NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: The National Championship Game

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on April 7th, 2014


#7 Connecticut vs. #8 Kentucky – National Championship Game (at Arlington, Texas) – 9:10 PM ET on CBS

History will be made in some form tonight at AT&T Stadium no matter which team wins this game. Connecticut is bidding to become the first #7 seed to ever win the national championship while Kentucky is looking to become the first #8 seed since Cinderella team Villanova toppled top-seeded Georgetown in 1985, the first year of the 64/68-team era. Kevin Ollie could become the first coach to win a championship in his first tournament appearance since Michigan’s Steve Fisher accomplished that feat a quarter-century ago in 1989 at Seattle’s Kingdome. John Calipari could win his second title in three seasons, this time with the nation’s most inexperienced team (according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistics). Something has to give in this game between what some observers have said are teams of destiny. Connecticut is going for the Texas triple play, so to speak, having closed out two previous Final Fours in the Lone Star State (2004 in San Antonio and 2011 in Houston) with championships while Kentucky has three players from the state on its roster, including hometown favorite Julius Randle. Connecticut is seeking its fourth national championship while Kentucky would earn its ninth with a win.

Coach Cal is looking for his second title in three seasons tonight against Connecticut. (NYDN)

Coach Cal is looking for his second title in three seasons tonight against Connecticut. (NYDN)

Kentucky has had some of its best offensive games of the season in this tournament. The Wildcats have not been defensive juggernauts, but timely stops and consistent offensive output have been the keys to their success over the last couple of weeks (along with clutch Aaron Harrison shots, of course). Going up against yet another strong defensive team in Connecticut (UK has already faced Kansas State, Wichita State and Louisville, all terrific on the defensive end) will be a test for the “Cardiac Cats.” At the point guard position, Andrew Harrison has to do a better job taking care of the basketball against the undersized, but quicker and pesky Huskies guards. He is averaging four turnovers per game in the tournament and making him uncomfortable needs to be part of the game plan for Ollie’s team. Daring Andrew Harrison shoot has been fairly successful for Kentucky’s opponents as he is just 18-for-52 (35 percent) from the floor in five tournament games, which even includes a solid 6-for-9 performance against Wichita State in the round of 32. By contrast, making his brother Aaron put the ball on the floor and drive is the best strategy for Connecticut. Aaron Harrison has made 14-of-25 threes (56 percent) in the tournament but he is just 8-for-27 (30 percent) when it comes to two point shots. Chasing him off the three point line and making him put it on the deck has to be a point of emphasis for Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright defensively. Kentucky is at its best when Andrew Harrison is moving the ball well, Aaron Harrison is open on the wing and James Young is either knocking down triples or slashing through the defense, opening up the lane for Randle in the post. Of course, Randle is so good and so strong that he can do a number of things on the low block. The freshman has 50+ pounds on Connecticut’s four man DeAndre Daniels and nearly 40 pounds on Phillip Nolan and Amida Brimah, both of whom are good defensively but also quite raw by the same token. Ollie may very well wrinkle in some zone to keep Kentucky out of the lane and dare it to make shots. However, that is still risky because of the ability of Aaron Harrison and Young to connect from the three point line. The Huskies are sneaky good when it comes to interior defense, allowing just 42.2 percent field goal shooting inside the three point arc. That will be tested against the stronger Randle and Dakari Johnson, who is very difficult to guard when he catches the ball deep in the post. Great interior defense is a staple of the Jim Calhoun era and a part of the Connecticut culture that Ollie has carried over while building the program his way.

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The RTC Podcast: National Championship Edition

Posted by rtmsf on April 7th, 2014

It’s here. For the better part of five months, teams around the country have worked their tails off to prepare for and compete in the NCAA Tournament. Sixty-eight hopefuls were invited three weeks ago; only two remain standing today. It’s all about getting a chance to play on Monday night, and Kentucky and Connecticut, two of the top basketball programs in America for decades running, have earned the right to compete on that stage. In this week’s RTC Podcast, the guys reflect on the Final Four games — what went right, what went wrong — for each of the four teams, take an aside to investigate the final outcome of #cheerfortheears, and break down the National Championship that will played in Arlington, Texas, later tonight. It’s a long but worthwhile listen this week, and we hope, as always, that you’ll join us.

  • 0:00-15:17 – Kentucky Wins Another Thriller
  • 15:17-28:53 – UConn Hands Florida Another Loss
  • 28:53-32:40 – #CheerForTheEars
  • 32:40-37:42 – Postgame Reactions From the Winners And Losers
  • 37:42-46:23 – What a Win Means For Each Program’s History
  • 46:23-1:07:51 – Championship Game Preview
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Rushed Reactions: #1 Louisville 82, #4 Michigan 76

Posted by rtmsf on April 9th, 2013


RTC is reporting from the Final Four in Atlanta, Georgia, this weekend.

Five Key Takeaways.

Kevin Ware Gives the L Wearing One of the Championship Nets

Kevin Ware Gives the L Wearing One of the Championship Nets

  1. They Did It For Ware, But They Were Going to Do It Anyway. Louisville was the best team this season, and they played like teams that are the best teams typically do. No matter what Rick Pitino says about how the NCAA Tournament field was wide open this year, the Cardinals had the appropriate toughness and ability on both ends of the floor to successfully handle any type of opponent. In both Final Four games this weekend, his team came back from double-figure deficits, and they did so by avoiding any natural tendency to panic on the big stage and having the confidence in unlikely heroes to step up when called upon. It was Luke Hancock and Chane Behanan tonight. It was Tim Henderson and Hancock on Saturday night. Russ Smith was the star of the first four games of the Dance. Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng have certainly had their moments. Even Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear have stepped up when needed. The Cards ran off 17 games in a row after a wild five-overtime defeat at Notre Dame on February 9, and 20 of 21 since late January. The only real question mark with respect to this team was what might happen if the starting backcourt pair of Siva and Smith were both having bad offensive nights — like, perhaps if the pair combined for 15-of-57 (26.3 percent) in back-to-back games at the Final Four? The Cards had the answer all along — a shooter by the name of Luke Hancock (11-of-15) who would make up for what they were lacking on that end. Well played, Louisville.
  2. Welcome to the Atlanta Gun Show.  In all our many years of watching college basketball, we’re not sure we’ve ever seen a player knock down four consecutive bombs in the way that Michigan’s Spike Albrecht did followed by an opposing player answer with four consecutive bombs in the way that Luke Hancock did. Hancock’s were more rapid-fire than Albrecht’s in that they came literally over a two-minute span to get the Cards back into the game, but Albrecht’s bombing may have actually had a bit of a stagnation effect on the rest of his teammates. With Albrecht playing so well offensively, John Beilein elected to rest his NPOY starting point guard, Trey Burke, for 14 minutes of the first half, and although it’s tough to argue with a Michigan lead taken into halftime, it seemed as if the other major (and necessary) contributors — Glenn Robinson III, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Nik Stauskus — were having difficulty finding their spots. The Albrecht Show was great theater in the Georgia Dome this evening, but it may have had a negative effect for Michigan in the long term by not allowing Burke to facilitate his team better.
  3. Why Didn’t Michigan Foul Sooner? With 52 seconds left in the game, Michigan was only down four points but had stepped on the baseline on a rebound to give the Cards a full shot clock again. At the time the Wolverines only had five team fouls. They allowed 15 full seconds to run off the clock before Jon Horford gave one for the team’s sixth foul. Then Michigan allowed another eight ticks to expire before fouling Luke Hancock with 29 seconds remaining to send him to the line for the bonus. When John Beilein was asked about this decision (or lack thereof) to not foul afterward, he said, “I thought we were in the 1-and-1. That was a coaching error.” The gasps of shock were heard throughout the Twitter-verse… how he couldn’t have known the number of team fouls they had seemed borderline ludicrous. It says here that Beilein knew exactly how many fouls there were — he’s too smart and too good of a coach to miss that — but for some reason his players did not follow his instructions precisely in the execution of whom and when to foul — so he’s simply covering for their mistakes. At the end of the analysis, it’s reasonable to still say that the mistake is completely his fault, and you’d be right — but we’re not buying the concept that a coach as accomplished as Beilein made such an egregious error in the closing minute of a National Championship game without more evidence to support it.
  4. A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats. We’ve said this many times before this year, but Louisville HAD to win this championship to validate its program as a national powerhouse in contrast to the monolith that resides 70 miles east in Lexington. Nobody on the Cardinals would address the topic, but it goes without saying that Louisville’s “little brother” status in the Commonwealth of Kentucky is a persistent pain in the rear of the Louisville program. Duke became great because Coach K put Dean Smith’s North Carolina program directly in his crosshairs in the mid-1980s; Kentucky’s recent success under John Calipari has put the pressure on Rick Pitino and the Louisville players to counter the Wildcats’ momentum in order to stay relevant. Everyone knows what kind of recruiting class UK is bringing in next season — at worst, the 2013-14 Wildcats are likely to be like the 2010 John Wall/DeMarcus Cousins group; at best, like the 2012 Anthony Davis/Michael Kidd-Gilchrist unit. Louisville knew all too well that this year’s team, with an experienced, tough and talented mix of multi-functional players, was going to be the Cards’ best chance in a while to stem the blue and white tide rising all around them. Rick Pitino, having coached at both schools, is no dummy — he and his team weren’t going to waste this opening.
  5. Were We Not Entertained? For our money, this was the most entertaining National Championship game since the monster 1999 battle between Connecticut and Duke. (2008 Memphis-Kansas was fun, but missed free throws by the Tigers down the stretch spoiled it). The first half alone was one of the most entertaining 20 minutes of high-level basketball that we’ve ever encountered, and although Michigan didn’t stay tight enough with the Cards to produce a monumental finish, the up-and-down high-flying nature of the game was still outstanding throughout. Consider this: The best offense in the country lost despite hitting 52 percent of its shots and making eight threes; the best defense in the country won despite giving up those numbers and only causing a relatively low 12 turnovers. It was a contrast of styles wherein Louisville had to win an offensive-minded game and Michigan had to manage to find enough stops, and both teams performed admirably in pushing back against the other team’s strengths. This was a masterful finish to a wide open and often-bizarre college basketball season.

Star of the Game. Luke Hancock, Louisville. The Final Four Most Outstanding Player had another great game tonight, scoring 22 points and handing out three assists while knocking down all five of his attempts from beyond the arc. He saved his best for last, as his two games here in Atlanta represented his two highest regulation scoring outputs of the entire season. And the timeliness of his four first-half bombs brought the Cards from an 11-point deficit to just a single point right before the intermission. Again, it’s questionable whether Louisville could have won this game without Hancock’s huge and timely performance.

Pitino Interview. After the game, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino discussed his team’s long winning streak to the title, the greatness of the game, election to the Hall of Fame, and winning two championships.

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National Championship Game Analysis

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 8th, 2013


Brian Otskey is an RTC Contributor and filed this preview of tonight’s game for all the marbles. Follow him on Twitter @botskey.

The National Championship Game: #1 Louisville (34-5) vs. #4 Michigan (31-7) – 9:23 PM ET on CBS. Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr will have the call live from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia.

ncaa final four floor 2013

After five months and 5,744 regular season, conference tournament and NCAA tournament games, the college basketball season comes down to one game on one night in Atlanta. Top overall seed Louisville enters the game as the favorite but by no means will this be a walk in the park. The Cardinals are in search of their third national championship this evening and their first since 1986. On the other side, Michigan is looking for its second national title, having won it all once before in 1989. It is somewhat hard to believe given the strength of the two leagues over the years but this is the first national championship game between Big East and Big Ten schools since the aforementioned Wolverines held off Seton Hall in overtime to win it all at the Kingdome in Seattle 24 years ago.

Louisville has now won 15 straight games after surviving a major scare from Wichita State on Saturday night. In fact, the Cardinals have won 18 of their past 19 games since a three game losing streak in January and the one loss was in five overtimes to Notre Dame. This game features the nation’s best defense (Louisville) and the most efficient offensive team in the land (Michigan) going head to head in what should be a terrific basketball game. For the Cardinals to win, they must attack the rim and use their defense to fuel their offense. Rick Pitino’s team is no slouch offensively (#5 in efficiency), but its offense is largely predicated off its ability to create live ball turnovers and score in transition. Louisville is lethal in transition but not great in the half court unless it attacks the basket, either with its guards off the bounce or great athletes like Montrezl Harrell and Chane Behanan working the baseline and the low block. In Saturday’s national semifinal, Wichita State forced Louisville into way too many jump shots for Pitino’s liking and it almost cost the Cardinals dearly. The Shockers were rattled by a series of turnovers late in the second half and lost the game because of it. Louisville’s ball pressure is the best in the country and it starts with Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. Both play the passing lanes so well but Smith in particular is among the nation’s best defenders. After it scores, Louisville’s full court pressure takes full effect. The big question in this game will be whether the Cardinals (#2 in forcing turnovers) can turn over the Wolverines (#1 in ball protection) enough to fuel their offense. When Michigan played VCU in the round of 32, the Wolverines obliterated Shaka Smart’s “havoc.” There is, however, one major difference between VCU and Louisville. The Rams are not a great defensive team in the half court while Louisville plays the best half court defense of any team in America. Siva has to slow down Trey Burke, who picked up just about every imaginable award this week. Michigan showed just how good of a team it is by winning its semifinal game against Syracuse without its star sophomore point guard being a major factor. While it’s fair to say Michigan has never seen a defense like this all season long, Louisville hasn’t seen an offense with as many weapons as this one. When Michigan has the ball, the battle between the best offense and the best defense could be one of epic proportions.

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Reflections on Monday Night

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2008

So we’ve had some time to ruminate on last night’s proceedings in San Antonio, and we keep circling back to the same conclusion. This was a great college basketball game, but it wasn’t a classically great game in the sense that both teams played exceptionally well and the better team won at the end (think the punch-counterpunch of 92 Duke-Kentucky). No, this game represented for us the maxim of: the team that chokes least is the team that wins. This is to take nothing away from Kansas, who made nearly every play (but one on the missed FT rebound that Memphis stole) in the final two minutes to give themselves a sliver of a chance to win, and once they had that chance in OT, they put the game away like champions do.

Chalmers the Hero

Chalmers the Hero (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

No, we’re referring to the 6-7 minutes prior to those final two, when Kansas was still leading the game by three at the 9-minute mark and Bill Self inexplicably decided to go box-and-one on Chris Douglas-Roberts despite the fact that CDR only had two points in the second half. By the same token, Derrick Rose also had only two points in the second half and was struggling to find openings in the KU defense. We all know what came next. The box-and-one opened up driving lanes and shooting spots for Derrick Rose, who then proceeded to score 12 of the next 14 Memphis points as he found the groove facilitated by the switch in Kansas defense. The next thing you know there were less than three minutes remaining and KU was down nine, looked as tight as a drum and had turned the ball over seemingly every trip down the floor. This was Memphis’ game to lose. Check our liveblog for our feelings at this point in the game – we said, “2:22 – Rose’s ridiculous shot was only a two, but somehow we knew that it was going in when he shot it. Wow, Rush babied that one when he should have dunked it. This team is TIGHT right now. We’re not sure they have enough left to make one more run.”

And with under two minutes, things changed for Kansas. Darrell Arthur threw in an 18-footer that he normally wouldn’t take or make, and then the key play of the comeback occurred – Kansas stole the ball off the inbounds and instead of driving in and taking a contested layup attempt, they kicked it out to Sherron Collins for a dagger three. Those two plays were the most offense KU had enjoyed in the last eight minutes of the game. And suddenly, KU was only down four and it seemed as if their confidence was back.

But the Memphis choke hadn’t begun yet. Both teams traded FTs, and then with 1:15 remaining CDR (71%) missed the first of three consecutive foul shots. All badly. Kansas’ Sherron Collins made a terrible decision to go 1-on-3 against the Memphis bigs after one of those misses, but it didn’t matter because CDR couldn’t convert on the line anyway. The one that really surprised us the most was Derrick Rose missing the first of two FTs with only ten seconds left. For a moment we were thinking this could be Darius Washington, Jr., time again, but he did convert the second and KU came screaming upcourt.

Calipari Sees It Slipping Away (RICH SUGG/Kansas City Star)

Bilas, Digger and Vitale were going on and on about how Calipari should have called timeout after the Rose FT and given his troops some direction as to whether to foul (Memphis had two TOs left). In the postgame comments, Calipari made a dubious claim (see 0:21 to 0:34) that they tried to foul Sherron Collins when he was falling down out of control, but replays show clearly that the Memphis defenders were trying very hard to keep from fouling there. We tend to agree that the coaches should foul in those situations, but it’s more fun for the viewing public when they don’t. At any rate, it’s obvious that Calipari and his team were shellshocked by being two minutes from a national championship and really had no clue as to what they should be doing at that point. When Chalmers shot dropped to tie the game (and Dozier’s 50 footer missed), we would have given whatever odds you wanted on Memphis at that point. There was no way they were coming back from that collapse. Actually, in recent history the collapse reminds us a little of the UNC-Georgetown regional final game in last year’s tournament. There was simply no way that UNC was coming back in the OT after gacking up that lead in the final few minutes.

KU – 2008 National Champions (SHANE KEYSER/Kansas City Star)

So it was a great championship game, probably the best since that 1997 OT game between Arizona and Kentucky (which also featured some choking by UK’s Nazr Mohammed at the foul line). And Mario Chalmers deserves all the accolades he shall receive for stepping into that pressure-filled three pointer like a champion and knocking it down. Congrats to the Jayhawks.

Now about that Bill Self to Oklahoma St. thing…

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