He Won’t Admit It, But Kentucky’s National Title is Calipari’s Coronation

Posted by EJacoby on April 3rd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

After the Kentucky Wildcats captured their program’s eighth National Championship with a 67-59 victory over Kansas on Monday night, an unfazed coach John Calipari sat at the postgame podium and deflected all attention away from himself. “This is about them. It’s not about me. [...] I can just coach now. I don’t have to worry. If you want to know the truth, it’s almost like – done, let me move on.” Sounding more relieved than excited, the coach claims that nothing will change about his mentality or coaching style now that he’s finally a national champion. Whether fans believe him or not is up to them, but one thing remains clear: John Calipari has now elevated to the top step in college basketball coaching. As he tries to not make the victory about himself, we can take a moment to reflect on the significance of the 2012 National Championship and what it means for Calipari.

Coach Calipari Doesn't Want the Praise for the 2012 National Title, But He's Most Deserving of Such (AP Photo/D. Philip)

With the national title now under his belt, Calipari has validated everything he worked for in choosing to leave Memphis for Kentucky and recruiting the one-and-done type of players whom he encourages to leave for the NBA as soon as they’re ready. Cal still has his haters and doubters, such as this AP sports writer who can’t buy into the coach’s recruiting tactics. But those who watch the games understand that you don’t win national titles by letting top recruits play free-form basketball. There’s a reason why hoops is a thinking man’s game filled with elite athletes but only the most well-adjusted players succeed at the highest level. When Anthony Davis shoots 1-10 from the field and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist doesn’t score a single point in the second half, they still have enormous impacts on the game because of their defensive prowess, how hard they play, and buy-in to the team game plan. It’s not easy to get 18- and 19-year-olds to reach their basketball potential in less than a year at a program, but Calipari got it done with this group in a big way.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: The National Championship Game

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 2nd, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

College basketball fans, this is it. A champion will be crowned tonight in front of 70,000+ people packed into the Superdome. Savor it because this beautiful sport of ours won’t be seen again for seven long and painful months. Between tonight and early November, many things will happen. Baseball and football will begin new seasons. The NBA will end one season and begin another. A long, hot summer will come and go. A presidential election will be held. All of this before we see another college basketball game that matters, after tonight’s phenomenal finale of course.

#1 Kentucky vs. #2 Kansas – National Championship (at New Orleans, LA) – 9:23 PM ET on CBS

It’s not often when the consensus top two players meet in the final game of the season, but that’s exactly what we have as Anthony Davis and Kentucky face Thomas Robinson and Kansas. You could make an argument that Bill Self and John Calipari are the best coaches in the sport as well, matched up in a battle between the two winningest programs in NCAA history. This has the makings of a special night, one that might trump them all in terms of the pregame storylines. Kentucky enters the game as a solid favorite (six points in Las Vegas) and won the first meeting by 10 points on November 15 at Madison Square Garden. Who had that as the national championship preview after watching it? Maybe you had the Kentucky half, but you certainly did not have the Kansas half of the equation. Plenty has changed since then, but there are a few things we can glean from that game. Kansas jumped out to an early lead before Kentucky rallied to tie it at the half and took control after the break. The Wildcats shot 51% but committed 19 turnovers (25.6% of possessions, their fifth highest total of the season). There were 45 fouls called in the game and Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor went to the line 17 times as a result. Kentucky’s defense was outstanding, limiting Kansas to 34% shooting and 4-15 from deep. The Wildcats blocked 13 shots (seven courtesy of Davis) and won the game in comfortable fashion.

Anthony Davis Will Need To Show Thomas Robinson Why He Is The National Player Of The Year

Tonight’s contest is a matchup between two elite defensive teams, tied for the national lead in defensive two-point percentage  (39.8%). The battles at the power forward and center positions are absolutely fantastic. Davis and Terrence Jones go up against Jeff Withey and Robinson, four outstanding defensive players and three who can change the game offensively as well. Robinson is the best defensive rebounder in the nation while Davis and Withey are the top two shot blockers. Jones can electrify the crowd with his athleticism and can also stretch his game to the three-point line. Kentucky is the more talented team, but Kansas has shown an incredible level of grit and toughness throughout the season, never more so than in the NCAA Tournament. Overcoming deficits against Purdue and Ohio State, plus putting away NC State and North Carolina late in the game has shown us this Kansas team is no fluke. The Jayhawks have absolutely nothing to lose in this game and are the more experienced team by a wide margin. On the other hand, Kentucky has one more game to go in order to live up to the preseason expectation of winning the program’s eighth national championship.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.31.12 Edition

Posted by WCarey on March 31st, 2012

Kansas

  • When former Kansas coach Larry Brown watched this year’s Jayhawks practice early in the season, he was not sure if this year’s squad would win 15 games. Considering this notion, Bill Self has really done an exceptional job this season.
  • During his first three seasons at Kansas, Tyshawn Taylor would be hardly allowed to play through his miscues. Now, the senior guard has the freedom and responsibility to correct errors and lead the team on the right path.
  • Even though he only played a limited role last season, many pundits still saw Thomas Robinson as a first round pick. Bill Self believes Robinson made the absolute right choice in coming back to school, as Self said, “Thomas wasn’t prepared to make a living.”
  • Most of the attention usually gets paid to Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson, but it cannot be overlooked that Elijah Johnson has quietly become the Jayhawks’ top weapon in the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky 

  • John Calipari was a pretty big flop when he coached in the NBA with the New Jersey Nets. There will be rumors this offseason about Calipari returning to the NBA to coach the New York Knicks, but the question will emerge if Calipari deserves that opportunity.
  • John Calipari has made several stops in his coaching career, which has exposed him to a lot of different people. All those people do have something in common though and that is Calipari considers them part of his family.
  • Freshman phenom Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has had to deal with a lot in his life for being only 18 years old. The death of the forward’s father and uncle have helped shape who he is as a person and a player.
  • In Kentucky’s storied basketball history, it had never had an AP Player of the Year. This all changed Friday when freshman standout big man Anthony Davis was named AP Player of the Year.
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.30.12 Edition

Posted by WCarey on March 30th, 2012

Kansas

  • Bill Self has enhanced his already strong coaching reputation by leading a Kansas team with not as much talent as Kansas teams of the past to the Final Four.
  • Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News believes the career of Tyshawn Taylor mirrors that of a Shakespeare character. DeCourcy notes that Taylor’s career has consisted of conflict, resolution, dramatic twists, and ultimate redemption.
  • Despite the fact that Danny Manning and Barry Hinson have taken head coaching jobs at Tulsa and Southern Illinois respectively, Bill Self assured the public that all of Manning and Hinson’s attention is on Kansas this weekend.
  • Kevin Young compiled a career-best 14 points when Kansas defeated Ohio State on December 10. Young, a transfer from Loyola Marymount, arrived at Kansas via some unusual circumstances.

Louisville

  • Assistant coach Richard Pitino noted that there has been a pretty prominent change in the way his father, Rick Pitino coaches. The younger Pitino believes his father has a much better relationship with his players than he used to.
  • News broke that Rick Pitino will not be a member of this year’s Naismith Memorial National Basketball Hall of Fame class. Considering Pitino’s resume, this is a bit shocking.
  • Rick Pitino has been through a lot in his coaching career and his life, so it would be unfair to define the man solely based on the Karen Sypher extortion scandal.
  • Gorgui Dieng and Russ Smith might be the most unlikely roommates of all-time, but the two are great friends and are keys to Louisville’s success.
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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: National Semifinals

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 30th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

For even more analysis of these fantastic games, check out Zach Hayes’ ultimate breakdowns for each matchup. UK-UL can be found here and OSU-KU here.

#1 Kentucky vs. #4 Louisville – National Semifinal (at New Orleans, LA) – 6:09 PM ET on CBS

The RTC NPOY Is Two Wins From a Championship

Kentucky. Louisville. In the Final Four. Armageddon in the Commonwealth. Yep, it’s well worth the hype. The 44th meeting between these bitter in-state rivals comes to us from the ultimate setting in the national semifinals at the Superdome on Saturday night. Kentucky leads the all-time series, 29-14, and has won six of the past eight meetings dating back to 2004. The Wildcats enter this game with just two losses on the season and the heavy favorite to cut down the nets on Monday night. In order to advance to the championship game, Kentucky must continue to defend at a high level. By no means is Louisville an offensive juggernaut and that’s where the stifling UK defense must take control of the game. With shot blocker extraordinaire Anthony Davis on the back line of its defense, Kentucky and its #1 eFG% defense should be able to limit the Cardinals offensively. Do that and you would think the Wildcats have enough offensive weapons to win the game. But it’s not always that simple. While John Calipari and his team have a huge edge in talent, all the intangibles favor Louisville. When Rick Pitino said they would need to put fences on bridges in Lexington if Kentucky loses to Louisville, he wasn’t kidding. All of the pressure is on Kentucky, a team expected to win a national title. Louisville, a team that went 10-8 in a down Big East, certainly wasn’t expected to make it this far. The Cardinals have absolutely no pressure on them in this game and Pitino would love nothing more than to stick it in the face of Calipari and Kentucky fans. Pitino and his players couldn’t wait to talk about the matchup last week while Cal and his squad kept on saying this is just another game. That’s pure BS. They know the stakes and the weight on the collective shoulders of this young team could perhaps be Louisville’s best chance to win. The Cardinals boast the top defensive efficiency in the land so a grinder-type game should be expected. Three of the last four games in this rivalry have been decided by nine points or less and, despite the talent gap, we’d be surprised if this one isn’t as well given the stakes. The key for Louisville will be to push the pace and score in transition without allowing Kentucky to do the same. UK is lethal in transition but a game with fewer possessions favors the Wildcats. They excelled at a slower pace in the second half of the SEC season and we’re just not sure Louisville will be able to score enough points in a low possession half court game. That means Louisville, and Peyton Siva specifically, can’t turn the ball over. If the Cardinals wait and let Davis and UK set up in half court defense, their task becomes incredibly tough. Scoring in transition takes the Davis defensive threat away and allows the Cardinals to set up their zone press. Pitino is a master at morphing his matchup zone into man-to-man defense in the blink of an eye and changing defenses could throw Kentucky off balance. The best way to beat UK is to take away Davis inside (Gorgui Dieng can do that, provided he stays out of foul trouble) and force them to make jump shots. Kentucky doesn’t take many outside shots but Louisville’s defense could force them into contested mid-range looks that might not fall. One problem area for the Cardinals could be the defensive glass. If UK is taking lots of jumpers (a good thing for Louisville), UL must block out and prevent Davis, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist from crashing the offensive glass. Louisville has struggled all year in this department but must come up with a better effort on Saturday night. Siva makes everything go for Louisville and it’ll be interesting to see if Calipari puts Kidd-Gilchrist on him at times as he has done with other point guards this season. The freshman with an unquenchable motor could frustrate Siva and force him into turnovers, fueling UK’s transition attack. While we feel the intangible aspect of this game favors Louisville in a big way and we’d love to pick the Cardinals just for that (and to be different), Kentucky’s superior talent is undeniable. Louisville will make it close but Kentucky simply has too much in the end and should advance to play for all the marbles on Monday night.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky

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The Ultimate Breakdown: Kentucky vs. Louisville

Posted by zhayes9 on March 27th, 2012

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

The hysteria leading up to Saturday’s Louisville-Kentucky national semifinal will be unprecedented.

The mutual loathing between legends John Calipari and Rick Pitino is only matched by the contempt between the two fan bases. Such a passionate and deep-seeded rivalry playing out on the grandest of stages is tantalizing to even the most casual observer. But once the smoke clears and the ball is tipped, those juicy storylines all become secondary, fading into the background with the hype and frenzy. Suddenly all that’s relevant is Peyton Siva’s speed, Kyle Kuric’s smooth jumper, Anthony Davis’ shot-blocking and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the open floor.

For the lowdown on what to expect from the biggest basketball game in the history of the commonwealth, here’s a full-fledged Dr. Jack-style breakdown covering every aspect of Saturday’s opener:

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist celebrating Kentucky's regional final win

Backcourt- It’s no accident that Peyton Siva’s remarkable late-season turnaround has coincided with Louisville’s spurt from a seventh place finish in the Big East to the Final Four in New Orleans. Russ Smith is an irrepressible, confident ball stopper just as prone to a mindless turnover as he to is scoring 10 points in the blink of an eye. Siva and Smith provide the engine to Louisville’s attack, while athletic two-guard Chris Smith and long-range marksman Kyle Kuric are Pitino’s steady cogs. Kentucky’s Achilles heel was long considered freshman point Marquis Teague, but he’s significantly cut down on his turnovers and can pack an unexpected scoring punch. Doron Lamb is a superior gunner to Kuric, shooting a fantastic 47% over his career from three. Look for Calipari to plug versatile swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on Siva to stifle the Cardinals’ offense. Kidd-Gilchrist is a standout defender and the best collegiate player in transition since Derrick Rose. Edge: Kentucky.

Frontcourt- The progression of Louisville center Gorgui Dieng from a raw, bungling, and clumsy big man to a premier post defender and competent scoring threat in just two seasons has been nothing short of incredible. The popular crutch that freshmen are sophomores by the time March rolls around is often untrue, but it applies in the case of Chane Behanan, a gifted offensive rebounder who will be asked to contain Terrence Jones. When Jones is engaged, active and filling up the stat sheet, Kentucky is unstoppable. Anthony Davis has had an OK year: number one high school recruit, starting center for top-ranked Kentucky, national freshman of the year, likely national player of the year, and future top overall pick in the NBA Draft. Only North Carolina can come close to matching Kentucky’s weaponry down low. Edge: Kentucky.

Bench- Neither team extends very deep into their bench, yet both boast a de facto starter in Russ Smith and Darius Miller. At just 38% from two and 31% from three, Smith isn’t exactly the pillar of efficiency, but for a team that didn’t finish in the top 100 in offensive efficiency and scored less than 60 points in five of their final six conference games, Pitino will gladly accept the good with the bad (per Luke Winn, Pitino likes to say Smith “makes coffee nervous”). Any coach in America would love to have Darius Miller on their team, a steady wing defender equally adept at attacking off the dribble or firing from deep. Louisville steady defender Jared Swopshire and Kentucky pick-and-pop threat Kyle Wiltjer also see limited time off the pine. Slight Edge: Louisville.

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ATB: Fantastic Final Four – Buckeyes Squash the Orange, Carolina Misses Marshall, and an All-Kentucky Dream Game

Posted by EJacoby on March 26th, 2012

This Weekend’s Lede. The Final Four is set and ready for action with some of the biggest storylines in years. There were no Cinderella stories on this second weekend, as the Elite Eight was comprised of all powerhouse teams that have been the class of college basketball all season. This week will feature numerous awesome back-stories and matchups to look forward to in New Orleans, but first we’ll break down exactly what happened over the weekend that’s led us to the remaining four teams in the Big Dance. Without further ado, here’s how it went…

Your Watercooler Moment. Russ Smith Runs Wild For #4 Louisville as Unlikely Hero

Russ Smith Sparked Louisville to a Comeback and a Final Four Berth (C. Hanewickel, US Presswire)

The top players in the NCAA Tournament proved their worth over the weekend for their heavyweight teams, but the one team that lacks that superstar performer made for the best story of the weekend. Louisville was a slight underdog against #7-seed Florida in the West Regional Final and the Cardinals trailed by eight points at halftime by surrendering far too many open threes to the Gators. But Rick Pitino’s team stayed within striking distance throughout the second half before perhaps the most enigmatic, up-and-down performer in college hoops picked the perfect time to have his best game. Russ Smith, Louisville’s super-sub that provides instant energy, came off the bench to score a game-high 19 points, 13 of which came in the second half. Smith often leaves coaches and fans scratching their heads with his decision-making, but his no-fear mentality was the difference in this game. Making aggressive moves to the basket and taking big shots late, Smith came up huge for his team in its biggest spot of the season. He finished with 19 points, five rebounds, two assists (and four turnovers), and hit two consecutive shots with his team down by six points to cut the Florida lead to one. From there, Louisville closed out the game and sent the Big East Tournament champions to the Final Four.

Also Worth Chatting About. Late-Game Defense Allows #2 Kansas To Defeat #1 UNC

The Jayhawks defeated #1 North Carolina in the Midwest Regional Final by 13 points, but this was one of the most entertaining and close games of the entire NCAA Tournament. The teams were deadlocked 47-47 at halftime in a high-scoring affair, but the defense took over in this game’s second half. Kansas allowed 63.6% shooting in the first half but it was a completely different story after that. The Jayhawks gave up just 22.6% to UNC in the second frame and did not let the Tar Heels score again after a Harrison Barnes free throw cut a Kansas lead to 68-67 with 3:58 to play. Bill Self implemented a surprising ‘triangle and two’ defense that completely threw off UNC offensively, especially limiting what the Heels could do in the paint. Jeff Withey was unable to repeat his 10-block performance from the Sweet Sixteen, but he and Thomas Robinson got the best of Tyler Zeller and John Henson in scoring and rebounding inside. Combine that with the fact that Tyshawn Taylor had an incredible game going up against Stilman White, and Kansas was too tough for a Kendall Marshall-less Carolina team to overcome. There was not enough offense from UNC when it needed it, but Kansas’ terrific defensive effort was a big reason for that.

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Rushed Reaction: #1 Kentucky 82, #3 Baylor 70

Posted by KDoyle on March 25th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Rebound, Pass, Score. Maybe ESPN’s Sport Science can help me out with this: I would love to learn how long it takes Kentucky to grab a rebound and then reverse the ball to the other side of the court. I cannot recall a team that fills the running lanes and pushes the ball better than Kentucky does. A big reason for their exceptional transition play is how well Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones get up and down the floor. Not to mention, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist finishes around the rim as well as anybody in the game.
  2. Why Run with Kentucky? Playing off of the preceding point, why would any team try to run up and down the floor with Kentucky? It is hard to fault Baylor for doing so because so much of their game is predicated on transition offense, but other teams would be much better served to turn their game against Kentucky into a half-court affair. Force the Cats to defend for upwards of 20-25 seconds on the defensive end, and really make them work for buckets on the offensive end. Obviously, this is much easier said than done, but methinks Rick Pitino and Louisville will employ such a strategy. According to Kenpom.com, Louisville is the top defensive team in the nation, and dating back to the beginning of the Big East Tournament they are allowing just 56 PPG. However, the Cardinals have not faced an offense like Kentucky during that period.
  3. Lockdown Defense. As impressive as the Cats’ high flying offense is, their defense ain’t too shabby either. Anthony Davis’ shot blocking and altering ability has been well-documented, but Kentucky’s perimeter defense should not go unnoticed either. Opponents are shooting just a shade over 30% from distance against them; Baylor was a mediocre 4-14 this afternoon. Sharpshooter Brady Heslip was never able to get going as he knocked down just one triple on two attempts. For the game, Baylor shot 39%, and never recovered after Kentucky went on a 25-5 run midway through the first half.

Star of the Game. Anthony Davis, Kentucky. The conversation throughout the rest of the day and during the week will no doubt surround Anthony Davis’ knee, but that aside Davis was tremendous against an exceptionally talented Baylor frontcourt. Davis played a much smarter game today than he did against Indiana where he picked up two quick fouls and was forced to sit for much of the opening half. Against Baylor, Davis was not nearly as overanxious—remember, this is the biggest stage he has played on in his young career—but still was his usual imposing self. He turned aside seven shots, while also ripping down 11 rebounds and dropping in 18 points.

Quotable. “The knees doing fine, I just bumped knees with Perry Jones, but it is okay now…I knew I needed to get back into the game to help my team get to the Final Four.” - Anthony Davis on colliding with Perry Jones III and hitting his knee. This was one everyone’s minds in the media room and, not surprisingly, it was the very first question asked. Although Davis was limping after the collision, he did play considerable minutes and did not appear to be hindered by the knee. While many may try to make this into a story throughout the week, it looks as if it is a non-issue.

Sights & Sounds. Kentucky certainly made their mark on the city of Atlanta throughout the entire weekend. They were loud, widespread, and pretty knowledgeable based on the fans I spoke to this weekend. For the game this afternoon, however, there were several Baylor supporters seated behind me that threw out some priceless one liners. After a flagrant foul was called against Baylor early in the first half: “Just because CBS wants them (Kentucky) in New Orleans, doesn’t mean you can do that!” And another gem: “Put in RG3 (Robert Griffin III)! He can throw the ball into the basket from full-court.”

Wildcard: South Regional All-Tournament Team: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Kentucky), Anthony Davis (Kentucky), Doron Lamb (Kentucky), Quincy Acy (Baylor), and Christian Watford (Indiana) 

What’s Next? Kentucky will meet Louisville down in New Orleans in the Final Four. This has got to be one of the most highly anticipated and hyped Final Four matchup in history. The media will have an absolute field day with this one and you can bet there will be plenty of questions asked of the coaches about each other.

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Rushed Reaction: #1 Kentucky 102, #4 Indiana 90

Posted by KDoyle on March 24th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. No Pace is Too Fast. Kentucky dictated the pace of the game from the opening tip, and Indiana simply had no answer. When Indiana missed, which they rarely did tonight, Kentucky would corral the rebound and after two passes and a couple dribbles of the basketball the Cats would already have it underneath the Hoosiers’ basket. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague are at their very best when running rampant and Indiana did nothing to stop them from acting as gazelles running the floor.
  2. Indiana Couldn’t Get the Important Stop. Credit to Indiana, they managed to keep themselves within striking distance up until the final minutes, but their inability to string a series of stops together is what ultimately did them in. Christian Watford and Cody Zeller were tremendous, but Kentucky feasted on Indiana’s vanilla man-to-man defense throughout the entire game. This begs the question: Why didn’t Tom Crean throw a zone defense at Kentucky? Indiana surrendered 102 points on the night so clearly zone could not have been much worse than man. In games that Kentucky has struggled on offense—namely against Old Dominion and at Georgia—the opposition played zone exclusively. Kentucky’s next game against Baylor is a very intriguing one as Baylor plays primarily a zone defense.
  3. Restating the Obvious: Kentucky is Best. If it wasn’t already obvious before tonight, it should be now: Kentucky is the best team in the country, and if they are to not win the National Championship it will be because they have beaten themselves or did not bring their ‘A’ game. Anthony Davis, the National Player of the Year, was invisible for the entire first half plagued with foul trouble, and only scored nine points for the game. Yet, there are so many weapons on this squad that it didn’t much matter.

Star of the Game. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky. Only a freshman, the Kidd-Gilchrist is playing like a savvy veteran. He didn’t force his shots tonight, allowed Marquis Teague to create for him, and picked his spots beautifully of when to take over on a possession. 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 10-10 from the stripe. It is scary to think what happens if he—and others—return for another season.

Quotable. “I don’t know when this year, but we as a program really came together. We as a team won all our games a different way, so that’s a huge step for us. I mean, we’re not satisfied with just making it to the Sweet Sixteen. It’s time to get back to work.” – Junior guard Jordan Hulls on Indiana “turning the corner” this season.

Sights & Sounds. It isn’t called “Catlanta” for nothing. Driving up to the Georgia Dome this afternoon at 3 PM—roughly seven hours before Kentucky was scheduled to tip-off against Indiana—it was a sea of blue and white shirts littering the streets, restaurants, bars, and parking lots. It was very clear from the outset that the Dome was going to be rocking tonight, and it certainly was. There were many eruptions of applause throughout the game, but the biggest was probably before the game when Kentucky came onto the floor and went through their warm-up lines. The SEC may be a football conference, but Kentucky makes it very relevant from a basketball perspective.

Wildcard. A minor statistic that must be highlighted: Kentucky shot 35-37 (95%) from the free throw line. Absolutely remarkable, especially considering their season average is 72%.

What’s Next? In the most up-and-down, fast paced basketball game you will probably see all season, Kentucky will meet Baylor with the winner advancing to the Final Four in New Orleans. I promise, there will not be a shortage of high-flying slam dunks in this one.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.23.12 Edition

Posted by WCarey on March 23rd, 2012

The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.

Midwest Region

  • Kansas star forward Thomas Robinson’s personal tragedies have been well-documented. The junior, who just turned 21 last week, is the key player for the Jayhawks as they look to move into the Elite Eight.
  • Kansas senior guard Tyshawn Taylor has faced a lot of adversity in basketball and in life. The guard from New Jersey has developed into a leader for Bill Self’s squad and he will look to lead the Jayhawks into an Elite Eight on Friday night.
  • Going into this season, there were many differing opinions regarding NC State forward CJ Leslie. Leslie has developed into a key player and a team leader for the overachieving Wolfpack that have already pulled two upsets in the NCAA Tournament.
  • When NC State athletic director Kay Yow named Mark Gottfried head coach last April, many people were surprised by the decision. As it turns out, Yow had the right idea, as Gottfried has led the Wolfpack through some hard times this season and into the Sweet Sixteen.
  • North Carolina star forward Harrison Barnes has a history as a saxophone player. Putting the music aside, the Tar Heels’ leading scorer is a key component to the team moving on in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Ohio head coach John Groce has seen his name tied to the openings at Nebraska and Illinois, but the Bobcats’ head coach will not say if he has any interest until his team’s run in the NCAA Tournament has concluded.

West Region

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A Closer Roundtable Look: Indiana vs. Kentucky

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 23rd, 2012

Indiana will face Kentucky Friday night in what is one of the most interesting Sweet Sixteen games in the NCAA tournament.  The Hoosiers handed the Wildcats their only regular season loss back on December 10 thanks to a last-second three by Christian Watford.  In the rematch, the stakes are higher, with a spot in the Elite Eight awaiting the winner.  Who will that winner be?  Big Ten micrositers Joey Nowak (@joeynowak) and Ryan Terpstra (@terphimself) debate.

Indiana and Kentucky collide for the second time this year in the Sweet Sixteen (photo: College Sports Madness)

1.  Anthony Davis versus Cody Zeller.  Can Indiana come out on top of this matchup again?

  • Ryan:  In the first matchup of the freshman big men, Cody Zeller clearly came out on top.  He logged 37 minutes, scored 11 points, and grabbed seven rebounds.  Davis, meanwhile, was saddled with foul trouble for most of the game, and finished with just six points in 24 minutes.  IU will certainly try to attack Davis, because removing his defensive impact from the game opens up opportunities for Zeller to find success inside, and guards like Victor Oladipo to take the ball to the basket.  However, Davis seems to have quickly learned his lesson, having not even committed four fouls in a game since that loss to Indiana.  He only has picked up two personal fouls all tournament, and has played 76 minutes in the two games.  Odds are that he’ll be on the floor, and if he is, advantage Kentucky.
  • Joey: What’s so remarkable about Anthony Davis is how he impacts the game in both small and large sample sizes. He’ll alter a shot on the defensive end or register a block, then run the floor and get a put-back or an easy alley-oop. Or, he might not fill the stat sheet that way, but can neutralize almost any big man in the country, alters shots from all over the floor and changes the way teams have to approach games on both ends. Zeller is fantastic because he’s just as polished, and runs the floor like a three or a four for Indiana. Davis has advantage in the half-court setting, so if Indiana is going to want to exploit the Kentucky big man and utilize their own freshman star, it’s gotta be on the break.

2.  What’s the key for the Hoosier defense to keep the explosive Wildcat offense in check?

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Morning Five: 03.23.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 23rd, 2012

  1. Despite failing to get Northwestern to the NCAA Tournament again (they still have never gotten there), Bill Carmody will be back in Evanston next season. Carmody, who has had the Wildcats on the verge of the NCAA Tournament several times in the past few years was unable to get the team over a fairly weak bubble when they lost in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament to Minnesota. While plenty of Northwestern fans were looking for a new face to lead their program the school’s administration felt otherwise. Carmody has actually made it to the NCAA Tournament  twice while at Princeton including winning a game in the first round in 1998 with one of the better Ivy League teams in recent memory, but he has only been able to compile a  179-189 record at Northwestern and only made it to the NIT four times in twelve seasons though to be fair it has been in all of his last four seasons.
  2. We did not even know that he was a serious candidate for the job to begin with, but yesterday Dana Altman formally took his name out of consideration for the head coaching vacancy at Nebraska. While Oregon has not been a great basketball program recently, we are not sure why someone would leave Oregon with its solid recruiting base and Phil Knight/Nike money to go to a place where basketball is probably the third most important sport behind college football and spring football. In any event, the Huskers will continue searching for their next head coach and we suspect it will be someone from the mid-major ranks or an assistant coach at a major program looking for his first head coaching opportunity.
  3. After a solid sophomore season at MemphisWill Barton will be declaring for the NBA Draft signing with an agent. Despite Barton’s obvious talents–chief among them is his athleticism and ability to score–there are still some concerns including his strength and decision-making. As a result he will likely remain a borderline first round pick (more likely a second round pick). Conversely, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will have no problem finding himself a spot in the first round as he is a certain top 10 pick and possibly a top 5 pick. While there are some reports indicating that he will also be entering the NBA Draft, the Kentucky freshman is denying those reports for the time being. We would not expect any reasonable reports until the Wildcats finish their season.
  4. If you are confused by all the new rules and stipulations for the early entry process, Jonathan Giovany of Draft Express has the rundown of what you need to know about the early entry rules and how they could affect your team. The new process is convoluted, but according to Giovany’s analysis if a player (or his family or coach) is smart they could potentially wait until April 29 instead of the previously assumed April 10 deadline before deciding whether or not to leave school even with the NCAA’s attempt “to help keep student-athletes focused on academics” still intact.
  5. Wednesday was a very bad for two seniors in the CAA as Kent Bazemore was arrested before Old Dominion‘s CIT quarterfinal game on Wednesday for what is believed to be failure to fulfill the conditions of a sentence he was given for a DUI conviction last summer and Andre Cornelius, who has had his share of legal issues recently at George Mason, was arrested on the same day for possession of marijuana. While both players are seniors and have exhausted their eligibility they certainly left their basketball programs with a blaze of glory.
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