2011-12 Season Recap: Top 12 Storylines of the Year

Posted by EJacoby on April 6th, 2012

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

Yesterday we captured the most iconic moments of the college basketball season, and today we highlight the most fascinating storylines from the year. What’s the difference? Yesterday’s list comprised of the “WOW” memories, the single moments in time that could be captured in recognizable photos and videos. Today’s list is a more encompassing review of full season narratives, which usually don’t culminate into a single visual. These are the defining stories that will be chronicled in history books to describe the season’s summary. Here are our 12 biggest storylines from 2011-12, in no particular order:

‘One-And-Dones’ Get it Done.

Kentucky's Collection of Youngsters Combined for the National Championship (AP Photo)

We’ll always remember 2011-12 for the Kentucky Wildcats’ start-to-finish domination that began with a #2 preseason ranking and ended with a National Championship as the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Big Blue Nation will remember it as UK’s eighth national title, while the national story focuses more on how coach John Calipari secured the championship with a starting lineup of all freshmen and sophomores. The team’s two best players were freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, both of whom are surely headed for the NBA Draft after just one season. Plenty of detractors didn’t think that a team full of ‘one-and-dones’ could mature quickly enough into a championship team, but the Wildcats proved them all wrong. Kentucky was the best team from start to finish, thanks mainly to the play of a bunch of 18- and 19-year-old star players.

Injuries and Suspensions Cost Top Contenders. Kentucky may have been the best team throughout the season, but there were several other elite squads that could have given the Wildcats a run for their money had it not been for costly absences. In fact, all of the other #1 seeds suffered crucial injuries at the very end of the season that may have cost them a chance to win it all. Michigan State lost its best athlete in freshman forward Branden Dawson to a torn ACL injury in the regular season finale, and the Spartans missed his ability during a Sweet Sixteen loss. Syracuse suspended its seven-foot center and best defensive player, Fab Melo, right before the Big Dance and clearly missed the big man during a loss in the Elite Eight. And perhaps the most devastating, North Carolina lost its Cousy Award-winning point guard, Kendall Marshall, to a fractured wrist at the end of its round of 32 victory. The Tar Heels could not recover without their lead guard and lost in the Elite Eight. As a result, Kentucky did not have to face a single other #1 seed en route to its National Championship.

Connecticut’s Title Defense Turns Tumultuous. Selected as the preseason Big East Conference favorites, Connecticut was expected to have another strong season as defending National Champions thanks to all but one starter sticking around combined with a very strong recruiting class. But the presence and leadership of departed star Kemba Walker proved to be invaluable. No Huskies player stepped up this season to lead by example, and a super-talented team struggled through an 8-10 record in conference play and a loss in its first game of the NCAA Tournament. UConn suffered multiple suspensions, the loss of its coach Jim Calhoun for several games due to health concerns, and an overall underachieving season whose results were the complete opposite of the year before.

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2011-12 Season Recap: The 12 Most Iconic Moments of the Season

Posted by EJacoby on April 5th, 2012

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

A season in sports often gets remembered by a handful of different memories that fans can recall when thinking back on that year. Sometimes it’s a scene from the regular season, such as the 2004-05 NBA year that included the ‘Malice at the Palace’ brawl between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons. Other times it’s the final play in the championship, such as the 2001 baseball World Series walk-off base hit by the Arizona Diamondbacks. So what will it be for the 2011-12 year of college basketball? Here’s a reminder of the top moments from the season, which certainly did not lack drama. Which ones will you remember when thinking back on this season? We give you the 12 most iconic moments from 2011-12, in no particular order:

Anthony Davis Blocks Henson at the Buzzer (December 3) – Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis was perhaps the biggest story of this entire season. Taking home nearly every Player of the Year award, Davis’ domination at this level as a freshman was must-see television every time he stepped on the floor. But his rise to true stardom perhaps began when the Wildcats defeated then-#5 North Carolina early in the season at Rupp Arena on a last-second block by the lengthy forward. Davis rejected UNC star John Henson’s final shot attempt to seal the one-point win for Kentucky.

Austin Rivers Silences Carolina Crowd (February 8) – One of the two best buzzer-beaters of the season was Duke freshman Austin Rivers’ silencing of the Dean Smith Center in early February. Down by two at Chapel Hill on the final possession, the freshman knocked down a long three over Tyler Zeller to beat North Carolina and send the Tar Heel crowd into a state of utter shock.

Robinson Rejects Mizzou in Border War (February 25) – In what was the final matchup between Kansas and Missouri as rivals in the Big 12 Conference (Mizzou is off to the SEC next year), the two teams put on a classic showdown in Allen Fieldhouse. Missouri dominated the game until a late KU charge, and it was the All-America forward Thomas Robinson’s rejection of Phil Pressey with seconds left in regulation that sent the game into overtime. Kansas won the game in the extra session to cap off a tremendous game between two top-5 teams.

Watford For the Win! (December 10) – One of the great stories of the season was Indiana’s resurgence as a top team. The Hoosiers had a tremendous year that was highlighted by their victory over #1 Kentucky at home to improve to 9-0 in December. Trailing by two on the final possession, it was this shot by Christian Watford that beat the buzzer and provided us with one of the most memorable shots, and calls, of the season.

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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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National Championship Game Showcases Rare Treat: The Nation’s Two Best Players

Posted by EJacoby on April 2nd, 2012

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

This year’s National Championship game not only features the two winningest programs in college basketball history, but from a more tangible matchup standpoint it also pits the two best players in the country against one another. After Kentucky dispatched of Louisville on Saturday and Kansas survived the physical battle against Ohio State, we now get that rare matchup – Anthony Davis against Thomas Robinson in the National Title game. Why hasn’t this pairing received a flood of media attention? When’s the last time the country’s two National Player of the Year frontrunners faced off in the finals? And will these two interior forces even guard each other during the game? We attempt to answer these questions to prepare you for one of the many great stories to track during tonight’s National Championship.

Thomas Robinson vs. Anthony Davis is the Headline Matchup, but Terrence Jones (Left) Must Check Robinson on Defense (US Presswire)

Think it’s a given that the National Title game produces stud players facing one another? Remember how difficult it is to advance this far in the NCAA Tournament, and history proves how rare the opportunity is. Monday’s game will mark just the fourth time since 1979 that two first team All-Americans face off in the National Championship, and that simply encompasses any of the five best players in any given season. With Davis and Robinson, we are talking about the two leading vote-getters for National Player of the Year; two players that have gone toe-to-toe all season to decide the best and most valuable player in all of college basketball. Magic Johnson (Michigan State) against Larry Bird (Indiana State) in the 1979 National Championship game is the benchmark example of the scenario, and that matchup is still famous as one of the great individual battles in college history. The most recent matchup between All-Americans came in 1999 between Elton Brand (Duke) and Richard Hamilton (Connecticut), which is another good one but certainly does not resonate as strongly as Magic vs. Bird, and Hamilton was not a consensus Player of the Year candidate. It’s still unknown what kind of legacy, if any, Davis vs. Robinson will leave, but both players are forwards that are likely to be drafted in the top five of the upcoming NBA Draft, with Davis a near-lock for the #1 pick. The narrative of comparison between these two players truly begins on Monday night.

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Tracking The Four: Let’s Play 21 Questions

Posted by EJacoby on January 20th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor & correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

For this week’s wildcard edition of TT4, we’re going to tackle some burning questions regarding each team. All four teams have pressing issues as they try to hit their strides in conference play, and there’s one team on our list that specifically needs to find some answers, quickly, if they want to stay relevant as a contender. Find out the answers to each question, or at least our quick takes, below each question. If you want to play along, comment with any of your answers!!!

Is Mike Moser the Best Player of our Four Teams? (Getty Images/E. Miller)

1. Which game on Syracuse and Murray State’s schedules should be circled as their toughest challenge to an undefeated regular season?

Monday night’s game in Cincinnati is Syracuse’s first shot at going down, while Murray State’s game on February 15 at Southeast Missouri State will be their toughest test.

2. Can Indiana recover from this losing streak to regain their status as a top three team in the Big Ten?

They’ll be able to recover, but Indiana is not a top three Big Ten team (OSU, UM, & Michigan State are better).

3. Will UNLV be able to win big games outside of Las Vegas, like SDSU did in The Pit this week?

They’ve already played seven true road games, so yes this will help UNLV win conference road games.

4. The Hoosiers have lost three straight games while the Racers have won 19 straight, but who would win on a neutral court if they played today?

We’d love to see this in the NCAA Tournament and today we’re going with Indiana, but if Ivan Aska comes back strong for MSU, ask again in two weeks.

5. When they inevitably need a bucket in crunch time, whom will Syracuse and Jim Boeheim draw the play for?

He doesn’t specialize in taking over games, but Kris Joseph is still the most talented offensive player and toughest mismatch on the team, so he should get his number called.

6. Will UNLV’s 69.1% free throw percentage come back to haunt them at some point this season?

Although it’s the worst of these four teams, no a 69% rate should not be a huge concern for the Rebels.

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Where 2011-12 Happens: Reason #2 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 5th, 2011

Another preseason preview gives us reason to roll out the 2011-12 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season 100% guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight. We’ve captured the most compelling moments from the 2010-11 season, many of which will bring back the goosebumps and some of which will leave you shaking your head in frustration. For the complete list of this year’s reasons, click here. Enjoy!

#2 – Where Campus Hysteria Happens

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-09, 2009-10, and 2010-11 seasons.

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Dysfunctional Success: Documentary to Look Behind Duke’s 1992 National Championship Season

Posted by mpatton on October 13th, 2011

Christian Laettner has a reputation as a little bit of a jerk. He’s arguably the best college basketball player ever (he’s the only player to start in four Final Fours), but he’s also in the conversation for most hated. Your relative opinion of him can run from Kentucky fans, who still grit their teeth when his name is mentioned, to Duke fans, who accept his abrasive personality with two spoonfuls of National Championships. But could his spiny personality have helped Duke stay motivated to win its second consecutive title in 1991-92? That’s one of the questions a new documentary produced by Bobby Hurley and Laettner, scheduled to be released as part of CBS and Turner’s March Madness coverage this coming spring, will attempt to investigate.

Christian Laettner Is One of College Basketball's Most Polarizing Figures. (Credit: TruthAboutIt.net)

An example of an anecdote from the documentary comes from USA Today: driving to the hole in a pick-up game, Hurley rocketed the ball off of Laettner’s face instead of passing it to an open man on the weak side. However, that sort of antagonism may have been what kept the Blue Devils on edge during the repeat season.  If the previews from the USA Today preview are anything like the rest of this movie, it will be must-see television for college basketball fans. There’s no doubt that opinions have probably mellowed over the years, but this should be a unique opportunity to look behind the game footage of one of the most dominant teams in the history of college basketball and into the strong personalities that made it happen.

The documentary will air on TruTV next March.

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A Trip to the Vault: North Carolina and Michigan State Face Off in the 2005 Final Four

Posted by mpatton on October 7th, 2011

Until the season kicks off, we’re going to be taking weekly trips to the ACC and NCAA Vaults to look at classic ACC games of yore.

Rashad McCants

Rashad McCants' college career is sometimes overshadowed by his failed stint in the NBA.

In honor of the upcoming Carrier Classic between Michigan State and North Carolina, here’s a look back at the 2005 Final Four game between the Spartans and Tar Heels. Watching the game was also a great reminder of just how good Roy Williams‘ 2004-05 squad was (especially with regards to depth). The 2005 national championship team probably had a talent advantage over the current team at every position:

  • Point Guard: Raymond Felton over Kendall Marshall
  • Shooting Guard: Rashad McCants over Dexter Strickland and Reggie Bullock
  • Forward: Jackie Manuel, David Noel, Jawad Williams and Marvin Williams over Harrison Barnes, John Henson and James McAdoo (this is the most up-in-the-air position, but I’d give the 2005 team a slight advantage for going four players deep)
  • Center: Sean May over Tyler Zeller

See highlights and analysis after the jump.

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Where 2010-11 Happens: Reason #1 Why We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2010

Shamelessly cribbing from the clever NBA catch phrase, we here at RTC will present you with the 2010-11 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball as we ramp up to the start of the season a little over a month from now.  We’ll be bringing you players to watch for this season and moments to remember from last season, courtesy of the series of dump trucks, wires and effluvia known as YouTube.  If you want to have some fun while killing time, we encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.  Enjoy.

#1- Where Mere Inches From Immortality Happens

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RTC (Sorta) Live Championship Game Edition

Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2010

You guys ready for some Duke-Butler tonight? Only 6.5% of Americans in ESPN’s National Bracket picked either the Devils or Bulldogs to be playing tonight on the game’s grandest stage, yet here they are (we can safely presume less than 1% had both). You already know the key matchups and what each team likes to do, the question is which team will bend first tonight. Will it be Duke with the pressure of the favorite and an estimated 50,000 vociferous fans pulling against them; or will it be Butler who finally senses the gravitas of the sitaution and gets out of their game. Both teams are so well-drilled that it’s difficult for us to believe either of them, but someone will have to lose tonight. Who’ve you got?

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