Rushed Reactions: #3 Oregon 75, #11 Rhode Island 72

Posted by rtmsf on March 19th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Tyler Dorsey Carried the Ducks to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Come Aboard the Brooks & Dorsey Train. Everyone knows that Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey mean everything to the Ducks’ offense, but from about the 14-minute mark through the end, EVERY Oregon possession went through one of those two guys. And they came through. When Oregon was down by six in the mid-second half, it was Brooks who put together his own personal 9-0 run to regain the lead. Later, when it appeared that the Ducks were cooked after some missed free throws and a bad shot, it was Dorsey who hit back-t0-back three pointers to both tie the game (with 1:47 remaining) and win it (with 0:37 left). The two players combined for 46 of the Ducks’ 75 total points, and they needed every bit of it.
  2. The Loss of Chris Boucher Was Apparent. At the risk of Debbie Downing what was certainly a gutty win by Oregon, it was clear as day how much the Ducks miss injured center Chris Boucher — at one point in the first half, Rhode Island had converted 16 of 20 shots inside the three-point arc. The Rams repeatedly got to the basket for layups or short jumpers, and they hardly ever missed. That 80 percent figure dropped to a more reasonable 65 percent by the end of the game, but it put so much pressure on Oregon to stay in contact — largely through Brooks and Dorsey — that you wonder how they can possibly manage his loss any better going forward.
  3. Rhode Island is Full of Tough, Tough Kids. Call it the Northeastern swagger of whatever you like, but it was crystal clear today that the ferocity and grit of head coach Danny Hurly has rubbed off on his players. They didn’t care that they were playing 3,000 miles away from home in Pac-12 country against a Pac-12 team. They expected to win and they were devastated when they didn’t. For much of the night, frankly, Rhode Island was the better team with the superior game plan. But they didn’t have a Tyler Dorsey, and that’s ultimately what made the difference. Hurley seems tailor-made for this kind of underdog program, but you can be certain he’ll get some calls from power conference teams very soon.

Star of the Game. Tyler Dorsey, Oregon. It’s funny because it was Brooks who decided to put the team on his shoulders to allow for the Ducks’ second-half comeback today, but Dorsey’s 27 points, five rebounds and threes assists were simply too much to ignore. Not to mention that he hit the back-breaking threes that effectively won the game.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 West Virginia 83, #5 Notre Dame 71

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 18th, 2017

West Virginia relied on timely shooting and aggressive defense (per usual) to reach its second Sweet Sixteen in the last three years.

West Virginia is headed to San Jose next week. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. No one is immune to Press Virginia. Notre Dame entered Saturday with the best offensive turnover rate in the country, a testament to its stable of seasoned ball-handlers and deliberate approach. Faced with West Virginia’s relentless, bruising defensive pressure, though, the Irish struggled just as so many of the Mountaineers’ opponents have this season. Mike Brey’s veteran club suffered 10 turnovers in the first half alone, unable to find any offensive rhythm and surrendering easy baskets on the other end. West Virginia — which forces turnovers at a higher rate than any other team in college hoops — jumped out to a 10-0 lead to start the game and never really looked back.
  2. The Mountaineers’ offense was pretty great, too. Much of the conversation surrounding West Virginia focuses on its defense, and deservedly so. But if it was defense that gave the Mountaineers’ an initial edge on Saturday, it was the offense that ultimately carried them home. Bob Huggins’ group shot 50 percent from the field, including 8-of-14 from behind the arc and 21-of-26 at the free throw line. Especially great was West Virginia’s interior passing, which enabled Esa Ahmad (11 points), Elijah Macon (11 points), Daxter Miles (18 points), and others to routinely find easy looks at the rim. Oh, and the timely three-point shooting helped — especially from Jevon Carter (4-of-5 3FG), who drilled a clutch triple with 2:30 remaining that helped stick a fork in Notre Dame.
  3. Bonzie Colson was every bit as good as you’d expect. While Notre Dame lost, it wasn’t because Colson didn’t hold his own. The uniquely-built 6’5″ forward scored 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-5 shooting from long range along with eight rebounds. Despite picking up his fourth foul with about nine minutes left in the game, Colson remained effective on the offensive end, enabling the Irish to hang around despite facing a superior opponent. Silver lining for Notre Dame fans? The big man is only a junior, and should enter 2017-18 as a front-runner for ACC Player of the Year.

Player of the Game. Jevon Carter, West Virginia (24 points, 4-of5 3FG). For as outstanding as Colson was, Carter make the biggest difference in this game. The 6’2″ junior, known for his tenacious defense and quick hands (2.6. SPG), knocked down big shot after big shot on Saturday, including a long three-pointer from straight-on midway through the second half and that dagger triple with a few minutes remaining. He couldn’t have picked a better time to match his season-high point total.

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Cincinnati 75, #11 Kansas State 61

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2017

Rush the Court will be covering the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks. 

Mick Cronin’s Team Was Very Impressive Tonight (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Cincinnati is More Offensive Than You Think. Forgiving the pun here, but if you haven’t watched much of Cincinnati this season you likely don’t realize that the Bearcats — known under Mick Cronin for its generally offensive offense — broke 80 points in 15 games this season. That’s not to say that anyone will mistake his team for UCLA or North Carolina on the offensive end of the floor, but it is to say that the painful droughts that often ended up beating the Bearcats have become more sporadic this year. In tonight’s first half against Kansas State, Cincinnati delivered a 65 percent shooting clinic that effectively put offensively-challenged Wildcats in a bind — how to make up an 11-point deficit without the pace or ability to make sustained runs? The Bearcats did their typical defensive work too — especially in several key moments of the second half — but beware the team that thinks the likes of Troy Caupain (23 points) and Gary Clark (15 points) aren’t legitimate scorers.
  2. And Yet, the Defense. Cincinnati isn’t like Press Virginia in that it doesn’t turn you over to fuel blistering 12-0 runs that run teams out of the building. Rather, the Bearcats’ style is more like death by a slow, excruciating boil. Kansas State experienced this firsthand in the middle of tonight’s second half when, after cutting the lead to eight points with around 12 minutes remaining, the Bearcats made stops on the subsequent five possessions (including a couple blocks on what appeared like easy conversions) over three minutes to push the lead back out to 14 points. And while that may not sound like an insurmountable margin with nine minutes remaining, you could feel the air being sucked out of the sails on the Kansas State sideline. The Wildcats never got the lead under double figures again.
  3. Kansas State Showed Out Well. Many of the things that Kansas State does well, Cincinnati simply does better. But to make the NCAA Tournament field as the last at-large team in and win a First Four game over a trendy team like Wake Forest showed that the Wildcats, led by senior Wesley Iwundu but primarily run by underclassmen, will be back. Bruce Weber seems in perma-hot seat status, but you’d have to think that he did enough this season to keep his job for at least one more year.

Star of the Game. Troy Caupain, Cincinnati. The Bearcats’ senior guard put together a stellar First Round game tonight, scoring 23 points on 7-of-10 shooting, grabbing seven boards and adding a couple of dimes. When he is cooking, Cincinnati is tough to beat because the defensive effort will always be there to support it.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Rhode Island 84, #6 Creighton 72

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2017

Rush the Court is covering the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks. 

Rhode Island Played Harder and Smarter Today (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Rhode Island’s Determination. From the opening tip today, it was easy to determine which team had more energy, more desire and more fire. Much has been written this week about Rhode Island’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since the Jim Harrick/Lamar Odom days of the late 1990s, but the biggest story here is that this particular group of Rams played like they really appreciated the opportunity. And why wouldn’t they? Because of a series of injuries and some other bad luck over the past several years, Rhode Island had become one of the hardest-luck near-miss cases in college basketball, on the cusp of the Big Dance but never breaking through. Today it was apparent when Rhode Island jumped out to a quick 6-1 lead (that it never relinquished) that higher-seed Creighton was in for a rock fight. Perhaps the most visible statistic showing the Rams’ singular focus and determination today came at the foul line — a 65.7 percent free-throw shooting team hit 28 of its first 29 attempts on its way to a 90.3 percent day.
  2. Creighton’s Dream Season Went Kaput With Mo Watson’s Injury. Creighton was 18-1 and unbeaten in Big East play when point guard Mo Watson suffered a season-ending ACL injury against Xavier back in mid-January. The Bluejays went on to win that game, but they then lost nine of 16 down the stretch after their team leader and best player was hurt. Given that so much of Creighton’s offense was reliant on three-point shooting, there just wasn’t much else the Bluejays if shots weren’t dropping like today (missing five of their first 20 attempts). I overheard the Creighton radio crew discussing the season, and the word “frustrating” came up several times. You have to imagine that they are wondering, like everyone else, what could have been with Watson available.
  3. What Will Justin Patton Do? Creighton hasn’t historically been the kind of school that has elite one-and-done talent, but the NBA draftniks around the basketball world are in love with seven-foot freshman center Justin Patton. With great length, agility and loads of opportunity to grow his game into his body, there’s plenty to like. Not much of that was apparent today, however. His game started with two missed bunnies and getting rejected, and he seemed somewhat tentative and jittery with the ball all game long. He ultimately fouled out after posting a forgettable eight-point, seven-rebound (on 3-of-12 shooting) performance. It would make good sense if the talented youngster cashed in while his stock is high, but he is still definitely a few years away from contributing at a professional level.

Star of the Game. Jeff Dowtin, Rhode Island. The freshman guard came up big today to ensure that his upperclassman teammates who have experienced so much anguish in their careers would keep playing this weekend. He contributed a 14-point second half on his way to 23 points and five rebounds, including a perfect 10-of-10 mark from the foul line.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Oregon 93, #14 Iona 77

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2017

Oregon entered today’s game with the big question on everyone’s mind — how will the Ducks fare without Chris Boucher? At least through the First Round of the NCAA Tournament, that question has been answered.

Oregon Used a Fast Start to Dominate Iona and Move to the Second Round (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Oregon Got Whatever Oregon Wanted. Iona and its defense rated in the mid-200s nationally wasn’t expected to cause much of a problem for an Oregon offense that has no problem scoring, and it was easy to see from the opening tip that the Ducks were going to get whatever they wanted. Oregon made an early point to get the ball inside to Jordan Bell and the junior center delivered, with 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field. At the completion of the first half, the Ducks were hitting 75 percent of their two-point attempts, illustrating just how paper-thin the Gaels’ defense inside the arc was. Although the Ducks tend to feast on the inside-out game offensively, they will certainly see more pushback from their opponent in the next round.
  2. What About Boucher? With Boucher out of the lineup, has been able to settle into his natural position at the four. His first game last weekend in the full-time role resulted in a solid 33-minute, 25-point performance against Arizona. Today was another 30+ minute outing, but after a quick start, Brooks seemed more content letting his teammates contribute. He still ended the game with 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting. The more concerning area, of course, involves the loss of Boucher is on the defensive end. Brooks was often matched up with the bigger and bulkier Jordan Washington (along with Jordan Bell) inside, who easily overpowered the pair for a 22/11 double-double. The loss of the rim-protection that Boucher offered is definitely something to watch going forward.
  3. Iona Has Had Better Showings. This was Tim Cluess’ fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament in seven years at the helm, but these Gaels probably represented his weakest group to go dancing. Aside from Washington inside and Sam Cassell, Jr. (16 points) on the perimeter, the Gaels were overmatched by the speed, talent and athleticism of Oregon. Other than a brief period in the mid-second half when it appeared that the Ducks became complacent, they were never really tested today. Cluess’ teams have never been great defensive squads, but with only two legitimate scoring options on the floor today, it ultimately meant the Gaels were always playing catch-up against the refined group of offensive talents that Dana Altman has at his disposal.

Star of the Game. Tyler Dorsey, Oregon. Speaking of getting whatever you want, Dorsey used his versatile offensive game to torch Iona for 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including a pair of threes and five rebounds. The sophomore’s fourth 20+ point game in a row, it’s clear that Altman believes that his time is now.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Wisconsin 84, #9 Virginia Tech 74

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2017

Wisconsin came out on top tonight in an entertaining, back-and-forth affair that saw the two teams combine for 20 made three-pointers.

Bronson Koenig had a huge night in Buffalo. (Photo: The Sports Post)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Bronson Koenig was awesome. Hampered by a lingering leg injury for much of February, Koenig seemed to be trending toward full health late in the season. His performance on Thursday night put any remaining doubts to rest — the senior point guard is back. Koenig scored 28 points on 8-of-17 shooting from behind the arc, including a 5-of-6 stretch from three-point range during the second half that enabled Wisconsin to maintain its slight advantage. Perhaps the most pivotal moment of the night came near the eight-minute mark, when he knocked down a gutsy triple from several feet behind the arc, then stole the ball on the other end before drawing a foul. On a night where star forward Ethan Happ scored just 10 points, Koenig’s effort was essential. Whether he plays at a high level again on Saturday may determine if the Badgers will return to the Sweet Sixteen.
  2. Wisconsin is living and thriving from behind the arc. For the second time in three games, Wisconsin attempted more three-pointers (31) than two-pointers (30). The staggering ratio worked against Northwestern in the Big Ten semifinals — Wisconsin hit 12 threes in that one — and carried the Badgers again on Thursday night (13-for-31 3FG). With players like Happ (13.9 PPG) and Nigel Hayes (13.5 PPG) manning the interior, it’s not like Wisconsin can’t score inside effectively. For an offense that’s struggled to find its groove at times this year, though, perhaps the best tonic is simply the freedom to hoist from long range.
  3. Virginia Tech basketball is (and will remain) exciting under Buzz Williams. In just three short years, Buzz Williams has transformed a Virginia Tech offense that ranked dead last in the ACC in 2014 to one of the nation’s best this season. And it showed on Thursday night. The Hokies — a great three-point shooting team — carved up Wisconsin’s interior defense like butter in the second half, as Zach LeDay (23 points) found himself more than a couple powerful dunks to ignite the Virginia Tech faithful. Whether it was half-court sets or unselfish plays in transition, Williams has clearly done a masterful job on that end of the court. Despite the departures of Seth Allen (13.4 PPG) and LeDay (16.3 PPG), it’s hard to imagine the Hokies falling too far down the ACC standings in 2017-18.

Star of the Game. Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin (21 points, 8-of-17 3FG). Everything was falling for Koenig in the second half, including a spot-up corner three that hit front rim, bounced off the backboard, and fell through the net. His steady hand and timely shooting helped Wisconsin remain ahead despite several momentous scoring bursts for Virginia Tech down the stretch. In order for Wisconsin to advance past Saturday, the senior needs to continue playing at a very high level.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 76, #16 Mount St. Mary’s 56

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2017

Despite being outplayed by Mount St. Mary’s for the majority of the first half, Villanova turned on the jets over the final 20 minutes and advanced to the Round of 32 for the 10th time under head coach Jay Wright.

Josh Hart and the Wildcats will continue their quest for a repeat National Title. (CSN Philly)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Mount St. Mary’s was not afraid. Despite taking on the #1 overall seed, Mount St. Mary’s — 25-point underdogs in Las Vegas — largely controlled the first half, carving up Villanova’s interior defense and preventing it from scoring in transition on the other end. Freshman guard Miles Wilson (22 points) played as if the reigning National Champion was just another NEC opponent, attacking the teeth of the Wildcats’ defense with confidence. Were it not for a Jalen Brunson layup just before the buzzer, the Mount would’ve been the first #16 seed to lead at halftime since 2004. Jamion Christian‘s undersized group already had an NCAA Tournament victory under its belt, and their composure shined through tonight. Nerves were not an issue.
  2. Josh Hart needs to remain on the floor. After picking up his second foul around the 12-minute mark, National Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart took a seat for the better portion of the first half — and it showed. The Wildcats looked completely out of sorts, settling for mediocre perimeter jumpers (1-of-9 3FG) and playing with a lethargy uncharacteristic of Wright’s club. When Hart returned in the second half, the ball-movement picked up, the paced improve and Villanova quickly started dominating. If the Big East champs are going to cut down the nets once again, their best player — perhaps the sport’s best player — must remain on the floor.
  3. Donte DiVincenzo again shows flashes of brilliance. One week after scoring 25 points against St. John’s in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, DiVincenzo was far and away Villanova’s best player again on Thursday night. Not only did the redshirt freshman score 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting (3-for-4 3FG), he secured a career-high 13 rebounds along the way. The loss of Ryan Arcidiacono (12.5 PPG) was among the largest voids Wright needed to fill entering this season, but DiVincenzo has helped fill that void and his continued success could prove central to the Wildcats’ repeat title hopes.

Star of the Game. Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova (21 points, 13 rebounds). Despite missing a pair of dunks in hilariously bad fashion, DiVincenzo was outstanding on Thursday night, playing with an energy and purpose that many of his teammates lacked for roughly 20 minutes. His eye-popping rebounding total was likely an aberration — Mount St. Mary’s is, after all, the sixth-shortest team in America — but the freshman’s outstanding shooting numbers are nothing to dismiss. This guy will be a factor moving forward.

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Settle In With 68 NCAA Tournament Facts

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on March 16th, 2017

March is complicated. What follows is an attempt to make some sense of the madness and to give you solid statistical grounding in order to justify your decisions. That way, when your bracket is ruined, it will be because of bad luck rather than bad process. Here are 68 important statistical facts about the NCAA Tournament, mostly based around potential match-ups. Data has been gathered from kenpom.com, hooplens, hoop-math and ESPN.com.

The First Four Whetted Our Appetite — Now It’s Time to Get Serious (USA Today Images)

  1. Even though Maryland is the #6 seed against Xavier, the Musketeers have a better KenPom ranking and are favored to win the game.
  2. However, since point guard Edmond Sumner was injured 10 games ago, Xavier has been giving up more threes at a higher percentage. With a 3PA/FGA of 40.8, compared to the Division I average of 36.4, Maryland is heavily reliant on the three-ball.
  3. Baylor’s opponents have an assist rate of 58.2 percent, second highest in the field. SMU’s assist rate of 62.5 percent ranks sixth in the field and 10th nationally.
  4. Creighton attempts a larger proportion (34.2%) of its initial field goals in transition than any other team in the field. The Bluejays’ opponent, Rhode Island, allows opponents to shoot just 20.1 percent of their attempts in transition, the fourth lowest mark in the field.
  5. Rhode Island also allows opponents to earn just 21.3 percent of their points from three-pointers. The Bluejays tend to rely on the three, getting 32.0 percent of their points from beyond the arc.
  6. Saint Mary’s is ranked 14th on KenPom and VCU is ranked 50th, resulting in the site giving the Gaels a 71 percent chance of winning their game.
  7. West Virginia relies on forcing turnovers, but possible Second Round opponent Notre Dame has the lowest turnover rate in the country and Princeton has the 11th-lowest.
  8. Kansas and Iowa State played each other twice this season. Each team won once on the other’s home floor, and the combined score of the two games was 165-164 in favor of the Jayhawks.
  9. But Nevada could be a good match-up with Iowa State, as the Wolfpack are an above average rebounding team, while the Cyclones — with only one regular standing above 6’5” — are below average in both categories.
  10. Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado averages 4.9 offensive rebounds per game, leading the nation. Arkansas ranks 326th nationally in defensive rebounding rate.
  11. Led by Reggie Lynch, Minnesota has a block rate of 16.2 percent, third-best nationally. Middle Tennessee, though, ranks fifth in the country in avoiding blocks, at 5.8 percent. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 13th, 2017

All day on Monday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis for the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWRegion).

Midwest Region

The Pressure is on Bill Self (USA Today Images)

Favorite: #1 Kansas (28-4, 16-2 Big 12). Make no mistake—Kansas’ loss to TCU in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals is disconcerting. The Horned Frogs are an NIT team, and the Jayhawks will certainly see better opponents in the Big Dance. But freshman phenom Josh Jackson (16.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG) was suspended for that game, his absence clearly felt on both ends of the court. With college basketball’s best point guard, Frank Mason (20.8 PPG, 5.1 APG), at the helm and Jackson set to return, the Big 12 champion should have no problem regaining momentum. Looking ahead, neither Miami (FL) or Michigan State seem capable of threatening the Jayhawks in the Round of 32, while a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup with Iowa State—which ended Kansas’ 54-game home winning streak in February—could be an ideal revenge spot for Bill Self’s group. Considering #3 seed Oregon is shorthanded and #2 seed Louisville enters the NCAA Tournament in a slump, the Jayhawks’ path to another Final Four is wide open.

Should They Falter: #2 Louisville (24-8, 12-6 ACC). Though Louisville enters Friday having dropped three of its previous five contents, two of those losses were to North Carolina (in Chapel Hill) and Duke, including a narrow loss to the Blue Devils in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. Which is to say, the Cardinals are going to be just fine. Perhaps most encouraging is the fact that—while its oppressive defense hasn’t been quite as stingy down the stretch—Louisville’s offensive efficiency improved significantly during the second half of conference play. Assuming the ball-movement is crisp and Donovan Mitchell (15.7 PPG), Quentin Snider (12.7 PPG), and Deng Adel (11.9 PPG) don’t all go cold at the same time, Rick Pitino has a sure-fire Final Four contender on his hands. Especially in light of #3 seed Oregon’s recent bad news.

Grossly Overseeded: #9 Michigan State (19-4, 10-8 Big Ten). The vast majority of bracketologists at BracketMatrix.com pegged Michigan State as a #10, #11 or even #12 seed (average: 10.2). Instead, the Spartans received a #9 seed, which is especially strange when you consider that Wisconsin (#8 seed) and Michigan (#7 seed)—each with markedly better resumes and far stronger metrics—were barely treated any better. Perhaps it wouldn’t be as large of an issue were the optics not so bad: Michigan State’s athletic director, Mark Hollis, was this year’s NCAA Selection Committee Chair.

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RTC Bracket Prep: East Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 13th, 2017

All day Monday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis for the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCEastRegion).

East Region

The Champs Are Ready to Defend Their Title (USA Today Images)

Favorite: #1 Villanova (31-3, 15-3 Big East). Sure, Duke’s ACC Championship run over the weekend was impressive, a sign that perhaps its unreasonably-high preseason expectations weren’t so unreasonable after all. But Villanova—the reigning National Champion, let’s not forget—has been more consistent, more dominant, an outright better team from start to finish. Senior Josh Hart (18.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG) has arguably been college basketball’s best player, making key plays in key moments for an offense that ranks second nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. Former five-star recruit Jalen Brunson (14.8 PPG, 4.2 APG) is realizing his potential at point guard. Mikal Bridges, whose effort against Kansas last March helped propel the Wildcats to the Final Four, has helped Jay Wright’s club hold Big East opponents to a paltry 0.98 points per possession this season. And, oh yeah, Kris Jenkins (86 made three-pointers) is still on the roster. Remember him? Balanced, experienced, and tough-as-nails, Villanova has all the pieces for a trip to Glendale.

Should They Falter: #2 Duke (27-8, 11-7 ACC). Equipped with one of the most talented rosters in recent memory, the injury-plagued and controversy-laden Blue Devils bungled their way through ACC play, only to rediscover their mojo just as the calendar flipped to March. That’s bad news for the bottom half of the East Region. Preseason All-American Grayson Allen seemed to recoup some confidence in the ACC Tournament after struggling through the month of February. As did soon-to-be lottery pick Jayson Tatum, who averaged 22.0 PPG in Duke’s four-game championship run in Brooklyn. Luke Kennard (20.1 PPG), the ACC Tournament MVP, continued his season-long excellence, while even Harry Giles—a hyper-talented forward beset by knee injuries—showed why he was once considered the future #1 overall pick. With a remarkably talented supporting cast to boot, there’s no reason the Blue Devils can’t vie for a National Championship—especially if Villanova stumbles up top.

Grossly Overseeded: #7 South Carolina (22-10, 12-6 SEC). Non-conference victories over Michigan, Syracuse, Vermont and Monmouth are nice, and South Carolina did beat Florida, but a #7 seed? The Gamecocks went 3-6 over their final nine games of the season, failing to beat a team better than Georgia (at home) from February 1 onward. This team lost to Alabama twice—including an 11-point defeat in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals—fell at Ole Miss, and was down by 16 points in December to a Memphis team that had just ended its season in historically bad fashion. Meanwhile, Wisconsin—a team with fewer losses and a higher volume of quality wins—was slapped with a #8 seed.

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