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 WisconsinArizona 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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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kentucky 64, #8 Cincinnati 51

Posted by Walker Carey on March 21st, 2015

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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.

The Game May Have Ended on This Play (USA Today Images)

The Game May Have Ended on This Play (USA Today Images)

  1. Kentucky had to battle for this one. The final score may not indicate it but Cincinnati gave Kentucky quite the fight for most of the afternoon. Cincinnati has a reputation for being a tough, gritty team that will use its physicality all game long and that was absolutely the case on Saturday afternoon, as this game was a street fight from the opening tip. In defeat, the Bearcats had the advantage on the rebounding glass at 45-38 and had an amazing 21-12 edge on the offensive boards. This was not an easy game for Kentucky by any stretch. The Wildcats struggled offensively throughout, as they ended up shooting just 37 percent from the field and just 26.7 percent from behind the three-point line. It was not a vintage Kentucky performance, but the ‘Cats found a way to get the job done. That is what great teams do.
  2. Hanging with Kentucky and having a chance to beat Kentucky are two entirely different animals. Saturday was another example of how hanging in there with Kentucky and having a chance to beat Kentucky are two very different things. Cincinnati played really hard all afternoon and had the right plan but it ultimately just did not have enough offense to deal with Kentucky’s ferocious defensive attack. The Bearcats managed to shoot just 31.7 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from the three-point line. Starting guards Troy Caupain and Farad Cobb were a combined 5-of-24 from the field. They were also forced into committing 14 turnovers, which led to 16 Kentucky points on the other end. It is going to take an elite effort on both ends of the court to beat Kentucky this season. While Cincinnati has a lot to be proud of about its performance, it ultimately fell well short of what it needed to be to get a win.
  3. Kentucky is now 36-0 – which is the best start to a season in D-1 men’s college basketball history. Saturday’s win ensured that Kentucky – at 36-0 – is off to the greatest start in Division I men’s basketball history. When you think about all the great teams and players that have come and gone through the game in the years, this accomplishment is hard to put into words. John Calipari deserves so much credit for his ability to manage all his talent and get his guys to produce a winning effort night in and night out. It is understood that this accomplishment will likely be overlooked if the Wildcats are unable to finish as undefeated national champions, so it is important to note right now just how impressive this feat is.

Player(s) of the Game. Aaron Harrison and Trey Lyles, Kentucky. Harrison and Lyles drove the Kentucky offensive attack, finishing with 13 and 11 points, respectively. Harrison’s knack for hitting big shots was once again on display, as it seemed like every time that Kentucky needed a big bucket, it was Harrison that came through. Lyles matched Cincinnati’s physical play all afternoon, mixing it up on both ends of the court. His 11 points were accompanied by a game-high 11 rebounds.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.21.15 Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on March 21st, 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

Goodness Gracious. (USA Today Images)

Goodness Gracious. (USA Today Images)

  • Kentucky expected more out of itself in Thursday night’s win over Hampton. It is possible that the Wildcats need the edge back from last year when they advanced to the national title game as a #8 seed?
  • Cincinnati interim coach Larry Davis traces his roots back to Kentucky.
  • After earning a thrilling victory over Buffalo on Friday afternoon, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins acknowledged in his postgame remarks that he does not understand ESPN analyst Jay Bilas’ Young Jeezy-inspired Twitter schtick.
  • Maryland walk-on defensive specialist Varun Ram saved the day for the Terrapins on Friday when he locked down on Valparaiso guard Keith Carter and produced a turnover as the buzzer sounded to ensure  a 65-62 Maryland win.
  • Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew will always have his March Madness memories from his miracle run as a player in 1998, but he was unable to produce new memories as a coach in Friday’s narrow loss to Maryland.
  • Butler coach Chris Holtmann acknowledged Friday that junior forward Roosevelt Jones will play Saturday night against Notre Dame after suffering a knee injury in Thursday’s win over Texas.
  • Notre Dame coach Mike Brey is expecting senior captain Pat Connaughton to have a big game Saturday night when the Irish take on Butler.
  • Indiana showed that it has talent on the perimeter in Friday’s close loss to Wichita State, thus it seems like the next move for the Hoosiers is to find a big man capable of leading the team to greater heights.
  • With Friday’s victory over Indiana, Wichita State earned its shot to play Kansas – a shot the program has been craving for years.
  • Kansas forward Perry Ellis said his previously injured knee “felt great out there” in Friday’s sizable victory over New Mexico State.

West Region

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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Saturday

Posted by RTC Staff on March 21st, 2015

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The last time this crew of programs laced up the sneakers, they provided us with a slate to remember. From last-second thrillers to overtime upsets that came out of left field, Thursday was quite simply one of the most electric opening days in NCAA Tournament history. Could history repeat itself? Here are eight previews of Saturday’s games.

#11 UCLA vs. #14 UAB — South Region Third Round (at Louisville, KY) — 12:10 PM ET on TBS.

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet 16. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet Sixteen. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Steve Alford has finally figured out this NCAA Tournament thing. All you have to do is put together an entirely mediocre season, inexplicably make the Tournament field (and avoid the First Four while you are at it), have the refs blow a call in the final 20 seconds of your opener that propels your team to victory, then find a #14 seed waiting for you in the third round. That’s all! What a charmed five days it was for the Bruins, whose season suddenly has meaning. Thursday wasn’t so bad for UAB, either, as the Blazers toppled Iowa State in what should go down as the biggest upset of the second round (apologies to Georgia State). Two double-digit seeds now face off with a bid to the Sweet Sixteen on the line. UCLA does not play as quickly as Iowa State does (the Bruins are 113th in the country in possessions per game), but UAB will try to recreate the muddle that was Thursday’s game with the Cyclones. The Blazers dominated the glass (outrebounding Iowa State by 15), enabling them to survive their unimaginative offensive (41% field goal shooting and 3-of-18 shooting from three-point range). UCLA’s Kevon Looney and Tony Parker are unlikely to submit to a similar assault on the backboards in this game, so Jerod Haase’s team may have to promote other strengths. The problem for the Blazers is that there really aren’t many. They don’t shoot the ball well from the field, turnovers are frequently an issue, and their work on the defensive end has been average at best this season. All this isn’t intended to make UCLA out to be an unbeatable monster of a team (they aren’t), but at least on paper, UAB just is not that great a team. They did find a way to get it done against a team better than UCLA on Thursday, and the Bruins, as mentioned, are very far from perfect themselves. But while anything is possible, a return to expectation (albeit a smaller one than we had two days ago) should be in the cards here. Steve Alford and UCLA, say hello to the Sweet Sixteen.

The RTC Certified Pick: UCLA

#1 Kentucky vs. #8 Cincinnati – Midwest Region Round of 32 (in Louisville, KY) – at 2:40 PM EST on CBS

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati's frontline fair any better? (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati’s frontline fair any better? (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Unbeaten Kentucky was not at its best Thursday, but it did not really matter as it still cruised to a 79-56 victory over Hampton. While Kentucky — as a whole — was a bit uneven against the Pirates, freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns turned in a phenomenal performance. Towns was clearly the best player on the court all evening, finishing with 21 points (8-of-12 FG), 11 rebounds, and three blocks in just 25 minutes of action. Sophomore guard Andrew Harrison and freshman guard Tyler Ulis were also very good in the victory, as they totaled a combined 25 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Even though Hampton is not considered an offensive juggernaut, Kentucky’s defensive performance was still impressive. The Pirates were held to just a 17-of-59 (28.8%) shooting performance, and only one player converted more than two field goals. Meanwhile, Cincinnati showcased its great resiliency in its win over Purdue on Thursday. The Bearcats trailed by seven with with 48.5 seconds to play before going on a 10-3 run to force overtime where they ultimately prevailed with a 66-65 victory. Cincinnati does not have any stars, but it received strong contributions from sophomore guard Troy Caupain (10 points and four assists), junior guard Farad Cobb (14 points), and junior forward Coreontae DeBerry (13 points). The Bearcats frustrated Purdue with tenacious defense all night, as the Boilermakers were just 26-of-72 (36.1%) from the field, including 4-of-26 (15.4%) from the perimeter. Cincinnati has played hard all season under some less than ideal circumstances, and its coaches and players deserve credit for making it this far. Unfortunately for them, this run will come to an end at the hands of Kentucky on Saturday. The Wildcats just have way too much talent across the board for this to really even be all that close. Expect Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein to establish themselves early and lead Kentucky to the Sweet 16 with a comfortable victory.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kentucky 79, #16 Hampton 56

Posted by Walker Carey on March 20th, 2015

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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.

It Was All Smiles on the Kentucky Bench Again Tonight (USA Today Images)

It Was All Smiles on the Kentucky Bench Again Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Karl-Anthony Towns is an absolute stud. The SEC Freshman of the Year exhibited why he is considered one of the top NBA prospects in college basketball. Towns finished the night with 21 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. His performance was even more impressive because of how efficient it was. He played just 25 minutes and finished 8-of-12 from the field along with a 5-of-6 showing from the free throw line. Kentucky is loaded with premier performers but none showed out better on Thursday night than Towns. His length, athleticism and ability to impact the game on both ends of the court personifies why he is such a special talent.
  2. This was a home game for Kentucky and Saturday will be too. The KFC Yum! Center is located just 76.8 miles away from Kentucky’s campus. Couple that with the fact that Big Blue Nation travels as well as any fan base in the country and has a large fan base in and around Louisville and you easily understand why Thursday night was essentially a Wildcats’ home game. The second the Cincinnati/Purdue game ended, it was Kentucky time. Fans cheered loudly throughout the night. Nevermind that it was a #1 vs. #16 matchup — they pulled for their Wildcats with the same passion they would if it had been a regional final. With Kentucky advancing to the Round of 32 on Saturday in the same building, expect the atmosphere in the arena to be more of the same as the pursuit of perfection continues.
  3. Hampton deserves a lot of credit for fighting until the end. Prior to Hampton’s victory over Manhattan at the First Four in Dayton on Tuesday, the Pirates were 16-17. They needed an unexpected run through the MEAC title to even earn the chance to go to Dayton. The difference in talent level between Kentucky and Hampton is as big as the Grand Canyon, though. This, however, did not stop Edward Joyner Jr.’s squad from fighting all game long. It forced some bad Kentucky shots in the first half and only trailed 18-14 at the 8:27 mark, and it finished the game on a 28-16 run after falling behind by 35 with 12:43 to play. Pirates guard Quinton Chievous was a warrior all night. Playing on an ankle he injured in the win over Manhattan, Chievous finished with a game-high 22 points to go along with 10 rebounds. Hampton is certainly not pleased with the loss, but it definitely deserves some credit for the way it went out.

Player of the Game. Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky. The freshman turned in a performance that made you realize why he has received so many accolades and so much attention this season. In just 25 minutes of play, Towns tallied 21 points and collected 11 rebounds. Among all of Kentucky’s talented charges, Towns was the best in the win over Hampton.

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Morning Five: 03.19.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 19th, 2015

morning5

  1. Companies often try to hide negative announcements by issuing press releases on Friday afternoon before a long weekend and we guess that is what Syracuse was trying to do by announcing that firing athletic director Daryl Gross and announcing that Jim Boeheim will retire in three years. The former is not exactly shocking since Gross ran the program during much of the time that it committed the NCAA violations for which it was punished. The announcement for Boeheim is a little more surprising and seems to suggest a comprise at some level as it was not that long ago that Boeheim said he would not be retiring any time soon. It would seem that the administration wanted to get rid of Boeheim, but perhaps he was too powerful to have that happen so instead we will be treated to the world’s longest retirement tour. It also raises questions as to what the school’s plans will be to replace Boeheim since Mike Hopkins has been the coach-in-waiting for years, but that was under Gross and with Gross on his way out that decision will be made by his successor, who might opt to go in a completely different direction. It will be interesting to see what happens in the post-Boeheim era since without Boeheim and the basketball program’s reputation there is really nothing to draw a recruit there and the area is not exactly a hotbed for basketball talent.
  2. In other news… the NCAA Tournament is finally here. For some the NCAA Tournament kicked off with the first of the First Four games, but for traditionalists like us the “real” Tournament does not start until the field is set at 64. If you haven’t already found resources to help you understand each region and/or match-up either for your curiosity or your bracket (still a few hours left to make final edits), we have plenty of resources available in our 2015 NCAA Tournament section. If you are just looking for breakdowns of each region, we have that for you for the East, Midwest, South, and West Regions. If you are looking for a completely different way of looking at the NCAA Tournament, we would suggest you check out the post by Draft Express breaking down the prospects for each of the opening games. It will also help you sound a little smarter when you are sitting around with our friends talking about every prospect on each team. Of course, since you are visiting this site, we doubt that you need any help being smart.
  3. This year’s NCAA Tournament will produce many stars, but Chris Obekpa and Cliff Alexander are not likely to be among them barring any surprises. Obekpa, one of the top shot blockers in the country, was suspended for two weeks after testing positive for marijuana. While the decision to suspend Obekpa is not that surprising if that is the school’s policy, the decision to announce the suspension before the Selection Show was pretty gutsy since it could have been enough to move St. John’s down at least one seed line. As for Alexander, it appears increasingly likely that we have seen the last of him for at least this season as he did not make the trip with the team to Omaha for its opening game(s) while he waits to speak with NCAA investigators regarding alleged impermissible benefits he received (his mother receiving a loan). While we think Kansas can survive without Alexander, his absence limits their upside although a potential weekend match-up against Wichita State might have a bigger impact on that.
  4. The big topic in this year’s NCAA Tournament is obviously Kentucky namely who can actually beat the Wildcats. President Obama, for one, is picking Kentucky to win in his Presidential bracket (he also announced his support of a 30-second shot clock, which means that every red state will now support extending the shot clock to 45 seconds). As for someone with a little more legitimate NCAA basketball experience (and two more NCAA violations), Larry Brown boldly claimed that this Kentucky team would make the NBA Playoffs in the Eastern Conference. We won’t get into how ridiculous this statement is (plenty of others have already done it), but it does make us question the sanity of a Hall of Fame coach and one who led his team the AAC title. As for individuals who are trying to maintain a shred of credibility when discussing Kentucky, ESPN Magazine offered seven ways to beat Kentucky and teams that are suited to do so (hint: all of the teams listed are really, really good and none of the teams are listed in more than two of the seven ways). If you’re looking for more credible responses or at least ones from coaches who have matched up against Kentucky, Jeff Eisenberg has some of their tips on how to beat Kentucky and who is ideally equipped to do so.
  5. We suspect that the Equity in Athletics report claiming that many NCAA Tournament teams do not make a profit might involve some creative accounting methods, but it should serve as a reminder just how tenuous the financials can be for some schools and serve to highlight issues involved in paying student-athletes to pay college sports. While Louisville led the nation with its basketball program turning a $24.2 million profit in 2013-14, several notable programs like West Virginia, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, and Davidson reported losses with the first two reporting $2.2 million and $2 million in losses respectively. Several other big-name programs reported breaking even and Duke, which apparently hired some accountants from Arthur Anderson, actually reported a $2 million loss for the 2008-9 season. Although we doubt the validity of some of the figures (particularly that Duke one), it does underscore the variable profitability within the sport.
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What SEC Teams Seek This Weekend

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 18th, 2015

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The Southeastern Conference has been hit hard in the national media and on social media and everywhere else for its less than stellar basketball reputation. To be fair, it’s not completely unwarranted. Ole Miss opened the season with a loss to Charleston Southern. Mississippi State lost to Arkansas State and McNeese State. Missouri boasts a loss to UMKC. Those are bad losses to be sure, but the SEC is definitely not a one-team league, and the NCAA Tournament is a very good time to prove it.

Even folks in the south would agree that Kentucky carries the flag of SEC basketball. But, the other four in the Big Dance have a great opportunity to add to the party. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Even folks in the south would agree that Kentucky carries the flag of SEC basketball. But the other four in the Big Dance have a great opportunity to add to the party. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Five SEC teams made the NCAA Tournament this season, including undefeated Kentucky, which is a step in the right direction. You have to wonder, though, how much the Wildcats running through the conference without a loss has tarnished the perception of the rest of the league. Close followers of the SEC recognize its depth of talent from top to bottom this year but college basketball success is often defined by how the conference performs in March. Whether you subscribe to that opinion or think it’s bunk, it is important for the SEC to prove its worth on the national stage this weekend. Below we will examine what each team stands to gain during the NCAA Tournament in addition to bolstering the overall perception of the conference.

  • Kentucky: ESPN has made you acutely aware that Kentucky is chasing history, but even though the Wildcats are on the pursuit of perfection, there are still plenty of doubters. Everybody knows haters are gonna hate, but there is really only one way to silence those detractors, and that’s to win. For Kentucky, anything short of a National Championship will bring out a chorus of “I told you sos” from the numerous Twitter trolls who have persistently claimed that Kentucky has benefited from a weak SEC slate. John Calipari‘s club is on a mission to achieve something much more substantial than providing trash talk ammunition for the Big Blue Nation to take on Louisville fans. The 2012 version of the Wildcats may very well have been a better team than this season’s crew, but the Anthony Davis Wildcats can’t claim a 40-0 record. With six more wins the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats will forever be remembered as one of the great teams in college basketball history. Lose, however, and this team might be categorized in the same breath as the 2009-10 John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins Wildcats; a talented team that fell short when it counted the most.

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Why Each SEC Team Will Win in the Round of 64

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 17th, 2015

You printed out your bracket and you were sly enough to carry it in your portfolio into the Monday morning staff meeting. All you need now is for the office suck-up to bring in kolaches (ask the College Station folks if you’ve never had one!), a working pen (you really forgot to bring a pen to the staff meeting?), and a reason to advance every SEC team into the Round of 32 and beyond.

How about a good luck kiss for your bracket? (photo via @ukphotogs)

How about a good luck kiss for your bracket? (photo via @ukphotogs)

The SEC put five teams into the Big Dance but the casual college basketball fan who started paying attention in March doesn’t realize that the conference actually packs a bit more of a punch this season. At the same time, do you really trust teams that are coming off a loss to Auburn to advance deep into the tournament? Before you decide to be the SEC homer that has Georgia vs. LSU in the Elite Eight, lets focus first on how each SEC team can get to the Round of 32.

Kentucky. If you need to be convinced that Kentucky can win its first game then consider saving the $5 you were going to put into the office pool and buy five of those chocolate bars that Lois from accounting is selling for her grandson’s school fundraiser. For the sake of a good argument, lets assume Manhattan beats Hampton tonight. Former Kentucky player Steve Masiello would love an opportunity to end the Wildcats’ pursuit of perfection on his mentor Rick Pitino’s home court. Masiello has something that none of the current Wildcats yet have, a degree from the University of Kentucky. So there’s that. Is there any valid reason to think the Jaspers could pull off a victory though? Well, to get to this point, Manhattan will have beaten Iona. Iona beat Wake Forest. Wake beat North Carolina State. NC State beat Duke. But Duke didn’t beat Kentucky. Nobody has. And there’s not much reason to think that Manhattan will either. Moving on.

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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region Analysis

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2015

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Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWregion).

Midwest Region

Favorite: #1 Kentucky (34-0, 18-0 SEC). The unbeaten Wildcats enter the NCAA Tournament as not only the favorites in the Midwest Region but also for the entire tournament. John Calipari’s squad has been able to reach 34-0 due to its star power combined with its ability to play tremendously well as a unit. It will be utterly shocking if Kentucky is tripped up before reaching the Final Four. The reason why the Wildcats are such a lethal team is that they possess top-flight talent at each position. Their backcourt is loaded with sophomores Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison and freshmen Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis. The insanely long and athletic front line is led by junior Willie Cauley-Stein, sophomores Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, and freshmen Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns. Toss in the fact that Kentucky’s veteran players have Final Four experience from a season ago and you will understand why the Wildcats are the overwhelming favorite to advance to Indianapolis.

Will John Calipari Be Smiling This Time Next Week? (AP)

John Calipari and the Wildcats have had a lot to smile about this season. (AP)

Should They Falter: #3 Notre Dame (29-5, 14-4 ACC). The ACC Tournament champion Fighting Irish enter the NCAA Tournament fresh off playing some of their best basketball of the year. Notre Dame possesses an elite offensive attack with multiple options that makes it a very tough team to defend. That attack is led by senior star guard Jerian Grant, an All-American senior who has the ability to take over a game each night out. Grant is the alpha dog star of Mike Brey’s team, but senior Pat Connaughton and sophomores Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia all strongly contribute to the Irish’s success. It will be a stunner if Kentucky loses at any point in this region, but if it does, look for Notre Dame to take home the Midwest Region trophy and advance to the Final Four.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Cincinnati (22-10, 13-5 AAC). The Bearcats enjoyed a solid season but their résumé suggests that they should have been a double-digit seed. While Cincinnati had good victories over SMU (twice), San Diego State and NC State, it also had head-scratching losses to Nebraska, East Carolina and Tulane. The Bearcats finished the AAC season tied for third in the conference standings. Temple — the team they were tied with, and Tulsa, the team that finished one spot ahead of them — did not even earn bids to the NCAA Tournament. That’s not to suggest that Cincinnati didn’t deserve inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, but a #8 seed is very generous.

Grossly Underseeded: #7 Wichita State (28-4, 17-1 MVC). The Missouri Valley Conference does not provide many opportunities to pick up marquee victories, but Wichita State was able to pick up one on February 28 though when Gregg Marshall’s team got revenge from an early-season loss by topping Northern Iowa. The rest of the Shockers’ résumé was not very exciting, but they managed to win 28 games overall and only stumbled once in conference play prior to the MVC Tournament. Wichita State’s core is essentially the same (minus Cleanthony Early) as the one that started 34-0 last season. Gregg Marshall’s team is too talented and experienced to be a #7 seed and it would not be surprising at all to see it make a run to the second weekend.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: SEC Teams

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 16th, 2015

All things considered, the Selection Committee ended up being kind to the SEC this year. Kentucky grabbed the number one overall seed with no suspense and five league teams heard their names called. That’s a very welcome result after consecutive years of only three conference teams making the field. LSU’s inclusion as a #9 seed was especially interesting. The prevailing wisdom held that the Tigers’ SEC Tournament loss to Auburn had planted them firmly on the bubble. The fact that Johnny Jones’ team safely made the field could reveal that the committee had a high opinion of the conference. Here is a quick look at what these five SEC teams face in the coming days.

34-0. (USA Today Images)

34-0. (USA Today Images)

Kentucky

  • Seed: #1, Midwest
  • Quick First Round Preview: The Wildcats will play the winner of MEAC champion Hampton and MAAC champion Manhattan. There’s a reason they always play the games but this is not the instance where a #1 seed finally falls to a #16 seed. That said, there are intriguing storylines with both potential matchups. Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello (who played at Kentucky) was headed to South Florida before a lie on his resume cost him the job before he’d even started. Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua left John Calipari’s bench to take the job instead. The Jaspers should be able to handle sub-.500 Hampton, but the MEAC has a troubling history with the SEC. Two MEAC champions have taken down highly-seeded SEC (or soon to be SEC) schools: Coppin State over South Carolina in 1997 and Norfolk State over Missouri in 2012 (although both were #15 seeds)
  • Intriguing Potential Future Matchup: It would take a magical and seemingly improbable run, but a regional final matchup with Texas would be a fun one. The Longhorns have largely underachieved this season, but they are one of the few teams with the requisite size to match up with Kentucky. The two teams met in Lexington on December 5 and the Wildcats managed to pull out an 11-point win after a tie game at halftime. Texas, however, was without star point guard Isaiah Taylor at the time. Could he have made the difference? Maybe we’ll get to find out.
  • Final Word: The Wildcats have a few threats in this region but that’s a given for the NCAA Tournament. Kansas as a #2 seed is a much better fit than Wisconsin, Gonzaga or Virginia, since the Jayhawks have a banged-up frontcourt and were battered by Kentucky at the start of the year. It would be fun to watch Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton stretch the Wildcats’ defense in the regional final, but all things considered, the Wildcats are the clear favorite to get out of the Midwest.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kentucky 78, #21 Arkansas 63

Posted by David Changas on March 15th, 2015

rushedreactions

SEC Microsite writer David Changas is covering the SEC Tournament this week in Nashville and filed this report following Sunday’s Championship Game.

Three Key Takeaways.

Willie Cauley-Stein and Aaron Harrison celebrate the SEC Championship.

Willie Cauley-Stein and Aaron Harrison celebrate the SEC Championship.

  1. If Kentucky Plays Like This… We have all known for a while that if Kentucky is going to lose a game this season, it’s going to take an extraordinary effort from its opponent and the Wildcats will have to deliver a subpar effort. Kentucky jumped out to an early 8-0 lead against Arkansas before the Hawgs clawed back to tie it at 19; from that point, the Wildcats outscored the Razorbacks by a 22-6 margin over the last 10 minutes of the first half to effectively put the game out of reach. While Arkansas made a valiant effort to get back into the game in the second half by cutting the lead to nine points a couple of times, the Wildcats pulled away again thanks to a 15-5 run over a five-minute stretch that started midway through the half. Kentucky was clearly ready to play and it is unlikely any other team in college basketball will beat the Wildcats if it plays like they did on Sunday six more times.
  2. Arkansas’ Perimeter Shooting Wasn’t Good Enough. For the Razorbacks to have had any chance of pulling off a monumental upset, they needed to be great from the perimeter. They weren’t, making only 4-of-13 shots from three-point range. They did not get a lot of great looks (thanks to the Wildcats’ defense), but they also did not capitalize when those opportunities arrived. That allowed Kentucky to go on its big run to close out the first half. Beating the Wildcats is difficult enough for a team that is within striking distance at the half. Doing so when the deficit is 16 points? Forget it. Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, the team performed on par with their usual production from the outside, but that just was not going to cut it in this game. It also did not help that the Wildcats went 7-of-12 on their own from beyond the arc. After the game, head coach Mike Anderson emphasized that no team will beat Kentucky if it does not make open shots. While that may seem rather simplistic, it could not be more true.
  3. 34-0 is Pretty Darn Good. So much focus has been placed on whether anyone can actually beat Kentucky that we have often lost sight of the fact that the Wildcats practically waltzed through their unblemished schedule. Sure, there were the close calls against Ole Miss, Texas A&M, LSU and Georgia, but given that no high-major team has entered the NCAA Tournament without a loss in some 39 years, it is simply incredible that Kentucky dominated its schedule like it did. As John Calipari pointed out after Saturday’s win over Auburn, the Wildcats’ depth is what allowed this team to go undefeated, especially when compared to some of his shorter-benched Kentucky teams. But even with such high-quality depth and a team that has been exceptionally unselfish, winning every game on the schedule to get to 34-0 is a feat that should be appreciated.

Player of the Game. Willie Cauley-Stein was once again a beast for the Wildcats, just as he had been in all three games in Nashville this weekend. The SEC Tournament MVP went for 15 points and 10 rebounds, leading the team in both categories, but his statistics do not tell the whole story. The 7’1″ Cauley-Stein showed his defensive versatility on Saturday when he guarded 6’4″ Auburn guard KT Harrell and was just as effective on the inside Sunday against Bobby Portis. He is a transformative defensive player, the kind of asset that makes him the most important guy on the roster. The Wildcats would not be 34-0 without him.

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