Bracket Prep: On Wichita’s Draw, the Loaded South and Non-Conference SOS…

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 17th, 2014

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At this point, you’ve probably filled out at least five brackets and torn up a few more. There are some match-ups you can’t wait to see and others you’re not so psyched about. There are trendy upset possibilities you agree with and some you’re staying away from precisely because everyone else seems to be leaning that way. You feel good about two of your four Final Four picks; the other two are toss-ups. If you filled out multiple brackets, there may be 16 teams about which you’ve casually tell your friends and co-workers, “I have them in the Final Four.” Me? I filled out one bracket, but I’m not here today to reveal my picks. That’d be more embarrassing than anything else; over the years I’ve come to learn a painful lesson: Watching and write about college hoops doesn’t make you any more likely to win your bracket pool than your football-obsessed friend who’s taken in two full games all season. What you see below are simply the first four thoughts that coalesced in my mind after I printed and scanned this year’s bracket for the first time, mere minutes after the selection show.

The Midwest region isn't as tough as it seems (Getty).

The Midwest region isn’t as tough as it seems (AP).

Did Wichita State Really Get ‘Screwed’? 

The reaction to Wichita State’s placement in the Midwest region with #2 Michigan, #3 Duke, #4 Louisville and #8 Kentucky was nearly unanimous: The Shockers are toast. This sentiment is understandable. Duke and Michigan are incredibly tough to guard; both rank in the top three in the country in points scored per possession. Louisville ranks second in Ken Pomeroy’s team ratings and has won 12 of its last 13 games, seemingly peaking at the perfect time. And in three SEC Tournament games, Kentucky more closely resembled the juggernaut we all predicted in the preseason – wrongfully, might I add – that would reach the Final Four. None of those teams will be easy to beat. This is a tough region; I’m not disputing that. Wichita State will have its hands full, for sure. But saying Wichita State got ‘screwed,’ or even that it faces a much tougher road to Arlington than, say, Florida, is a bit of a stretch, if you ask me. The most arduous path the Shockers could face is the following: Kentucky in the round of 32, Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen, and Duke in the Elite Eight. The only game out of those three I wouldn’t take Wichita State in is against Louisville, and that one would be a toss-up.

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Big Ten M5: 02.24.14 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on February 24th, 2014

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  1. Better late than never, but Michigan’s Caris LeVert is starting to get his due for his contributions to the Wolverines this season. After a 23-point performance against rival Michigan State on Sunday — his fourth 20+ game in the last four — he has catapulted his team to a one-game lead in the loss column of the Big Ten standings. His marked improvement, specifically on the offensive end, sets up the Wolverines to control their own destiny with four games left in pursuit of the conference championship. The LeVert-Nik Stauskas combo will be very dangerous in March, and has, at least for the moment, helped make Maize and Blue faithful forget about Mitch McGary.
  2. John Groce’s Illini are unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament, but the last few weeks of play should ultimately yield positive results for his young team. Against Minnesota, freshman guard Kendrick Nunn scored 19 points and showed that he has the makings of a future superstar. He has great form on his shot, and he is also excellent on the defensive end. He has proven to be a player with a knack for the ball during key possessions, and his experience and continued growth over the final few weeks will allow him to gain more confidence heading into next year.
  3. Indiana‘s season has gotten derailed over the past few weeks, but the Hoosiers snapped their recent three-game losing streak by beating Northwestern in Evanston over the weekend. At this juncture of the season, Tom Crean can only find several small moral victories in an otherwise disappointing season. His team was committed to feeding the post against the Wildcats, which led to a season-low seven turnovers in the game. Crean said, “These guys know if we get good looks and if we get a chance to get on that board and if we get to that foul line, we can be pretty good.” It is unlikely that the Hoosiers will surge towards the NCAAs in the final few weeks, but a confident young core should be pay dividends next season.
  4. It has been an up and down season for Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky. After pouring in 43 points against North Dakota early in the non-conference season, he struggled a bit in January during Big Ten play. However, he is making a strong comeback over the past three games, averaging 21.0 PPG in three wins to lead the Badgers into third place in the Big Ten standings. Already equipped with an excellent jumper from the beyond the arc, Kaminsky is challenging defenses by taking his game into the paint and utilizing a nice spin move to create angles for easy shots. If Kaminsky can keep up his recent offensive surge, the Badgers become a very interesting team at both the conference and national level.
  5. Injuries have been a persistent issue for Tom Izzo’s Spartans this season. First it was Adreian Payne who was sidelined; then it was Branden Dawson; and finally Keith Appling got bit by the injury bug a few weeks ago. Payne is now back and healthy, but Appling’s return against Michigan on Sunday was concerning. Playing with a sore right wrist, he scored just six points and clearly appeared to be banged up as the Spartans tried to prevent the Wolverines from running away with the Big Ten title. Dawson’s contributions are necessary for Michigan State to reach its potential, but yesterday’s game proved that Appling might be the most important player in the Izzo’s lineup.
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“Super Saturday” Results Give Hope to St. John’s and Georgetown

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 2nd, 2014

Brian Otskey (@botskey) attended the “Super Saturday” doubleheader at Madison Square Garden yesterday and filed this report.

When this year’s college basketball schedule was released, many people circled February 1 on their calendars as it would feature a doubleheader at Madison Square Garden on the day before the Super Bowl involving three quality Big East teams and a national championship contender from the Big Ten. Fast forward to the actual game day and the storylines coming in to Saturday’s games were a lot different. Marquette, picked to finish first in the new look Big East, was looking to get its season back on track after losing nine games before February and posting just a .500 mark in Big East play. St. John’s, a trendy surprise preseason pick, had stumbled badly and came into yesterday’s game with a 2-6 league record. Georgetown, picked right behind Marquette in the preseason poll, entered the weekend with an 11-9 overall record and in the midst of a five-game losing streak. The only storyline that hadn’t changed from the preseason was Michigan State is still a national title contender, although the Spartans are currently playing without two injured starters in Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson.

Georgetown's Jabril Trawick and Mikael Hopkins got the best of Gary Harris and Michigan State on Saturday. (Credit: Anthony Gruppuso--USA Today)

Georgetown’s Jabril Trawick and Mikael Hopkins got the best of Gary Harris and Michigan State on Saturday. (Credit: Anthony Gruppuso–USA Today)

So much for that. Those storylines flipped once again after the games were played, as St. John’s blasted Marquette in a game that wasn’t remotely close, and Georgetown pulled a huge upset in knocking off the Spartans in the day’s second game. For Steve Lavin’s team, the win was further proof that the Red Storm are beginning to find their identity. The win was the fourth in five games with the only loss coming by three points at Creighton last Tuesday. St. John’s is playing better basketball and a lot of folks are starting to take notice. “Everything’s moving in the right direction,” said D’Angelo Harrison, who led the Johnnies with a game-high 27 points on 6-of-11 shooting from three-point land. “We’re buying into the process.” Lavin, while downplaying the win when a media member asked if it may represent a turning point, echoed Harrison’s comments. “The kids took another positive step forward. Since halftime of the Georgetown game, this team just keeps getting better,” said the fourth-year Red Storm head man. “I see it in practice, I see it in games. I haven’t had a group that fights back like this group.”

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The RTC Podblast: The Comeuppance Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 10th, 2014

Welcome back to the RTC Podblast. With a loaded week of big games this week, there was plenty to talk about, including Arizona-UCLA, Memphis-Louisville, Michigan State-Ohio State, Iowa State-Baylor, and Randy’s annual comeuppance. As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) leads us through the discussion, with an added cherry on top looking forward to a mildly entertaining group of games this weekend.

Make sure to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record. And feel free to contact us through Twitter or email — we’re listening.

  • 0:00-5:34 – Memphis Proves Randy Wrong
  • 5:34-9:44 – Arizona Escapes Pauley Pavilion Unscathed
  • 9:44-15:19 – But Ohio State Doesn’t Escape East Lansing
  • 15:19-16:08 – Iowa State Rolls Baylor
  • 16:08-19:19 – Saturday Games Preview
  • 19:19-21:51 – Sunday Games Preview
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RTC Bracketology: January 10 Edition

Posted by Daniel Evans on January 10th, 2014

bracketology

Daniel Evans (@bracketexpert) is Rush the Court’s resident bracketologist. He will update his brackets at least twice a week through the rest of the regular season here at RTC, but his updated brackets can be viewed daily at Bracketology Expert.

Our latest bracketology shows a little bit of movement at the top. After Michigan State‘s big win over Ohio State Tuesday night, the Spartans jump to the No. 1 line. Iowa State continues to climb and is up to No. 6 overall on my S-curve, while Wichita State is up to No. 9. I’m still doubting that the Shockers can get a No. 1 seed unless they finish the regular season with an unblemished record (or at most one loss), so for now they remain on the No. 3 seed line despite remaining undefeated.

The "Most Annoying Team in America" to Bracketologists (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

The “Most Annoying Team in America” to Bracketologists (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

North Carolina remains the most annoying team in the country. The Tar Heels lost to Miami (FL) earlier this week to add another awful loss to a resume full of them. Of course, the Tar Heels also have three of the best wins in the country over Michigan State, Kentucky and Louisville.. The Tar Heels are like many of my ex-girlfriends, bipolar and unpredictable.

Here is the complete field, seeded #1-#68:

LAST FOUR IN: Georgetown, Texas, Oklahoma, Dayton
FIRST FOUR OUT: California, SMU, North Dakota State, St. Mary’s

#1 Seeds:

  • ARIZONA (Pac 12/WEST)
  • WISCONSIN (Big Ten/SOUTH)
  • SYRACUSE (ACC/EAST)
  • Michigan State (Midwest)

#2  Seeds:

  • Ohio State
  • IOWA STATE (Big 12)
  • FLORIDA (SEC)
  • Oklahoma State

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Gary Harris’ Re-Aggravated Ankle Injury Will Test Sparty’s Depth

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 6th, 2013

It hasn’t been a good week for Michigan State. After losing at home in surprising fashion to North Carolina and likely losing its No. 1 ranking in the process, the Spartans are now going to be without a key part of its team for the foreseeable future. It now appears star guard Gary Harris will be out indefinitely, as he tweaked his ankle in the game against the Tar Heels Wednesday night. Not only did the Spartans lose their first game of the season this week, but now will be without the almost unanimous Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year pick for at least a few weeks more.

Gary Harris

Gary Harris Must be Healthy For Michigan State to Reach Its Goals

Depending exactly how long Harris is out could have a big influence on Michigan State’s seeding and potentially the Big Ten race. The Spartans have two easy games against Oakland and North Florida before going on the road to battle Texas  in two weeks. It has another game with New Orleans a week later, but then the Big Ten slate opens at Penn State on New Year’s Eve, at Indiana on January 4 and then home against Ohio State on January 7. The report says that Harris will be completely held out of basketball activities for the next few weeks, likely with the hope he’ll be ready to go by the start of the new year. Either way, it isn’t a good situation for the Spartans who need the talents of Harris to compete at their highest level.

Michigan State already was a team relying heavily on its starting line-up, specifically Harris, Keith Appling, Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson. Tom Izzo’s bench has up to this point received only 25.7 percent of the available minutes, which ranks the Spartans in the bottom 100 nationally. Now it will need heavy minutes from Travis Trice and Denzel Valetine to fill the void left by Harris’ shooting and scoring abilities. If their superstar isn’t fully healthy by Big Ten play, those first two road games won’t be easy against a solid Penn State backcourt on the road and the always tough Assembly Hall against Indiana. The Spartans can’t really afford to have him out for an extended period of time or it could find itself starting the conference slate in a big hole. Not to mention it could impact hope for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with too many losses. No matter what, though, we are going to learn exactly how much or little depth the Spartans have this season over the next few weeks.

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The RTC Podblast: UNC Say What Edition

Posted by rtmsf on December 6th, 2013

Tis the season everyone… it’s RTC Podblast time. In this week’s quick and dirty version, the guys dig into just what in the hell is going on with this year’s North Carolina team, talk through some of the takeaways from this week’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and look forward to some of the most interesting games of the upcoming weekend (conclusion: snowboarding weekend). As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts, and the complete rundown is listed below.

Make sure to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record. And feel free to contact us through Twitter or email — we’re listening.

  • 0:00-9:52 – Trying to Solve the Mystery in East Lansing
  • 9:52-12:08 – ACC Middle Tier Still a Question Mark
  • 12:08-14:14 – Michigan in Trouble
  • 14:14-19:26 – Weekend Preview/Wrap
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RTC Bracketology: Way Too Early Edition

Posted by Daniel Evans on December 5th, 2013

bracketology

Daniel Evans (@bracketexpert) is RTC’s resident bracketologist. According to Bracket Matrix, he ranks as one of the top bracketologists among those who have produced brackets for more than three years, including two seasons with perfect bracket projections. He updates the field daily on his site, Bracketology Expert, and will be producing a weekly bracket update here at RTC on Thursdays. 

Right now it is almost impossible to separate a No. 1 seed from a No. 10 seed in the bracket below, so preseason expectations still matter. For instance, North Carolina upset Michigan State last night in East Lansing but the Spartans are still a No. 1 seed. Later in the year, upsets like this will more easily be reflected in the bracket, but right now with such a small sample size, it is hard to compare teams to one another.

If you look hard enough with this iteration of the bracket, you might find a bracketing error or two (or more). At this point of the year, I’m more focused on showing where teams are relative to each other than I am on nailing every single bracketing procedure — although I do try.

NOTE: Small conference champions are still represented by their preseason favorite (or who I expected to win the conference). This will change in the next update.

RTCDEC5

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North Carolina’s Big Upset Over Sparty Only Begs More Questions

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 5th, 2013

College basketball fans, welcome to the most perplexing team in the nation. North Carolina pulled off the stunning upset last night in East Lansing, besting the top team in the nation, Michigan State. A team beset by ongoing suspensions, inconsistent play and horrendous foul shooting went into a hostile road environment following an ugly loss to UAB and promptly outplayed and outhustled the nation’s top team. A confounding team? Absolutely. A team that can be pegged as playing to its competition thus far? Perhaps. But most importantly, this might be a team with just a short enough memory to continue to make noise as the season progresses.

UNC Was Quicker to the Ball All Night Long Versus Michigan State (DFP/J. Gonzalez)

UNC Was Quicker to the Ball All Night Long Versus Michigan State (DFP/J. Gonzalez)

What might be most striking thus far in the Tar Heels’ season is this squad’s resiliency. This is a team that has been forced to juggle lineups with a lot of young players forced to play significantly larger roles than they’d anticipated. Freshmen Nate Britt and Kennedy Meeks were supposed to play complementary roles while their elders carried the torch early.Instead, the suspensions of PJ Hairston and Leslie McDonald have forced a lineup shift that saw UNC running 11 players in just the first half against the Spartans. Britt was invaluable, playing perhaps his best game thus far. His ability to handle the ball without turning it over as the Michigan State team pressed out of necessity in the closing minutes was huge for this team. He was also a solid 7-of-8 from the line (UNC’s Achilles heel, 61.8 percent on the season), most of which was in crunch time when the Spartans turned to fouling in the hopes of mounting a comeback. Meeks’ passing ability and impressive touch down low was again on display; despite facing taller big men most of the game, he still finished with an impressive line of 15 points and seven rebounds off the bench and made numerous gorgeous passes to facilitate the team’s half-court sets. Not to be outdone was the continually impressive Brice Johnson. His 14 points, six rebounds and two blocks helped North Carolina control the paint.

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RTC Top 25: Week Two

Posted by rtmsf on November 25th, 2013

We’re now two weeks into the season and there’s not a whole lot more clarity in the poll than there was last week. Michigan State is a strong #1, but #2 Kansas is nipping on the Spartans’ heels and #3 Kentucky and #4 Arizona are not far behind. Then things start to get muddled. Louisville put doubt into everyone’s minds with its no-show versus North Carolina, while Oklahoma State is soaring as a result of its fantastic beatdown of Memphis. Duke‘s close call versus Vermont led pollsters to devalue the Blue Devils, while Connecticut‘s close win over Indiana pushed the Huskies to the edge of the Top 10. And then there are a bunch of teams that people still haven’t gotten a great handle on — the good news is that for schools like Syracuse, Gonzaga and Creighton, we’ll know a lot more about them at this time next week — Feast Week will make sure of it. The quick n’ dirty analysis of this week’s poll is after the jump.

rtc25 11.25.13

Quick n’ Dirty Analysis:

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The RTC Podblast: Episode 1.5

Posted by rtmsf on November 15th, 2013

And we’re off and running with the regular season as well as the weekly RTC Podblast. In case you’re not aware of what this feature is all about, this is where we reset the week’s action and look ahead to the coming weekend of games in a shorter, sleeker, bite-sized format. Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts, and in this week’s podblast, the guys break down some positives and negatives for each of the four teams in the Champions Classic, discuss a couple of other games from the Hoops Marathon, and look forward to the two biggest games of the weekend. The full rundown is below.

Make sure to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record. And feel free to contact us through Twitter or email — we’re listening.

  • 0:00-1:15 – Introduction
  • 1:15-7:26 –  Sparty Spoils Kentucky’s 40-0 Dreams
  • 7:26-11:22 – Kansas (not the Fighting Wiggins) beats Duke (not the Fighting Jabaris)
  • 11:22-13:14 – The Old Dominion Battle (That didn’t involve ODU)
  • 13:14-14:33 – Florida Battles Wisconsin Despite Missing Pieces
  • 14:33-16:34 – Ohio State-Marquette Preview
  • 16:34-20:03 – “Randy Bowl” (Michigan-Iowa State) Preview/Wrap
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Morning Five: 11.14.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 14th, 2013

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  1. The residual from Tuesday’s Champions Classic buzzed throughout the sports world on Wednesday, with considerable discussion devoted to rank-ordering the superstar freshmen who were on display (Parker, Randle, Wiggins was a popular order), discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the four teams, and projecting the areas in which each will get better. But perhaps the biggest storyline that came out of the game was related to the interview that Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski gave afterward. In response to a media member’s question about the not-exactly-secretive practice by NBA teams to tank games in order to position themselves for high draft picks next summer, Coach K waxed poetically in his response about the virtues of good old-fashioned competition: “As an American, I wouldn’t like to think that an American team would want to lose or create situations where you would want to lose. [...] Maybe I’m naive and I’m going to go read a fairy tale after this.” Full clip here. Speaking of competition, ESPN cleaned up with its broadcast of the double-header, recording the second-highest rated regular season non-conference game in history for #1 Kentucky vs. #2 Michigan State, and the nightcap game wasn’t terribly far behind.
  2. Sports Illustrated hit the newsstands on Wednesday with spectacular timing, choosing to release its 2013-14 College Basketball Preview issue in the wake of all the good Champions Classic vibe and avoiding the AP and USA Today/Coaches polls’ mistake of choosing Kentucky for its top spot. Utilizing a neat four-region cover format, the experts at SI instead went with Louisville as its preseason #1 team, although there aren’t any real surprises among the rest of their list (Harvard at #20, maybe?). For their full top 20 rankings and excerpts of some of the articles printed in the preview, check out this SI.com One and One post here; for complete scouting reports on each of the ranked teams, check out their online post here. But if you really want the full experience, get analog and enjoy the magazine the way it was intended — in hard-copy, ink-and-paper, magazine format.
  3. Speaking of the Cards, the AP announced on Wednesday that the school had negotiated the exit fee from its one-year foray with the AAC as it looks to head to the ACC next July. The final number turned out to be $11 million, which is roughly the revenue that Louisville creates in the price of a handful of hot dogs and beers at the Yum! Center during a basketball game. OK, not really, but the most profitable basketball program in the nation – estimated to bring in an annual surplus of $23-$28 million per year — shouldn’t have any problem whatsoever in finding enough couch change to write the check. With a move to its new conference starting next season and all the additional television revenue that will come with being a part of the dominant east coast sports league, expect those coffers to continue to rise.
  4. When Louisville joins the ACC in 2014, the next basketball season will culminate in a blockbuster ACC Tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina, for the 25th time. But with the push to save itself and add teams from above the Mason-Dixon Line, the league is looking to make its hallmark event a bit more inclusive and cosmopolitan than the longtime location of league HQ. A part-time move to New York City is an inevitability, but before the nation’s oldest conference tournament heads to the Big Apple, the league has decided to take baby steps with a trip to Washington, DC, in 2016. The ACC has accepted this dance with the District once before at the Verizon/MCI Center in 2005, an event that was notable for its relatively light attendance over the course of the weekend. The DC area had also hosted several ACC Tournaments prior to that at the old Capital Center in Landover, Maryland, but in all of these events, the Terps and maybe Duke were the only real attractions. Syracuse, Notre Dame and to a certain degree Pittsburgh, on the other hand, all have huge alumni bases in the East Coast megalopolis between Washington and New York, now just an easy train ride between city centers. And Louisville fans travel well. Contrasted with nearly a decade prior, expect the 2016 ACC Tournament even without local team Maryland involved to be a fantastic success.
  5. Finally today, if you read nothing else, read this story from SI‘s Seth Davis about Duke guard Andre Dawkins‘ struggles with clinical depression. By all accounts, depression is a medical condition that people who don’t suffer from it have a lot of trouble understanding. Why not just pick yourself up? Why not just find something that makes you happy? The truth is that picking yourself up and finding something meaningful is extremely difficult for those with the disease. The complicated brain chemistry involved with the condition doesn’t just go away because they want it to, and as Davis elucidates so nicely with the story on Dawkins, the only way it can be solved is through therapy and (sometimes) medical intervention through antidepressants. The happy ending here is that Dawkins is back on the Blue Devils for his senior season and he really wants to play basketball again, something that he had almost no desire to do two years ago. That’s a win right there, and Davis should be commended for bringing this encouraging story to the forefront. Even if you hate Duke, you’ll have to root for Dawkins after reading this one.
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