Morning Five: 01.12.16 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 12th, 2016

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  1. The big news over the weekend was UNLV‘s decision to fire Dave Rice resigning at UNLV. On one hand the news isn’t exactly showing as Rice had brought in good recruiting classes, but failed to produce the type of success you would hope to have at what should really be the premier program in the Mountain West. On the other hand, the decision to fire a coach (everybody knows this was forced) in early January without a major scandal is quite unusual. In the end, Rice’s 98-54 record simply was not good enough or more specifically his 38-28 record after starting his time with a 51-19 record. The big question is who will take over after Todd Simon‘s stint as interim coach. One name that we have seen floated out there is former NBA coach Mike Brown, which would certainly fit the criteria of being a (fairly) big name with experience coaching superstars that might appeal to recruits. He also might be as good as UNLV can get because despite what some in the fan base might think it probably isn’t any better than a top 30 or 40 coaching position.
  2. Last week couldn’t end soon enough for Arizona as they not only lost both of their games (UCLA and USC), but they also lost Allonzo Trier for 4-6 weeks after he broke a bone in his right hand in Saturday’s quadruple-overtime loss to USC. Trier, who led the team in scoring at 14.8 points per game, is the third significant player for the Wildcats to miss time this year as Kaleb Tarczewski recently returned from injury and Ray Smith is out for the season after tear in his ACL in October. Despite this latest injury, Arizona still has the potential to win the Pac-12, but their road just got much tougher. The bigger question will be whether Trier will be healthy and back to form when March rolls around.
  3. Much of the talk about the economics of college sports has focused in on the pay of coaches, but as The Washington Post points out the salaries of “Power 5” conference commissioners (or more specifically the increase in salaries) might be even more noteworthy. While the average pay of $2.58 million might not seem like that much compared to the money that some coaches make, the increase in their pay over the past 14 years by 258% is more notable as well as many of the nice perks they get with the job. We can understand the rationale that they have more on their plate now with conference realignment and their own cable networks, but it is still a pretty cush job. The one thing that we would love to see included in an analysis like this is what CEOs of organizations with similar revenue figures make.
  4. The announcement that Larry Krystkowiak was putting a temporary halt to the UtahBYU series because of concern that it was becoming too intense has been widely criticized as an overreaction to incidents that happened in two of the past three meetings. To be fair, both of the incidents were the result of actions by BYU players (Nick Emery this past year and Erik Mika two years earlier), but we are not sure that the potential risks of further incidents happening is high enough to put a hold on one of the best rivalries in college basketball. For now, Utah has canceled the 2016 game and there has been no public talk about restarting the rivalry after that. We are not sure why the schools couldn’t at least do something like what Cincinnati and Xavier did after their famous “Zip ‘Em Up” game where they played on a neutral court for two years. We’ll admit that even that seems a little ridiculous, but it’s better than suspending the rivalry.
  5. One of the major criticisms of the college coaching ranks is how underrepresented minorities are in comparison to what you see on the court/field. As a result, a group of minority coaches (National Association for Coaching Equity and Development) is pushing for an “Eddie Robinson Rule,” which would be similar to the NFL’s “Rooney Rule, that would require all universities to interview a minority candidate for any coaching or leadership opening. While this seems good in theory as we have seen in the NFL this can often be simply paid lip service and it’s unclear how much impact it would have without adequate enforcement.
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Blame the System for Utah Bailing on the BYU Rivalry

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 7th, 2016

In a joint statement last night, Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak and athletic director Dr. Chris Hill casually let it leak that the school will break its existing contract with BYU in backing out of next season’s meeting in Provo. That’s bad enough, but the pair made matters worse by claiming the decision was a result of escalating intensity in the rivalry that creates “the potential for serious injury.” The curious timing and Krystkowiak’s sudden concern for everyone’s safety made the excuse look especially flimsy — but thankfully, Twitter was quick to call out Utah’s shenanigans. Yet amid all the well-deserved scorn that was heaped the school’s administrators, there is one thing they deserve credit for. That is being brave enough to do what every other Power 5 coach and athletic director wishes they could do — find a defensible way to stop playing quality mid-major opponents on the road.

It's Inexcusable That Such a Great Basketball Rivalry is Ending (USAT Images)

It’s Inexcusable That Such a Great Basketball Rivalry is Ending (USAT Images)

Do not be deceived — that is what this decision boils down to. BYU has a long history of accusations levied against it for playing dirty in basketball and other sports. But despite the various incidents cited in Utah’s statements, this isn’t about player safety. It isn’t about animosity between the two programs (although it certainly exists). It isn’t because either program has done anything worth cancelling one of the country’s most entertaining hoops rivalries. It is because Utah, now headstrong and comfortable with its status in the much-richer Pac-12, has nothing to gain from playing a very good BYU team in Provo next season. The actual reasons for this maneuver are so transparent to be almost offensive, and the statements from both men were so patronizing in blaming BYU that it is easy to see why Cougars’ head coach Dave Rice was so fired up about the decision. In the end, the cost to Utah will only be $80,000 in a guarantee fee, a few bad days of publicity and some lingering bad blood with its rival down the road. All of which will seem like a small price to pay when next season’s game with BYU is replaced with a home game against an overmatched Big Sky team and Utah mops the floor with them.

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Considering Utah’s Foundational Win Over Duke

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 21st, 2015

A year ago, Utah hosted Wichita State in early December. After a 2013-14 season in which the Utes had made great strides but gone 3-8 in two possession games, it was a mammoth game for a program with March aspirations. It took 45 minutes to decide a winner, but a Delon Wright game-winner with 14 seconds left gave the program a foundational win against a proven opponent. They showed that they could not only hang with a top-10 team, but also come away with a win. Early this season, the big story for Larry Krystkowiak  is that life after all-Pac-12 performer Wright is hard. Prior to Saturday, they had played two games against quality competition this year and were blown out in both. So when the team traveled to Madison Square Garden to play Duke on Saturday, the opportunity felt similar to that offered by the Shockers last season. These Utes had plenty to prove.

Larry Krystkowiak, Utah

Larry Krystkowiak And Utah Earned A Win To Build On At MSG Saturday (Photo: AP)

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Utah Preview: Who’s Got the Wright Stuff?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 23rd, 2015

In the next three weeks leading up to season tipoff, the Pac-12 microsite will be evaluating each of the league’s 12 teams. Today, we head to Salt Lake City.

Utah Utes

The second team up for our preseason previews is Larry Krystkowiak’s squad, fresh off a third-place conference finish and a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Last season marked the third consecutive year in West Coast Coach K’s four-year tenure in Salt Lake City in which his team’s record has improved. Of the team’s 11 players who averaged better than eight minutes per game last season, nine return. However, the big one who doesn’t is point guard and All-American Delon Wright, who averaged 14.5 points, 5.1 assists, 4.9 boards, 2.1 assists and a block per game, numbers that only begin to sum up his overall importance to the squad.

With Jakob Poeltl Patrolling The Paint, The Utes Defense Is A Serious Strength (Godofredo Vasquez, USA Today)

With Jakob Poeltl Patrolling The Paint, The Utes’ Defense Is A Serious Strength (Godofredo Vasquez, USA Today)

Strengths. As alluded to above, that experience is going to be a huge asset for the Utes. But it is just one of many areas from which this team can draw confidence. Last year the Utes were sixth in the nation in defensive efficiency, largely on the strength of allowing the fifth-lowest effective field goal percentage in the nation. Dig deeper and you also see things like this (courtesy of Hoop-math.com): They were 35th in the nation in fewest three-point attempts allowed; they allowed the 25th-lowest field goal percentage on shots at the rim and were 20th in the nation at shots blocked at the rim; and, they forced their opponents to take the 25th-highest percentage of two-point jumpers. To sum it up, this was a team that closed out on shooters at the arc, forced opponents inside the three-point line, and then used their front line size (highlighted by freshman center Jakob Poeltl) to greatly inhibit shooters’ effectiveness around the rim. Utah loses one of the nation’s elite perimeter defenders with Wright now gone, but the guys expected to take over for him are athletic and long wings. If Krystkowiak’s perimeter defense can be roughly equivalent to last year, scoring against the Utes in the paint will likely be just as difficult. On the other end of the court, the team’s biggest strength last season was its three-point shooting. Three different players – Brandon Taylor, Jordan Loveridge and Dakarai Tucker – shot at least 37 percent from three on at least 108 attempts. They all return, but again, Wright’s ability to penetrate and draw multiple defenders certainly opened up clean looks for them around the arc. If they can again find good looks, the Utes should be able to maintain one of their biggest strengths. Read the rest of this entry »

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West Coast Bias: Pac-12 Media Day Happenings

Posted by Adam Butler on October 16th, 2015

They say the media doesn’t pay attention to anything that happens out West, but no such claim could be made yesterday. Here is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2015 edition of Pac-12 Media Day, in order of their appearance.

USC Trojans

You only take the podium first if you’re the commissioner or the last place team in the conference. Andy Enfield isn’t Larry Scott. His squad is the latter. Andy Enfield is interesting to me in that Enfield “won the presser.” He was the flashy hire meant to breathe life into a stale program. And then he spouted off about UCLA! Of course those remarks were “off the record” and not meant to be disseminated anywhere beyond his practice. Two years ago we thought he was every bit the flashy hire Pat Haden promised. They’ve won six conference games since and Enfield really hasn’t had a ton to say. This year, however, he seemed to receive more questions and have more to say. It was a refreshing change from the previous platitudes. And while he didn’t say much – and distinctly promised nothing – there seems to be optimism inside this program. They’re older, wiser, stronger, and presumably better. Enfield has a talented roster: How will it translate?

Washington Huskies

Another program with the allusion of optimism, but I maintain it’s going to be a long one in Seattle. They’re bringing in a top recruiting class and return a senior point guard, but the Huskies feel another year away to me. Which of course is not the seat you want to sit in when you’ve had four progressively worse seasons. It’s the seat of a team predicted to finish 11th by the media. But let’s talk about the important stuff: #Globalization. The PAC is sending its Dawgs to China for the first ever regular season game – collegiate or professional – in China. LoRo’s squad will square off against Shaka Smart’s first Longhorn team in an overseas battle. The Huskies, in fact, are taking classes in prep for this trip. Fact: Andrew Andrews seamlessly spoke Mandarin during Pac-12 Media Day. Fact: Malik Dime is bilingual and the best Mandarin speaker on the team (according to Andrews). And while these are all admirable things, they might not be enough to create a particularly good basketball team.

Lorenzo Romar's Team Will Begin A Do-Or-Die Season For Their Coach In China Against Texas (Photo: Seattle Times)

Lorenzo Romar Will Begin A Do-Or-Die Season In China Against Texas (Photo: Seattle Times)

Colorado Buffaloes

Tad walked in all smiles and I loved it. At Media Day, while there isn’t anything particularly stressful, it isn’t everyone’s favorite day. There are logistics, entrances, platitudes, smiles for the camera, and a lot of ‘hey howya doings.’ Media Day is polite. But Tad Boyle waltzed onto the stage with his senior leader, Josh Scott, and a genuine grin on his face. He said, “I was just sitting down with Josh in the waiting room right there, and I’m not sure I have a lot to say. I’m just ready to play.” And doesn’t that make sense? Colorado closed last season in joyless fashion, watching a plethora of players transfer and a senior – Askia Booker – decline an invitation to play in the CBI. About five months ago, there was little to smile about surrounding Colorado basketball. “Looking at last year, I think me and my teammates kind of had to evaluate where we went wrong as a group, and in looking at it, we were afraid to call each other out,” Scott said. Now winning doesn’t necessarily demand a bunch of guys telling each other they’re out of position or screwing up, but it doesn’t hurt to have the kind of trust where teammates work together towards a common goal. The Buffs might not be great this year, but it seems they might be working towards cohesion. And that’s got Tad smiling.

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Wrapping Up the Pac-12 and Looking Ahead to 2015-16

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 16th, 2015

The National Championship game is now more than a week behind us and the Final Four is almost two weeks back. Stanford’s “magical” NIT run ended 14 days ago and Arizona’s loss to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight, capping off the last meaningful Pac-12 action of the season, is nearly three weeks ago. With Arizona State’s coaching vacancy filled and early-entry and transfer season fully in swing, that means it is well past time to put a bow on the season and begin to think about what comes next. Below, we’ll review each Pac-12 team and offer up grades on each team’s season. We’ll also take a look at what could be around the bend the next time college basketball rolls around.

Sean Miller, Arizona

Despite Regular Season and Conference Tournament Titles, The 2014-15 Wildcats Came Up Shy Of Their Grandest Goals. (AP)

Arizona (A-)

The goal all year long was a Final Four. Wrapping up some unfinished business and all. Well, that goal was left incomplete. Business is still pending. Still, you’re not going to see me come down too hard on the Wildcats. While their three regular seasons losses were all suspicious in nature, their Elite Eight loss to national runner-up Wisconsin was just one of those things that happens between great teams. Sean Miller’s postgame press conference after the Badgers shot a 105.0 percent eFG in the second half was one long extended verbal shrug, a “what can you do?”, a “sh– happens.” Arizona ended its season playing its best basketball, some of the best basketball being played by any team in the nation. The Wildcats just happened to lose to one of maybe two or three other teams that were capable of playing better. We have to tack a “minus” onto that well-deserved “A” simply because I would guess Miller and T.J. McConnell and Stanley Johnson and all the rest would agree that the overall result of the season was tinged with some disappointment. Without a doubt, though, the Wildcats were the best team in the Pac-12. And were it not for Buzzsaw Badger, they might still be celebrating in Tucson.

What’s next: McConnell is out of eligibility. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley have said they’re forgoing their remaining eligibility to pursue NBA careers, a decision Johnson is likely to make as well. But this is Arizona. And this is Sean Miller. The ‘Cats will be fine. Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York will return and take on bigger roles. Sophomores Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic will be relied upon to take big steps forward. Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson and junior college transfer (and 2014-15 redshirt Kadeem Allen) will jump right in. And then there’s a recruiting class featuring Allonzo Trier, Ray Smith, Justin Simon and Chance Comanche (ESPN top-100 recruits, all) that may not even be finished yet. Yeah, don’t cry for Miller and his Wildcats; they’ll be back. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 63, #5 Utah 57

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 27th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Justise Winslow Starred In Duke's Sweet Sixteen Victory Friday Night (USA Today Images)

Justise Winslow Starred In Duke’s Sweet Sixteen Victory Friday Night (USA Today Images)

  1. Duke’s Dominant Defense. The Blue Devils made their way to Houston largely on the backs of a prolific offense but it was a disruptive defensive effort that fueled Friday night’s victory. In the Utah backcourt, Duke extended pressure and forced 15 Utes’ turnovers; when Utah managed to settle into the half-court offense they found the going no easier, as they made just 34.6 percent of their field goal attempts, including only 4-of-16 from behind the arc. Over the course of the last two months, an improving Duke defense has often gone unnoticed while the hyper-efficient offense has whizzed on the other end. Today, however, there is no chance it goes overlooked — this was a varied and dynamic defensive effort against a good offensive team that earned Duke a trip to the Elite Eight. If similar efforts continue, that defense could take them even further.
  2. Delon Wright Never Gets Going. Utah’s indispensable senior star was whistled for an extremely questionable third foul with 4:59 to play in the first half, relegating him to cheerleading duties for the remainder of the period. In 13 first-half minutes, he managed only two points (on 1-of-5 field-goal shooting) without an assist. Wright was far more involved in the second half – he finished with 10 points, six rebounds and three steals – but his final contributions were still insufficient for the Utes to seriously challenge Duke. He missed 10 of his 14 field goal attempts, turned the ball over as many times as he set up teammates for buckets (two), and generally failed to penetrate the Duke defense. In totality, Wright’s senior season was spectacular – he was THE catalyst for Utah’s revival. But on Friday night, much like he was in other games down the stretch, Wright just didn’t measure up to the lofty standards his early brilliance helped set.
  3. Okafor Was Contained, But No Problem For Duke. Utah did a good job containing Duke’s freshman All-American, limiting Okafor to 3-of-6 shooting from the field while forcing him into four turnovers. Jakob Poeltl and Dallin Bachynski took turns as the primary defender on Okafor, but the Utes also brought a double-team immediately upon any Okafor touch, which served well in minimizing his impact. The good news for Duke: The Blue Devils learned they could win without a standout performance from Okafor. The bad news: Future opponents could replicate the Utes defensive plan of attack to make life difficult for him. Thinking to Sunday: Will Gonzaga leave Karnowski and Sabonis to battle Okafor one-on-one?

Star of the Game. Justise Winslow, Duke. Winslow’s stellar first-weekend play carried over to tonight as the Duke freshman again stuffed the stat sheet. His final line: 21 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and a steal. It wasn’t all good for Winslow – Brekkott Chapman beat Winslow for a layup while he was celebrating a made three-point field goal, much to the chagrin of Coach K – but the versatile wing again proved his immense value on Friday night. In an unusual twist, it was Winslow who hit all three of the Duke three-point field goals, finding the range on a night where teammates Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones could not. Fearing his athleticism, Utah dared him to shoot perimeter jumpers – Winslow made them pay.

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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 23rd, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

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: #5 Utah 75, #4 Georgetown 64

Posted by rtmsf 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.

Utah (USA Today Images)

Larry Krystkowiak’s Group Headed to Its First Sweet Sixteen in a Decade (USA Today Images)

  1. Efficient and Balanced Basketball. Utah was in for quite the battle but the Utes were able to eventually pull away from Georgetown behind its multiple offensive options, nearly every one of whom understands the difference between a good shot, a better shot and the best shot (see Larry Krystkowiak’s quotes below for more on this). Against a Hoyas’ defense that shuts down the interior at the expense of giving up open looks from the perimeter, Krystkowiak’s bunch capitalized on its opportunities in both ways. The Utes connected on 14-of-24 shots from within the arc (58%) and 8-of-14 shots from behind it (57%). Their 38 shot attempts marked the second consecutive game where Utah had taken that relatively low number, but it is making up for that lost offense in spades with trips to the foul line (53 attempts over two games). Furthermore, six players scored between nine and 14 points tonight. A highly efficient offensive attacked that is diversified by multiple scoring options is a tough unit to beat, and Utah is playing like it has no interest in heading home just yet.
  2. Georgetown’s Hot Start Was Fool’s Gold. The Hoyas came burning out of the gates with five threes in the first seven minutes of action. As head coach John Thompson, III, said after the game, the hot start probably made his team a little too reliant on jump shots moving forward. A 35 percent shooting team from distance on the season, the Hoyas only made four more for the rest of the game, with three coming in the second half (and one of those when the game was all but over). Utah probably wasn’t going to be beaten tonight, but the early run allowed Georgetown — a team that can often go through long offensive funks — to stay essentially even with Utah until the final four minutes of the game.
  3. Utah’s Program Turnaround. Utah is a proud basketball program with a long history of success, but the rebuild that Krystkowiak has enabled in Salt Lake City over the past four seasons has been phenonemal. His first team, a complete laughingstock in its first season in the Pac-12, won a total of six games. But the next season his Utes were competitive, winning 15 and making a mini-run in the Pac-12 Tournament. Last season was the breakthrough year, with Utah notching 21 wins and a trip to the NIT. In year four, a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. It’s unlikely that the Utes are headed beyond Houston this year, but given the preparation and efficiency with which Utah plays, it’s not easy to count the team out.

Player of the Game. Brandon Taylor, UtahThere was no single player who stood out above the rest tonight, but Taylor’s 14 points and five assists seem as good as any. In particular, he hit a couple of second half threes that gave Utah breathing room twice as Georgetown was pushing forward, so his timeliness more than anything else was worthy of this award.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.21.15 Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on March 21st, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

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

RTC_NCAA15

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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On the Rise Of Utah Basketball

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 26th, 2015

On Saturday, Arizona will travel to Utah for a game with major implications to the Pac-12 regular season title picture. Any casual basketball fan knows the general story of Sean Miller and his refresh of the Wildcats program – a program with a proud history returned to elite status following the bumpy ending of the Lute Olson era. What many may not recognize is that the Utes are following a similar path. Following the stability and excellence of the 14 years of the Rick Majerus era (which featured no losing records, 10 seasons with at least 24 wins, a Final Four and 11 NCAA Tournament appearances), the Utes burned through two coaches in seven years and suffered four losing seasons over that volatile stretch. Compared with Arizona’s post-Olson struggles, Utah’s downturn was far more pronounced. But through the combination of the right hire, rampant roster revamping and, let’s face it, some good luck, the Utes have come out the other side of their dark period as a member of a power conference and back to national contention.

After A Rough Transition Post-Majerus, Utah Basketball Is Back In Its Rightful Place (Utah Athletics)

After A Rough Transition Post-Majerus, Utah Basketball Is Back In Its Rightful Place. (Utah Athletics)

The 2010-11 season was a great example of mixed emotions around the Utah basketball program. There was the excitement that the Utes were headed to a new conference – the newly named Pac-12 – in the following season. But at the same time, the current edition of the team was struggling to a tie for sixth place in the Mountain West as head coach Jim Boylen wrapped up his four-year stint with a third losing conference record. The program was coming off a season in which five players (including some guy named Marshall Henderson, and another one named Carlon Brown – who went on to be a Pac-12 Tournament MVP in leading Colorado to an NCAA bid in 2012) had transferred out of the program. Boylen was subsequently fired, and after a search that included St. Mary’s Randy Bennett and former Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried as candidates, Montana’s Larry Krystkowiak was named the new head coach on April 2, 2011.

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