Rushed Reactions: #6 Notre Dame 76, #14 Stephen F. Austin 75

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 20th, 2016

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.

Rex Pflueger’s only basket of the game sent Notre Dame to the Sweet Sixteen. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)

  1. One Shining Moment. Welcome to the montage, Rex Pflueger. The California kid tipped in Zach Auguste‘s missed shot with one second remaining to send Notre Dame to the Sweet Sixteen. It was a classic example of this tournament creating an iconic moment for a player not many people have heard of. It was Pflueger’s only two points of the game and his first made field goal since Notre Dame’s regular season finale against North Carolina State on March 5. For the time being, Pflueger saved Notre Dame’s season. We will see his one shining moment on video for years to come.
  2. Notre Dame won this game in the paint. The Fighting Irish scored 52 of their 76 points either in the paint or from the foul line as they took advantage of a substantial size edge. Auguste led the way, but the Notre Dame guards did a fantastic job getting into the paint and creating for both themselves and teammates. It is incredibly difficult to win games in this tournament when a team is passive offensively, and the Irish were the antithesis of passive this afternoon. Notre Dame was aggressive and efficient en route to shooting 56.9 percent from the floor for the game. A lot of that had to do with Auguste and his team’s dominance around the rim.
  3. What more can you say about Stephen F. Austin? The Lumberjacks put on quite a display this week in Brooklyn. On Friday night they took out a West Virginia team that many experts said could contend for a spot in the Final Four. They beat the Mountaineers at their own game and today they were one missed defensive rebound away from making the first Sweet Sixteen appearance in school history. Thomas Walkup is a special player who got better in each of his four years in Nacogdoches. He had 21 points today after scoring 33 two nights ago against West Virginia, performances that nearly carried his team to the second weekend. With the Lumberjacks losing Walkup, Demetrious Floyd, Clide Geffrard, Trey Pinkney and Jared Johnson to graduation, the focus now will turn to head coach Brad Underwood and whether or not he stays with the program. He will likely be mentioned as a candidate for the open Big 12 jobs at Oklahoma State and TCU. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: North Carolina 78, Notre Dame 47

Posted by Matt Patton on March 11th, 2016

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Three Key Takeaways.

  1. If North Carolina plays defense like it did tonight, the Tar Heels will win the national championship. Notre Dame is one of the best offensive teams in the country and they couldn’t buy a good look for 10 solid minutes. Roy Williams’ team was incredibly aggressive, especially on the perimeter, never allowing Notre Dame’s guards to any space to operate. They only gave up 22 points (a season low for both teams) on 34 possessions, good for a first half defensive efficiency of 0.65 points per possession. After the run ended five minutes into the first half, it was far too late for Notre Dame to catch up. The Irish ended up scoring only 47 points in the game, its lowest total since a loss to Syracuse in 2013.

    North Carolina guard Kenny Williams (24) cheers from the bench during the semifinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington DC, Friday, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

    North Carolina guard Kenny Williams (24) cheers from the bench during the semifinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington DC, Friday, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

  2. Repeat after me: North Carolina is really deep. The Heels got 20 points off the bench and they actually played better when Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks both picked up their second fouls with 6:30 to play in the first half. Very few teams in the country would have been able to bounce back so quickly. Isaiah Hicks has played really well over the last couple of games (he finished with 11 points and 15 rebounds), and this was his best game since he scored 21 points at Syracuse.
  3. Notre Dame is a streaky team. It was blown out three other times this season (at Syracuse; at Florida State; vs. Miami), and every once in a while you will see a team get too far into its own head and become woefully overmatched. This was one of those times. The Tar Heels defense totally took Notre Dame out of its offense, as the Irish went from a team that excels on ball movement to one trying to isolate against a much taller front line. Steve Vasturia and Demetrius Jackson were held a combined 1-of-16 from the field, an unbelievably disappointing performance.

Star of the Game. Tonight Marcus Paige looked every bit the first team all-ACC player everyone expected. He played great defense, hit some soul-crushing threes, and finished with seven assists and no turnovers. When he’s locked in, guarding the Tar Heels is borderline impossible. The last few years the question was always: “Can North Carolina shoot well enough to win?” This tournament has been evidence that both Joel Berry and Paige are more than capable. (Author’s note: It’s worth noting that Berry finished the game with four assists and no turnovers.)

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Notre Dame Upends Duke; Tobacco Road Rematch Denied

Posted by Matt Patton on March 10th, 2016

Midway through the second half of Thursday afternoon’s second ACC quarterfinal, a Duke-UNC rematch looked like destiny. Duke led Notre Dame by 16 with 11 minutes to play. To that point, the game had strongly resembled North Carolina’s earlier win over Pittsburgh: Notre Dame and Duke were matched in strengths (offense); Duke struggled out of the gate but Grayson Allen kept the game close; and a second half Fighting Irish drought looked fatal. And then the Blue Devils ran out of gas.

Zach Auguste got the better of his matchup with Marshall Plumlee in Notre Dame's win over Duke. (photo: Alex Brandon, AP)

Zach Auguste got the better of his matchup with Marshall Plumlee in Notre Dame’s win over Duke. (photo: Alex Brandon, AP)

The Notre Dame comeback began in earnest with just under eight minutes left when Notre Dame grabbed three straight offensive boards before scoring. Soon after VJ Beachem rediscovered his shooting stroke, while Zach Auguste continued his relentless assault of the backboards. Auguste would finished with 22 rebounds on an afternoon when he was easily the best player on the floor.

Make no mistake about it: The story here is Notre Dame, not Duke. The Blue Devils are very much who we thought they were — a flawed but extremely capable offensive team who will have a chance to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament. But on the other side, this game was a reminder that Notre Dame is still built around the foundation of last year’s ACC title squad that almost knocked off Kentucky in the Elite Eight. It’s a team with veterans like Auguste, Demetrius Jackson (who struggled en route to a 13 point, four assist afternoon) and Steve Vasturia (12 points, six assists) who are ready for another shot at an ACC title. Despite wins over North Carolina, Duke (now twice), and Louisville, the Fighting Irish are still looking for national respect. The guy at the helm certainly has a good deal of that, as Mike Brey is now 5-1 in his last six games against Duke and his mentor, Mike Krzyzewski.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.08.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 8th, 2016

After Friday afternoon’s bombshell announcement that Louisville was self-imposing a postseason ban, the attention returned to the play on the floor for fourteen ACC schools this weekend. In a rarity, five league road teams were favored in the seven matchups, but only three managed to extract victories. In the marquee contest, Notre Dame continued its recent run of superiority over the ACC’s two most storied programs, as the Irish rallied for a big upset win in South Bend over North Carolina in ESPN’s prime time game on Saturday night. Earlier in the day, Virginia Tech also pulled off a mild surprise as the Hokies edged Clemson in Blacksburg, significantly damaging the Tigers’ postseason hopes in the process. In other action, the ACC’s two leading scorers dueled in Durham, with Grayson Allen and Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber putting on a show as Duke defeated N.C. State for the second time this year. Here are some of the highlights from a busy weekend around the ACC.

Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste celebrate Notre Dame's upset win over North Carolina. (Getty Images)

Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste celebrate Notre Dame’s upset win over North Carolina. (Getty Images)

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.01.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 1st, 2016

It was not a weekend of tight games in the ACC, with all but one of the seven contests featuring a final margin in double figures. Saturday’s heavyweight matchup between Virginia and Louisville turned out to be completely one-sided, as the visiting Cavaliers dominated from the outset in the nationally-televised game. N.C. State pulled off the biggest upset of the weekend by taking out Miami behind a remarkable performance from its star point guard. North Carolina easily dispatched Boston College, as expected; Florida State avenged an earlier loss by beating Clemson in Tallahassee; and Syracuse edged Georgia Tech in the only close contest on Saturday. Sunday featured two home wins for teams that remain a part of the crowded upper half of the ACC standings – Notre Dame easily handled Wake Forest, and Pittsburgh took care of Virginia Tech. Here are some of the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Malcolm Brogdon led the way in Virginia's domination over Louisville. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Malcolm Brogdon led the way in Virginia’s domination over Louisville.
(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

  • Best Win: Just a short week ago, we still weren’t sure what to make of Tony Bennett’s team. They were clearly in a rut, having lost all three league road games, and they were facing a week with two more away games. For 39 minutes in Winston-Salem on Tuesday it appeared as if those woes away from home would continue. But a miracle comeback gave Virginia its first ACC road win and appears to have sparked something more. The Cavaliers manhandled the ACC’s second place team, 63-47, in a masterful defensive performance that held Louisville’s two leading scorers (Damion Lee and Trey Lewis) without a point in the first half (the pair finished with 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting). The Cardinals never challenged, allowing Virginia to cruise to its most impressive ACC performance of the year. Seniors Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill led the charge with 13 points each. If this weekend’s performance is any indication, it may be a bit premature to count out the Cavaliers with respect to a third consecutive ACC regular season title.

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Notre Dame’s Explosive Offense Makes Them A Dangerous Team

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 18th, 2016

Last season, Notre Dame had the most successful run of Mike Brey‘s tenure in South Bend. The Irish finished third in the ACC with a 14-4 record, and then won the ACC Tournament in Greensboro by knocking off league stalwarts Duke and North Carolina on back-to-back nights. Then came an excellent NCAA Tournament run where they fell to an unbeaten Kentucky squad on the game’s final possession in a Regional final. That Irish team featured the second ranked offense in the country according to KenPom’s efficiency ratings, trailing only Wisconsin’s historically best offense. After losing its top two players from last year’s group, Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton (both NBA draft picks), Brey’s current team may not be as strong overall due to a significant drop off defensively. But Notre Dame’s offense has remained elite (currently #1 in Kenpom) and that makes them a threat to win any time they take the floor.

Demetrius Jackson leads Notre Dame's outstanding offense and is among the nation's best point guards. (Ben McKeown/AP Photo)

Demetrius Jackson leads Notre Dame’s outstanding offense and is among the nation’s best point guards. (Ben McKeown/AP Photo)

As if to prove this point, on Saturday afternoon Notre Dame outscored Duke 95-91 by posting an outstanding 1.36 points per possession. We looked over the 15 years of KenPom historical data, and couldn’t find a better offensive performance for a visiting ACC team in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Granted, this is not a vintage Duke squad, with youth and a lack of depth being the main problems. But yesterday, the Blue Devils played hard and well most of the game (51.8 FG%, 50.0 3FG%), and the Cameron crowd was at its best, making it a difficult environment for the visitors. Still, Notre Dame maintained its poise and offensive efficiency down the stretch to come out on top in this shootout.

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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 12.19.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 19th, 2015

After a quiet week for the league, this weekend storms in with some great games. The centerpiece of the next two days will be the Crossroads Classic, an event that takes the four most prestigious programs from the country’s most basketball-rich state and pairs them together in Indianapolis. It’s turned into one of the premier events before conference plays begins. Here is your weekend preview:

The Crossroads Classic

The Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis is upon us once again this Saturday.

  • Northwestern at Depaul (Saturday, 2:00 PM ET, FS1). People may not have noticed, but Northwestern is 9-1 with its sole loss against North Carolina–a game which was at least competitive in the first half. Not many have jumped on the Wildcats’ bandwagon because their schedule as of today has been laughable. Only two of their wins have come from teams ranked higher than #175 on KenPom and both those wins came in overtime. A win at DePaul (5-5) wouldn’t convert many to be believers, but it would represent Northwestern’s best win of the season (given their light schedule thus far).
  • Notre Dame vs Indiana (Saturday, 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2). This is the opener to the Crossroads Classic and Mike Brey decided to turn up the heat to it when he said yesterday that Notre Dame was the most consistent program in the state, “and it isn’t close”. It’s not certain whether his statement was a direct shot at their upcoming opponents, the only blueblood program in the state, or it was just innocuous praise for himself and assistant coaches. Either way, it should be a highly entertaining and frenetic game as both these teams have Top 5 offenses paired with pedestrian defenses. The game might come down to whoever makes the most threes or who has the most transition points. Grab the popcorn before you watch this one.

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part III Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 25th, 2015

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Note: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings.

  1. Preseason NIT: Three ACC schools will begin play in a tournament on Thanksgiving Day, with the first being Georgia Tech (#87) as the Yellow Jackets look to bounce back from Sunday’s terrible buzzer-beating home loss to East Tennessee State. Brian Gregory’s already-warm seat is surely hotter now, so he desperately needs a good performance from his squad in Brooklyn this week. The best way to make up for a bad loss is to pull off a huge win. That possibility exists for Georgia Tech if it can get by Arkansas (#102) on Thursday (ESPNU – 2:00 ET), and if highly regarded Villanova (#2) takes care of Stanford (#119) as expected in the other semifinal. The championship game will be on Friday afternoon (ESPN2/U – 3:00 ET).
  2. Advocare Invitational: Defending ACC Champion Notre Dame (#20) also begins tournament action Thursday (ESPNU – 6:30 ET), taking on Monmouth (#134). At first glance this looks like a mismatch, but keep in mind that the Hawks pulled off one of the season’s first upsets, stunning UCLA on opening night in Pauley Pavilion. On Friday, Mike Brey’s guys will get a solid second round opponent in either Iowa (#19) or Dayton (#44). This Orlando event has one of the strongest fields of Feast Week, with seven of the eight schools in the top 100. On the opposite side of the bracket are Wichita State (#23), Xavier (#25), USC (#45) and Alabama (#94). If everything goes as planned for the Fighting Irish, they can pick up a couple of wins that will probably look great on their resume all year long.
  3. Wooden Legacy: Boston College (#118) faces a stiff challenge in Anaheim, as the Eagles meet Michigan State (#13) in an opening round game on Thursday (ESPN2 – 6:30 ET). Jim Christian’s team may not be as bad as we thought in the preseason – the Eagles are 3-0 for the first time in seven years. That includes Sunday’s win over crosstown rival Harvard, Christian’s second in a row over the Crimson after Boston College had lost the previous six meetings. The Spartans are heavy favorites to meet Arizona (#8) in the finals on Sunday (ESPN2 – 10:00 ET). Looking to play spoiler will be Boise State (#60), Providence (#62) and Evansville (#66).
  4. Emerald Coast Classic: Another ACC team that will be a heavy underdog in its opening tournament game is Virginia Tech (#148), who goes against Iowa State (#16) on Friday (CBSSN – 7:00 ET). Things should be somewhat easier for Buzz Williams and company on Saturday, as the Hokies will get either UAB (#93) or Illinois (#101) in the two-day event. But based on their shaky 2-1 start versus weak competition, Virginia Tech has not looked like a squad that’s ready to compete with top-100 teams on a neutral court. So far, Maryland transfer Seth Allen (sat out last year) has been unable to shake off the rust, shooting a frigid 31.0% from the field and committing a total of 13 turnovers in the three games.
  5. Gotham Classic: Like Louisville, Pittsburgh is not participating in a traditional tournament. Beginning in mid-December, the Panthers will play four straight exempt games as part of the Gotham Classic. The only time that Jamie Dixon’s squad will face an opponent away from home is when they take on Davidson (#64) on December 20 (ESPNU – Noon ET) in New York’s Madison Square Garden. The other three games will be in the Petersen Events Center over a two week period; December 11 – Eastern Washington (#200); December 13 – Morehead State (#179); and December 23 – Western Carolina (#203). Those all look a lot like the schools that tend to show up on Pittsburgh’s non-conference schedule during the Dixon era. Of course, Dixon was counting on an opening day meeting with Gonzaga to boost this season’s schedule rating. And with that game cancelled, Pitt will have one of the poorer non-conference slates among power league schools.
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ACC Preview: Notre Dame’s Burning Question

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on November 9th, 2015

Is the entrenched culture under Mike Brey enough to overcome the loss of two of the most decorated players in program history?

When Jerian’s Grant last second prayer went unanswered in Notre Dame’s valiant attempt to upset Kentucky in the Midwest regional final, it put an end not only to a remarkable late season run by the Fighting Irish but to two careers that won’t soon be forgotten. With the graduations of Grant and fellow classmate Pat Connaughton, Brey bid farewell to a combined 3,204 points, 1,166 rebounds, 947 assists, 268 steals and 8,821 minutes. What’s more telling than the staggering loss of that numerical production is that the club, given its setup of the roster, has a better chance to seamlessly replace those gaudy statistics than the exceptional intangibles provided by the departed captains.

The Notre Dame faithful is trusting that Mike Brey's system will prevail this season. (AP)

The Notre Dame faithful is trusting that Mike Brey’s system will prevail this season. (AP)

For Brey’s sake, he must trust that the sum of his ingrained system is greater than the individual parts. Coming off a 32-win season, an ACC Tournament title highlighted by a meticulous dismantling of eventual national champion Duke, and a deeper March run than any team in school history since 1979, Brey should feel more confident than ever that he has laid the groundwork in place to eventually return the school to its second Final Four. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: Exhibition Edition 1

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 4th, 2015

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  1. Duke opened its exhibition season last Friday by beating Florida Southern, 112-68, in a match-up of the 2015 Division I and Division II national champions. This is the seventh consecutive year that the Blue Devils have played the defending Division II champion, a tradition that Moccasins’ head coach Mike Donnelly greatly appreciated. He said, after the game: “This game was a lot of fun for us. It is terrific for college basketball at our level, and for the kids it is a great experience. I hope that they [Duke] keep doing it because it is great for everyone involved.” As for Duke’s high-profile group of incoming freshmen, they were led by Derryck Thornton, who notched 22 points and shot 4-of-7 on threes. The Blue Devils’ veteran bigs also had their way with the smaller Mocs, as Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson combined for 27 points (on 11-of-13 shooting) and 21 rebounds in 39 total minutes.
  2. Defending ACC champion Notre Dame also tipped off its preseason schedule with an 87-56 victory over the NAIA’s Saint Francis (IL) last Friday. Twelve different players saw at least 10 minutes of action for the Irish, which dominated the boards (+22 rebound edge) in this game. Mike Brey was particularly happy with the way his team defended, saying, “Yeah we should be able to guard, we got more wingspan in there in the starting group and ball pressure. It’s unbelievable what it does and we’ve got guys who can get out in the passing lanes and do things.” The Irish forced 18 turnovers and held the Fighting Saints to 36.5 percent field goal shooting.
  3. It’s been a rough preseason off the floor for Louisville, so Rick Pitino probably enjoyed having a chance to concentrate solely on basketball for a change, as his Cardinals defeated Bellarmine (KY), 71-55, on Saturday afternoon. The Knights, ranked No. 4 in the preseason Division II NABC Poll, only trailed Louisville by six at the half and drew high praise from Pitino after the game. Louisville’s defense was a pleasant surprise, leading Pitino to comment that he “learned we are further along defensively than I thought. Holding a great shooting and passing team to 32 percent from the field and 22 percent on three-point shooting is excellent for the initial outing.” Sophomore point guard Quentin Snider came off the bench and was impressive with eight assists versus only one turnover in 27 minutes of action.
  4. Syracuse fans can’t be criticized for holding their breath whenever the Orange takes on Division II Le Moyne in an exhibition game. It was just six years ago that the Dolphins pulled the stunner, knocking off a preseason ranked Syracuse squad in the Carrier Dome. There were no such worries on Monday evening, as the Orange took care of business against the small crosstown school in a convincing 97-58 win. Michael Gbinije, who got the start at point guard over Kaleb Joseph, led the way for Jim Boeheim’s team with 21 points and four assists. All eyes in the building were on returning center Dajuan Coleman, suiting up for his first game since January 2014. The big guy delivered an encouraging performance, scoring 15 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 23 minutes of action.
  5. Florida State was also in action on Monday night and looked rather impressive in its 114-68 blowout of Lynn University, a good Florida-based Division II program. Seven Seminoles scored in double figures, led by senior guard Devon Bookert, who tallied 19 points and made three of his five attempts from three-point range. The four newcomers on the perimeter — JuCo transfer Benji Bell and freshmen Dwayne Bacon, Terance Mann and Malik Beasley — combined for 49 points on 20-of-30 shooting from the floor. This could be Leonard Hamilton’s deepest and most athletic team in many years, which may translate into a group that plays the kind of stingy defense that Florida State was known for during its four-year stretch of NCAA appearances from 2009-12. The Seminoles held Lynn to a frigid 29.3 percent shooting from the field.
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Five Key Takeaways From ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 30th, 2015

There were many topics of interest floating around 2015 ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte on Wednesday, most of which were addressed by ACC Commissioner John Swofford during his annual “State of the League” summit with the media. The format for this event works well, with the head coaches all made available (except Rick Pitino) after the commissioner’s press conference. Later that afternoon, several coaches were asked to react to some of the topics mentioned by Swofford.

ACC Commissioner John Swofford addressing the media at ACC Operation Basketball. (Chuck Burton, AP)

ACC Commissioner John Swofford addressing the media at ACC Operation Basketball. (Chuck Burton, AP)

Here are five key takeaways from Wednesday’s ACC Operation Basketball:

1) New Rules/Officials Mandate

The expected impact of college basketball’s new rules this year was a major topic of discussion. During his opening statement, Swofford was very supportive of the changes and even suggested that other tweaks to the game should be on the table as well. The coaches were also predominantly supportive of the new rules but were particularly interested in how strictly the officials will enforce the mandate to clean up physical play. The NCAA’s new national coordinator of men’s basketball officiating, J.D. Collins, was also in Charlotte to meet and confer with the coaches (perhaps to warn them that games will really be called differently this season?). Some coaches admittedly seemed a bit skeptical, remembering what happened two years ago when officials were similarly charged with cleaning up excessive contact — a huge increase in fouls resulted in lots and lots of complaining. By midseason, referees appeared to have reverted back to the way games had been officiated for years. Collins claims that won’t be the case this time around, but it remains to be seen if collegiate officials will collectively stick to their guns when coaches, media and fans whine about watching boring games featuring parades to the foul line. It may turn out to be that the watchability of games this season is sacrificed until players and coaches begrudgingly adapt to the changes in the best interests of moving the game forward. Read the rest of this entry »

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Freeze Frame: Neutralizing Kentucky’s Big Men

Posted by Brian Joyce on April 2nd, 2015

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Thirty-eight teams have taken their best shots at Kentucky this season but none have come away with a victory. Last Saturday night, Notre Dame became “another test” for coach John Calipari’s team en route to its fourth Final Four in the last five years. Much has been made over nothing regarding Calipari’s postgame comments following the 68-66 win (the guy just moved to 38-0 on his way to another Final Four; what do you expect him to say when asked questions about the Irish?), but while the Cats have had a few games that were as closely contested, none were more meaningful.

The most efficient offenses this season against Kentucky.

The most efficient offenses this season against Kentucky.

Notre Dame’s defense last Saturday night was nothing particularly special. The Irish played with great toughness on that end of the floor, but so did every SEC team the Wildcats faced during the regular season. Notre Dame’s offense, however, was a completely different story. The Wildcats’ defense had only allowed five teams to score above a point per possession against it all season long, and Mike Brey’s team moved directly to the top of the list with its 1.16 PPP performance. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we analyze the three ways in which the Irish were able to neutralize Kentucky’s big men and do something that few other teams have been able to consistently do: score.

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