, the mismatches that he creates are absolute hell for teams to defend against. It will be interesting to see what a physical defensive group like Cincinnati or Texas Tech might be able to do with him.
  3. Buffalo Has Nothing to Be Ashamed Of. With eight minutes remaining in today’s game, Buffalo was within five points. They had worked the Kentucky margin down from a peak of double-figures and the partisan fan base they had picked up in Boise was rocking. For approximately 72 minutes of action in the Taco Bell Arena, the Bulls had proven themselves worthy against two of college basketball’s elite. From that point on, they just wore out. Kentucky started getting to the rim seemingly at will, and everyone knew it was over. Head coach Nate Oats exuded pride in his team’s performance this March after the game, and he certainly has a foundation on which to build going forward.

Player of the Game. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky. The star freshman came up big for his Wildcats today, scoring 27 points and logging six rebounds and six assists in 39 minutes of action. He is the straw that stirs the Wildcats’ drink, and he proved it again today.

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SEC Tournament Storylines

Posted by David Changas on March 8th, 2018

With the play-in round now complete, the SEC Tournament will begins in earnest this afternoon in St. Louis. The story that is dominating the headlines for the event is the return of Missouri freshman star Michael Porter, Jr., who is expected to play against Georgia today. Let’s take a look at a few of the other lingering storylines and make a couple of predictions for this weekend.

Mike White and Florida have gotten hot at the right time and may be the team to beat in St. Louis (Madison.com)

  • Team with the Most to Gain: Alabama. The SEC bubble appears to be generally settled, with one notable exception. Alabama has slumped down the stretch, losing its final five games to go from a relatively safe bet to potentially on the outside looking in. If Avery Johnson’s team cannot get past Texas A&M later today in a rematch of a game the Crimson Tide lost by two over the weekend, they are likely headed to the NIT. On the other hand, a win against the Aggies would give the Tide another shot at a quality win against Auburn in Friday’s quarterfinals. If they turn out to be unable to emerge from this weekend’s tournament with an enhanced resume and end up completely missing the NCAA Tournament, this season will be nothing short of a monumental disappointment.
  • Player to Watch: Michael Porter, Jr. This is an easy call. No one realistically expected the preseason All-American to return after suffering an injury in Missouri’s very first game of the season, but now he is set to enhance a team looking to immediately improve its postseason position. Porter can help a team that has enjoyed a nice turnaround under first-year head coach Cuonzo Martin, finishing 10-8 in SEC play. The more action the young forward can get as Missouri prepares for the Big Dance, the better — returning from a nearly four-month layoff is never easy. The fact that he returns to the Tigers’ lineup with the SEC Tournament being played just down the road in St. Louis makes this story all the more intriguing.

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Ten Questions to Consider: A Weekend of Important Match-ups

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 9th, 2018

As the second weekend of February approaches, it also means the days until March are getting fewer. Here are 10 things I am looking at around college basketball this weekend.

Purdue Looks to Regroup After a Heartbreaking Loss to Ohio State (USA Today Images)

  1. Can Michigan State make it two losses in a row for Purdue? Michigan State and Purdue are the only two teams in America with offensive and defensive efficiency rankings among the top 20. While Sparty owns the best two-point defense in college basketball, they will be tested by Purdue’s elite three-point shooting (42.7%, first nationally). Michigan State has already allowed six Big Ten opponents to shoot 40 percent or better from distance this season.
  2. Can Creighton stay perfect at home against Xavier? Creighton is 13-0 at the CenturyLink Center this season with double-figure home wins against both Butler and Seton Hall. In the Bluejays’ loss to Xavier earlier this year, Creighton logged its season-high turnover percentage and suffered a season-low of just two points from Khyri Thomas.
  3. Will the three-point line be the difference again in North Carolina vs. N.C. State? In the recent overtime thriller between North Carolina and North Carolina State, the Tar Heels shot 4-of-19 on their three-point attempts while the Wolfpack nailed 15-of-30. The 33-point resulting difference was enough for the Wolfpack to overcome their inability to slow North Carolina from scorching shooting inside the arc (64% 2FG). Read the rest of this entry »
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Examining the SEC Bubble: Volume I

Posted by David Changas on February 8th, 2018

With just over a month remaining in college basketball’s regular season, the SEC is collectively better positioned for postseason play than it has been in a very long time. But as of today, only two teams – Auburn and Tennessee – should feel completely comfortable about making the upcoming Field of 68. On the other end of the spectrum, barring any unforeseeable late-season surges, we feel safe in saying that four SEC teams – Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, South Carolina, and LSU – will miss out on this year’s Big Dance. That leaves eight teams in the messy middle, so let’s take our first look at the otherwise crowded bubble and offer some predictions on the fortunes of those squads.

Kassius Robertson has been a huge part of Missouri’s turnaround. (Kansas City Star)

  • Kentucky. Despite the considerable angst in Lexington about these Wildcats — now 6-5 in SEC play with trips to Texas A&M and Auburn upcoming — they appear to be safe, for now. They have 10 top-100 RPI wins without any bad losses, and there will be several more opportunities for quality wins down the stretch. Chances of making the field: 90%.
  • Florida. The up-and-down Gators are a surprise on this list, and not in a good way. At 15-8 overall, they’ve now lost three in a row in SEC play and face a very difficult closing stretch. While they currently have seven top-50 RPI wins, four Tier-2 losses mean Mike White’s team needs to take advantage of its chances over the last two weeks. Chances of making the field: 85%.
  • Texas A&M. After what was the best performance of any SEC team in non-conference play, it is hard to understand how the Aggies have landed on this list. An 0-5 start in conference play will certainly do that, however, and even though they have won five of their last six SEC games and hold five Tier-1 wins, the Aggies have more work ahead. Chances of making the field: 80%.

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SEC Stock Watch: Volume II

Posted by David Changas on January 25th, 2018

As we approach the halfway mark of SEC play, it’s time for this season’s second installment of Stock Watch.

Trending Up

It’s been an unusual season for Bruce Pearl, who has Auburn in first place in the SEC (Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Auburn as Regular Season Champion. With Wednesday night’s win at Missouri, Auburn is now 6-1 in the SEC with three road wins and a favorable schedule ahead. The Tigers are without question the biggest surprise in a league with quite a few of them, and there is no reason to think that they’ll fall apart anytime soon.
  • An Eight-Bid League. For a conference that submitted only three of its 14 teams into the Big Dance just three years ago, the fact that so many of its members are still reasonably in the hunt for a bid in late January is remarkable. Right now, Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Alabama all appear to be safe bets to make the field, while Arkansas, Missouri, Georgia and South Carolina are in the running. Whether any of these 10 teams can do any damage once they get there remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that times around the SEC have changed.
  • Yante Maten. The Georgia senior has not disappointed in his final campaign. He leads the SEC in scoring (19.9 PPG), ranks second in rebounding (9.4 RPG), and is almost single-handedly keeping the Bulldogs in the NCAA Tournament conversation. If they can make a run to .500 or better in the second half of conference play, Maten might be looking at SEC Player of the Year honors.

Flat

  • Bruce Pearl. It might seem odd for Pearl to land here given the remarkable job he has done with a team that has surged to a great start without the services of two expected elite talents, Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley. But it is the reason that those two aren’t playing that puts the fourth-year Auburn coach in this category. As long as the specter of the FBI investigation hangs over the program, no one on the Plains will get too comfortable regardless of how well things are going on the floor.

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The 2017-18 RTC16: Week Ten

Posted by Walker Carey on January 22nd, 2018

At this point in the season, the Big 12 has clearly distinguished itself as the most complete and competitive conference in college basketball. This was on full display this week, as both #12 Oklahoma and #15 Texas Tech illustrated how difficult it is to earn a league road victory. The Sooners were unable to overcome freshman phenom Trae Young’s 12 turnovers Tuesday and were thumped by 18 at unranked Kansas State. Young was quite a bit better Saturday – finishing with a career-high 48 points – but the Sooners still fell in overtime at unranked Oklahoma State. Things do not get easier for Oklahoma this week, as it hosts first place Kansas on Tuesday before journeying to Alabama on Saturday to face a talented Crimson Tide squad in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Like Oklahoma, Texas Tech also fell twice on the road. The Red Raiders struggled offensively throughout losses at both Texas and Iowa State. Texas Tech has been one of the stories of the year in college basketball, but it currently sits at #57 in adjusted offense on KenPom. That is something that is going to have to improve if the Red Raiders want to reenter the Big 12 race. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty analysis is after the jump.

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Ten Questions To Consider: Weekend Adversity Ahead?

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 19th, 2018

As conference play continues this weekend, teams across the country are having to face different types of adversity. Here are 10 questions for games to be played over the next few days:

Michigan State Will Try to Right the Ship This Weekend (USA Today Images)

  1. Are turnovers killing Michigan State? Michigan State has lost two of its last three games and needed overtime to escape at home with a win against Rutgers. The Spartans were -18 in turnovers in those three games. They must limit their giveaways against an Indiana team that ranks second in the Big Ten in forced turnover rate during conference play.
  2. Will Wichita State bounce back from its first conference loss? In Wichita State’s first AAC loss of the season, the Shockers allowed SMU to shoot 76 percent on two-point attempts and 50 percent on three-point attempts. It was the fifth time this season in which Wichita State has allowed an opponent to score more than 1.1 points per possession — something that happened only four times last year. For Wichita State to win the American in its first year in the league, it will need to become more consistent defensively.
  3. Will Kentucky be able to follow up another loss with a win? After each of its previous three losses, Kentucky has returned home and won its next game. After falling Tuesday to South Carolina, Kentucky returns home to play Florida. Kentucky’s current SEC defensive efficiency of 104 points per 100 possessions is the worst of any group of Wildcats since Tubby Smith’s 2005-06 team. Their defensive struggles come from a season long inability to force turnovers, an area where Kentucky currently ranks outside of the top 200.
  4. How troubling is West Virginia’s offense? Since Big 12 play began, West Virginia’s offense has undergone a steady decline. The Mountaineers currently own the second worst offensive efficiency, effective field-goal percentage, and turnover rate in the conference. The Mountaineers will host a Texas team that held Texas Tech to just 58 points in its last game. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Questions to Consider: Conference Play Heats Up

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 6th, 2018

As we turn the corner into 2018 and settle into conference play, let’s examine 10 questions heading into a busy weekend.

Texas Tech Looks to Build Off Its Huge Upset Win in Allen Fieldhouse (USA Today Images)

  1. Big 12, Part 1: Will Kansas leave Forth Worth with one or two conference losses? While Kansas was picked once again to win the Big 12 in the conference’s preseason poll, the Jayhawks are in serious danger of losing two of their first three conference games. Earlier this season, head coach Bill Self noted that “this is the softest team that Kansas has had since I’ve been here. Things have not improved since those remarks as Kansas currently owns the second worst defensive efficiency in the Big 12 and ranks last in opponents’ rebounding rate through two games.
  2. Big 12, Part 2: Who will stay undefeated at the top? While Trae Young shines every night out for the Sooners, Oklahoma has also received consistent contributions from his sidekicks Kameron McGusty, Christian James and Brady Manek. West Virginia will represent the Sooners’ second opponent this season with a defensive efficiency within the top 50. The Mountaineers will get an offensive boost with the return of Esa Ahmad, who was second on the team in scoring last year.
  3. Big 12, Part 3: Should Texas Tech be concerned with Kansas State? After beating Kansas in Lawrence earlier this week, Texas Tech is riding high with a 2-0 record in Big 12 play. With games to come next week at Oklahoma and versus West Virginia, it would be easy to overlook a Kansas State team that lacks a true marquee win. But the Wildcats have four double-figure scorers and are a year removed from having already beaten Texas Tech. Beating Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse was a program-defining win, but it will lose some of its luster if Texas Tech fails to show up against Kansas State.
  4. How will Notre Dame look without Bonzie Colson? While Notre Dame did not miss a beat without the services of an injured Bonzie Colson against NC State, the Irish must now deal with a tricky road game against the Syracuse 2-3 zone. ESPN.com‘s Jeff Borzello reported earlier this week that Colson — who accounts for approximately a quarter of Notre Dame’s points and rebounds this season — is likely to miss eight weeks with a foot fracture. TJ Gibbs stepped up with 22 points in the Irish’s first game without Colson, his fifth time with at least 20 points this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Weekend Preview: December 29-31

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 29th, 2017

Finally, a full slate of ACC play has arrived! While we break down a few key match-ups heading into the last weekend of 2017, we can’t forget a huge non-conference game as well this afternoon. (All stats through games of December 28. All rankings via KenPom.)

Friday, December 29

David Padgett Gets His First Taste of Kentucky as a Head Coach (USA Today Images)

  • Louisville (#33) at Kentucky (#19). This game will always be big for both programs in the Bluegrass State, but what is on the line this year from a resume perspective also happens to matter. Kentucky’s home win over Virginia Tech is probably the best victory either team owns, and both could use another substantive non-conference win before the calendar flips to the new year. Keep an eye on how Kentucky chooses to attack Louisville’s defense today. The Cardinals allow opponents to shoot just 41.4 percent from two-point range (11th nationally), featuring two of the best shot-blockers (Anas Mahmoud, 15.5% block rate; Ray Spalding, 8.4% block rate) in college basketball. While most teams tend to lean on the three-point shot against David Padgett‘s group, that is not Kentucky’s strength. While the Wildcats shoot a solid 36.0 percent on the season from long range, they have only attempted 161 threes, or roughly 15 per game (348th nationally).

Saturday, December 30

  • Florida State (#27) at Duke (#4). The Blue Devils have played just one game — a rout of Evansville — since their surprising early December loss at Boston College. To avoid an 0-2 start in ACC play, Duke needs to once again avoid falling in love with the three-pointer. In that loss to the Eagles, Mike Krzyzewski’s team made just 8-of-30 three-point attempts. It spent long portions of the game ignoring its massive size advantage in the post in the forms of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, opting instead to fire away at will. If Florida State hopes to copy Boston College’s winning game plan, the Seminoles will need athletic guards Braian Angola-Rodas (42.4% 3FG) and M.J. Walker (46% 3FG) to shoot it well from distance against a defense that does a solid job defending it (34.9% 3FG).

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Ten Questions to Consider: Christmas Weekend

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 22nd, 2017

Other than the eight teams participating in the Diamond Head Classic, there will be a three-day break from action beginning on Sunday. Here are 10 things to watch while binging to basketball and Christmas carols on Friday and Saturday.

Texas Is a Tough Team to Figure Out (USA Today Images)

  1. How concerned should Texas be with its offense? Texas currently ranks among the bottom 20 nationally in both three-point and free-throw percentage, is 141st in adjusted offensive efficiency, and only one Big 12 team since the 2006-07 season has finished conference play with both a winning record and offense outside the top 100 (2014 Kansas State).
  2. Will the third time be the charm for Northern Iowa? Northern Iowa and Xavier met twice in a span of six days last season with the Musketeers handily winning both games. Xavier held Northern Iowa to 32.7 percent shooting on two-point attempts while forcing the Panthers’ third- and fourth-worst turnover rates last season. The one thing going for Northern Iowa? Xavier has only played one true road game so far this season (a win at Wisconsin).
  3. What will Trae Young do next? Oklahoma’s Trae Young is coming off of a 26-point, 22-assist game against Northwestern State earlier this week. The sensational freshman guard currently leads the country in both points and assists per game, and no player has finished among the top 10 nationally in both categories dating back to the 2001-02 season. Only five players have finished among the top ten in scoring and top 20 in assists over that same time period. What’s next?
  4. Has Marshall’s Dan D’Antoni found his Steve Nash? Under Dan D’Antoni, Marshall has consistently been one of the fastest-paced teams in college basketball. The high-octane offense is led by Jon Elmore. Elmore, like Oklahoma’s Young, currently ranks among the top 10 nationally in both points and assists per game. Elmore’s 23.5 PPG could see an uptick as well, as he is currently shooting a lousy 25.7 percent from three-point range — nearly 10 percent lower than his first two years at Marshall. Read the rest of this entry »
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