Final Four Storylines: Kentucky Edition

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 31st, 2015

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The Final Four is set. This week we’ll continue our NCAA Tournament Storylines series focused on each of the remaining four teams. Today: Kentucky.

Two to Go. (USA Today Images)

Two to Go. (USA Today Images)

Pursuit of Perfection. Where else to start but with those three inescapable words. The Wildcats are two wins away from becoming the first team since 1976 Indiana to get through an entire Division I men’s basketball season undefeated. And if they get those two wins in Indianapolis — especially if they do so convincingly — it would be awfully tough to refute Kentucky’s case as one of the greatest college basketball teams of all-time. It’s difficult to compare teams across eras and there’s a tendency to describe current teams in great hyperbole without a sense of historical context. But should John Calipari’s crew finish the job, it would be really tough to find any faults with what Kentucky has done. The record of 40-0 alone would be unmatched historically.

It’s better that Kentucky is here. It would have been a truly amazing story if Notre Dame had slain the giant last Saturday night. It would’ve been even more incredible if the Irish had done so via Jerian Grant’s corner shot at the buzzer. Many fans may still be agonizing over that final minute and still wondering what could have been had a bounce or two gone the other way. But whether you were rooting for Kentucky or not — and the overwhelming majority of fans nationally were not — having the Wildcats in Indy this weekend is for the best. Sure, people hate the Kentucky aura; they hate the fans’ sense of entitlement; they hate that Kentucky is so darn good. But that’s exactly why the Final Four will be so much more gripping with Kentucky participating. The Wildcats are polarizing. They’re also historic. The combination of the two will keep everybody engrossed for as long as the Wildcats are still standing. Every great story needs a villain — and Kentucky is the baddest on the block.

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Circle of March: Vol. XXV

Posted by rtmsf on March 30th, 2015

And then there were four, as in Final Four. What a weekend of basketball. We were gifted with several fantastic games that resulted in one of the best fields that we’ve seen on the sport’s biggest stage in quite some time. The Circle of March may be looking a little stark, but Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State and Wisconsin will more than compensate with their oversized games. Is it Saturday evening yet?

2015_CircleofMarch_25

Eliminations (03.29.15)

  • Gonzaga
  • Louisville
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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kentucky 68, #3 Notre Dame 66

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

The Wildcats Survived and Advanced to 38-0 in Thrilling Fashion (USA Today Images)

The Wildcats Survived and Advanced to 38-0 in Thrilling Fashion (USA Today Images)

  1. What a game. That was without question the best game of this year’s NCAA Tournament and if you take a step back it ranks up there in terms of all-time NCAA Tournament games as well. If that desperation three by Jerian Grant had dropped you could make a case for this being the greatest game in NCAA Tournament history and that shot being the greatest as well (only the 1992 Duke-Kentucky game with Laettner would compare). You had a pair of sensational offensive performances from Zach Auguste (20 points) and Karl-Anthony Towns (25 points) who each went 10-of-13 from the field in keeping their teams in contention. Although Notre Dame only went 4-of-14 from three tonight, they seemed to hit nearly every big three except for the final one. On top of that, both teams made huge plays down the stretch. The game, which was already being played at a very high level, ramped up to another level when Aaron Harrison and Jerian Grant hit massive and deep three-pointers on consecutive possessions. In the end, Andrew Harrison was able to step up and hit two clutch free throws followed by Grant’s desperation shot, and the Wildcats survived with their undefeated season intact as they head to Indianapolis.
  2. Notre Dame was not afraid. It sounds ridiculous to say that the ACC champion should be intimidated by anybody, but perhaps the most important thing that Notre Dame did today was to treat Kentucky like any other team on its schedule. Notre Dame is clearly talented, but outside of Grant and maybe Jackson, none of the Irish players would get significant minutes in Kentucky’s rotation (more a reflection of Kentucky’s ridiculous depth than Notre Dame’s lack of talent). For much of the season, the narrative has been that to beat Kentucky you need to hit three-pointers and avoid engaging them in the paint where their size can overwhelm you. Notre Dame did just the opposite of that early, forgoing the three and taking it right at the Wildcats. The final box score will show that Irish hit four three-pointers on the night, but they only hit one in the first half (on just five attempts) and the ones later in the game were the result of penetration and phenomenal ball movement.
  3. You need to be lucky (and really good) to go undefeated. Credit Kentucky for finding a way to win yet again, but this was their stiffest challenge all season long. They have played several tight games over the course of the year, but this was the first time that they were in a game against a team this good and unlikely to beat itself. No matter how good you are, however, you need a little luck to get through these types of games. Kentucky might not have been at its absolute peak tonight, but they played well, and unlike UNLV in 1991, Kentucky found a way to survive its own upset (at least for now). Having said that, the Wildcats could have easily folded or imploded especially when Notre Dame went up by six points with 6:14 left. Instead they showed they are more than just the most talented college team we can remember by showing their mental toughness and finding yet another way to win. There was never really a question of whether they would play together; instead, it was a question of who would step up and they found plenty of players who were capable of making big plays on both ends down the stretch.

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Elite Eight Storylines

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 28th, 2015

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As we move into a loaded Elite Eight this weekend, here are five storylines to keep an eye on over the next 36 hours of action. Enjoy!

Elite Eight Storylines

Duke, Along With Kentucky, Arizona, Louisville, Michigan State, Gonzaga... It's a Loaded Elite Eight (USA Today Images)

Duke, Along With Kentucky, Arizona, Louisville, Michigan State, Gonzaga… It’s a Loaded Elite Eight (USA Today Images)

Bluebloods. Last year, when Dayton went to the Elite Eight as a #11 seed, it was a nice story. But the Flyers’ regional final game against Florida was no contest. It wasn’t as if Dayton had no shot to win, but it was clear from the opening tip that the Flyers were overmatched. It’s fun to romanticize about underdogs making a long run in the NCAA Tournament, but the reality is that they usually run face first into a reality check (and thus a fairly dull game). For some, it happens later than others — see 2011 Butler, which lost in the national championship game to Connecticut — but it eventually happens. This year there’s no Dayton. There’s not even a Butler or a VCU. We’ve done away with the little guys. The likelihood of one team getting completely overwhelmed from a pure talent perspective is unlikely. There is still a #7 seed on the board, but Michigan State is anything but a plucky upstart. There is also a double-digit point spread in one of tonight’s games, but that says more about Kentucky than the ACC champs. So while it would have been cool to see Xavier knock off Arizona, we have what we want in the end: a bunch of bluebloods and some outstanding matchups.

Coaching Superstars. It’s often said that great coaching triumphs in March, so think about the eight coaches who are still remaining: the least successful of the eight is probably Mike Brey – yes, the same Mike Brey who’s been to 12 NCAA Tournaments and just won an ACC Tournament title in his second year in the league. Statistics aside, everybody knows that Brey is just a darn good coach. He finds himself in quite the elite company this weekend. The aggregate tenure of all eight coaches at their respective schools is 126 years, and between them, they have exactly 4,400 Division I wins. The coaching matchups on the right side of the bracket are especially compelling. Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino are statistically the two best NCAA Tournament coaches of the modern era, and Mark Few and Mike Krzyzewski have combined for 49 conference regular season or tournament titles. Wow.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.27.15 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 27th, 2015

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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.

Midwest Region

These guys absolutely rule the college basketball world at the moment. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

These guys absolutely rule the college basketball world at the moment. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

  • West Virginia’s Daxter Miles talked the talk but it was Kentucky that walked the walk. After Miles declared that Kentucky would be “36-1″ after playing the Mountaineers, the Wildcats proceeded to beat his team into submission by 39 points. The Kentucky players had some responses to share with the world via Twitter.
  • Last night, Kentucky showed what it could do when you make the Wildcats angry. After a historic Sweet Sixteen  beatdown of West Virginia, Ben Cohen asks the question we’ve been asking all year long: Can anyone beat Kentucky?
  • Not only did Daxter Miles‘ team lose the game despite guaranteeing victory, but he finished with no points and just one rebound. Tough day.
  • Notre Dame gained control early and took every punch Wichita State threw at it en route to an 11-point victory last night.
  • Notre Dame could have the offensive firepower to keep up with Kentucky if the Irish are able to hit their threes. But will it be enough to give the Wildcats’ their only loss of the season?
  • Could Gregg Marshall have just coached his last game at Wichita State? Having done wonders for the Shockers’ program over the last several years, will Marshall leave for a bigger job this off-season?

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kentucky 78, #5 West Virginia 39

Posted by rtmsf on March 26th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Kentucky Flexed Its Muscles Tonight (USA Today Images)

Kentucky Flexed Its Muscles Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Don’t poke the bear. To be honest it wouldn’t have mattered. And maybe it didn’t matter. Kentucky was going to win this game anyway and perhaps the Wildcats playing about as well as they can (except for Karl-Anthony Towns) was just a coincidence, but we got to see what the Wildcats can do when they are firing on all cylinders. It is both beautiful and scary. If the Wildcats play like this, there isn’t a team in the country that is going to give them a legitimate challenge the rest of the way. That’s not meant to be disrespectful to any of the remaining teams; it is just the truth. For much of the season, Kentucky’s offense lagged well behind its defense, but now that it has caught up teams are basically left to hope the Wildcats have an off night. Tonight was not one of those nights.
  2. This was complete meltdown by West Virginia. Kentucky played great, but West Virginia embarrassed itself with its performance tonight. Outside of a few mini-runs that the Mountaineers put together thanks to some sloppiness from Kentucky (like Marcus Lee trying to break the press), Bob Huggins’ team couldn’t put anything else together. It was a rough end to an outstanding career in Morgantown for Juwan Staten, who deserved a better ending than this. West Virginia rarely has elite level talent coming to Morgantown, but we have learned over the years that Bob Huggins doesn’t need that to succeed. This may have been the lowest low of a storied career for the longtime head coach.
  3. Competition or coronation? It might seem premature to already hand the national title over to Kentucky, but it has been a long time since we have seen a team this dominant. Actually, the last team was 1991 UNLV… and we all know how that worked out. The fact is that there is no 1991 Duke waiting around the corner this year (people forget that one year later that lovable underdog became one of the great teams of all-time). Barring a collapse by Kentucky, which is much less likely given their ridiculous depth, we cannot see anybody beating them. So you might as well crown them now.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Thursday

Posted by Walker Carey & Andrew Murawa on March 26th, 2015

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While the early round upsets and Cinderella stories are what make the NCAA Tournament unique to any other sporting event in the country, there is always something to be said about the best competing against the best. No more might that be true than this season’s Sweet 16, which feature arguably a legitimate “Top 16″ team pool … and it all gets started today. Here are four previews of Thursday’s games:

#3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wichita State – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Cleveland) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren't often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren’t often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

The Irish and Shockers will meet Thursday night in what should be a very entertaining battle between two of the country’s best perimeter teams. Notre Dame and its four-guard lineup boasts one of the best scoring offenses in the country. USBWA first-team All-American Jerian Grant is one of the best offensive guards in the country. His scoring ability and ball distribution skills definitely makes him a player to watch each time he takes the court. For Notre Dame, sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson and sophomore guard Steve Vasturia have each made a name for themselves this season. Jackson has greatly matured as Notre Dame’s floor leader on offense and his ball pressure on defense has been a greatly under appreciated facet of his game. Vasturia is the only Irish starter that does not have a scoring average in double figures, but his knack for hitting big shots coupled with some tenacious defense against some very good players (see his performance from last Saturday against Butler’s Kellen Dunham) has contributed to Notre Dame reaching its first Sweet 16 since 2003. When you think of the great glue guys in the country, Irish swingman Pat Connaughton has to be one of the first players who comes to mind. The captain has been an essential asset all season from his three-point shooting to his defensive rebounding to his overall leadership, Connaughton has been the heart of the Irish attack.

Wichita State is equally as talented on the perimeter. Junior point guard Fred VanVleet has had as good of an NCAA Tournament as anyone thus far, as he thoroughly outplayed Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell in the round of 64 before having his way with Kansas guards’ Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham in the round of 32. The other two Shockers perimeter players — Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton — each bring a unique skill set that have lifted the team all season. Baker has a knack for leading the scoring effort and hitting big shots. Cotton is an elite defender and his athleticism results in him constantly being a slashing threat on the offensive end. This is going to be a very fun game and you have to figure that both team’s perimeter groups will get theirs. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sweet Sixteen Storylines: Midwest and West Regionals

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 26th, 2015

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As we move into the first half of the Sweet Sixteen tonight in Cleveland and Los Angeles, let’s take a look at the top five storylines in the Midwest and West Regions.

Midwest Storylines

1. Is West Virginia actually a difficult matchup for Kentucky? The NCAA Tournament is all about matchups. You’ve probably heard that refrain too many times already and you’ll hear it even more over the next 10 days. Some analysts have gone so far as to apply it to the Kentucky-West Virginia game that awaits us tonight. The thought is that the Mountaineers, which speed up opponents and force turnovers better than anybody else in the nation, will disrupt the Wildcats’ attack. But it’s almost as if that notion is more based on hope than supported by facts. The Wildcats take care of the ball – their opponents’ steal percentage ranks 19th nationally (that’s good), and the Wildcats have significantly cut down on silly turnovers as the season has progressed. Of course, they haven’t yet faced a team like West Virginia that is so relentless with its pressure either. But the Mountaineers also have their own flaws,particularly on the offensive end, and the idea that they present an especially difficult matchup for Kentucky because of its uniqueness is probably a fallacy.

Truth be told, Kentucky's contest against WVU might be a little easier than most expect. (AP Photo/David Stephenson)

Truth be told, Kentucky’s contest against WVU might be a little easier than most expect. (AP Photo/David Stephenson)

2. The history behind Calipari vs. Huggins. John Calipari and Bob Huggins first met as head coaches on January 7, 1993, when Huggins’ Cincinnati team beat Calipari’s UMass squad. They went on to do battle annually in Conference USA beginning in 2001, with Huggins still at Cincinnati and Calipari back from the NBA at Memphis. Huggins won the first five meetings between the two before Calipari broke through with is first win in 2003. To date, Huggins holds an 8-2 all-time record against the Kentucky coach, the best such record of any coach with a minimum three games against him. The most notable showdown between the two was exactly four years and 364 days ago, when Huggins’ Mountaineers upset Calipari’s group of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe in the 2010 East Regional Finals. Is there a takeaway from that night that pertains to this year? No, probably not. But the relationship between the two is a fun storyline heading into tonight. The two are reportedly close friends, and if that’s not enough, Huggins might not even be alive today if it wasn’t for Calipari’s cousin.

3. Which team in the Midwest Regional is the biggest threat to Kentucky? Despite all the West Virginia talk, it’s clear that Huggins’ team is the fourth best of the quartet remaining in the Midwest. Although Notre Dame barely survived Butler and Northeastern, both the Fighting Irish and Wichita State are hot. The Shockers took Indiana’s best shot and then thoroughly beat Kansas in Omaha to get to Cleveland. Which of the two would give Kentucky more problems? Probably Notre Dame, solely based on the possibility that the Fighting Irish could catch fire from the perimeter, just as they did in the ACC Tournament championship game against North Carolina. Plus, among players who receive meaningful minutes, Kentucky has five forwards taller than any Wichita State contributor.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.25.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 25th, 2015

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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.

Midwest Region

This guy is not intimidated by John Calipari and the Wildcats. (Getty)

This guy is not intimidated by John Calipari and the Wildcats. (Getty)

  • Though he’s struggled thus far in the NCAA Tournament, John Calipari’s message to Devin Booker is simple. “We told him after the game, ‘Hey, you’ve got to keep shooting,’ because there’s going to be a game we need him to make shots or we can’t win,” Calipari said. “You can miss all these. It doesn’t matter. The next one’s coming up and we may need you to make some shots.”
  • Bob Huggins has had John Calipari’s number historically, but Kentucky certainly has the advantage by the numbers this time. Here’s what Kentucky blog A Sea of Blue has to say about Thursday’s battle.
  • West Virginia is fast and physical, but Huggins is concerned about Kentucky’s defense, particularly inside the three-point line. “Probably the closest one was Kentucky in 2010. We led by one [actually two, 28-26] at halftime and did not have a two-point field goal (eight three-pointers and four foul shots). I think every time we took it inside the three [point line] we got our shots blocked. I can’t remember anybody who would be as close to this team other than that team,” he said.
  • The odds are against him, but Bob Huggins has a chance to improve on his 8-2 record against his buddy John Calipari on Thursday.
  • The public seems to be praising Wichita State after its upset over Kansas, but don’t sleep on Notre Dame just yet.
  • Pat Connaughton has been huge for Notre Dame on the court, but his leadership away from it is what sets him apart.
  • Alabama is reportedly looking to make a run at Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall. Here‘s why Matt Bonesteel thinks Marshall should stick around in Wichita.
  • Wichita State is the lowest-seeded team left in the Midwest Region, but the Shockers have several qualities that previous Final Four teams have possessed.

West Region

Two old friends go at it in the Sweet 16. Will Chris Mack the Pupil get the upper hand? Or will Sean Miller the teacher still show who's boss? (Getty)

Two old friends go at it in the Sweet Sixteen. Will Chris Mack the Pupil get the upper hand? Or will Sean Miller the Teacher still show him who’s boss? (Getty)

  • It’s no accident that Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin teams rarely foul. Averaging around 12 fouls per game, the Badgers rank among the lowest in the country in that metric. Much of this is due to the emphasis put on it by the head coach. “There are a few pillars of the program or things that have been consistent through the years and helped us be successful,” associate head coach Greg Gard says. “And that’s one of them. They understand if they want to get on the floor and play, they’re going to have to be able to play without fouling.”
  • Despite having a reputation as a very well-respected academic institution, Wisconsin hasn’t exactly wowed people with its recent graduation rates.
  • Though he was reportedly doubtful to play earlier this week, Kennedy Meeks worked out briefly on Tuesday and he is still a possibility to play on Thursday night.
  • For Marcus Paige, North Carolina’s Sweet Sixteen game on Thursday will be a bit of a family affair. His sister, Morgan, played at Wisconsin, and now plays professionally in Europe.
  • Xavier big man Jalen Reynolds is being investigated by the school for a recent incident outside of a Xavier dorm. However, Reynolds is still scheduled to play for the time being.
  • Thursday’s Sweet Sixteen battle will be special for Xavier coach Chris Mack. Mack served as Arizona coach Sean Miller’s top assistant for five years before he left Xavier for the desert. “The fact is that it’s hard to play against someone who gave me such an opportunity. We spent so much time in the trenches and he trusted me so much as an assistant coach. I enjoyed my time with him,” Mack said.
  • Both Arizona freshman Stanley Johnson and others surrounding the program seem open about Johnson only being in Tucson for one year, but that isn’t stopping both parties from making the best of the situation.
  • For Sean Miller, coaching against his former team, Xavier, will be tough. “It’s kind of one of those things that when you’re watching the selection show, you’re kind of watching and cheering for them [Xavier coach Chris Mack and former Xavier coach Thad Matta] to go off your board,” [Arizona Director of Basketball Operations Ryan] Reynolds said. Reynolds came with Miller from Xavier to Arizona six years ago.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.24.15 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 24th, 2015

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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.

Midwest Region

Can Huggins Use His Press to Get WVU Back to the Final Four? (USA Today Images)

Can Huggins Use His Press to Get WVU Back to the Final Four? (USA Today Images)

  • Kentucky may not be 1991 UNLV, but they’re looking pretty darn tough at 36-0.
  • Kentucky has been tested a couple times this season, but West Virginia may provide the Wildcats’ most physical battle yet. The “relentless” Mountaineers are not only strong, but they will also keep up the pressure all game long.
  • For West Virginia, the formula to beating Kentucky will have to involve the press. The Mountaineers have forced 40 turnovers over their past two games, and will need to force a bunch on Thursday to have a chance against the undefeated Wildcats.
  • West Virginia had a huge win over Maryland in the second round of the tournament, but much was made after the game about the way in which coach Bob Hugginsdaughters behaved during and after the game. The daughters were particularly harsh towards Maryland senior Dez Wells, taunting him with references to rape allegations he faced at Xavier. Wells’ case was never taken to court and he received a settlement from Xavier for a wrongful expulsion in 2013.
  • Notre Dame may have one of the best offenses in the country but the Irish wouldn’t have reached the Sweet Sixteen without its defense. Down late against Butler, the Irish came up with a couple huge stops to send the game into overtime. “Everybody talks about our offense,” said senior captain Pat Connaughton. “But to be able to get that stop on the defensive end to send us into overtime and send us to the Sweet Sixteen is something I’m very proud of these guys for.”
  • Steve Vasturia may only be Notre Dame’s fifth leading scorer, but he’s played a huge role in the Irish’s run so far. With much of the defense’s focus on Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton, and Zach Auguste, Vasturia exploded for 20 points against Butler.
  • Kansas may be the blue blood, but Wichita State earned the title of Kings of Kansas for 2015. Making a Sweet Sixteen is always great, but doing so against Kansas made it even sweeter for the Shockers.
  • Kansas Governor Sam Brownback was given resounding boos when showed on the jumbotron at the Kansas/Wichita State game on Sunday. Whether it was the fact that he had both teams on his shirt or his new policy on education funding, Jayhawks and Shockers’ fans came together for that one moment this past weekend.

West Region

  • Check out Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes having some fun with an NCAA stenographer during a media session. Yes, like a court stenographer.
  • Wisconsin is looking forward to Thursday’s matchup against North Carolina. With UNC’s size and athleticism, the Badgers are expecting a fun game.
  • It’s looking more and more like North Carolina big man Kennedy Meeks will be out against Wisconsin. Given Wisconsin’s outstanding front line, this could prove especially problematic for the Tar Heels.
  • Even though coach Roy Williams has a resumé that includes two National Championships, seven Final Fours, and 16 Sweet Sixteens, he’s not taking this most recent trip for granted. However, it can be tough to do so, considering the degree to which excellence is demanded at UNC. “Let’s not have a misconception. These kids have had a pretty doggone good run for the last three years,” Williams said. “We’ve won 25, 24, and 26 [games], and … a lot of teams would like that.”
  • Xavier big man Matt Stainbrook is known for his play on the court, but he’s not actually on scholarship. To make a little cash on the side, Stainbrook drives part-time for the popular mobile application Uber.
  • Though the Musketeers have seemingly flown under the radar, this is Xavier‘s fifth Sweet Sixteen in the past eight years. The only other teams to achieve that level of sustained success are Michigan State, Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Arizona. That’s not bad company.
  • Other than Kentucky, Arizona may just be the hottest team in college basketball. The Wildcats haven’t lost since February 7 and have cruised into the Sweet Sixteen. If the Wildcats can keep it up, things may come full circle with a potential Elite Eight matchup against Wisconsin, the team that knocked them out in the same round just a year ago.
  • Arizona sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has played extremely well for the Wildcats thus far. In addition to his ability to lock down just about anyone, Hollis-Jefferson has the athleticism and skill to be a force on the offensive end.

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Morning Five: 03.24.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 24th, 2015

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  1. We aren’t going to go over what happened last weekend because frankly you probably were sitting on the couch watching the entire thing. So that brings us to the Regionals which have plenty of intriguing story lines. In the East, we have a ridiculously wide-open field where we wouldn’t be surprised to see any of the four teams advance to Indianapolis (ok, maybe North Carolina State would be surprising). In the South, it is pretty much all chalk except for UCLA and since they don’t have an overseeded team or a Cinderella next so we don’t expect they will be around much longer. The Midwest is basically Kentucky and a bunch of other teams that pretty much everybody expects to be pushovers although we think the Elite 8 game could be interesting. To us, the West is by far the most interesting region especially with a potential Wisconsin-Arizona match-up in the Elite 8, which could be a match-up of the second and third best teams in the country right now.
  2. Mississippi State will introduce Ben Howland as its next coach at a press conference tomorrow. The timing of introducing Howland as its new coach so soon after Rick Ray was fired makes it seem like this was either in place or essentially a done deal before Ray was fired. Landing Howland is huge for a program that frankly is a mediocre Power 5 program and that might be generous. There will be plenty of questions as to why Howland took the position so early in the coaching carousel when he presumably could have gotten a better position, but we would guess that it was because he was left without a spot last off-season.
  3. According to Gary Parrish, Alabama is set to offer Gregg Marshall over $3 million per year to try to lure him away from Wichita State. We are assuming that Alabama is at least waiting until after the Shockers are eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, but as we have seen in other cases that is not necessarily always true. Marshall was making $1.75 million a year at Wichita State according to the most recent reports we have heard so he would be making at least $1 million per year more not accounting for bonuses for performance and all the other ridiculous clauses they have in contracts to get more money (radio show, etc). With Bruce Pearl at Auburn, there is some pressure on the Alabama administration to improve their basketball program although we all know the fans of those programs judge success almost entirely by what their football team does. We will be interested to see if Marshall jumps at the chance to get more money and move to a Power 5 conference or if he stays at Wichita State with the possibility of even better positions (like Texas or Indiana) opening up in the coming weeks.
  4. President Obama has been more involved in college basketball (and sports in general) than most previous Presidents, but he has been especially involved recently with his call for student-athletes to receive guaranteed scholarships, but not financial compensation in an interview with The Huffington Post. While none of this is new–the Power 5 conferences are moving towards guaranteed scholarships and there is no official compensation–it is unusual to see a President speak about these issues. And as for his famous annual bracket, teams have started using it as motivation including Cat Barber who called out the President for picking Villanova to beat North Carolina State. It won’t happen, but we wish we could see Barber get invited to the White House and try to explain that one.
  5. We found one championship that Kentucky won’t win this year as the first men’s college basketball national championship of the year was awarded to Wisconsin-Stevens Point, which beat Augustana 70-54 on Saturday to win the Division III title. They won’t get much press for it, but it is the school’s fourth title in 12 years, which is impressive regardless of the level of competition you are playing against. We doubt that this will get more than a quick highlight over the Final Four weekend (unless Wisconsin ends up playing for the Division I title) as they typically broadcast the Division II championship game instead, but it is still worth noting.
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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 23rd, 2015

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Your bracket is busted and the Sweet Sixteen is set. Let’s do a Regional Reset. Follow @rtcMWregion for reporting from Cleveland this week. Check out all of the regional resets for the Sweet Sixteen here.

New Favorite: #1 Kentucky. The new favorite is the old favorite, as there was nothing that happened over the first weekend that suggested a change. Kentucky is now an ungodly 36-0 after easily dispatching #16 Hampton in the round of 64 before overcoming a brief first half scare to ultimately blow past #8 Cincinnati in the round of 32. We all know about Kentucky’s talent level, its excellent defense and its superior depth, but can the Wildcats get to the Final Four with an unscathed record? Right now, it looks like the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

Not much in standing in the way of Kentucky so far. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Not much in standing in the way of Kentucky so far. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Horse of Darkness: #7 Wichita State. It is difficult to call a team whose core (with the exception of Cleanthony Early) went 35-1 last year a “horse of darkness,” but the Shockers had to battle through an offensively potent #10 Indiana squad and intrastate rival #2 Kansas to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Wichita State proved during the first weekend that it is a much better team than the #7 seed it earned on Selection Sunday. Point guard Fred VanVleet was terrific all weekend. Shooting guard Ron Baker recovered from a shaky performance against Indiana to greatly contribute to the win over Kansas. Gregg Marshall’s squad also had an unlikely hero step up against the Jayhawks, as forward Evan Wessell (who averaged 4.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game on the season) tallied 12 points (4-of-6 threes) and collected nine rebounds.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): The way #8 Cincinnati defeated #9 Purdue. If you want to teach a course on how to NOT close out a basketball game, Purdue’s efforts in the final minute of Thursday’s round of 64 game against Cincinnati should be your textbook. The Boilermakers led by seven points with just 48 seconds left in regulation before allowing the offensively-challenged Bearcats to go on an unbelievable 10-3 run over to force overtime. Cincinnati ultimately emerged victorious in the overtime session, and after the final buzzer sounded, Bearcats associate head coach Larry Davis and his players appeared to be more stunned than anything else. Read the rest of this entry »

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