ACC Stock Watch: Feast Week Edition

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 1st, 2015

As the the majority of the league transitions from Feast Week into the ACC/Big 10 Challenge, now is as good a time as any to make some initial evaluations. Based on what we’ve seen through two-plus weeks of the young season, let’s take stock in each of the 15 ACC clubs, reviewing what has transpired so far, and considering in what direction we surmise each to be trending.

Trending Up

Jim Boeheim has his Orange playing at an extremely high level right out the gates. (Getty)

Jim Boeheim has plenty to be thankful for after his club’s performance in winning the Battle 4 Atlantis (syracuse.com)

  • Syracuse: Not many teams are feeling better about itself than Syracuse is at the moment. Picked to finish ninth in the ACC standings, the Orange probably surprised even themselves in taking home the title at the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis. Seamlessly intertwining veterans Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney with rookies Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon, Jim Boeheim looks to have a team capable of reinvigorating his spirits during his 40th year at the helm. Banned from the postseason a year ago and forced to miss the first nine conference games this season, Boeheim appeared worn down last March as tumult swirled around his program. His current team, however, showed considerable resolve in coming from behind to beat both Connecticut and Texas A&M in the Bahamas, appearing eerily similar to some of his special clubs of the past and proving that there is still some juice left in the Hall of Famer’s tank. The Orange entertain Wisconsin on Wednesday before a weekend trip to the nation’s capital to visit old friend Georgetown.

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Feast Week Previews: Maui, Legends, CBE & Cancun Tourneys

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on November 23rd, 2015

There are talented tournament fields everywhere this Feast Week. The Gulf Coast Showcase has a relatively strong mid-major field headlined by Murray State, Duquesne (which absolutely BLASTED Penn State on Friday) and Texas Southern. Four capable teams — Clemson, UMass (already a winner over Harvard), Creighton and Rutgers — will tussle in another four-team field in Vegas. Looking further ahead, Atlantis tips off on Wednesday before a handful of other events kick off on Thanksgiving Day and beyond. As we did with Puerto Rico and Charleston last week, here’s a look at the event favorite, a dark horse, and the teams who have the most on the line this week. We’ll also highlight a player and a storyline to watch.

Maui Invitational

Despite some early season struggles, Bill Self and Kansas are still the clear favorite in Maui. (Getty)

Despite some early struggles, Bill Self and Kansas are still the clear favorite in Maui. (Getty)

  • Favorite: Kansas. Even with no Cheick Diallo or Brannen Greene for the week and the second half collapse to Michigan State in Chicago notwithstanding, the Jayhawks are still the clear favorite in Maui as the only top 10 team in this tournament. Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor are seniors. Frank Mason and Wayne Selden are juniors. This is an experienced team that might be going on its last ride together. As usual, there’s chatter about this being the year the Big 12 title streak is broken. Winning the Maui title would probably pump the brakes on that notion, at least for the time being.
  • Darkhorse: UCLA. In terms of talent and potential, the Bruins are a clear sleeper. Aaron Holiday, Bryce Alford, Tony Parker  you could easily see a team with talented pieces like these upsetting a still-not-quite-right Kansas in the semifinal and then taking out Indiana or Vanderbilt the next night. Of course, they’re flaky enough that they could brick the last Maui quarter to UNLV, especially after that whole Monmouth thing.

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North Carolina’s Other Guards Looking Strong Thus Far

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 18th, 2015

When Marcus Paige broke his hand on November 4 and it was announced that North Carolina’s star guard would miss the first several games of the season, the obvious positive spin on the situation was easy to anticipate. The Tar Heels would still win its first several games comfortably while the other guards on the roster would be gifted a great opportunity to improve. Upon Paige’s return, the narrative went, his backcourt mates would have greater in-game experience to support the ACC’s Co-Preseason Player of the Year in their quest for a National Championship. Sometimes spin turns out to be reality: After the Tar Heels’ first two games of the season, that plan seems to working out beautifully.

Theo Pinson has shown good playmaking skills with Marcus Paige out. (Will Bratton/WRAL)

Theo Pinson has shown good playmaking skills with Marcus Paige out. (Will Bratton/WRAL)

Last Friday night North Carolina tipped off the season with an impressive 91-67 neutral court win over Temple in Annapolis. The Heels followed that up with a lackluster performance in its Sunday home opener against Fairfield, a game in which the final score of 92-65 was not indicative of how close the game was. In both games, the Tar Heels have received great offensive production from its current backcourt rotation — sophomores Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson along with junior Nate Britt. This trio has combined to average 39.5 points per game thus far, complementing the strong production from the Tar Heels’ frontcourt. In a bit of a surprise, Pinson has been the most effective playmaker on the floor, twice leading the team in assists, including a super performance on Sunday: eight assists and zero turnovers. Meanwhile, Berry and Britt have been lighting it up from deep, combining to make 12-of-20 threes. Perhaps Paige’s absence has helped to answer one of the biggest questions about perimeter shooting going into this season. Read the rest of this entry »

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2015 ACC Basketball Power Rankings

Posted by Matt Patton on November 16th, 2015

Over the last two weeks, we previewed each of the 15 ACC teams individually to get you ready for the season. Links to those previews can be found within each of the preseason power rankings listed below, which were voted on by our crack microsite staff of three. Also look for our preseason conference awards, which will publish a bit later today.

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS

Virginia Cavaliers 1. Virginia (304): Can the Cavaliers win the ACC regular season for a third straight year? With a veteran cast led by Malcolm BrogdonAnthony Gill and maybe the nation’s stingiest defense, Tony Bennett probably has the squad to do it. This season, Virginia should take the next step and make a deep run in March.
North Carolina Tar Heels 2. North Carolina (290): Marcus Paige‘s injury could prove to be a setback, but Justin Jackson is poised to become one of the top players in the country. The team returns nearly all its production from last season, and assuming Joel Berry makes the leap we all expect, this group of Tar Heels should absolutely be one of the national favorites come March.
Duke Blue Devils 3. Duke (213): It’s not fair to expect this highly-touted class of Blue Devils’ freshmen to live up to the exploits of last year’s superstar class. Expect this team to take a while to find its stride, with a lot of ups and downs along the way. But if the youngsters grow up in time, Mike Krzyzewski should find himself with another tough out come March.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish 4. Notre Dame (202): The Irish will lean heavily on the production of three returning starters and a successful offensive philosophy that led to the second best efficiency in the country last season. It will need to make up for the loss of departed leaders Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton, but Demetrius Jackson looks like one of the best point guards in the country.
Miami Hurricanes 5. Miami (157): The last time Jim Larranaga had a squad this experienced was in 2013, when Miami won both the ACC regular season and tourney titles. The conference appears to be much stronger at the top than it was three years ago, but this veteran group of Hurricanes could still be a sleeper contender, led by three all-ACC caliber seniors.
Syracuse Orange 6. Syracuse (132): Dajuan Coleman holds the keys to Syracuse’s success this season even if senior Michael Gbinije looks to be the team’s star. After a lackluster finish a year ago, this team could become one of the best in the conference if the pieces fit together well. If the NCAA’s nine-conference game suspension stands for Jim Boeheim, though, it could be tough for the Orange to find their stride.
Florida State Seminoles 7. Florida State (105): The Seminoles are a trendy darkhorse candidate this year thanks to superstar freshman Dwayne Bacon joining Xavier Rathan-Mayes in Tallahassee. Leonard Hamilton will have to find a defensive stopper in the frontcourt, however, if this team wants to crack the top of the league.
LouisvilleLogo 8. Louisville (104): With considerable turmoil surrounding the program off the court, the Cardinals will rely on two graduate transfers and a Hall of Fame coach to navigate the loss of its top four scorers. Never count out Rick Pitino, but he’s facing an uphill climb to succeed in the ACC this season.
NC State Wolfpack 9. NC State (81): This team has a lot of good pieces, but how will Cat Barber handle being the alpha dog without big shot Trevor Lacey around? A trim Beejay Anya should terrify ACC players hoping to score in the paint. This team oozes potential, but will need time for everyone to adjust to life without Lacey and Ralston Turner.
Pittsburgh Panthers 10. Pittsburgh (62): Last year’s Panthers were the worst defensive team and among the weakest rebounding units in Jamie Dixon’s long career. As a result, mproving those two areas has been a major topic of discussion for Pittsburgh’s head coach this preseason. Dixon hopes that a pair of graduate transfers are good enough to toughen up the front line, where last year’s problems originated.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons 11. Wake Forest (29): Look for Danny Manning‘s winning ways to creep into Winston-Salem this year, although a move up the standings will be tough because the ACC is much stronger top-to-bottom than in previous years. Devin Thomas needs to have a first team All-ACC caliber season for the Demon Deacons to approach the top half of the league.
Clemson Tigers 12. Clemson (16): Once again, we expect the Tigers to defend like crazy while struggling to score – just as they have throughout Brad Brownell’s tenure. Can Brownell survive another year of not making the Big Dance? It won’t help that Clemson has to play all of its home games in Greenville this season, 30 miles from campus, while Littlejohn Coliseum gets a needed facelift.
Virginia Tech Hokies 13. Virginia Tech (15): It’s only taken Buzz Williams two years to almost completely turn over this roster, with junior Devin Wilson currently the only scholarship holdover from the past regime. The Hokies’ talent level is improved, but his youngters are probably another year or two away from getting close to the upper half of the league.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 14. Georgia Tech (12): It’s another year on the hot seat for Brian Gregory, who has yet to post a winning ACC record in his four previous campaigns in Atlanta. Pathetic outside shooting has been a constant problem during the Gregory era, and the Yellow Jackets desperately need senior transfer Adam Smith to help turn that around to give a decent frontcourt room to operate.
Boston College 15. Boston College (3): This team is one of the younger teams in the country, but Jim Christian brought in Florida transfer Eli Carter to beef up the team’s experience. If one of the freshmen turns out to be a diamond in the rough, this team might find a way to escape the ACC cellar.
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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 12th, 2015

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our the RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

first_team_2015_16

  • Kris Dunn, Providence (UNANIMOUS) – Dunn enters his junior season after a finally healthy campaign where he averaged 15.6 points and 7.5 assists per game in leading Providence to its second straight NCAA Tournament. While his numbers show he is a triple-double threat every night, he needs to be watched in order to understand just how good he is. He ranked first in the country last season with a 50.0 percent assist rate; he was named co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year; and he recorded a steal once every 20 defensive possessions for the Friars. The quintessential floor leader does it all for his team and he does it at an awe-inspiring level. Factoid: The television show “Friends” may have aired its last episode in 2004, but that has not stopped Dunn from apparently becoming an avid fan of the series. Could we see the likes of Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer show up at Dunkin’ Donuts Center to root Dunn’s team on before season’s end?
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland – Maryland was quite successful in its inaugural Big Ten season as the team advanced to its first NCAA Tournament since 2010. Those Terrapins were unquestionably led by senior guard Dez Wells, but now that he has graduated, Trimble will take over as the team’s heart and soul. The sophomore guard turned in a highly impressive freshman season where he averaged 16.2 points per game and shot a respectable 41.2 percent from behind the three-point line. Expectations are high this season in College Park, and Trimble will be a big reason why if Maryland ultimately meets its goals. Factoid: Trimble spent a portion of last summer playing for Team USA at the Pan American Games. At 20 years old, he was the youngest player selected to the squad by Gonzaga coach Mark Few.
  • Buddy Hield, Oklahoma – The reigning Big 12 Player of the Year returns to Norman for his senior season. After terrorizing conference foes throughout both his sophomore (16.5 PPG) and junior (17.4 PPG) years, Hield will look to take his game to an even higher level during his final collegiate go-around. When he bypassed the NBA Draft last spring, the junior guard noted, “I just can’t wait to see what Coach Kruger has in mind for next year. I know we’re going to be a really good team.” It’s difficult to argue with Hield’s assertion there. Factoid: Hield, a native of the Bahamas, says that his self-proclaimed “Bahamian Swagger” is something he developed while growing up on the island chain with his single mother and six brothers and sisters.
  • Ben Simmons, LSU (UNANIMOUS) – The 2015 Gatorade National Player of the Year arrives in Baton Rouge accompanied by a great deal of hype. When looking at the freshman’s prep statistics, it’s easy to understand why expectations surrounding him are so high. In 29 regular season games as a senior, he averaged 28.0 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.6 steals per game while shooting 70.7 percent from the field and collecting 24 double-doubles. Factoid: Former LSU great Shaquille O’Neal called Simmons “the best player in the world” when he introduced the prep star to his many Instagram followers last November.
  • Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga – Wiltjer returns to the fold at Gonzaga after a junior season where he averaged 16.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on his way to becoming a consensus second-team All-American. At 6’10”, Wiltjer’s long-range shooting makes him a nightmarish match-up for Zags’ opponents — he shot a sizzling 54 percent from the field and 46.6 percent from behind the three-point line a season ago. Factoid: When Wiltjer arrived in Spokane following his transfer from Kentucky, Wildcats head coach John Calipari called Gonzaga coach Mark Few and told him how good of a post scorer Wiltjer can be, even though he never really had a chance to show that part of his game in Lexington.

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ACC Preview: North Carolina’s Burning Question

Posted by Matt Patton on November 5th, 2015

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Is this really the best team in the country?

The Tar Heels were a very good team last season — remember, they led national runner-up Wisconsin until the final six minutes of the Sweet Sixteen (and were within one point in the final minute). But JP Tokoto opted to play basketball for money, leaving Roy Williams without much depth on the wing. Theo Pinson will likely get the call to replace him and seems a good fit for the role. He was a worse than average shooter last season but he was a good prep free throw shooter which usually tracks well with shooting ability. Pinson should immediately assume the role as this team’s defensive stopper.

Is a healthy Theo Pinson the difference between a good and great North Carolina team? (photo: USATSI)

Is a healthy Theo Pinson the difference between a good and great North Carolina team? (USATSI)

The x-factors for this team are twofold. First and foremost, Marcus Paige has to get healthy — his recently broken hand will put him out of action for a month. The real x-factor, however, is Joel Berry. Berry was quietly very efficient last season. It was shocking that he finished the season with an offensive efficiency rating of over 110 (the best of the bench). With Paige out of the lineup, this will be Berry’s offense to run from day one along with Nate Britt. The good news for Tar Heels fans is that both point guards are competent three-point shooters, and it’s also good for both to get early season experience at point guard so that when Paige comes back he’ll mostly be able to play off the ball. Read the rest of this entry »

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Marcus Paige Injury Could Help Heels in Long Run

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on November 5th, 2015

North Carolina announced on Wednesday that senior point guard Marcus Paige has suffered a fractured third metacarpal on his right (non-shooting) hand in practice and will be sidelined three to four weeks as a result. Paige, the leading returning scorer for the Heels and the key cog to the nation’s top rated preseason squad, was selected as the Co-Preseason Conference Player of the Year just last week by the members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association.

Marcus Paige Will Miss the Start of His Senior Season (newsobserver.com)

Marcus Paige Will Miss the Start of His Senior Season (newsobserver.com)

Paige is coming off a season where he was slowed by plantar fasciitis in his right foot, causing his offensive production to dip after a stellar sophomore campaign. In that second year in Chapel Hill, Paige was named to the all-ACC first team, averaging a career-high 17.5 points per contest. Slogging through the much of his junior season with the nagging injury, Paige still managed to lead the club in points and assists, garnering third-team all-ACC honors.

With Paige likely to miss the first few weeks of game action, sophomore Joel Berry II will likely get the first look to replace the senior captain. Berry, a McDonald’s All-American, averaged a shade over four points per game as a freshman, but saw his opportunities and production rise as he got more acclimated to the collegiate game. He scored a season-high 15 points in a March victory over Georgia Tech and was very effective off the bench in the NCAA Tournament, highlighted by a nine-point, three-assist game in 19 minutes in a regional semifinals loss to eventual national runner-up Wisconsin.

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Quotes and Quips From ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 29th, 2015

The ACC’s annual Media Day, otherwise known as “ACC Operation Basketball,” took place in Charlotte on Wednesday. There was plenty of the normal coachspeak and playerspeak in effect, as every player at every school has apparently been “working hard,” and every newcomer is “very talented” and “learning fast.” Aside from all of that, there were several parts of yesterday’s press conferences that were very entertaining, so here is a list of some of the more interesting quotes and quips of the day.

No Pitino, No Problem. ACC Media Day Must Go On! (WDRB.com)

No Pitino, No Problem. ACC Media Day Must Go On! (WDRB.com)

Finding Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

We start with a few examples of putting a positive spin on a difficult situation… because what else can you do?

  • When discussing how his broken foot will affect Wake Forest, Codi Miller-McIntyre said it would help his team because of the experience that the younger guards will gain in his absence. He also said that his goal is to be back for the Demon Deacons’ trip to Maui in late November.
  • While talking about all of those close ACC losses suffered by Georgia Tech last season, Brian Gregory said, “We were able to compete. The next step is to be able to finish those games.”
  • And even though he has one of least experienced rosters in the country, Boston College head coach Jim Christian pointed out that his team has great experience at the two most crucial positions of center and point guard in fifth-year seniors Dennis Clifford and Eli Carter.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Thursday

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

RTC_NCAA15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rushed Reactions: #4 North Carolina 87, #5 Arkansas 78

Posted by Matt Patton 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.

North Carolina Moves into the Sweet Sixteen For First Time Since 2012 (USA Today Images)

North Carolina Moves into the Sweet Sixteen For First Time Since 2012 (USA Today Images)

  1. Michael Qualls had himself a weekend. The only reason Arkansas had any shot down the stretch was because Michael Qualls was willing the team closer. Qualls finished with 27 points and 10 boards on the evening. His three-point shot wasn’t falling tonight, but that didn’t stop him from lining up jumpers. North Carolina kept him from any rim-rocking dunks, but they couldn’t keep him off the foul line. Bobby Portis also played through a rough first half to finish with 18 points and 14 boards.
  2. Arkansas played too sloppy to win. The Razorbacks finished with 21 turnovers and they shot a lousy 37 percent from the floor. One or the other would have hurt them, but the combination of both was deadly. The craziest stat was in the offensive rebounding department. Arkansas grabbed 20 and North Carolina grabbed 17 on the night, but the Tar Heels turned their rebounds into points.
  3. 48 fouls in the game; 31 fouls in the second half. Just awful for the flow of the game. Some were legitimate. Some were the two teams not adapting to the way the game was called. Some came because the game was at such a breakneck pace that the referees struggled to get in good position. North Carolina made 29 free throws and Arkansas made 22, as both teams shot around 80 percent from the line. The point is that what could have been one of the most entertaining games of the Tournament was marred somewhat by all the whistles.

Star of the Game: Marcus Paige took over the second half. He finished with 22 points, six rebounds and five steals. At the half he was only 1-of-8 from the field with two points. In the second half he started 4-of-4 from the field and 5-of-5 from the line. Whenever it looked like Arkansas might make a run, Paige would hit a big shot. He went on a personal 5-0 run midway through the second half right after Arkansas took the lead, and after that, the Tar Heels never looked back.

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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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Rushed Reactions: #4 North Carolina 67, #13 Harvard 65

Posted by Matt Patton on March 19th, 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.

Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers couldn't quite will Harvard to victory. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers couldn’t quite will Harvard to victory. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

  1. Harvard had a shot to win. In the final 20 seconds Harvard had multiple shots to win. It’s fitting that those shots came from Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders. They didn’t drop, of course, but after being down as many as 14 points in the second half, it showed serious resilience on Harvard’s part to get back into the game and have a realistic chance to win. Harvard did it by valuing possessions and making free throws. That sounds simple, but by not making mistakes, Harvard kept the game close down the stretch. In the second half, Harvard also did a much better job in crashing the offensive glass (amazingly, without also hemorrhaging points in transition). After a disappointing middle of the season this year, Tommy Amaker’s team looked every bit the Top 25 squad it were projected as early in the year.
  2. Rebounding. Following a slow Harvard run to cut a double-digit deficit to a single possession, North Carolina looked like it might win by 20 points. The turn came with 2:03 left in the first half, as Isaiah Hicks (who quietly had a terrific game) got fouled and made a jumper to put North Carolina up by seven. He missed the free throw, but the Tar Heels got the offensive board and Kennedy Meeks was fouled as well. Meeks made one of two, but JP Tokoto grabbed an offensive board and Hicks hit another shot to push the lead out to 10. Without Harvard so much as touching the ball during that series, North Carolina went on a 5-0 run.
  3. Justin Jackson and Marcus Paige play hero. After onions from Chambers put the Crimson up two, it looked like North Carolina might wilt under the pressure. Instead, Jackson hit a beautiful floater to tie it up at 65. After Chambers missed his shot on the other end, Paige pushed it ahead for a Jackson dunk that turned out to be the game-winning shot. Even before that run, Paige had hit a shot that looked like the dagger when he sank a contested three to put North Carolina up by four with 3:21 left. People will say North Carolina tried to lose this game, but the fact is that the Heels had to make plays to win it. And they did.

Star of the Game: Wesley Saunders finished the game with 26 points, five assists and four boards. He played all 40 minutes, making plays off screens and off the dribble. JP Tokoto had the unfortunate assignment of trying to guard him. The Tar Heel excelled in keeping Saunders from getting the ball, but he struggled when Harvard ran screens for him. In the last game of Saunders’ career, I’m not sure there’s a player in the country who could have held him under 20 tonight. Saunders’ play was especially amazing in the first half of this one.

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