2014-15 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on April 3rd, 2015

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what is going to occur during the season. There will always be players who will fail to live up to expectations and there will always be under the radar types who will unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our group of seven RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams back in November; nobody could have guessed that only five of the 15 names on that list would be able to live up to the hype: Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos, and Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns. The only two players who were projected to be a first team All-American and finished there were Kaminsky and Okafor. The 10 players who we selected as preseason All-Americans who did not make our team: North Carolina’s Marcus Paige, West Virginia’s Juwan Staten, Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell, Wichita State’s Ron Baker, Michigan’s Caris LeVert (spent much of conference play injured), Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker, Arizona’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona’s Stanley Johnson, Iowa State’s Georges Niang, and Nebraska’s Terran Petteway. They all had very productive seasons, but they were surpassed in achievements by the names that rose to the top of our list. Here are the 2014-15 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America

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  • Frank Kaminsky, Senior, Wisconsin (consensus) (18.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 54.9% FG, 41.5% 3FG). Kaminsky wrapped up his collegiate career in dynamite fashion. The RTC National Player of the Year and Big Ten Player of the Year has been the best player on a Wisconsin team that won the outright regular season Big Ten title, the Big Ten Tournament title, and the NCAA Tournament West Region. As the Badgers prepare for their final matchup with Kentucky on Saturday, it should be noted that Kaminsky has been excellent throughout March, recording 31 points in a March 1 win over fellow Final Four participant Michigan State, 27 points against Coastal Carolina in the round of 64, and 29 points against Arizona in the regional final.
  • Jahlil Okafor, Freshman, Duke (consensus) (17.5 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 66.8% FG). The ACC’s first-ever freshman to win league Player of the Year has been a sensation from the day he stepped foot on Duke’s campus. The top recruit from the Class of 2014 did not disappoint in what will almost absolutely be his only season in Durham. Okafor was a dominant offensive post presence during the Blue Devils’ 28-3 regular season, as he scored in double figures in 30 of the team’s 31 games. Duke enters the Final Four with national title aspirations — and with a player like Okafor at its disposal, it is easy to see how those dreams could come true.
  • D’Angelo Russell, Freshman, Ohio State (19.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 5.0 APG, 41.1% 3FG). Russell burst on to the scene in incredible fashion in what will likely be his only season in Columbus. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year topped 25 points five times during conference play, and along with his prolific scoring, he showcased some exceptional distribution skills. Ohio State was inconsistent as a team this season, but it always could rely on Russell to fill the stat sheet and act as a terrific playmaker.
  • Jerian Grant, Senior, Notre Dame (16.5 PPG, 6.7 APG, 1.7 SPG, 47.8% FG). Grant’s return from an academic suspension that cost him the second semester of his junior season to lead the Irish to the Elite Eight was one of the stories of the year in college basketball. The senior guard lifted Notre Dame to a new level with his knack for hitting big shotsincredible passing, and overall leadership skills. Grant saved his best for the biggest games, which was evident by his 23-point, 12-assist performance in a January 28 victory over Duke and a 24-point, 10-assist effort in the ACC Tournament championship game victory over North Carolina.
  • Delon Wright, Senior, Utah (14.5 PPG, 5.1 APG, 4.9 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 50.9% FG). Utah advanced to its first Sweet Sixteen since 2005 this season, and the biggest reason for that was Wright’s play. The Utes epitomized team basketball with their style, but it was Wright who was routinely called on to make the big play late in the big game. While Wright has exhausted his eligibility, his consistency and leadership will be etched into Larry Krystkowiak’s program for many years to come.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 66, #2 Gonzaga 52

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 29th, 2015

RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is in Houston this week for the South Regional semifinals and final.

Three Key Takeaways.

Both Jones' -- Tyus And Matt -- Were Instrumental In Duke's Elite Eight Victory Over Gonzaga (Photo: Duke Chronicle)

Both Jones’ — Tyus And Matt — Were Instrumental In Duke’s Elite Eight Victory Over Gonzaga (Photo: Duke Chronicle)

  1. Offenses Fail To Get Going, Again. In Friday night’s regional semifinals, four teams that began the night among the 65 most accurate three-point shooting teams in the country combined to shoot 23 percent from long-range. Much was made of the clumsy dome setup inducing the offensive malaise, but the forecast for Sunday was still for efficient offense by the bucket-load, given the firepower Duke and Gonzaga brought to the table. The two teams got off to a fast start – 22 points in the first five minutes – but things settled down significantly from there on out. Gonzaga and Duke combined to shoot 41 percent from the floor, including just 38 percent for the victorious Blue Devils. Duke did do two things extremely well offensively: shoot the ball accurately from three-point range (8-19) and maximize possessions (an amazing three total turnovers for the game). Gonzaga was less proficient in each category, making only two of 10 three-point attempts and turning the ball over 13 times. There were glimpses of the offensive brilliance we witnessed from both these teams all season, but this regional final never escalated into the explosive matchup many expected.
  2. Matt Jones, Who? Matt Jones. The Duke sophomore supplied the game of his life in this Regional Final. Jones, who entered Sunday averaging just 5.9 points per game, finished with 16 points (one shy of his season and career highs) and converted four of Duke’s eight made three-point field goals. With Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones again struggling to find the range from deep (combined 2-8 on three-point attempts), Jones’ unexpected scoring was crucial in getting the Blue Devils into the final minutes with a lead. Mark Few said afterwards that concerns about guarding Justise Winslow had led to Gonzaga to do a significant amount of cross-matching with Kyle Wiltjer defending Jones, a reasonable coaching decision that devolved into a disastrous result for the Zags. Jones, Duke’s fifth starter and a Texas native (like Friday night hero Justise Winslow) playing in his home state, was as important as any of his more acclaimed teammates Sunday afternoon.
  3. Wiltjer-Winslow Matchup. This was the matchup many fixated on in advance of Sunday afternoon, and with good reason: Winslow was coming off a scintillating Friday night performance, while Wiltjer has been arguably the Zags best player all season. Mixing and matching by both coaches saw both players spend a good deal of time defending elsewhere, but Wiltjer kept Gonzaga close in the first half, scoring 13 points on 5-7 field-goal shooting. Meanwhile, Winslow forced the action early and managed just five points in the opening frame, missing five of his six field-goal attempts. Things changed dramatically after intermission, however. Wiltjer struggled to get touches and was a virtual non-factor in the second half, while Duke’s freshman swingman found his Friday night form, pumping in 11 second-half points. Among the 11 was the biggest shot of the night, a three-pointer with the shot clock winding down and less than three minutes to go that put Duke up nine. Both players finished with 16 points, but Winslow’s big second-half was a key differentiator for Mike Krzyewski’s team.

Star of the Game. Tyus Jones, Duke. None of Duke’s big four – Jones, Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and Quinn Cook – played anything close to a perfect game today. Heck, they combined to shoot 15-45 from the field. Still, it was Jones that catalyzed Duke’s quick start, scoring seven points as the Blue Devils jumped out to a 17-10 lead. The South Region’s Most Outstanding Player finished the day with 15 points, six assists and no turnovers, helping Duke to that minuscule turnover total of three. Matt Jones’ unexpected scoring was a huge boost Sunday afternoon, but it was the more familiar Jones on the Duke roster who dictated this game’s flow from the outset. His ball-handling and all-around savvy will now be put to use in Indianapolis.

Quotable. “It’s meant everything. Best team I have ever been on talent-wise and the best group of guys. We can look back and be pretty happy with what we have been able to do.” –Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga senior point guard, on what this Gonzaga season has meant to him.

“It’s a shot he makes. It’s a shot he makes 499 times out of 500.” –Mark Few, on Kyle Wiltjer’s missed layup with 4:51 to go that would have tied game. Duke went on a 13-1 run to close the game after the miss.

“Our defense the last 16 minutes was spectacular — not (just) good. I love these guys and they came through.” –Mike Krzyewski, Duke head coach

“This team is eight guys. There is not someone hiding in the locker room that is going to come out and appear.” -Krzyewski.

Sights & Sounds. Whether it was the Sunday afternoon time slot, a Final Four bid on the line, or just the anticipation of the region’s top two seeds meeting, there was an urgency in NRG Stadium that never existed Friday night. The Duke faithful significantly outnumbered Gonzaga supporters (rough estimate — 5:1 ratio of Duke to Gonzaga fans), but enough folks from the Pacific Northwest made the journey South to create a back-and-forth feel to the cheering. In the end, however, the final image of NRG Stadium was all too familiar: Thousands of contented Duke fans standing in acknowledgment of a Blue Devil team advancing to face their next challenge.

What’s Next?  Duke advances to the program’s 16th Final Four, where it will take on Tom Izzo and Michigan State in Indianapolis. The fourth overall meeting between Mike Krzyewski and Tom Izzo in the NCAA Tournament will double as the second time they have met in a National Semifinal. Duke has won two of those three prior matchups, which includes a Sweet 16 game two seasons ago. On the other side, the loss to Duke ends what will likely go down as the greatest season in Gonzaga history. The Zags, now 0-2 all-time in the Elite Eight, will finish the year at 35-3. Mark Few loses Byron Wesley, Gary Bell and WCC Player of the Year Kevin Pangos to graduation after an undeniably special year in Spokane.

 

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Sweet Sixteen Storylines: South and East Regionals

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 27th, 2015

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Tonight the Sweet Sixteen moves to Syracuse and Houston, so let’s take a look at the top five storylines in the East and South Regions.

South Storylines

1. Is this finally Gonzaga’s year? Mention Gonzaga to a casual college basketball fan, and more often than not, the word ‘overrated’ pops into his head. The Bulldogs have had some really impressive regular seasons under Mark Few, making the NCAA Tournament every year since he took over in 1999. But time after time, the Zags have come up short in March. Few has never taken Gonzaga past the Sweet Sixteen as a head coach, but this could be the year that the drought ends. This year’s team is more complete and well-rounded than most previous editions, and the final hurdle on the path to the Elite Eight is a #11 seed — albeit a strong one — in UCLA. A program-first Final Four might also be within reach, but let’s not put the cart before the horse just yet — for many reasons, the Zags need to win tonight.

Is this finally the year for Mark Few and Gonzaga? (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Is this finally the year for Mark Few and Gonzaga? (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

2. Duke’s recent Tourney hiccups. Since winning the 2010 National Championship, Mike Krzyzewski’s postseason record has actually been pretty lackluster. He came into this year 5-4 in the NCAA Tournaments from 2011-14 and he has been on the wrong end of some stunning upsets — losses to #15 seed Lehigh in 2012 and #14 seed Mercer a year ago. Even the 2011 Sweet Sixteen loss to #5 seed Arizona was unexpected. It’s exactly that kind of loss that Duke will be hoping to avoid this time around against a dangerous Utah squad.

3. Back aboard the Utah bandwagon? The Utes faded from the spotlight late in the season. They lost three of their last five games and exited the Pac-12 Tournament by losing to Oregon for the second time in less than a month. But they were businesslike last weekend in handling Stephen F. Austin and Georgetown, and come into tonight’s contest as only a five-point underdog against Duke. Utah has been a top 10 KenPom team since early January, and after a methodical but strong second half dispatching of the Hoyas, it seems like everybody has fallen back in love with the Utes as a Final Four sleeper. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes 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 @rtcsouthregion for reporting from Houston this week. You can find all four regional resets here.

New Favorite: #1 Duke. The Blue Devils are well-positioned to make their first Final Four since 2010. Two wins in Charlotte (by an average of 24.0 PPG) did little to diminish their status as the South Region favorite, even with Gonzaga and Utah also impressively advancing en route to Houston. Duke, 31-4 and trending upwards, has made clear the crown will go through them.

Quinn Cook And Matt Jones Helped Duke Cruise By San Diego State And Into The Sweet 16

Quinn Cook and Matt Jones Helped Duke Cruise by San Diego State and into the Sweet Sixteen. (Getty)

Horse of Darkness: #11 UCLA. The only double-digit seed left standing in this NCAA Tournament is the South Region’s darkest horse, despite that double-digit seed owning more national titles than any program in the history of college basketball. UCLA’s serendipitous March has been well-documented, but 80 minutes of solid basketball earned the Bruins a trip to Houston and the second weekend. The impediment to advancement (Gonzaga) will be significantly greater in Houston; can UCLA’s mutation into Cinderella maintain itself for another weekend?

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #3 Iowa State. It was the quick departure of a pair of #3 seeds from the Big 12 that supplied this year’s NCAA Tournament an early jolt on Thursday afternoon. Baylor’s demise on the other side of the bracket was surprising in its own right, but Iowa State’s loss to UAB was legitimately shocking. Fresh off a takedown of Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament championship game, the Cyclones had entered this tourney with engines revving. The draw was favorable in the South – many believed a Final Four run was in the cards. At worst, a second round victory over 14-point underdog UAB felt like a certainty. But the impossible becomes possible very quickly this time of year; before anyone knew it, Iowa State had become the first casualty of the Madness of March. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Gonzaga 87, #7 Iowa 68

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 22nd, 2015

rushedreactions

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.

Gonzaga Rolled into the Sweet Sixteen Today in Seattle (USA Today Images)

Gonzaga Rolled into the Sweet Sixteen Today in Seattle (USA Today Images)

  1. Skilled Bigs. In order to have a chance to beat Gonzaga, you’ve need size to deal with their trio of bigs – Kyle Wiltjer, Prezemek Karnowski, and Domantas Sabonis. But simply having size is not enough to slow down this group. Wiltjer, as he showed tonight, has the ability to step out well beyond the three-point line and rain jumpers from deep. Karnowski’s nimble feet and deft passing ability belie his 288 pounds and brick-wall defensive ability. And Sabonis’ intelligence and polished post moves are impressive for an 18-year-old freshman. The left-handed Karnowski and Sabonis present a different look for defenses. Oh, and these guys go 6’10”, 7’1”, 6’10”, respectively. They fouled out Iowa bigs Adam Woodbury and Gabe Olaseni and got three fouls on Aaron White. They scored 40 points in the paint and dominated on the glass. There aren’t a lot of teams in the nation outside of Lexington, Kentucky, that can match the Zags’ imposing and talented size.
  2. Useful Parts. You know all about those Gonzaga bigs. You also know about senior guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell. But something that will serve the Bulldogs extremely well from here on out is some of their bit pieces deeper down their bench. Kyle Dranginis has been described by head coach Mark Few as a “Swiss Army knife,” a guy who can do a little bit of everything. Tonight, after Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff got off to a hot start draining sevearl mid-range jumpers, Dranginis earned that assignment for large stretches for the final three-quarters of the game, challenging his shots and generally making him uncomfortable. Vanderbilt transfer Eric McClellan only played 12 minutes but he served as an athletic defensive stopper on the perimeter, a tertiary ball-handler and another veteran leader. And then there’s USC transfer Byron Wesley who, although a starter and a double-figure scorer, flies under the radar. He’s another guy who Few can rely on as a lockdown defender on the perimeter against teams with strong guards. The stars on this team are one thing, but this Gonzaga roster checks off every box you look for in a Final Four contender.
  3. Defensive Questions, Still. Look, the Zags were phenomenal on offense today. The final numbers – 1.28 points per possession, 13-of-21 from three, 74% eFG. Those are ridiculous offensive statistics. But we know this is a talented team offensively. If this team is going to get to a Final Four, they’re going to need to get some stops. Iowa tonight did not have a lot of things go well for it, but they still shot a better than 50% eFG and averaged a point per possession. Gonzaga has some nice defensive pieces but they’ve also got some liabilities. How far they will go may depend on how well they can mask those issues.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Gonzaga 86, #15 North Dakota State 76

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 21st, 2015

rushedreactions

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.

Dexter Werner: Unlikely March Hero (USA Today Images)

Dexter Werner: Unlikely March Hero (USA Today Images)

  1. Physical Mismatch. Gonzaga has three guys taller than 6’10”; North Dakota State has three guys taller than 6’6”. By halftime, those three Bison had accumulated seven fouls and it could have been worse. The Bison are a quality team with fun guards that had a great season, but they never should have had a chance tonight even as Dexter Werner was putting in improbable second half buckets to get the Bison back within six down the stretch. Whenever the Bulldogs wanted to turn it on, they could just pound the ball inside and either draw fouls or get easy buckets. And hey, you wanna double any of those big guys? Good luck, as they’re all adept passers out of the post to find spot-up shooters. Gonzaga will run into teams that can bang with them down low, but tonight was not one of those times.
  2. Defense Is A Concern. The biggest concern that has been expressed about the Zags’ chances this March is on the defensive end. Tonight, North Dakota State, a team ranked 194th in offensive efficiency nationally, scored 1.35 points per possession in the second half against the Bulldogs. Now, there were some extraordinary circumstances here and Gonzaga wasn’t exactly giving a terrific effort. But that in and of itself is a concern. This is a game that Gonzaga should have won easily without breaking a sweat, but instead they gave their fans more heartburn than anybody ever expected.
  3. Veteran Leadership. With the physical mismatch readily apparent right out of the gate, attendees were expecting a chance to get to their cars early tonight. In fact, it looked like the Zags thought they had somewhere else they would rather be too. But whenever the Bison made it too close for comfort, there was either Kyle Wiltjer or Kevin Pangos there to turn the tide. When the Bison cut the Zags’ lead to six points with 11 minutes left, Wiltjer drilled a jumper to spearhead a quick 6-0 run. Then the Bulldogs relaxed again, Werner went to work, and you looked up at the six-minute mark and it’s a six-point game again. Pangos then stepped into a three. An overexuberant Werner runs into Pangos. The three falls, Pangos completes the four-point play, and the outcome is never seriously in doubt again. Wiltjer and Pangos combined for 41 points on a highly-efficient 22 field goal attempts.

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Gonzaga: Why You Should Take The Zags Seriously This Year

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 17th, 2015

Maybe it is just that the naysayers are louder. Maybe it is the whole “once bitten, twice shy” nature of postseason college basketball. But despite a 32-2 record, a #6 overall KenPom ranking, a #2 seed in the South Region, and a veteran-heavy lineup, the once beloved Gonzaga Bulldogs seem to be going the way of Rodney Dangerfield. Not only are they getting no respect on the national scene from the average college basketball fan, they’re at a point in the program’s history where the combination of overwhelming regular season success (they’ve won 14 of the last 15 WCC titles, for example) and relative lack of postseason success (just three Sweet Sixteen appearances in that same span) has drawn a peculiar combination of jealousy and dismissal. Fans around the WCC are sick of their dominance the way New York-hating baseball fans love to hate the Yankees, while the rest of the country doesn’t take them all that seriously due to their handful of NCAA Tournament flameouts.

Despite a 32-2 Record, Many Dismiss Gonzaga's Chances

Despite a 32-2 Record, Many Dismiss Gonzaga’s Chances. (Getty)

Now, I wrote about Gonzaga a year ago following their blowout loss to Arizona in the Round of 32. I stand by everything I wrote there: Gonzaga’s postseason record is a result of a combination of bad luck in a small sample size and, frankly, a relative lack of talent. I wrote about them again back in December, wondering if this year was really any different than those in the past. I’ve now watched the Zags play maybe a dozen times this season. I’ve seen them up close and personal four of those times. I’ve seen them grow from a point in December when they easily handled UCLA at Pauley Pavilion to last Tuesday night in Las Vegas when they took home another WCC Tournament title. And let me tell you, from a guy who watches a lot of college basketball, there aren’t very many teams in this country that are better than Gonzaga.

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Conference Tourney Primers: West Coast

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 6th, 2015

We’re in the midst of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the continuing action by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

West Coast Tournament

Dates: March 6-7, 9-10

Site: Orleans Arena (Las Vegas, NV)

wccWhat to expect: Gonzaga looked well on its way to in-conference perfection and possibly a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament before BYU spoiled things last Saturday. That should only make the Bulldogs angry this weekend in Las Vegas. Expect the league champs to reach their 18th-straight West Coast Conference title game – where they will probably meet the Cougars for a third time – and make a statement heading into Selection Sunday. As for that BYU team… with numerous outlets projecting it among the ‘last four in’ and ‘last four out’, the Cougars can ill afford to stumble prior to the championship game. Their postseason hopes could come down to a semifinal tilt with Saint Mary’s on Monday – not an easy task, considering the teams’ regular season split.

Favorite: Gonzaga. The Zags went 29-2 during the regular season, rank among the top 10 nationally by most polls and metrics, and largely breezed through their WCC schedule. On a neutral floor, this is a no-brainer.

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O26 Weekly Awards: BYU, Derrick Marks, Bruiser Flint & Southern Miss…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 3rd, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

BYU pulled off a stunner in Spokane. (Young Kwak / AP)

BYU pulled off a stunner in Spokane. (Young Kwak / AP)

BYU. Want to know how to get back in the NCAA Tournament discussion? Beat the third-ranked team in the country on its own floor. Snap its nation-leading 41-game home winning streak. Ruin its chance for a No. 1 seed. That might do it. Not only was BYU’s 73-70 victory over Gonzaga on Saturday one of the biggest victories in program history, it put the Cougars right back on the right side of the bubble – a residence they had not visited in weeks. Point guard Kyle Collinsworth led the way for Dave Rose’s club, scoring 20 points, securing eight rebounds (six offensive) and coming up with two huge steals, his aggressive play setting the tone from the outset. “We made a lot of mistakes but we were so energized with each play on both offense and defense,” Rose said of his team afterward. BYU held Bulldogs forward Kyle Wiltjer – likely the WCC Player of the Year – to just four points and never enabled Gonzaga to assemble a serious run. After picking up a solid road win at Portland earlier in the week, the Cougars are now projected to be in the field of 68 by numerous prognosticators. A run to the WCC Tournament title game would probably be enough to guarantee BYU a bid come Selection Sunday. As for Collinsworth’s thoughts on the NCAA Tournament committee and his team’s fate: “I’ll let them decide.”

Honorable Mentions: Boise State (2-0: vs. New Mexico, at San Diego State); Wichita State (2-0: at Indiana State, vs. Northern Iowa); Davidson (2-0: at Rhode Island, vs. George Washington); Northern Illinois (2-0: at Toledo, vs. Central Michigan); UC Santa Barbara (2-0: vs. UC Davis, vs. UC Irvine)

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O26 Weekly Awards: Miami (OH), Kyle Wiltjer, Howie Dickenman & Binghamton…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 24th, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

The RedHawks wreaked havoc in the MAC East last week. (GoZips.com)

The RedHawks wreaked havoc in the MAC East last week. (GoZips.com)

Miami (OH). Miami (OH) took a wrecking ball to the MAC East last week, and it’s doubtful anyone saw it coming. At just 4-8 in conference play and 9-16 overall, the RedHawks – 1-7 on the road entering Wednesday’s game – traveled to first-place Bowling Green and beat the Falcons, 67-56, then turned around and knocked off Akron just three nights later. Against the former, John Cooper’s bunch hit 20 of 21 free throws and managed over a point per possession against one of the stingier defenses in America, prompting Falcons’ head coach Chris Jans to say afterward, “We’ve talked and talked about getting everybody’s best shot. And [today] you saw what happened.” But the effort was more than a one-shot, “best-shot” deal for Miami, because the RedHawks kept the upset momentum rolling into Saturday. Again facing long odds and a strong divisional contender, Miami overcome poor shooting (37% FG), forced 20 turnovers and gutted out an overtime win against the preseason MAC East-favorite Zips. Junior guard Eric Washington led the way with 21 points, including four big free throws in the extra period. Miami’s out-of-nowhere run has suddenly put Akron in jeopardy of having to play in first and second round games in the conference tournament (rather than byes), helped knock Bowling Green out of first place, and enabled Kent State to rise atop the standings. But Golden Flashes beware: The red-hot RedHawks come calling tonight at 7:00 PM ET.

Honorable Mentions: Columbia (2-0: at Brown, at Yale); Northern Arizona (2-0: vs. Idaho, vs. Eastern Washington); UC Davis (2-0: at Long Beach State, vs. Hawaii); Stony Brook (2-0: at Albany, vs. Binghamton); Chattanooga (2-0: vs. Mercer, vs. East Tennessee State); Buffalo (2-0: at Eastern Michigan, at Bowling Green)

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How Can Saint Mary’s Beat Gonzaga?

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 22nd, 2015

According to Ken Pomeroy’s latest prognostications, Gonzaga is better than a 90 percent favorite in 10 of its 12 remaining games. The two games in which that is not the case come in late February when the Bulldogs travel to Saint Mary’s (February 21) and when they host BYU in the final game of the regular season (February 28). Tonight, Saint Mary’s gets its first crack at the Zags and, despite being a 15-point Vegas underdog and the Gaels having just an eight percent chance of winning this game, this is a match-up between teams that are a combined 14-0 in West Coast Conference play. Furthermore, the Gaels have been the only team in recent history to seriously and regularly challenge the Bulldogs’ spot atop the conference. Still, the Bulldogs have won all six games in this series in the past two seasons, and in several cases, decisively. So, the question becomes: What can Saint Mary’s do to beat Gonzaga?

Brad Waldow Will Need To Shine Against The Big Gonzaga Front Line (Getty Images)

Brad Waldow Will Need To Shine Against The Big Gonzaga Front Line (Getty Images)

As those Pomeroy odds indicate, the Gaels’ actual chances in tonight’s game are not strong. We could point out several minor data points – like the fact that the Zags won at Pepperdine by only two points while the Gaels won by nine there; or those unblemished conference records – to convince ourselves that this game of WCC titans is bound to be a battle. But the fact is that there isn’t a lot on St. Mary’s resume this season to suggest that it’s got the horses to win in Spokane tonight. The Gaels beat BYU on Saturday night in what easily represents their best win of the season, with wins over Pepperdine, UC Irvine and a fading Creighton team really the only other things of substance (note: “substance” used with great looseness here). But more than anything else, the Gaels have winning experience going for them. Of their seven players who factor most significantly into their rotation, they’ve got five seniors – four of those who have spent time at other schools before landing in Moraga. All of these guys have played plenty of road games against elite teams and rivals many times before, so when they roll into The Kennel tonight, they won’t be scared.

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Handicapping the Wooden Award Finalists

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 21st, 2015

The Wooden Award released its midseason top 25 list last week. College basketball’s top individual honor will likely go to a player named on that list, but there’s still time for others (attention: Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon and Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas) to work their way into the picture. However, it’s also true that the field of real contenders for the award is thinning as we near February and March. RTC handicaps the race for the Wooden…

Jahlil Okafor, Duke. Odds To Win = 3/2.

Any national Player of the Year discussion must begin with Duke’s freshman sensation. Okafor’s averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game begin to explain his value to the Blue Devils, but the impact of his presence runs much deeper than that. His steadiness (double-figure points in every game this season) has stabilized a Duke attack that was far more reliant on the three-point shot a season ago, while his unselfishness has helped the Duke guards find space on the perimeter. The presumptive top pick in next June’s NBA Draft has looked like the best player in college basketball from opening night, but an April coronation as the National Player of the Year will surely depend on Duke’s success. Balance has fueled the rise of other national title contenders (Kentucky and Virginia most notable among them), but there is no question that Okafor will continue to lead the Duke charge. Pole position has been well-earned: This is Okafor’s award to lose.

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin. Odds To Win = 5/2.

Kaminsky nabbed the national spotlight last March with a show-stopping regional final performance against Arizona. He has not given it up since. ‘Frank the Tank’ is grabbing more rebounds (8.2 RPG this season), blocking more shots (1.8 BPG) and even handing out more assists (2.4 APG) than he did a year ago. The Wisconsin center has been outstanding all season, but his value to the Badgers may have been best exhibited in a 40 minute stint on the bench. As their star sat out with a concussion on January 11, Wisconsin fell to Rutgers in one of the most shocking results of the season. The loss showed just how important the versatile center has become for Bo Ryan’s team. A balanced Badgers’ lineup may pose some threat to Kaminsky’s Wooden Award chances, but that surrounding talent is also what’s made the his team legitimate national title contenders. And as Wisconsin chases that elusive championship, its versatile big man is making a serious push for the most prestigious of individual accolades.

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